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365 Reasons to Love Comics #206

“Hoo-boy!” It’s Hammer Time Redux for my second-favorite comics character of all time! Once again, most of you will think he’s lame beyond belief, but maybe, out there, there’s a few of you who believe that the world still needs heroes– and that today’s star was one of those heroes. (For more entries, see the archive!)

7/25/07

206. Eric Masterson/Thor II/Thunderstrike

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My favorite comics character, as we now all know, is Elongated Man. My second-favorite? Thunderstrike! Yes. A Thor legacy character, you ask? Created by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz? Indeed! Eric Masterson is one of the greatest comics characters ever!

Eric first appeared as a mild-mannered architect in Thor #391, during the early part of DeFalco and Frenz’s run. He was a single father and a regular bystander who happened to find himself in the middle of a few Thor battles (because Thor had his disguise of construction worker Sigurd Jarlson, at this point), and ended up befriending the thunder god. Eventually, he even tagged along on an adventure with Thor involving the High Evolutionary, Wundagore, the Black Galaxy, and the Celestials. Upon returning from said journey, the two are attacked by the evil Mongoose, who critically injures Eric. Thor begs Odin to heal his friend, and the All-Father does so– by merging the two.

It was a return of sorts to the “Don Blake” school of secret identities, cane-stamping and all, but the cool twist was that Eric was his own man, and always his own man. Unlike Don Blake, who was Thor, Eric and Thor were two different people with different personalities, though their merging caused them to grow closer over time. And Eric became a classic Marvel character, trying to balance a career, fatherly duties with son Kevin (Thor’s biggest fan), and still keeping up fighting crime and saving Earth and Asgard as the Mighty Thor. To complicate things even further, Hercules moved into his apartment as good buddy “Harry Cleese.”

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Much like Spider-Man, Eric’s story was one of power and responsibility. This was Thor, though, so Eric also had to deal with living up to Thor’s godly nobility. That was a theme that’d last throughout Eric’s entire run in comics– how does one live up to a god?

Also, this era of the Thor title produced one of the few comics moments to bring tears to my eyes (and on, like, my fourth reread, of all things), when Eric finally relinquishes custody of his son to his ex-wife and her new husband, because he’s got to go off and try to save the universe as Thor, a mission from which he may not return.

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Hercules will give you a hug if you need one. That’s why he’s cool.

Shortly after this, Thor got into a major battle with Loki and finally killed the guy. Odin frowned upon this and banished Thor, but leaving the power and the hammer to Eric. A mortal with the power of the thunder god! Could he prove truly worthy of wielding Mjolnir? Once again, could he live up to a god? I quite enjoyed how this run of stories deconstructed the Thor mythos, in a way. Eric couldn’t be bothered with the warrior’s code, and he didn’t battle the way Thor did. He’d fight dirty and use sneaky tactics if he had to. However, he wasn’t quite sure how to handle Thor’s enemies, because they weren’t really “his.” Heck, in one story, he let the Absorbing Man go. I enjoyed the friendships he struck with Beta Ray Bill and Dargo Ktor (The Thor Corps!), and his relationship with Sif, bittersweet and doomed as it was.

Eric had fun little one-liners: “Eat Uru!” “Blow it out your mandible!” (that one was to Annihilus). And of course, his catch-phrase, “Hoo-boy!”

Also, he had a fantastic costume (in my opinion):

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I loved Eric’s supporting cast, and how it grew over time. There was his son Kevin and his ex-wife Marcy and her new hubbie Bobby Steele, as well as Eric’s assistant (who had a major torch for him) Susan Austin, and his architect colleague and love interest Jackie Lukus, and a few others. And for Thor, well, he got to pal around with Code: BLUE, a crack SWAT-like team of cops tasked to take down super-menaces. Great characters, them: Marcus Stone! Rigger Ruiz! Mag Dog Rassitano! Jock Jadson! Mother Majowski! And the other one! I wish they’d stuck around. Have they appeared in any comic since the Thunderstrike series wrapped up that wasn’t written by DeFalco?

Eric’s run as Thor was great fun, but it was temporary. The original Thor came back, as he was always going to (he was “banished” to the inside of Eric’s mind, which is why he could lift the hammer), but that wasn’t the end of Eric’s story. Thor took the hammer back and returned to Asgard, but he left Eric a mace named Thunderstrike, in which was carved “The world still needs heroes.” Eric could finally be his own man, and his own hero. The Thunderstrike series was launched!

Thunderstrike was street-level Thor. Eric had to deal with a different kind of menace– drugs, guns in school, carjackers, and the like, and a new kind of morality– how far was too far, and where the line between “doing good” and “following the law” was. Of course, there were big fights and super-villains too, as well as the usual corny sense of humor and classic Marvel angst.

