Thor 101: A Guide To The Comics Behind The Movie

Thor 101 Guide Comics Behind Movie

It’s been a long journey for Marvel Comics’ Thor from the four-color pages of his origin to the big screen, but what’s nearly 50 years to an immortal God of Thunder anyway?

This weekend, ' Thor ' hit theaters nationwide, and because it's part of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe , the comics that inspired it aren’t drawn upon just for passing references or surface similarities, but instead are woven throughout the film and form the basis of its story.

With that in mind, we took an in-depth, scene-by-scene look at the film, and examined exactly which classic stories played a role in making this latest comic book film epic. We've done the research so you don't have to, and you can consider this your unofficial guide to the source material that inspired Thor's big-screen debut.

Oh, and if you haven't seen the film yet, you might want to stop reading right now. This gets into MAJOR SPOILER TERRITORY . You've been warned!

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Early on in the film, we’re introduced to the realm of Asgard, home of the Norse gods, in flashback. During the age of the Vikings, the Asgardians are at war with the Frost Giants , a race of bellicose titans. This is somewhat of a conflation of two elements from the comics; the war being referenced here occurred with another breed called the Storm Giants, who first appeared in Journey Into Mystery #104, while the Frost Giants made their debut in Journey Into Mystery #101.

The giants possess an artifact of great power called the 'Casket of Ancient Winters.' In the comics, the Casket of Ancient Winters made its first appearance during Walt Simonson’s Thor run, in a storyline which ran from issues #344-349. As in the film, the Casket hails from the home of the Frost Giants, and has the power to release a devastating winter upon the Earth. (Talk about climate change!)

The Asgardians negotiate a peace with the Frost Giants, a truce which Thor ( Chris Hemsworth ), son of Asgardian king Odin (Anthony Hopkins), recklessly and arrogantly breaks centuries later. As punishment for his arrogance and disobedience, Odin strips Thor of his power, and sends him hurtling, along with his fabled hammer Mjolnir , to Earth.

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This bears a strong similarity to events told by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Thor #159, but with some significant differences. In the comics, Thor is not only stripped of his power, but his memories as well, and is transformed into the mortal identity of Dr. Donald Blake, who serves as his alter-ego throughout the early years of his series. The movie’s version, particularly with Mjolnir being discovered on Earth by agents of the U.S. government, bears more resemblance to the 2007 relaunch of Thor (and the prelude in Fantastic Four #536-537) as written by J. Michael Straczynski, and Straczynski in fact gets a story credit on the film. Donald Blake is not a part of the movie’s take on Thor, although some sly references to him can be found here and there for the attentive.

Thor is discovered on Earth by scientist Jane Foster ( Natalie Portman ) and her colleagues. The Jane Foster of the film doesn’t bear much resemblance to the Jane Foster of the comics, aside from being Thor’s love interest. Jane was introduced in Journey Into Mystery #84, as the nurse hopelessly smitten with Dr. Donald Blake. Thor eventually returned her affections, but the relationship didn’t last. In the film, she also serves as an ally for Thor, who is lost in a world strange to him.

Back in Asgard, Thor’s brother Loki ( Tom Hiddleston ) is having a bit of an identity crisis, and after a confrontation with Odin, he discovers a shocking secret; he is in fact the son of the king of the Frost Giants, Laufey ( Colm Feore ), Odin having taken him for his own after the war ended, hoping it would ensure a lasting peace. This mirrors the tale told in Journey Into Mystery #112, and although in the comics it is not a secret to Loki, it is a source of resentment, particularly because Laufey is killed in the war. In contrast, Laufey is alive and a primary antagonist throughout most of the film.

Weary from the agita both his sons are giving him, Odin decides to take a nap, but when the king of the gods takes a nap, it gets its own name: 'The Odinsleep.' He cannot wake from this comatose-like state until he is fully refreshed and restored. The Odinsleep is another Lee & Kirby creation, from Journey Into Mystery #118, and was a convenient way to get the all-powerful Odin out of the way so Thor wouldn’t have too easy of a time defeating whatever menace popped up.

