With Superman’s recent citizenship status causing the usual irritation found among readers when comics dab into politics,I had to laugh when I started issue #84 and found Thor embroiled in a political story. While many comic fans don’t like when the real world spills into comics,we simply don’t think about Cap or the JSA fighting Nazis as a political issue anymore,but it was at the time. Just as it was when Thor took on a communist dictator in the summer of 1962.
I shouldn’t say he takes on a communist dictator. The title,“The Mighty Thor vs. The Executioner“,does implies such a bout,but the pair only appear together in one panel. In truth,Donald Blake embarks on a medical aid mission to an oppressed nation and,in the process,Thor inadvertently participates in overthrowing the communist regime.
The first thing you have to keep in mind about this issue isn’t how communism was weighing on the minds of everyone in the early sixties,but rather how the use of the word “lame” has changed in the last fifty years. You can’t help but chuckle at some of the captions like “Dr. Don Blake,a lame American vacationing in Norway…” or “not only does his nurse not mind his lameness,but…”. It’s easy enough to remember that Blake walks with a cane (a plot point which has yet to be explained),but it’s unintentionally funny to hear the poor fellow being called lame several times in this issue by several different people. The writer’s intention is to showcase that Thor is strong and Blake is weak,but the idea that Thor is awesome and Blake is lame can’t help but creep in during a modern reading.
Speaking of that nurse that doesn’t mind his lameness? Well,she’s easily the most significant thing to come out of this issue. Blakes’ long time love interest,Jane Foster. She’s a fetching redhead that works as Blake’s assistant/nurse. He has feelings for her,and she for him,but the two are so convinced it would never work between them that they never say anything,preferring to be somewhat cold and distant to one another. It’s like You’ve Got Mail,except without the mail.
After we get that mushy love stuff out of the way,the story takes a quick turn to get our erstwhile heroes to the story’s setting,the communist nation of San Diablo (Saint Devil,really?). While Blake was on vacation,the country experienced a revolution and two factions,one democratic,one communist are vying for control. The communists are succeeding thanks to the ruthless Executioner. In three panels,Blake goes from hearing about the revolution via newsboy to volunteering at a medical conference to travel there and help the wounded. I think he was just looking for a second vacation. He had to fight off aliens on his last one and it probably wasn’t relaxing at all.
Jane tags along on the volunteer mission too and we catch up with them on an ocean liner as it nears San Diablo. Apparently,there’s no hurry to get aid to this small country,but remember this is the same guy that waited a day to investigate an alien invasion. The ocean liner is attacked by four jets under the Executioner’s control leaving Blake with no choice but to become Thor and save the aid workers aboard.
This was easily my favorite part of the book and for one major reason. Thor can’t fly. Sure,he can throw the hammer and tag along,but this is a battle with four separate flying targets. He takes out the first one simply enough –smashing it half with his hammer,but for the next two he generates a whirlwind with the hammer that sucks up the planes and rips them apart. Why’s that cool? Because he does it while he’s falling. He smashes the last plane with his hammer and falls with its pieces into the ocean below. Once safely hidden in the water,he taps his hammer (hopefully gently) on the side of the ship and changes back to Blake. He’s fished out of the water by some men about the ship and gets called lame again for his trouble.
The panel at left depicts the fate of the four pilot’s commanding officer. While they were all shown to have parachuted away and presumably survived,the Executioner orders the…execution of their boss for their failure. I know it sounds harsh,but you don’t get the name “Executioner”by being leniant. With that soldier’s untimely death,we’re at the halfway point of the story,and,like last issue,Thor has yet to confront the antagonist. We go back to Blake as he makes his way through San Diablo. They encounter resistance on foot. Without transforming,Blake uses the cane to control a storm that washes away enemy troops. Then,tanks arrive and again Blake must turn into Thor to stop them.
The tank fight ended up being another favorite part of the issue for me,but for a different reason. Thor uproots a tree (plant-thing) to use as a lever (he’s really into levers) and shoves it under one of the tanks. Why’s that funny? Well,the tank has an exclamation point appear over its head – yep,even the tank knew this was an “oh crap” moment just before it was flung through the air on top of the second tank. Thor makes short work of the last tanks and successfully allows all the relief workers to escape… except,of course,for Jane Foster.
With the remaining soldiers holding Jane hostage,Thor is forced to retreat. I’m not sure why,but he inexplicably reverts to Blake after skulking off. You might be inclined to think this was some sort of plan,but if it was,it was a bad one. Blake’s almost immediately caught,his cane confiscated,and put before the firing squad. It seems hopeless,echoing the image found on the issue’s cover. Luckily for Blake,the Executioner must have taken a liking to the cane because he brings it the execution and Blake,in a last ditch effort,lulls him closer with taunts about his manhood and – right in front of everyone – Blake grabs the cane and stamps the ground to become Thor.
Fear not for Blake’s secret identity though,because everyone is too distracted by the crazy lightning to notice that Thor had taken Blake’s place. He uses the hammer to fetch a tent to cover the firing squad and saves himself just as the Democratic Army arrives! Cue the patriotic music.
With things still moving quickly,you might wonder what happened to the Executioner. Well,this is the one place where the story konks you on the head politically. With his forces in disarray and defeat inevitable,the Executioner grabs some comically large bags of money and runs away to fight another day. He doesn’t get far;as he’s spotted by his own firing squad and they’ve had a change of heart. He’s gunned down by his own squad with one of them openly exclaiming,“it’s the Americans who are truly our friends,not those who would plunge us into war”. Gee,can we all get along now? And never mind that this all came about because they kidnapped a Norse God’s crush.
Speaking of Jane,the story closes with a quick three-panel sequence where she discusses travelling home with Blake. It’s here,apparently after some time,that Jane finally asks where Blake went when Thor appeared in front of that firing squad. Blake chooses to make a lame excuse rather than tell the truth and readers learn that the affection she’d privately expressed for Blake at the beginning of the story has been replaced by affection for Thor. Oh,comic book love triangle,you.
I didn’t enjoy this issue as much as the first. It’s cool to see Jane introduced so quickly and the status quo of his personal life established,but there were a lot of oddities in this story. Blake didn’t intend to go as Thor to interfere (no great power,great responsibility conundrum here) nor did he even take any offensive measures against the army,opting only to fight when he,Jane,or the other volunteers were in danger. I appreciated that actually,but it wasn’t expressed in the story leaving me to wonder if I’m reading something into it that’s not really there –much like I’m able to read a second connotation into Blake being “lame”. In all,it was still a solid second issue. Kirby again provided great art –even if he didn’t bother to make his art in the quick recap of previous issue match the art he drew in the previous issue and Lieber’s writing fits right in with his brother Stan’s. While it’s interesting to see Thor fight aliens an thwart communists,I’m looking forward to the next issue. I believe that’s Loki I spy on the cover…
This Daily Thor ended up a little later than I would’ve liked,but fear not…I’ll see you back here tomorrow for Journey into Mystery #85…