Friday, August 24, 2012

With Hammer In Hand


Time to swing into another


Marvel Trivia Question



What transformation took place with Thor's hammer but was never mentioned?



As you can see above, artist Jack Kirby originally drew the Thunder God's hammer, Mjolnir, as more of a power totem than a practical hand weapon. Mjolnir then was an unwieldy tool--awkward to actually use, and more like a sledge hammer than something easily wielded by hand. And, let's face it, it looked ridiculous when hurled. So, as Journey Into Mystery evolved into Thor's own title, and Thor's battles became more hand-to-hand and action-packed, it became evident that Thor had to become as battle-hardened as his rep would suggest, with a weapon that was more powerfully wielded against his foes. Consequently, Mjolnir needed to function more as an extension of his right arm. If Thor hurled himself into battle, the last thing he needed to worry about was tripping over his own long-handled weapon.

So eventually, Kirby's rendering of Mjolnir began to resemble a much more manageable size:


I sometimes wonder if that didn't sit well with writer Roy Thomas, who wrote most of the saga of Thor's first meeting with the Celestials, including his odd "Ring of the Nibelung" detour. More than once during that arc, he'd have one of the characters drop a reference to Thor's hammer and "its too-short handle," with artist Keith Pollard actually visibly reducing its handle size even more. It was a strange nit to pick in the midst of the story, distracting the reader for no good reason.

Over the years, and throughout the many tenures of the artists who have drawn Thor, the size of Mjolnir has seldom been constant from artist to artist--which is not all that unusual, since Thor's hammer is generally seen as a part of Thor himself, and consequently is open to interpretation. Yet I've never seen an artist return to Kirby's original rendering of it--a lengthy size far more suited to be Donald Blake's walking stick than a weapon of a Norse warrior set upon by hordes of vicious foes.


2 comments:

Warren JB said...

"If Thor hurled himself into battle, the last thing he needed to worry about was tripping over his own long-handled weapon."

"Yet I've never seen an artist return to Kirby's original rendering of it--a lengthy size far more suited to be Donald Blake's walking stick than a weapon of a Norse warrior set upon by hordes of vicious foes."

Wait, what?

One of the most famous, effective and feared viking weapons was the great axe and it's close, anglicised cousin the dane axe. See some replicas here, and their length:

http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manufacturing/text/viking_axe.htm

There's not much evidence that nordic people of the 'viking age' used hammers in battle, with Thor's influence mostly seen as hammer amulets; but with later medieval war hammers (real war hammers), even the shorter, one-handed versions seemed to have shafts similar to the one-handed axes on that page, or the original version of Marvel-Thor's hammer.

There seems to be a certain vague attitude in the modern day (prevalent in fantasy RPGs and wargames, anyway) that long-handled weapons were unwieldy and clumsy, especially compared to swords. Not really the case, according to certain surviving records of medieval fighting styles and training. To coin a phrase, it's not the size, it's what you do with it that counts. Well, not entirely true: it depends on the size and weight of the chunk of metal you put on the end of it, and that brings up another chestnut - less is more.

In that context, I've actually been thinking a little about the change in depiction of Mjolnir myself, recently, and for me the problem isn't so much the (original) size of the shaft, but that the head seems to have been inflated so much. It seems to have been transformed into one of the forerunners of surfboard swords and coffee-table axes in modern fantasy pop-culture. Culminating in that metal shoebox with a handlebar that Chris Hemsworth totes around. Vizh and Thor chatting about the perfect balance of the thing? Enchanted, dwarf-forged uru metal or not; god of thunder with an official top-class superhero strength rating or not... no. I can't buy it. The shaft is so short that I can better imagine it as a big, awkward, unbalancing chunk attached to one side of his fist, than imagining it generating much swing and momentum to set upon hordes of vicious foes. He might've been better off getting Odin and Eitri to make him a set of uru knuckles.

Comicsfan said...

I certainly can't argue with the fact that the movie version of Mjolnir is out of proportion, Warren. "Less is more," indeed--the power of Thor's hammer lies in the effect of its strike and the way in which it's presented and wielded, not in how large its head is made to appear. I'm guessing the added dimension was to accommodate its early appearances in the films, with the hammer being prominently shown and the focus of a scene before Thor himself was presented.

I'm glad the hammer in my tool box isn't so disproportioned--I'd never get any work done. :)

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