Thunderstrike 7.JPGThunderstrike 9.JPG

What was the measure of a man? Eric was constantly asking that question, seeking to live up to the example of the mighty Thor: his best friend, his brother-in-arms. He proved, however, that he didn’t need to, that he was a great hero all along. The last issue definitely proved that. Eric’s archnemesis Bloodaxe turns out to be one of his closest friends, but he saves him/her (I won’t spoil the surprise for you) by taking the axe away. It possesses his body, however, and he goes on a rampage. It takes Eric’s inner spirit to save himself– and everyone around him– from the terrible power of the Bloodaxe, but he does so– at the cost of his own life. His last words? “Hoo-boy!” Haha! The world needed a hero, and Eric stepped up to the plate, as he always did, sacrificing himself for the greater good.

Dig this page (click for big):

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He never needed to be a god; he was a man, and that was good enough for him.

The Thunderstrike series was incredibly ’90s, but, like Sleepwalker, it’s a true gem of the decade. The writing was hokey but the stories were strong, and Ron Frenz’s pencils looked gorgeous when inked by Al Milgrom. And it was lettered by Rick Parker and Janice Chiang! Whatever happened to them?

So yeah, Eric Masterson is one of my favorite characters. He was the star of the first several Thor comics I ever read, and I took a liking to him right away. Truly a character in the mighty Marvel manner, Eric was a guy who always thought he was in Thor’s shadow, but finally realized his potential as a true hero in his own right. The true power was inside him all along. Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz gave us this wonderful character, and stayed true to their singular vision for him. His story’s complete, and it was great while it lasted.

(Neat tidbit: Eric’s son, Kevin, took up the Thunderstrike mantle in the MC2 imprint, once again written by DeFalco, and appeared in A-Next and Spider-Girl and the like.)

Now, I’ve got every DeFalco issue of Thor, but I’m missing at least half of the Thunderstrike run. At least I’ve got something to search for– for me, one of my favorite characters isn’t totally “over,” even if I know how it ends.

To Eric Masterson, I give the Thor Corps salute– hammers high!

26 Comments

“Harry Cleese”? I don’t know whether to laugh or call the police.

If you’re into post-mortem, T-strike was temporarily resurrected along with other dead Avengers by Grim Reaper for two issues. I think those were issues #10-11, though I’m probably wrong.

I don’t mean to be snippy but I think Thunderstrike is a reason to HATE comics.

First off, the character is a knock-off. Whether you’re Supergirl or Thunderstrike the duplicating of a character as a spin-off to cash-in is one of the most shameless ploys the comics industry has used over the years. If your going to make a knock-off, you have to do something original enough in his appearance or his story to make him different. I mean, he looks almost exactly the same AND has the same powers. Who are we going to praise next Vengance?

Second, it was written by Tom DeFalco. Now his work may be your thing, but the EIC was writing an ongoing book, replacing the title character with his own pet character and there was no one to say otherwise. Imagine Levitz writing LoSH (that is what he wrote correct?) and having them appear everywhere, can you imagine the outcry there would be? Its incestuous and an abuse of power, only in comics.

Lastly, the basic elements of the character himself? I mentioned this in my first point but he looks exactly like Thor. Oh, excuse me, he had a pony tail and jacket.. in the early 90s. Lim sure was innovative. Also, the name. What IS a Thunderstrike? Its nothing but an uber-cool name that means nothing at all.

Even at 10 I rolled my eyes at Thunderstrike. And now, with the contextual and behind-the-scenes knowledge I know why. Thunderstrike is far from a reason to love comics, if nothing else he is a reason to be ashamed or disgusted.

I defended you when you highligthed characters like Sleepwalker and Darkhawk that were out there, or had creators that were passionate about doing something different and familiar. Thunderstrike however… For shame
(all of that sounded so serious, I love what you do here and I urge you to keep it up, but Thunderstrike… Ugh)

Disagree completely, Ian, for the reasons Reed gave. Masterson was a great character in his own right and it was an interesting twist on Thor (And lord, did the book turn to crap after DeFalco & Frenz* moved over to Tunderstrike). Yeah, Thunderstrike’s name and look are dated, but unlike 90% of pretty much everything else published at the time, this was hardly an Extreme/Image knock off. The series featured solid characterization, great, clean art (My favorite visual interpretation of the character, actually), and is pretty much the definition of Good – not great, mind you, but Good – Comics.

*That would be a great title for a sassy, updated ’70s variety show.

No, it wouldn’t.

Jeff Albertson

July 25, 2007 at 8:25 pm

Sign me up on the pro-Thunderstrike side.

