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The Strange History of Jack Kirby’s Three Thors

With Thor hitting movie theaters this week, there’s been a recent surge of interest in Marvel’s Mighty Avenger, but one of the most interesting pieces of information about the character was uncovered this week by the Jack Kirby Museum. It goes without saying that Marvel’s modern take isn’t the first version of Thor, but as it turns out, he’s not even the first version who owes his creation to Jack Kirby.

Not only is Marvel’s Mighty Avenger not the first time the legendary artist depicted the Thunder god, it turns out he’s actually the third of Jack Kirby’s Thors!The blonde, bare-chinned version of Thor that hangs out with Captain America and Iron Man in the Marvel Universe made his first appearance in Kirby and Stan Lee’s Journey Into Mystery #82, from 1962. In that story, Dr. Don Blake found a magic cane in a cave that turned into Mjolnir and turned him into Thor, barely beating Loki in his goal of stealing the hammer for himself. While it eventually took a back seat to just flat-out smashing frost giants’ faces, one of the powers that was emphasized in the beginning was also Thor’s legendary ability to control the weather:

If this story seemed a little familiar to the comics readers of the early ’60s, there’s a good reason for it: A mere five years earlier, a story ran in DC/National’s Tales of the Unexpected called “The Magic Hammer.” As the Kirby Museum’s Rand Hoppe describes it:

“A western tale, it tells of a man’s discovery of a hammer that, when thrown to the ground, brings thunder, lightning and rain. It’s also shown to destroy a tree. The man makes some money as a rainmaker and considers the riches the hammer could bring, when the god Thor shows up to retrieve his hammer, which was stolen from him by the mischievous Loki.”

That hammer sure does look familiar, doesn’t it? And so do those now-familiar circles Giant Thor’s rocking on his chest.

But it’s not exactly out of the ordinary to find “prototypes” of Kirby’s later work from that era — there’s even a guy in Tales of Suspense #31 who looks an awful lot like Dr. Doom. What makes this really interesting, though, is that fifteen years before that in Adventure Comics #75′s “The Villain From Valhalla,” where Kirby and writer Joe Simon introduced yet another version of Thor.

The Kirby Museum only posts the splash page, but since I had DC’s collection of Simon & Kirby Sandman stories on the bookshelf, I took a look to read up for myself, and it is crazy awesome. Hoppe mentions that it’s notable for including an internal splash page, and it’s a great example of Kirby’s action-packed Golden Age style…

…but he did not mention that it includes what might be the greatest Thor panel of all time:

Unlike the other two, though, this Thor isn’t actually Thor. As it turns out, he’s just a mobster named — no kidding — “Fairy Tale Fenton,” who uses transparent metal suits and a hammer that was a technological marvel rather than a chunk of magic Uru.

The subtext here is fascinating, too: Thor, the blitzkrieging Norse god that was being held up by the Nazis as the ideal of the Master Race is revealed to be just another common crook who gets the living crap kicked out of him and ends the story in traction, with the Sandman and Sandy showing up to mock him in the hospital. Is it any surprise that this is the same artist who introduced Captain America by having him punch Hitler right in the mouth?

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