Saturday, September 1, 2012

60 Seconds And Counting

If you're a Thor reader in good standing, then you're probably familiar with these two landmark issues, the first of which contained the mother of all cliffhangers:

For it was in these two issues that the secret of the mystery of Thor's alter-ego, Dr. Donald Blake, was revealed. And that had been the elephant in the room for some time. We knew that Don Blake had been vacationing in Norway, when he stumbled across an alien invasion force from Saturn. Blake high-tailed it when he was discovered spying on the aliens, but he wasn't going to get far with his injured leg--so he took refuge in a cave, where he discovered a long wooden stick. Attempting to use it as leverage to move a large boulder that blocked his way, he became frustrated and hit the stick against the rock--which unexpectedly triggered his transformation into Norse warrior of legend Thor, God of Thunder.

Yet questions lingered as to the identity of Thor, as well as Blake's role in the mystery. Questions which the good doctor himself sums up adequately:

You see, the mystery of Thor's origin was never dealt with fully--we were only given enough to get the ball rolling for the character. At the time, all we knew was that a man, Donald Blake, simply assumed the identity of Thor. And even though Thor's stories later involved Asgard and Odin, we never had the answers to the questions Blake poses here. So these two issues, though lacking any opponent for Thor, were nevertheless highly anticipated and devoured voraciously.

In the following issue, Blake poses his questions directly to the one being who would surely know the answers--Odin. And Odin gives Blake the answers he seeks (though you should really read the story to put this scene in context):

It turns out that Thor in his heydey thought he was pretty much the bomb in terms of his battle prowess and invincibility. He was headstrong, and arrogant--supremely confident in his power. That displeased Odin--he felt his son needed to learn humility in order to be a stronger warrior. (Frankly, I don't know why. The last thing I'd think an Asgardian ruler would want fighting in his army is a humble warrior. Humility isn't going to get you very far with Ragnarok raining down around your head.) Odin knew that there was no way a powerful thunder god was going to be able to learn humility, so he stripped Thor of his identity and made him the mortal Donald Blake, with no memory of his past--and he sent him to Earth, with an infirm leg as an obstacle to be overcome that would aid in the lesson. Simultaneously, Odin placed Thor's hammer in the cave, to be found when the lesson had been learned.

Yet Odin didn't explain everything. The one question I wish Blake would have asked has to do with this scenario:

Thor is referring to the spell Odin placed on his hammer, Mjolnir, wherein Thor reverts to his Donald Blake identity if he's out of contact with his hammer for more than 60 seconds. (The above image dramatizes this a bit--the transformation certainly isn't "forever," as all he'd have to do would be to make contact with the hammer again.) Can anyone figure out why the hell Odin would do something like this--place your greatest warrior at a tactical disadvantage, just because his weapon was out of reach? There's been the (extremely) rare occasion when the transformation actually helped Thor out of a sticky situation--but not nearly often enough to offset the many, many times his life was threatened by this stupid handicap. And why is the spell only in effect while Thor is on Earth? And why 60 seconds??

Chances are that writer Stan Lee felt that Thor needed some sort of limitation--something that kept him down to Earth. (In this case, literally.) But if that's the case, it doesn't explain why two-bit villains like Mr. Hyde and the Cobra were able to give Thor a hard time--this weakness of Thor's wasn't common knowledge, and hardly anyone took advantage of it (knowingly, anyway). In fact, the Thor book mostly consists of battle issues where Thor's triumphs are hardly ever handed to him on a platter--giving him a weakness like this wasn't really necessary.

At the time of these two issues, though, we were all pretty jazzed at finally learning the why and wherefore of Donald Blake, so we probably weren't thinking of lesser things that bugged us about Thor. I don't know--maybe Odin just wanted to give Thor humility reminders every so often? What a dad, huh?

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