Monday, April 5, 2021

Should The Hammer Be Lost...!


When Thor, the God of Thunder, arrived on the scene in the early '60s, Marvel had raised the bar in terms of a character who didn't succumb to mortal weakness and whose power dwarfed what Earth's super-beings at the time could wield and deploy. Yet since Thor was for the most part facing mortal nemeses in his 1962-66 feature title, Journey Into Mystery, he was given a vulnerability that would insert a bit of uncertainty into Thor's conflicts for his new readers by providing him with an Achilles heel (er, hammer) that would allow his foes to become a viable threat to even a god.

Having already explored the perplexing subject of the Thunder God's sixty-second liability in a previous post, it becomes easier to turn our focus to another means by which Thor's exploits became more marketable, a tried-and-true tool which has been applied to giving a leg up to any number of new comics concepts but could prove particularly challenging for a character such as Thor--specifically, the eccentric and outlandish threats which we began to see grace the mag's covers, many of whom were shown to give Thor a run for his money in spite of what they actually brought to the table. To name a few:

Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man, the poor man's Kang--a time traveler who at times (heh, get it?) traveled to our century to gain the means by which to secure his power base in his own;

Magneto, the mutant master of magnetism who would like nothing better than to conscript the Thunder God to his cause;

The Absorbing Man, who owes to Loki his power to absorb the strength and power of whatever he comes into contact with;

The Grey Gargoyle, a chemist who turns to crime when he accidentally comes into contact with a potion which turns him to stone and allows his touch to do likewise to others;

Sandu, a stage magician whose "powers" are enhanced a thousandfold by Loki; and Merlin, who returns from medieval times and schemes to take control of the U.S. government. (Take a number, pal.) Both magicians apparently have the same strategy when it comes to Thor:

But for any Thor aficionado, we must add two others to the list: the Cobra, who, well, slithers, and whose initial claim to fame was that he was fast enough to dodge Thor's hammer; and Mister Hyde, the result of a potion which gave disgruntled, out of work scientist Calvin Zabo a more malicious appearance (and tendencies to match) while also providing him with the strength of twelve men.

And as will become apparent, a villain having an inflated ego can be another tool which can serve to convince the reader that even the God of Thunder faces a true danger here.

Hyde, like the Cobra, will come to feel that his new power made him more than a match for Thor. Yet that's quite a leap for the Cobra to make, who ends up depending on a number of devices to supplement his cobra-like movements when Thor finally catches up with him--as if even writer Stan Lee realized that there's not much to this villain otherwise, aside from his motif.

As for Hyde, who seeks revenge against Donald Blake, the doctor's office is his first stop, where he manages to shove Blake out of a window to his presumed death before moving on with his plans. Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing that Blake and Thor are one and the same, though the news that one has saved the other only infuriates him more.

But as for any thoughts of superiority Hyde might have held over his opponent, well...

Both Hyde and the Cobra manage to escape being taken into custody--though soon afterward, we're treated to one of the most bizarre partnerships ever.

Given that these two were on the run after their recent defeats by Thor, it stands to reason that they might run into each other; but with Hyde able to resume his identity of Zabo and retreat to his apartment, the Cobra is really the only perp at large in New York, who has the bad luck of encountering but fortunately eluding Thor once more. Understandably desperate, the Cobra takes refuge in an open apartment window, which, against all odds, belongs to...

Seems that even the most haughty egos can be set aside for the sake of expediency, eh?

Thanks to Zabo's scientific background, the two manage to track Thor to the office of Blake, though this time the good doctor manages to outsmart both of these maroons (with apologies to Bugs Bunny) in order to switch to Thor.  But collaring both of them at once appears beyond even a thunder god's skill set.

With their initial assault foiled, Hyde and the Cobra initiate their backup plan, luring Thor to a packed machinery exhibition where they have the advantage over someone who takes great pains to shield innocents from harm.

