Comic Book Legends Revealed #442
Welcome to the four hundred and forty-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and forty-one. This week, just WHO invented Thor? Stan Lee or Jack Kirby? Plus, what comic book classics are responsible for the dreaded Comic Sans font? Finally, how close did we come to a new John Byrne Fantastic Four story from Marvel a few years ago?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Stan Lee invented Thor on his own.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
When it comes to disputes between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby over the creation of most of the most famous characters of Marvel’s Silver Age, there are three major roadblocks to getting to the “truth” of the matter.
1. These characters were not intended to be still discussed fifty years later, so no one was exactly taking detailed notes at the time of the creation.
2. Stan Lee has a terrible memory
3. Jack Kirby didn’t often speak publicly about his involvement in the creation of the characters until a period in the late 1980s/early 1990s when he was so pissed off at Marvel that he made a number of exaggerated public claims.
Still, I figure we can at least shed SOME light on the issue, especially the most popular depiction of Thor’s creation, which is being disseminated with Marvel’s film products, namely that Stan Lee came up with the idea on his own, like this 2002 telling of the story, where he posited that Thor evolved from a desire to make someone stronger than the Hulk…
How do you make someone stronger than the strongest person? It finally came to me: Don’t make him human — make him a god. I decided readers were already pretty familiar with the Greek and Roman gods. It might be fun to delve into the old Norse legends… Besides, I pictured Norse gods looking like Vikings of old, with the flowing beards, horned helmets, and battle clubs. …Journey into Mystery needed a shot in the arm, so I picked Thor … to headline the book. After writing an outline depicting the story and the characters I had in mind, I asked my brother, Larry, to write the script because I didn’t have time. …and it was only natural for me to assign the penciling to Jack Kirby
The one person who seems to be the most straightforward on this matter is Larry Lieber, who confirms that he was, indeed, given a plot idea and he then scripted it and then Jack Kirby drew that strip. That much seems to be definitely true. The question just becomes, “Where did the plot idea COME from?”
In 1990, Kirby spoke of Thor’s creation thusly to Gary Groth in The Comics Journal:
I loved Thor because I loved legends. I’ve always loved legends. Stan Lee was the type of guy who would never know about Balder and who would never know about the rest of the characters. I had to build up that legend of Thor in the comics.
Jack Kirby famously wrote and drew a Sandman story in the early 1940s where the heroes fought against Thor…
And Kirby also did another story for DC in the late 1950s in Tales of the Unexpected featuring Thor.
Does Kirby’s early Thor work prove that he came up with the idea? Of course not. But when Stan Lee gave his deposition a while back in the Kirby vs. Marvel lawsuit, his take on it seems a bit off…
I was looking for something different and bigger than anything else and I figured, what could be bigger than a god? People were pretty much into the Roman and the Greek gods by then, and I thought the Norse gods might be good. I liked the sound of the name Thor and Asgaard and the Twilight of the Gods’ Ragnarok and all of that. Jack was very much into that, more so than me, so when I told Jack about that, he was really thrilled.
Obviously, Kirby WAS really into the Norse Gods. But wouldn’t it make more sense then that Kirby, the guy who had already adapted Thor into comics twice over the years, would have been the one to make the Norse Gods connection and not Lee? Or at least, not Lee by himself?
Notably, Lee has spoken on the matter in the past, and notice the slight difference in this version of the story when Lee told it in a radio interview ALONG WITH KIRBY (they were both guests on the show) in 1967…
I always say that Jack is the greatest mythological creator in the world. When we kicked Thor around, and we came out with him, and I thought he would just be another book. And I think that Jack has turned him into one of the greatest fictional characters there are. In fact, I should let Jack say this, but just on the chance that he won’t, somebody was asking him how he gets his authenticity in the costumes and everything, and I think a priceless answer, Jack said that they’re not authentic. If they were authentic, they wouldn’t be authentic enough. But he draws them the way they should be, not the way they were.
Knowing that Lee and Kirby would confer on ideas, I think it is fair to say that Stan Lee came up with the idea for Thor WITH Jack Kirby, not a matter of Lee coming up with the idea and then assigning it to Kirby. Maybe I’m wrong and it was Kirby who came up with the idea and brought it to Lee, but I definitely don’t think it was a case of Lee coming up with the idea on his own. Enough so that I’m willing to go with a false here.
Thanks to Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Gary Groth, Mike Hodel (the fellow who had the radio show that Lee and Kirby were on in 1967) and commenter kevinjwoods, who reminded me of this story the other week when he mentioned the early Thor stories by Kirby.
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On the next page, which comic book classics inspired Comic Sans?