He was visually similar to Thor, but the stories he was in were completely different — in fact they were stories that COULD NOT have been told about Thor. This was one of the more character driven superhero series out there. The main attraction of every issue wasn’t the fight, it was seeing Eric wrestle with his competing responsibilities.

As for the complaint about the EIC writing an on-going book, well, that’s a matter of degree. Stan Lee wrote several ongoing books when he was editor, and had his favorite characters appear everywhere. Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway — It wasn’t until Archie Goodwin took over that the Marvel EIC didn’t write several ongoing books. Plus, it should be recognized that he left Thor to do Thunderstrike, and let someone else write the more established book. DeFalco may have some sins to answer for in his EIC role, but Thunderstrike isn’t one of them. (Now chasing Englehart off the Fantastic Four, that needs some explanation).

Additionally, I don’t remember Thunderstrike (or Thor when he was writing it) showing up everywhere — In the Avengers, yes, which is a reasonable place for Thor to appear. I honestly can’t remember him appearing anywhere else — Did he even appear in the Fantastic Four when DeFalco wrote that?

I don’t like the name Thunderstrike, and I think Thunderstrike was a lot worse than the Thor run, but yeah, the Thor run was pretty good comics.

And I do like the Eric Masterson character.

As for Thunderstrike popping up in a lot of places, he showed up in Secret Defenders, Namor, Quasar, Avengers, Warlock and the Infinity Watch and Spider-Man Unlimited.

“As for the complaint about the EIC writing an on-going book, well, that’s a matter of degree. Stan Lee wrote several ongoing books when he was editor, and had his favorite characters appear everywhere. Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway”

I should have clarified this better. The only EIC/Writer I am familiar with is Stan and he didn’t really have pet characters he just had characters (having co-created pretty much all of them).
As for the others, there isn’t much I can say. Maybe I am a little harsh on DeFalco for his other efforts, but I think Thunderstrike illustrates these problems well.

I like Thunderstrike the concept – as per Spidey, I have a soft spot for comics heroes who realise just how ludicrous a situation they’re in. But as far as I can tell the execution was something less than loveable.

He got an ongoing before Beta Ray Bill.
That just ain’t right.

I like Masterson for one major reason. The beard. Thunder gods without beards look…well, girly. “I am the Mighty Thor! I can drink you under the table and fight til dawn! And look at my baby soft face…”

He LOOKED like a Norse god.

What’s with the hate for the name? It’s not meant to describe something that happens in nature. His strikes are like thunder, what’s the big deal? There are a lot worse 90′s nounnoun combo names.

While I’m sure the character of Eric Masterson was a good one (my knowledge of Marvel only goes so far) and his appearances in the mainstream Thor and possibly the rest of his solo series were good, the first issue of his book still sucked. ^_~

Although I will admit the theme of the measure of a man vs. a God did appear in it and it seems was a recurring theme for him according to this, which was one of the highlights of it.

Pedro Bouça

July 26, 2007 at 2:10 am

Eric Masterson was a great character! I mean, how many super-heroes are divorced fathers? There are loads of
teenagers, but Masterson was the only representative
of his “class” I can remember!

His series was on the rare bright spots in early 90s
Marvel.

I would love to see an Essential Thunderstrike or
something, collecting all his appearances (they would
fit in just one volume…).

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

I liked the issues I read of Thunderstrike. Eric Masterson was great. Always kinda felt sorry for him.

Eric Masterson’s one of my favorite characters.

Part of that is getting a lot of those Thor issues with him having JUST taken over the mantle (and a lot of mysteries flying around) off a NEWSTAND of all things as a kid. Probably the first monthly series I seriously was able to follow.

But for the rest, it’s the same reason I like Doug Ramsey or Quasar.

The guy is just so human. There’s nothing cool about him at all except for the fact he’s a really normal guy, a dork, really, who is put in a situation where he’s got the powers and he chooses to do the right thing.

He’s one of the best P.O.V. characters in the history of comics. Look at how he was used in Operation: Galactic Storm.

I guess, looking back, that yes, that’s saying I like the character and how he was used Pre-Thunderstrike.

Still, a lot of the charm still makes it through to the book itself, which also had a pretty great supporting cast, if I remember correctly.

The Kirbydotter

July 26, 2007 at 7:30 am

“on 25 Jul 2007 at 9:17 pm 10.Cat Skyfire said …
I like Masterson for one major reason. The beard. Thunder gods without beards look…well, girly. “I am the Mighty Thor! I can drink you under the table and fight til dawn! And look at my baby soft face…”

He LOOKED like a Norse god.”

NO HE DIDN’T. He looked like a biker gang member.
Pony tail, jacket with ripped off sleeves, leather boots…
Just missing the Harley Davidson.