With Thor's hammer tucked into one of the machine's compartments, Hyde and his partner move in for kill. No, I don't know why Thor doesn't simply rip the machine apart to get to his hammer--given the action he takes next, it's clear that bare-handed he has more than enough might to accomplish the deed.

Once again, however, our two criminals demonstrate they're not the sharpest tools in the shed--because when Blake reappears and offers to lead them to Thor, but refuses to do so unless they retrieve his cane which was "accidentally caught in the grappler machine," Hyde complies by ripping the machine to pieces to get it. From that point, Blake finds a way to use the gathered and panicking crowd to cover his movements, and voilĂ , it's hammer time again, as our villains find the tables suddenly turned on them.

With the Cobra being delivered to the police, Hyde makes good on his intent to escape by assuming once more the guise of Zabo while appearing to realize that he doesn't stand much chance against Thor--at least as long as his foe's hammer gives him an edge. And so, when Thor departs yet sees no sign of Hyde, Zabo changes once more and decides to truly test Thor's might against his own after separating Thor from his hammer--a contest which, as we'll see, Thor welcomes, even taking into account the risk the ticking seconds present to him. The decision results in a splendid collection of scenes by artist Jack Kirby and a sense of vigor in Thor, surely a welcome surprise to the reader who was likely growing weary of seeing their hero fret under these circumstances.

No doubt a gratifying final panel for those of us who like a little thunder in our Thunder God.

But it will take more than a few thrashings to keep these two persistent foes at bay.


"Every Hand Against Him!"


dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

I was watching something on YouTube t(e other day about how the looks of many Marvel characters were initially based on famous celebrities. Mr Hyde 8s looking to me like Patrick Troughton.

Big Murr said...

When I was in Art College, we were advised against ever using famous folk as a reference. "You just might be better at art than you think you are, and get a lawsuit as a reward for your talent."

In Captain America #251-252 Mr. Hyde was willing to destroy New York City to punish/kill Cobra for perceived treacheries. Was that the last time the two characters were linked together? Solo(-ish) careers after that?

dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

A couple of years after that, Murr, Cobra and Hyde are back in ASM 231-232 with Hyde seeking out revenge on Cobra. T(e writer and artist in #231 are quite clever in how they show a shadowy figure following Spider-Man and Cobra around looking for revenge, making i5 look like Juggernaut looking for Spider-Man. Only in the last panel is it revealed in a splash page to be Hyde looking for Cobra.

Whether Hyde and Cobra appear together after that I have no idea.

Comicsfan said...

The history of Hyde and the Cobra turned out to be one of the most extensive in Marvel, mostly leapfrogging between the Captain America and Spider-Man titles. I stopped following it after the early '00s, but, like the Energizer bunny, it just kept on going. Many of those stories were in the (admittedly delightful) habit of the Cobra (by then, King Cobra) finding himself at a disadvantage against Hyde's strength and rage, but managing to not only survive but to somehow get the better of his brutal foe. I actually found myself rooting for the Cobra (who, if you're going to root for one of two villains, was by far the more entertaining of the two!).

Anonymous said...

What I always thought was weird was that Zabo had a goatee and Hyde didn't.
You'd think it would be the other way around.
That Hyde lasted against Thor as long as he did, I attribute to the fact that Thor was trying to avoid killing him. He was probably on a kind of probation, returning after a period of being incarnated in Don Blake as a lesson in humility by Odin.
Crackin' Hyde's skull open right there on the sidewalk might not make the old man too happy, although the Odin of Norse mythology wouldn't have cared either way.

dangermash, I googled that Patrick Troughton guy and I do think I can see a resemblance there. Interesting face!
He was the guy who played the fallen priest in The Omen.


B Smith said...

Always thought the Cobra was a bit odd - cobra's may slither a lot, but they can't defy gravity...and yet The Cobra seems to have no problem slithering across a ceiling (or so one presumes - a couple of wiggly lines mean either that, or he took the long way to get to where he wanted to go).