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Still trapped on Earth, Thor decides to make a raid on the base where his hammer is being held. The hammer is protected by agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which in the Marvel Universe is the premiere espionage/international security agency. S.H.I.E.L.D. has made several appearances in the Marvel-produced films, most notably in a post-credits scene for 'Iron Man 2,' when the discovery of Mjolnir is first shown. Thor makes an impressive showing during the raid, even without his full godly might, and fans of the Avengers will be excited to see that one special agent (Jeremy Renner) is tasked to take him down if necessary; this agent’s weapon of choice is a bow and arrow.

Thor does reach the hammer, but is stunned to find he can no longer lift it. This is due to an enchantment that Odin placed upon the hammer to teach Thor a lesson; whoever lifts it must be worthy — an element that dates back to the very first Thor story, Journey Into Mystery #83, in which that very condition is inscribed on the hammer’s side. However, when we first meet Thor in the comics, he is already worthy of the hammer, having spent some time as a mortal and presumably learned some humility. The film’s Thor has yet to prove himself.

Meanwhile, Loki has taken over as king of Asgard while Odin is sleeping, and some people aren’t happy about it, namely Thor’s friends; the goddess Sif ( Jaimie Alexander ) and The Warriors Three (Joshua Dallas, Ray Stevenson, and Tadanobu Asano). In the comics, Sif, who debuted in Journey Into Mystery #102, is another romantic interest of Thor’s, but not much evidence of that is shown in the film, with Thor only having eyes for Jane. The Warriors Three, who first appeared in Journey Into Mystery #119, are a Three Musketeers-like group and close allies of Thor.

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The group resolves to go and rescue Thor, but first they must go through Heimdall (Idris Elba) , the guardian of Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, which serves as a portal between Asgard and Earth. Heimdall first showed up in Journey Into Mystery #85.

The group succeeds in convincing Heimdall to let them pass, but their plan is discovered by Loki, who unleashes the Destroyer, an enchanted suit of armor that served as a treasure guardian for Odin. The Destroyer has a bit more impressive pedigree in the comics; first appearing in Journey Into Mystery #118, he was eventually revealed in Thor #300 to have been crafted to combat the Celestials, cosmic entities beyond even the powers of the Norse Gods who came to pass judgment on the Earth.

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Thor and his friends eventually defeat the Destroyer, and Thor has the opportunity to prove himself worthy of Mjolnir in the process. They return to Asgard and uncover Loki’s scheme; he plans to use the power of Bifrost to destroy the land of the giants, and win Odin’s favor. The Rainbow Bridge hasn’t shown such offensive capabilities in the comics to date, but Thor decides that the only way to stop Loki is to destroy Bifrost.

This is a major deviation from the comics, in which the destruction of the Rainbow Bridge is one of the harbingers of Ragnarok, the Norse Apocalypse, as shown in Thor #127. Essentially, it’s a sign all of creation is about to take a swan dive, and as much as Thor might want to protect the giants, the end of everything probably wouldn’t be a good way to do it. In the film, however, Bifrost doesn’t seem to play as crucial a role in the universe; it simply serves to provide a dramatic ending.

Finally, as in most of the Marvel movies, there is a post-credits scene featuring Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (inspired by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s take in The Ultimates ). He shows one of Jane Foster’s colleagues an object that comic fans know to be the Cosmic Cube . The cube, which was first wielded by Captain America’s enemy the Red Skull in Tales of Suspense #79, is a weapon of immense power, having the ability to reshape reality itself. And perhaps in a nod to his role in forming the Avengers in Avengers #1, Loki also appears, secretly manipulating Foster’s colleague into accepting the cube.

All of this nicely paves the way for July’s 'Captain America: The First Avenger' film , and ultimately, the 'Avengers' film debuting next year.

... And there you have it!

What classic Thor storylines or characters would you like to see featured in the next Thor film? Let us know in the comment section or on Twitter !