Panels to Popcorn: The 1960s Thor Cartoon

GhostAndy

Across the Rainbow Bridge of Asgard

Where the Booming Heavens Roar,

You’ll Behold in Breathless Wonder,

The God of Thunder, Mighty Thor!

 

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The 60s Thor Cartoon Show

 

Welcome back to another installment of Panels to Popcorn, a series of articles I’ve been working on here at Ghosts of the Stratosphere that deals directly with movies and TV shows that have been pretty much directly adapted from comic books. And when I use that term, “adapted”, I really do mean it in the truest sense of the word. Some comic book related media properties use the characters or similar situations as to what you might find in the original comic book source material, but in these articles, I really try to focus on those properties that have direct correlation to actual comics that you can pick up and read today.

One of the best examples of this from the Marvel camp in my mind has always been the cartoons like the Mighty Thor which were a part of the very first ever Marvel animated series put out by Grantray-Lawrence Animation back in 1966 entitled “Marvel Super Heroes”. This was a full year before the same animation company started putting out the much more well known 1960s Spider-man cartoon, now made famous world wide for it’s beloved theme song about old Web-head “catching thieves just like flies”.

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Still though, I’ve always had a soft spot for the old Marvel Super Heroes cartoons from the mid 60s despite their pretty infamously bad animation, which was done by just xerography aka photocopying art from comic book panels in a variety of sizes in an attempt to mimic motion.

I’ve often defended this show on the podcast though as not so much cartoons, but as the very first motion comics out there, bringing the terrific art of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Larry Lieber and others to the masses that might not have had a chance to check out these stories in the original comic book form. I speak from the heart on this as being a kid with in the 80s with very few choices for comic book related cartoons or reprints of heroes other than Spider-man or the X-men, these cartoons were a window into the worlds of characters I didn’t normally get to experience.

As such I devoured most of the cartoons from this series that I could get my hands on over the years  which split its nearly 65 episodes across five different Marvel Heroes: Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Submariner, and today’s focus, the Mighty Thor.

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Of course, I will say that I didn’t get a chance to watch many of the Thor cartoons from this series growing up as he really wasn’t as “mainstream” of a character like say Captain America which they made multiple VHS collections of. It wasn’t until my late 20s when  they released the entire run of the most famous Asgardian on DVD, I immediately jumped at the chance to own it so I could see what I was missing.

Over a decade since first watching these episodes and now when compared with some of the other runs made about the other Marvel heroes, I can say that other than maybe the Submariner cartoon, the Thor ones are some of the more lack luster of the entire series with only a handful truly great episodes out of the 13 that were produced.

What’s even more bizarre is that unlike Cap and Hulk, Thor doesn’t even get his origin issue recreated despite the fact that I think most can agree his first battle against the Rock People from Saturn is one of more memorable adventures from those early days.

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Instead we get some questionable Loki stories, a retelling of his battle with Zarko the Tomorrow Man (whom is pretty much a poor man’s Kang the Conqueror), and plenty of his adventures co-starring Hercules. Initially I did wonder why they decided to devote 2 of the limited 13 episodes about Thor’s misadventures with his fellow mythological power house, but it’s probably because Herc was a box office draw back in the mid 60s, as anyone that has watched MST3k will attest given the massive amount of movies made about the fella after Steve Reeves first donned a toga and greased himself up with baby oil.

In fact, it’s these adventures featuring his battles/team ups with the Prince of Power that were the only episodes of the Thor cartoon I got to see when I was a kid, as my local video store had exactly one VHS starring Thor among their collection. By the way, that VHS was a complete rip off in terms of it even being about Thor, as it only contained one episode from this cartoon series. The second “bonus” cartoon included with it was actually an episode of the 60s Spider-man cartoon from the largely forgettable second season called “Neptune’s Nose Cone”  which sees Spidey trying to save a experimental rocket ship from the bowels of a volcano for some bizarre reason.

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Still though, the 60s Thor cartoon series does have a couple really great retellings for those that might want to experience some of the best of those early years without having to track down the individual issues. I say this because there are a couple episodes ripped directly from the excellent run Jack Kirby had on the book starting in 1964 when he took over as co-plotter. These are the issues that have those wonderful “Tales of Asgard” back up stories which were supposed to lead to Jack introducing the New Gods to Marvel’s House of Ideas. Of course, that never came to fruition as Jack took the idea for Darkseid, Orion, and the rest with him to DC instead after jumping ship in the late 60s.

Anyways, here are 3 episodes I can recommend you giving a gander the next time you are bored and decide you need a Thor fix:

1) Enchantress and Executioner:

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This is basically a retelling of issues Journey into Mystery #103 and 104 which feature the first appearance of the Asgardian baddies Skurge the Executioner and Amora the Enchantress.

Let’s face it, Thor is at his best when he gets to fight his fellow immortals given they have enough raw power to be a credible threat. This is especially true when these two baddies team up as they have the right combination of raw brute strength and magical cunning to make things very dire indeed for the old Thunder God. That’s why I easily name this duo as the second greatest of all of Thor’s rogue gallery right after Loki himself.

In addition, this adventure concludes with an epic battle over the skies of New York City between the combined forces of Thor and Balder the Brave vs. Skagg the Storm Giant and the uber villain, Surter the Fire Demon.

Yes, you heard me right. For those of you that love that Walt Simonson run featuring that baddie, this showdown against the insanely powerful hell spawned demon predates the Simonson run by nearly 20 years, so you definitely owe it to yourself to take a gander.

2) Molto the Lava Man

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This episode starts with a retelling of Journey into Mystery #97 featuring the first appearance of a member of the subterranean race of fire folks which would later be revealed to be the remains of an ancient slave race created by the Eternals evil counterparts, The Deviants, after genetically manipulating humans they had captured.

However, what makes this episode really great is the second half of the episode which is a retelling of Avengers #5, which sees the original founding line up of Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man, Hulk, and the Wasp battle a sea of Lava Men hell bent on expelling a giant volatile boulder from their kingdom even at the expense of killing us humans.

Given the classic Avengers didn’t get their own cartoon series until decades later, this episode combined with a couple other stories from the Cap and Hulk series basically give fans their only animated glimpse of Earth’s Mightiest in action long before they became immensely popular. A real treat for fans of the current MCU series!

3) To Kill A Thunder God

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Probably the best of the all the 60s Thor cartoons, this episode retells the epic battle between Thor and Odin’s unstoppable engine of death, the Destroyer, originally appearing in Journey into Mystery #118 and 119. One of my favorite stories from some of the best years of the Jack Kirby run on Thor really sees the often times unstoppable immortal being truly tested against a foe which is definitely more powerful than he. Indeed, Thor is has his Hammer cut in half by the Destroyer’s rays in this story, and has to fight with only his wits and strength against a tireless enemy hellbent on his destruction.

Not only that, but its one of the first times in the comics, that Loki actually has to come to Thor’s aid…unwillingly of course. As Loki was responsible for the Destroyer’s reawakening, he realizes too late that Odin will kill him if he ever finds out which will definitely happen if Thor dies at the Destroyer’s hands. Thus, Loki has to use all of his magic to assist Thor at every turn in hopes his half brother can overcome the threat.

Really it’s the beginnings of the kind of anti hero like behavior which has become more of the norm with the more modern interpretations of Loki, so again fans of the MCU will definitely find this episode to more in their wheelhouse!

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