Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Goddess Is Born!

Readers may not have known it at the time, but with issue #136 of The Mighty Thor the comic would be parting with one of its major characters who went back to nearly its inception--Jane Foster, who had been the nurse and eventual girlfriend of Thor's human form, Dr. Donald Blake, but whose feelings grew even deeper when Blake's secret identity was revealed to her. Standing in the couple's way has always been Thor's father, Odin, who had forbidden Thor to love a mortal and who had more than one row with his son on the subject while he continued his relationship with her. Now, at last, Odin has relented, and granted his permission for the two to be wed--but if that's so, why does Jane look scared out of her mind on the issue's dramatic cover?

Side-by-side with its reprint in Marvel Spectacular, the cover by artist Jack Kirby is no doubt well-known to any Thor reader, as its story brings to a climax the long struggle that Thor has waged to join with the woman who holds his heart--a journey that's taken almost 4½ years. The MS cover makes two noticeable changes to the design of the original, the most obvious being to let the story's title banner stand on its own while its accompanying caption is moved to the bottom corner--still enticing, but less crowding of the cover's focus. There's also some needed rewording regarding the issue's threat, "the Unknown," which now reads less awkwardly on the revised cover.

As long as it took Thor and Jane to reach this point, the issue's story was likely highly anticipated by the book's readers, as it would mark a new chapter in the Thunder God's immortal life, and surely in Jane's. And indeed it does--though in a way neither of them could suspect.

To bring this moment into perspective, we should first take a look at the meeting which finally ends Thor's stalemate with his father and brings him the moment of happiness he's sought for so long. Odin's softening on the issue was in all probability the result of Thor's gallant defense of his fellow Asgardians from the attack of the merciless Seidring, when the Thunder God had every reason not to come to Odin's aid--an act that made Odin realize that he had been treating his son too harshly, and it was time to make amends.

(Assuming that Bifrost extends past planetary bodies, I still don't know how Thor can be jogging past planets. Quicksilver couldn't jog past planets. Usain Bolt couldn't do it on his best day.)

That brings us up to date, where we find Thor having recently rescued Jane during an encounter on Earth with the High Evolutionary and preparing to depart with her to Asgard for their long-awaited wedding. Both their hopes and their resolve are as high as the cliff they stand on.

If there were actually any substance to Jane's words here, this issue would be smooth sailing for her--but it's not exactly Camelot she's being taken to.

As it happens, Thor's timing couldn't be worse, since the Asgardian war machine is mobilizing against their enemies, the trolls--and the image of splendor that Jane had hoped to find in her new home is nowhere to be found. Quite the contrary, her first impressions are startling and forbidding--even her encounter with Heimdall, who grants leave to pass while brandishing a sword in her direction.

It's also interesting to gauge Thor's reaction to Jane's fear and trepidation, mistaking it for mere confusion; to him, these are everyday sights that are normal events in this realm. But the words he chooses to put her at ease fail to take into account that Jane is a mortal, one whose most agitated day probably consists of trying to hail a cab. " 'Tis but the loyal cavalry of Asgard!" he says, his concern turning to the mission of his fellows rather than the woman trembling next to him. To say nothing of: "Thou must become accustomed to such sights--for, within this fabled realm, the force of evil hath many faces!" Thor no doubt speaks such words with boldness, and challenge--thoughts likely shared by every Asgardian who realizes the ever-present danger they live under and accept their lot with defiance, but words which must feel like a bucket of ice water to Jane.

Interestingly, what helps to finally put Jane at ease is her meeting with the one who has most objected to her relationship with Thor--Odin, currently in the midst of troop deployments but who is ready to honor his vow to Thor. Yet Jane has barely had time to collect herself and catch her breath--and the adjustments and changes that are thrust upon her come too quickly, without the time she needs to acclimate.

Nor was Jane granted the one thing that you or I might insist on beforehand--the chance to consent to these changes to her being, and to her lifespan, before she's altered at a fundamental level and fitted with a power she never asked for. She now must live forever? And she must conform to the status of what these people consider to be a goddess? But didn't Thor love her as she is?

