|Edited by John Morrow||Jack Kirby Collector celebrates the life and career of the "King" of comics through interviews with Kirby and his contemporaries, feature articles, and rare & unseen Kirby artwork. Now in tabloid format, the magazine showcases Kirby's art at even larger size.|
The Evolution Of Thor & The Stone Men
by and © Richard Kolkman (with thanks to John Modica and Mark Evanier)From Jack Kirby Collector #14
To Marvelites, the origin and first appearance of Thor in Journey Into Mystery #83 (August 1962) is as familiar as the FF's cosmic rocket hop. Feeble Don Blake discovers Thor's hammer in the guise of an old stick. Upon striking the stick, he becomes Thor, god of thunder. With his hammer, Thor shatters a tree, commands the elements, and routs a rowdy band of Saturnian Stone Men from Earth. "Thor the Mighty! And the Stone Men from Saturn!" begins the saga of Thor and Asgard, which under Kirby's pencil developed into a stunning cosmic masterpiece. Of course, the original concept for Thor can be found in many mythological texts; but Jack's re-invention of Thor as a heroic figure in our popular culture can be traced back to DC's Adventure Comics #75 (May 1942; reprinted in Forever People #6).
The "first" Thor faces off against the Sandman and Sandy in Simon & Kirby's "Villain from Valhalla" and follows basic precepts from the Norse legends. Thor has command of both his hammer (Mjolnir) and the elements. The appearance of this red-haired ruffian includes a winged helmet and strapped boots. Thor's invincible hammer smashes open a bank vault and destroys a police car. Thor turns out to be "Fairy Tales" Fenton, a metallurgy professor/robber whose invisible bullet-proof suit and electronically charged hammer are ultimately no match for the Sandman and Sandy.
Adventure Comics #75 wasn't the first time Simon and Kirby attempted to fuse mythology into comics; Blue Bolt and Red Raven had mythological ties. Mercury made his one and only appearance in Red Raven #1 and Hurricane (a backup in the first two issues of Captain America) was mentioned to be Thor's son. But it isn't until more than 15 years later that Kirby (sans Simon) revisits the Thor concept in DC's Tales of the Unexpected #16 (August 1957, reprinted in DC Special #4, Sept. 1969).
"The Magic Hammer" was likely written by Jack, and features a horn-helmeted Thor, the genuine god of thunder. Even though mere mortals can lift Thor's hammer, it is still a conduit for great power when impacted. The hammer shatters a tree in an impressive show of force, and seems capable of bursting open yet another bank vault. The hammer is virtually identical to the familiar Marvel version. A diminutive proto-Loki appears here as a sneaky hammer thief. Thor, bearded and caped, has strapped leggings, a large sword and circular designs on his chest.
Origins Of The Stone Men
Thor wasn't the only concept that got reused in JIM #83. The Stone Men from Saturn evolved as well, appearing in no less than four stories before their run-in with the god of thunder.
While still working for DC, Jack introduced the Stone Men in House of Mystery #85 (April 1959, reprinted in DC Special #11). "The Stone Sentinels of Giant Island" features a band of South Pacific explorers who discover animated Stone Sentinels (buried up to their necks) from another planet. The explorers mention Easter Island twice, and decipher alien hieroglyphics to defeat the Sentinels. An April 1959 comic would probably have had a production date from around October or November of the previous year. An intriguing bit of fact from September 1958 is the publication of the best-selling book "Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island" by Thor Heyerdahl. (A quick history lesson: Easter Island was discovered on Easter day in 1722 in the South Pacific by Dutch seaman Jakob Roggeven. It is famous for its hieroglyphics and formidable statues carved in stone standing up to 40 ft. tall. Only the heads of the statues are visible, but there are whole bodies under the heads; the reason they're buried is due to soil pileup over the years. Whoever built the statues left others in different stages of completion. They are laying all around the cliffs, some barely hewn out.) Is it reasonable to believe that not only was Jack inspired by this book, but that he also later paid homage to its author named "Thor" by combining such diverse concepts as the Easter Island statues with the Norse god of thunder?
According to Joe Simon's book The Comic Book Makers, DC editor Jack Schiff put together the deal that landed Kirby his syndicated comic strip Sky Masters in 1958. For his efforts, Schiff expected a cut of the proceeds, and when Jack (for whatever reason) refused to pay, Schiff sued him. The dispute with Schiff caused him to leave DC, and soon after Kirby's return to Marvel, "I Was Trapped by the Things on Easter Island" appeared in Tales to Astonish #5 (Sept. 1959, reprinted in Where Monsters Dwell #24). Alien stone giants from Lithodia Rex pursue a hapless wrecked pilot who has overheard their conquest aspirations. He escapes the island, and the alien things actually traverse the ocean to peek into the man's bedroom. Satisfied that they are safe from discovery, they wade back to Easter Island to their buried positions to await their summons. It's only conjecture, but did Jack reuse the DC Stone Men concept at Marvel to get Schiff's goat?
Two years later, "Here Comes Thorr the Unbelievable" grafts the Thor(r) name onto the Stone Men concept in Marvel's Tales to Astonish #16 (February 1961, reprinted in Where Creatures Roam #3 as "Thorg the Unbelievable"). This time, an archaeologist discovers South Pacific Stone Men (buried up to their necks) who are alien mechanical monstrosities awaiting the signal to dominate the world. This spelling of Thorr is also reflected in the last panel of the JIM #83 debut on the side of Thor's hammer.
An appropriately titled story reuses the Stone Men concept yet again. In Tales of Suspense #28 (April 1962, reprinted in Tomb of Darkness #16), "Back from the Dead" features alien Stone Men abducting a criminal who has fled to Easter Island. The Stone Men are again buried up to their necks in anticipation of their upcoming conquest of Earth.
By the spring of 1962, The FF, Hulk, and other Marvel superheroes were rapidly eclipsing the existing comic books in Marvel's lineup. In his book Origin of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee described how he was suddenly inspired to adapt Norse mythology into Marvel's burgeoning superhero roster. Lee named the new character "Thor" because, as Stan explained, "I liked the sound of his name. It was short, simple, easy to remember, and if you lisped nobody would know." With great inspiration comes great responsibility.
Thor © & ™ Marvel Characters, Inc.
Jack must have been receptive to Stan's idea, because he penciled Thor until issue #179, after which he returned to DC. Upon Kirby's return to Marvel in 1975, one of his many covers was for Thor #255. The Stone Men's gravity ray has Thor at a disadvantage in this, their final Kirby Konfrontation.
As a Stone Men postscript, DC's Super Powers #3 (November 1985) features Jack's cover and story pencils on "Time Upon Time Upon Time." The buried (up to their neck, remember?) Stone Men of Easter Island terrorize Dr. Fate, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. They are, of course, the advance guard for an ambitious alien planet. After an aimless battle, Dr. Fate sends the Stone Men to their final destiny.
Verily, thus concludes Jack Kirby's fascination with the mixture of Easter Island's iconography and the Norse legend of Thor, the god of thunder.
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