Friday, August 30, 2013

It's Not Easy Being Donald Blake

Just about any Thor reader knows about the dramatic process that changed the mortal Dr. Donald Blake to the God of Thunder. All Blake had to do was stamp his "walking stick" against a hard surface, and presto:

But Blake's change to Thor wasn't always so routine. There were times when the good doctor probably wished for a nice, reliable phone booth to make the switch, because sometimes changing to Thor was a dangerous occupation in itself.

For instance, whoever would see Don Blake as a prisoner of a Viet Cong leader suspecting him of being a spy--and binding him with the help of his own cane? As you'll see in most of these situations, Blake is forced to improvise his way to freedom.  Here, he does so by taking the fall, though to his advantage:

There was also fun to be found in outwitting some trolls who had captured him and confiscated his cane--that is, if you define "fun" as certain death if your timing isn't perfect:

And what about having to dive into the Hudson River and search for a hammer lying somewhere on the river bed 80 feet below the surface? Blake must be living right--because not only does he swim pretty well for a guy who's lame, but he's able to locate a small object like a hammer in an expansive waterway that covers over 300 miles. Fortunately he cobbled together a hammer-locator with his office x-ray machine and was able to narrow down the general area:

During another harrowing experience, Blake was tossed in Dr. Doom's dungeon after showing Doom he wasn't quite the brilliant surgeon he was reputed to be.  (And after seeing Blake's unprofessional reaction to his patient, I'm with Doom on this one.) With his cane tossed out of reach, Blake found his luck was with him again, given that dress shoes don't normally come with such long laces:

And imagine turning to Blake and finding you're surrounded by merciless giants who have orders to slay you. We'll also have to work that imagination overtime, so that we can figure out how the heck the Thor-to-Blake change happened while he was in Asgard. Anyway, there's no improvisation this time that's going to help Blake avoid becoming an hors d'oervre for these brutes, so he just runs for it:

Finally, I don't think things can get much worse than finding yourself falling from a building. What are you going to slam your cane against in freefall--a passing pigeon?

So how does Blake get out of this one? Well, we find out in the process that his transformation must happen incredibly fast--say, faster than it takes your entire human spine to shatter from impact with the concrete ground:

Maybe Odin should have rigged that stick to bring about Thor's change in another way.  Or how about just giving him a cool pair of nega-bands? Frankly it didn't seem to make much sense to arrange for a cane to be struck to bring about Thor's appearance, only to give custody of it to a man with a lame leg who would routinely bring it into contact with hard surfaces to assist him in walking. One accidental stumble in a busy New York intersection, and Thor appears out of nowhere in the middle of a crosswalk, with video of the whole thing up on YouTube shortly afterward.  I think I'd rather face Doom than a YouTube comment thread.


IADW said...

I love the shoe laces cane snatch! That is truly a classy manoeuvre ;) I never really liked Thor having a secret Identity all that much, but after this post I might just be learning the error of my ways!!

Anonymous said...

I kinda get why Stan Lee gave Thor an alter ego, but I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did. Thor's kryptonite, I guess. If I was Thor I wouldn't change back ever, knowing Loki was creeping around.

Comicsfan said...

I've always had mixed feelings about Blake's appearances in Thor's stories, given that his main purpose in the book is--well, to turn into Thor. His only other reason to appear is to personify Thor's vulnerability of turning into a mortal if deprived of his hammer for more than 60 seconds. Before knowing Blake's connection to Thor, we could just attribute the need for Blake to his role as the human who found Thor's hammer in a cave and subsequently became the Thunder God. Once that was resolved, he seemed a little unnecessary.

Simon Jones said...

Which is the Thor issue that featured the 'falling from a building' storyline?

Comicsfan said...

Simon, that was issue #324.

Murray said...

Dr. Don Blake wasn't totally superfluous. Well, ironically, he was moreso in Thor's actual comic, but not in Avengers or other guest starring roles. When a Marvel character needed a lawyer, they'd call Matt Murdock and *holy smokes*, where did Daredevil come from? Any major injury, especially in the Avengers, and Dr. Blake was the medical man to visit and *holy smokes* where did Thor come from?

The thing is, these plot gimmicks are only the surface aspect. Both secret identities do provide a much needed, no foolin' service. Somebody really does require medical attention and Dr. Blake saves the day, usually only by a squeaker before Thor is needed. I don't think the Avengers have gotten near as many boo-boos since Dr. Blake disappeared.

Anonymous said...

I had always thought Dr. Donald Blake was a wonderful part of the original Thor characterization, and to this day, I miss him.

There was something wonderful that the alternate self of a stormy (pun intended) warrior god was a disabled man of peace and healing. While Thor was frequently concerned about his personal glory and honor and the opportunity for valor in battle, Dr. Donald Blake was quite happy to labor in quiet anonymity in charity medical clinics that served the poorest parts of the city, a wonderful sort of yin and yang.

Unfortunately, writing about a genuinely admirable idealistic physician and philanthropist is far more difficult than writing about a Norse god, and many Marvel writers weren't up to it. So it was no surprise to me that Dr. Blake eventually disappeared.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

In the first few stories, Blake was a mortal who assumed the likeness and powers of Thor but he wasn't actually Thor. His thought balloons remained from Blake's perspective. This quickly changed but the original concept was a regular human sort of posing as Thor.