NOW, Walter Simonson’s THOR, after he gave him a beard (he came up with the idea first you know) and gave him a viking armor…
Simonson = Norse Thor.
DeFalco/Frenz = 90′s Biker Thor.

Bill, I think you sometimes give too much credit on the 90′s comic books, one of the lamest period for the medium, especially the late 90′s. I can understand your personnal affection for them since you told us that you grew up on 90′s comics, these were the foundations on which you built your obvious love for comic books. But you should consider the big picture.

I don’t think THUNDERSTRIKE is lame beyond belief as you put it at the beginning of your entry, but he is hardly a reason to love comics. Ron Frenz isn’t either. He is a competant artist but is just a copycat with no style of his own. Tom DeFalco is not a great writer but I think he was the one who started the MARVEL MASTERWORKS program, so if this is right, he should get his entry for that reason only.

There is some good stuff that came out in the 90′s of course. But, so far, a lot of stuff you have selected from this period is not what most would call the good stuff. But again, THUNDERSTRIKE is not the worst, neither is among the best stuff. Pretty much forgetable outside his tiny era of “impact”. Althought, I will give this to him, he seemed to have been the major visual influence of the Ultimate Thor… Which is not saying much coming from me since I’m not into Ultimates at all.

PLease don’t tell me the SECRET DEFENDERS are next?

You know what the awesomest thing about Eric Masterson was? He was Thor during the friggin’ Infinity Gauntlet. That was awesome.

Oh man… this brings back memories. I have this issue, with the cheesy holofoil/glitter cover…

Mark_Lucas_TBP

July 26, 2007 at 9:01 am

I liked Eric as Thor, especially the final arc where he finds Odin and Thor and brings them back. Thunderstrike, I thought, was a good concept that just didn’t get written as well. The issues of Thor right after that, where he suffered from Space Madness and flew away with some imaginary goddess in a space boat, were just boring.

I did hate the scenes where Eric’s ex-wife’s new husband would push him around verbally, just because he was an ex-football player. I think he was based on former NFL player Mark Gastineau.

Jeff Albertson

July 26, 2007 at 10:08 am

“As for Thunderstrike popping up in a lot of places, he showed up in Secret Defenders, Namor, Quasar, Avengers, Warlock and the Infinity Watch and Spider-Man Unlimited.”

Yikes, I really didn’t realize that he did show up so many places. I’m curious as to whether that was more or less often than other characters from the same basic time period (War Machine, USAgent, Darkhawk, et al.)that weren’t created or written by DeFalco.

I was in my mid-20′s when Thunderstrike came out, so my interest at least is not motivated by reading the book when I was a kid.

And I’ve gotta say that I think almost any reason to love comics is a good reason, even if it may not be my reason.

The thing about Thuderstrike is, it doesn’t matter how good his comics are, he will always be LAME.

Just the way it is.

Didn’t read Thunderstrike or Thor, but Eric as Thor showed up in Gruenwald’s Captain America once, as “inexperienced hero x is in awe of Cap”. Thought that was neat!

Ian said “I defended you when you highligthed characters like Sleepwalker and Darkhawk that were out there, or had creators that were passionate about doing something different and familiar. Thunderstrike however… For shame.”

I don’t know if you’re aware, but Tom DeFalco created Darkhawk.

“I did hate the scenes where Eric’s ex-wife’s new husband would push him around verbally, just because he was an ex-football player.”

This was for the fake-out, though; there was a secret villain who was close to Eric, and all the hints (especially his temper) led you to believe it was the new husband/football player, but it wasn’t. It was, um, somebody else (I don’t remember who). The husband was, I believe, taking steroids.

Like Bill, my first major collecting run on Thor was during the Kevin Masterson period. I first became aware of the comic during Simonson’s run, but at that young age I was turned off by Simonson’s art style (which is funny, given I became a huge fan later on with his X-Factor and FF runs). I worked at a 7-Eleven in PA as a young teen, and maybe because I identified with underdogs, I set aside books such as Thor and Quasar the second they came in to the store.

I dropped off the book before Thor returned and Thunderstrike started–basically about the time I stopped collecting regularly. But some of those moments DeFalco and Frenz concocted were classic, emotion-stirring, powerful stories. Those pages Bill posted above are just the cream of a very good crop.

And I have a soft spot for Frenz–I’ll take his Kirby/Buscema mesh style any day over the Anime-influenced modern style of most of today’s comics. Plus, he is a super nice and humble guy. DeFalco’s pretty swell too. I met them both at an in-store back during that period, and I have a ton of those Thor issues signed by DeFalco (and Frenz), each reading “Hammers High!”

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