Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Man And The God!

"When I'm Blake, I don't care about Thor. And when I'm Thor, Don Blake is just yesterday's bad dream."
-- Donald Blake, MD/MS/NSG

A minor sub-plot in Mighty Thor from mid-1974 that I wish had been pursued further by writer Gerry Conway involved an identity crisis that Thor's mortal alter-ego, Dr. Don Blake, was experiencing. Earlier questions about Blake's origin vis-à-vis Thor had been answered by a two-part story explaining how Thor had been suppressed within the mortal form of Blake by Odin in order to learn humility. Essentially, Blake discovered he had always been Thor--that he and Thor didn't exist as two separate beings, with Blake finding "the real" Thor's hammer abandoned in a cave in Norway and assuming the role.

That hurdle cleared, Thor continued contentedly in his dual state of Thunder God and mortal physician, splitting his time between Earth and Asgard in extended stays in each of those worlds, with neither Thor nor Odin raising the issue that Blake had outlived his original purpose and was no longer necessary. That seems quite a curious disinterest in the matter on the part of both father and son--perhaps less for Thor than Odin, since Thor was used to his existence as Blake and had come to have much more empathy for mortals than Odin. But at the moment Thor learned the truth of the matter, wouldn't Odin have offered to remove the Blake persona then and there? Blake did, after all, represent a vulnerability in Thor that could be exploited by an enemy at any given moment, depending on how Thor fared in a battle; separated from contact with his hammer for more than sixty seconds, he would revert to Blake and likely be either captured or killed, with the hammer falling into enemy hands. In addition, it's no secret that Odin preferred that Thor spend his existence in Asgard--Blake obviously represented incentive for Thor to continue his activities on Earth.

As a reader, I was always glad that Blake remained, as I felt he added dimension to Thor's character, as far as it goes. Practically speaking, Blake's extended absences from not only his practice but in the operating room would surely raise eyebrows about the man in professional circles and compromise any reputation for dedication and commitment he hoped to establish. Why would Thor be remiss in saving lives, whether he did so as a mortal or as an immortal? And that's precisely what's so fascinating about Blake's later quandary on his double life and his responsibilities as Donald Blake.

What brings the matter to light for Blake is Thor's rescue of a young Asgardian goddess from the clutches of Pluto, with Blake's surgical skill needed to save her life. And it occurs to Blake that his professional life as a mortal is as important as his existence as Thor--a perspective he unfortunately only has when he takes Blake's form. The situation becomes only more nagging to him once he's successfully completed the operation, and a fellow doctor wonders aloud why he appears to take so little interest in a career in which he's so uniquely gifted.

Visiting his patient later, Blake can't help but weigh the scales of both his lives. And when a crisis rears its head, his transformation to Thor offers vivid evidence of how isolated the concerns of these two individuals are, even though we're essentially talking about the same person. It leaves the reader with a feeling that things must come to a head soon.

For Thor, the phrase "out of sight, out of mind" clearly applies to Donald Blake.

The crisis with the Destroyer resolved, the time comes for Thor to return to the hospital to check on his patient. It's an interesting scene for two reasons. For one, Thor has always demonstrated a sense of responsibility for the actions he takes as Blake, and knowing when Blake is needed to take care of matters that need his attention; yet he nevertheless regards Blake only as an aspect of his own character, with no thought to how Blake would see his involvement in a matter vs. how he would. Yet when Blake appears on the scene, it's like we're watching the impressions of two different people in play--and Thor would likely be stunned at the impressions that Blake has of his immortal counterpart, even though they're impressions he should already be aware of.

Blake's conflict is thrown into chaos when Firelord arrives on Earth and seeks out the Thunder God, but instead ends up giving brusque treatment to Hercules and a fight ensues in the hospital. And when Blake attempts to intervene and urge Hercules to cease hostilities, an accident occurs that offers Blake ample opportunity to separate his life from Thor's forever--if that's truly what he wants. It's really too formal a choice for him to make in so heated a moment, with lives on the line--but it illustrates just how far this situation has progressed in his mind. Nor does it look like Odin is any happier with his son's inner turmoil. (Though technically it's Blake's inner turmoil--but, just as we've seen with Thor, it would probably never occur to Odin to think of it in those terms.)

With Blake's own admission--"I've never really been Don Blake... only Thor..."--the conflict appears to be settled as far as Conway is concerned, even if it could be interpreted as Blake simply voicing his frustration on the matter. Nevertheless, this situation eventually becomes a non-issue, with the next few stories demanding Thor's appearance exclusively and Blake not appearing for about a year. Indeed, when we see him next, once again with his former love, Jane Foster--a situation you would think would have him wanting to remain Blake indefinitely--he seems to have come to terms once again with a dual life as Thor, with no qualms whatsoever in making the transformation from man to god.

Jane, as it happens, isn't conflicted in the slightest about the situation--she's delighted at being in love with two men at the same time. Way to have your cake and eat it too, eh, Jane?


It's no secret how Ralph Macchio, future Marvel staffer and editor, felt about Don Blake's presence in the mag, as we see in one of the many letters he jotted off to the company before coming on-board--this one advocating that Thor spend the majority of his stories away from Earth.  Your letter's timing was conspicuous, Mr. Macchio!


Kid said...

Personally, I never liked the later idea that Blake was a construct of Odin to teach Thor humility, preferring the 'star-kissed earthman' idea of JIM #83. Years ago, I came up with an idea as to why Blake and Thor really were two distinct identities, and that Odin had lied about Blake not being real. This was because Odin couldn't rightfully object to Blake wanting to marry Jane Foster if he was human, so Odin denied that he was. One day, the story shall be told.

George Chambers said...

I imagine that Blake was intended to be Thor's Billy Batson - the powerless alter ego to the invincible hero, and that the sixty-second time limit was added as a convenient way to place Thor into dilemmas. Where Captain Marvel had to come up with often ridiculous reasons to change to Billy, then subsequently be captured and gagged, Thor just had to lose the hammer for a minute to be placed into similar jeopardy.

Comicsfan said...

Kid, that's an intriguing plot, indeed. It's a What If story waiting to happen. I'd probably ask the same question Blake did--where has the real Thor been all this time?--but I guess you can't spill all the beans at once, eh? :)

George, certainly a good point. I suppose we could extend that thinking and presume that it was also a way to heighten the tension of a conflict by having Thor realize his danger and become more resourceful/battle more intensely in order to prevail in time. It would be nice to go straight to the source and hear the reasoning from Stan Lee himself--I wonder if the question has been part of an interview somewhere?