The Mighty Thor #267:
After an epic battle with the Destroyer, Asgard needs major reconstruction. Balder takes charge and repairs are happening swiftly. Odin banishes an unrepentant Loki to Midgard (Earth) in the form of a homeless derelict wandering Manhattan, his memories of godhood supposedly taken from him. The Recorder leaves to turn in a recorded report to his Rigelian masters. Thor longs for the Earth, and decides to return to Midgard. The Warriors Three want to accompany him, but Odin tells them he needs their assistance. Sif hugs Thor goodbye, Karnilla leaves Balder, and Thor leaves for Midgard.
Thor immediately changes into Dr. Don Blake, his human alter ego. He discovers his medical office has been turned into a parking lot. He was gone a year and the authorities, moving fast, thought the property was abandoned and took it over for redevelopment. Blake is strong willed though; he accepts the change and decides to seek a new opportunity. At Trinity General Hospital he finds a friend who suggests working at a Stark International free clinic (Stark being Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, Thor’s teammate from the Avengers). Blake likes the idea, accepting it as a challenge and an opportunity to do some real good.
However, in mid-discussion, a villain named Damocles appears. He steals a quantity of synthetic cobalt the hospital had been testing for anti-cancer properties. Dr. Blake takes a run at Damocles, but gets knocked silly, and the villain leaves in a flying vehicle. Blake excuses himself, turns into Thor, and goes after Damocles, who fires a missile toward the city to distract Thor while he gets away. Damocles reveals he wants to build a cobalt cannon to bully New York City into accepting his command.
After the Asgard-based storylines, this issue transitions Thor back to Earth. The ability of Thor to have space-based adventures, narratives inspired by Norse myths, and superhero tales on Earth, is a big part of the character’s longstanding appeal. His dual dual nature, god and superhero, but also god and human – as we see here with the reintroduction of Dr. Don Blake – clearly paralleled Catholic stories for me as a young reader. God and Jesus, god and man – the relationships are the same for the superhero. Thor as a god always fascinated the Catholic grammar school child in me. His dual nature is most clear when he is depicted in Asgard and yearning to return to Earth. As he says here, “Though the heart of Thor is ever thine, the spirit of Don Blake cries out for release – and I must heed its call alone!” The god yields to the man, which is the way of gods since man began creating them.
Later we find Thor standing on Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, admiring the view before traveling to Midgard. In what works as a summary of mythology in general, and a clear division between Christianity and The Mighty Thor’s thoughts, he muses, “Verily it doth give even an immortal pause to ponder how insignificant we all are before the majesty of the universe!” The thunder god is just a small part of the whole. The “majesty of the universe” for a Christian was everything created by God, and yet, even as a seventh grader it was hard to accept this. The God who wants me to say prayers, and not lie, or the God who athletes pray to so they can hit a homerun – did this God really make the expanding universe, and billions of galaxies? If so, why does he care if that guy hits a homerun? The theological questioning is endless, and this is part of the point here: the answers, as well as the questions, can be found in religion, or the comics. The questions are the same, and the answers are similarly difficult to extract. Thor’s awe at the endlessly raging universe spoke to me in ways that having to kneel and pray never could.
Additionally, the strength of a merciful god is clear. Thor expresses his emotional state before his brother Loki is to be sentenced for his crimes, musing: “And though the god of mischief is truly evil incarnate, still I cannot help but pity him now!” Christianity is one of the largest religions of our world, and Thor is a character in a comic book narrative, but the message of mercy is exactly the same. Odin’s mercy, however, is somewhat less in evidence as he condemns Loki to a fate of becoming a human. Such a hardship might make Loki more interested in the mercy of the Christian God. In this destitute form, Loki appears in an alley, “And those poor alcohol-besotted souls on Manhattan’s Lower East Side hardly notice the sudden appearance of one more almost-mindless derelict in their midst… a derelict who once had all but owned the stars!” Becoming a homeless drunk is an extremely real fate for the evil god of mischief, perhaps it is even cruel, but it does match the cruelty of his own tricks. In my twelve-year old world, though I was aware of drinking and perhaps even of some of the evils that could be involved, I found this fate rather profound and terrible. Being homeless was almost unknown to me at the time, and I could hardly imagine being so. Strangely, the comic has only this one panel, so the emphasis on Loki’s new life is rather short, and as the narrative moves on, soon forgotten. This was the fate of the comic book villain – the heroes move on to new adventures, while villains supposedly pay for their crimes. Until they return, of course!
Thor’s alter-ego, Dr. Don Blake, is rather unique for a comic book superhero secret identity. It never fails to make one wonder what the Mighty Thor sees in becoming a human man, who needs a cane to walk. But Blake’s dedication to humanity is all-encompassing, as we see in this issue. Though his office building is completely gone, certainly a good reason for Blake to give up and become Thor permanently, his desire to be human is strong. As he says, “If things have changed, then I’ll just have to change with them…” Though he is a skilled surgeon and could get a high paying hospital position, Blake discovers the free clinic that needs assistance, and in his own words, “It sounds like just the thing I’m looking for!” A true Christian perspective is to help those who need the most help; Blake decides to do just that, which may be difficult to imagine these days – that is, choosing to aid one’s neighbors over a big paycheck. This alter-ego of Thor, in contrast to many superhero secret identities, is just as courageous as Thor. He demonstrates his heroism, though it turns out to be rather foolish. When Damocles breaks into the hospital, Blake charges him. As Damocles says, “Now a cripple attempts to subdue me? Fool!!” Blake’s determined heroism, though misguided without Thor’s hammer in hand, is rather impressive.
Now we come to the letters, and “The Hammer Strikes” has an interesting one in this issue. The first letter refers to a panel of the space aliens from the previous issue #261, with the writer finishing his praise of the issue in this way:
These beings are so extraordinarily right and perfect that they evoke the shock of recognition. This ‘rightness’ is where art, fantasy, magic – in short, the writer’s/artist’s perception of ‘separate realities’ – converge and mesh perfectly. The artistic details are exactly right, too: costumes whose individual elements may be similar to some used in our earth’s history, but which form a new coherent unity, utterly convincing. And the juxtaposition of robotic technology with seemingly ‘free’ creatures is masterful.
Comic art is art. Oh yes! It is the embodiment of the myths of our time. As far as your minds reach and touch other minds, you are also creating reality…do not doubt it. I wish all of you well. Congratulations on your visions!
This is another reader whose perspective on comics being myths was right on target. The visual reality of the comic, for this reader, is imagined by its creators correctly, as if the images could be real. The narrative’s artistic confluence of both the verbal and the visual may be completely “made-up” but the finished work still contains truth. The truth comes from the metaphorical expressions within the narrative and the art. These metaphors create myth and myths are the narratives able to reach others in such a way that the narrative feels real to them. The letter writer describes an example of an image that resonates and thus helps build the narrative into a myth, because we recognize the reality in a made-up narrative. This is the deceptively simple power of myth described directly by a comic book reader.
Excerpted from “Everything I Needed to Know about Life (I Learned from Marvel Comics” ©2017 Joseph P. Muszynski