And again, Thor is clearly troubled by Jane not taking these events in stride, as well as her apparent lack of courage or ability to adapt--as if this burden is solely on Jane to shoulder and overcome. Here's an interesting question to pose: What if it were Donald Blake who stood with Jane here, rather than Thor? How would Blake regard what's being done to her? Would he try to convince Odin to let her remain as she is--or would he try to convince Jane that it's all for the best? With all the years that Thor has spent as Blake, why wouldn't Blake's perspective allow Thor to better understand what Jane might be going through?

But Jane is allowed no respite, even while she's reeling in confusion--because the learning curve of Odin, it seems, doesn't make allowances for doubts or hesitation. And instead of sitting down and having a few words with Jane, which would allow her to more fully comprehend what's being demanded asked of her, she's forced to enter a chamber without explanation and face a horror that even the Asgardians dread, in a test of courage and fortitude that Jane simply isn't equipped to handle.

(You'll hear in a moment how Odin makes a point of Asgardians having no concept of fear; but that emissary of Odin's is about as shaken up as they come, and even admitting his fear. It's too bad no such allowances are made for Jane.)

But give Jane credit: she tries to see this through, tries to do what's asked of her. But against a hulking creature who shambles toward her in the darkness, she cries out in terror--cries which reach Thor, and bring him and his vengeful hammer into the fray. But the damage has been done--and Jane can no longer endure the life that she is being asked to live in this nightmare world.

I'd have to go back a few issues to be sure, but I'm reasonably certain that in this entire saga involving Jane and Thor and Odin, nothing was ever said about Jane having to become a goddess in order to wed Thor--that she would have to virtually become an Asgardian in heart and mind, and that it was a deal-breaker. Thor seems to have known about it all along, yet never bothered to mention to her what would be expected of her in her new life. Having it sprung on the reader like this makes it seem like the result is what Odin wanted all along--which sets the stage for the scene which follows, though Thor has a lot of nerve in feigning ignorance since he was a willing part of it all. Up until the point when Jane failed to measure up, that is.

As for Jane, thanks to Odin she gets a new lease on life, along with a possibility for new happiness, and a classic character of this title makes her exit; while the character of Thor would almost instantly become involved with the goddess Sif, who appears to have no qualms about returning the affections of a god on the rebound.

If you think there's a segment conspicuously missing from this story's closing scenes, you're not alone. As swiftly as writer Stan Lee has shut the door on this situation, there's still the matter of Thor's love and devotion to Jane to consider, feelings that wouldn't simply vanish into thin air. Odin may have deemed Jane to be unsuitable as a goddess of Asgard, but that's a far cry from declaring his son's relationship with her to be null and void--and a far cry from Thor deciding to simply abandon her. In fact, just as Thor and Jane were about to depart for Asgard, Thor made his feelings of love and commitment toward Jane unmistakably clear:

Given what we've seen here--what we've always seen in the way these two people feel toward one another--why didn't Thor follow her back to Earth, as he declared was his intention? Why wouldn't he have rejoined her, to comfort and reassure her that they would work through this? Wouldn't he be thinking that now is the time when Jane needs him the most, when she's likely hurt and confused by her experience? As far as he knows, she's standing on Earth right now, badly shaken and wondering where he is. Why does he consider his relationship with her to be over and done with--and why would he think that Jane would feel the same? And let's say for the sake of argument that Thor does consider his relationship with Jane a lost cause--wouldn't he have sought some closure with her, and, at the very least, had the decency to join her and say goodbye?

These are glaring questions that this story sidesteps and never answers; but, in an alternate tale which addresses this very point, Thor isn't prepared to abandon his devotion to Jane Foster to suit his father's idea of a happy ending--and all of Asgard pays the price.

Mighty Thor #136

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Artie Simek


Anonymous said...

Deign not to interrupt the All-father when he doth be at the regal chess board!
The "Unknown" sounded familiar to me, and doing a little research, I found that he did indeed turn up later, known as the "Lurking Unknown" and a member of Marvel's "Fear Lords", a fun and friendly group of cosmic terror enthusiasts whose ranks included D'spayre and Nightmare.
He's purple and he's got four arms, which reminds me of a laboratory monster called "the Four-Armed Terror" from Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga, some years later. The Four-Armed Terror was yellow, but other than that they had same number of arms and the same winning personality.

Comicsfan said...

That's very interesting trivia regarding the Unknown, M.P.--thanks for digging it up!

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