The Mighty Thor #270:
Blastaar, the Living Bomb-Burst, engages Thor in battle and prevents him from retrieving his hammer. Conveniently though, before Thor can change back into Don Blake, Blastaar throws him into an alley. This allows a hammerless Don Blake to emerge with no one having seen the transformation. Blake tells Blastaar he saw Thor leaving, which prompts Blastaar to leave in pursuit. Blake then attempts to reclaim his walking stick, which is the form of Thor’s hammer when it is separated from him. However, he finds a street gang leader holding the stick. Asked to return the stick, the gang member ridicules Blake and swings it at him. Unluckily for the gang, Blake lets the stick hit him so he can turn back into Thor. Needless to say, they run away when Thor reclaims his hammer and appears. He goes to see Wilbur Day, the Stilt-Man, in police custody, from whom he learns about the computer directing these crimes from a rundown warehouse.
Thor goes to see Tony Stark / Iron Man, the extremely wealthy inventor and philanthropist. Together they determine the computer is F.A.U.S.T., a now-sentient system originally created to run a fully automated factory without the need for human labor. The creator and owner of F.A.U.S.T. had legal troubles and abandoned the factory to decay. Supposedly.
Unable to find Thor, Blastaar goes to F.A.U.S.T. They discuss their plans and their history together. Blastaar started serving F.A.U.S.T. after he became aware of the powerful computer during an adventure involving the Human Torch and the Incredible Hulk. F.A.U.S.T. promises Blastaar he will be king of his native land, the Negative Zone. Thor soon approaches and again engages in battle with Blastaar. While they fight, F.A.U.S.T. somehow blasts off ensconced in a space vehicle. Blastaar sees his leader abandoning him but also notices the portal to the Negative Zone is open. He jumps through the gateway to the other world, expecting to find he will be king. But the portal was rigged by F.A.U.S.T. and he is sent plummeting toward the Zone’s core. The core acts like a black hole, where all matter gets disintegrated. As Blastaar nears his doom, F.A.U.S.T. is shown safely in orbit around the Earth.
Once again, the duality theme of Thor / Don Blake is relevant in this issue, used as a plot device to end the battle that opens the issue. However, in the aftermath, with Thor returning to his human state and the confrontation with the gang leader, a question arises: can anyone become Thor? What if the criminal tapped the stick on the ground, instead of swinging it at Blake? The hammer of Thor has these words on it: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of…Thor.” We can assume the gangster swinging a stick at a disabled man is not worthy of the power of Thor. As of this writing, there is a female Thor in Marvel’s Thor comics, so it probably should say, “if he or she be worthy,” but I don’t know if the current narrative about who can hold the hammer has been revised and re-booted for these comics.
However, in the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie, the idea that your worthiness endows your ability to pick up the hammer – bringing to mind King Arthur’s worthiness to pull a sword from a stone – perplexes the Avengers, worries Thor when Captain America tries, and is eventually achieved by the Vision. As already noted, if we are interested in the mythology of the Thor of the Marvel Universe, each one of us has probably asked: “Am I worthy?” to lift that hammer. Myths express who we are and what we may be capable of. As a twelve year old, I wondered about who could become Thor when possessing the hammer. Worthiness is attained by acting virtuously and honorably, and is shown by the acts of assistance Thor performs for humanity. Charitable deeds are not something only the religions of our world have an interest in. In fact, in my memory, Thor never did a bad deed, a lofty example to try and live up to at any age.
However, there is a problem with the scenario in this issue that deserves attention. The gangster is an African American and his dialogue is sadly stereotypical. Even more sadly, this is somewhat common for 1970s-era Marvel Comics. His girlfriend calls him “Brother Honcho” when she notices the wooden stick he found. His dialogue is as follows, leaving out Don Blake’s lines: “Sure is, foxy lady! Makes a good sceptre fo’ the president o’ the Street Kings, don’t it?” … “Yo’ talkin’ t’me, jack?” … “Do tell…an’ just whut yo’ ‘spect me t’do ‘bout that, huh?” … “Yo’ don’t say?” … “Don’t bother! Yo’ hear that brothers? The little dude wants his stick back!” … “Well he gonna get it back, okay—right upside his stupid head!!” Problematic at best – just try and actually say these lines out loud. Most of the rest of his gang look to be Caucasian, but they get no lines, so we can’t tell what they might say. Marvel did have African American superheroes. Perhaps the best-known was Black Panther, and then Luke Cage. But there was also a character called Black Goliath who had a short-lived series I liked. For the most part, these were pretty typical superheroes, but it is hard not to notice how “Black” often goes in front of the superhero name when the character is African or African American. And though he wasn’t deemed “Black Luke Cage” I do remember Cage often saying “Holy Christmas!” which I don’t think anyone, anywhere, ever says. So the dialogue for these characters needed a lot of work back in the day.
But at twelve, I probably never thought twice about this dialogue. My school, church, and neighborhood were all homogenously composed of European ethnicities, almost exclusively Caucasian. In my early world, everyone was Catholic and white. To be completely honest, I have no recollection of anyone talking about the validity of other, non-white, non-Catholic, people – non-Catholics were there to be converted, other races were those causing trouble in the news. The composition of the Marvel Universe was actually more diverse though equally as problematic as the “real” world I lived in, not to mention our current world. But let’s just say, for now, they could have done a whole lot better with their dialogue at times.
On a different note, there is a literary mythological comparison in this issue that is worth examining, even though it’s not the most cohesive re-visioning of a myth ever done in comics. The presence of F.A.U.S.T. demonstrates that mythical resonance is rather commonplace in comics. The forced naming of the villain F.A.U.S.T. translates into “Fully-Automated Unit of Structural Technology.” The literary Faust is a character from German myth. He makes a deal with the devil in order to indulge in a life of pleasure. However, when that life comes to an end, the devil will get his soul for eternity. In this Thor issue, F.A.U.S.T. seems to play the devil role and Blastaar is the one making the deal, so it’s not a perfect retelling by any means.
First, “the devil” is an artificial intelligence, a computer so advanced it runs itself and presumably wants to run the world. Just like the Christian devil, the plots are not for economic or material gain, but simply to gain control, to win because it is possible. The theme of technology taking over our lives is not explored in depth here, but certainly was in the zeitgeist of those years, as it still is today. Turning our lives over to “the devil,” in this case technology, allows us more pleasure, just like Faust was able to achieve. These pleasures serve our individualistic needs (i.e., a table of diners in a restaurant all looking at their phones instead of each other).
Second, F.A.U.S.T. offers a deal to Blastaar he cannot refuse: a kingship, the ultimate seat of power in his native land (though it is in the Negative Zone, where being a king must be exceedingly difficult). The Faustian bargain is clear; the portal to the Negative Zone is opened, but Blastaar finds only eternal damnation, disintegrating on his way towards its center. As this is the Marvel Universe, it’s a good bet Blastaar found a way to prevent this fate of death, though perhaps he could not escape his damnation. The tale of Faust is mostly cautionary, a myth worth contemplating, all about the consequences of getting everything we want without working for it. Easy success is usually tied to giving up something we come to understand is actually more precious to us. In the end, the Marvel Universe, using a convenient acronym to produce a mythical Faust, delivers the same message through a re-visioned myth for a new generation of readers. When I was twelve, I don’t think I was even aware of the myth of Faust.
Excerpted from “Everything I Needed to Know about Life (I Learned from Marvel Comics” ©2017 Joseph P. Muszynski