How Many Issues?
Twelve issues: Journey Into Mystery #100-111. Each issue has a main story, featuring Thor, and a back-up “Tales of Asgard” story, which occasionally focuses on Asgardians that are not Thor.
Thor also appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #18 & Annual #1, Avengers #3-11, Fantastic Four #26 & 31, Strange Tales #123, Tales to Astonish #59, Tales of Suspense #56 & 59.
Plotters: Stan Lee (#100-111), Jack Kirby (#100-111), Don Heck (#100)
Scripter: Stan Lee (#100-111)
Penciller: Jack Kirby (#100-111), Don Heck (#100)
Inkers: Don Heck (#100, 104), Paul Reinman (#100, 102), George Roussos (#101, 105), Chic Stone (#102-111), Vince Colletta (#106-111)
Was It Good?
It was a mixed bag. One of the things that I really liked about Journey Into Mystery in 1964 is how it kept some subplots very prominent throughout the year. Thor and Jane Foster’s relationship is constantly a source of frustration for the hero; Thor’s struggles with his father’s authority —- especially with regards to Jane Foster —- comes up in almost every story; similarly, Loki is Thor’s greatest foe, but is only his primary enemy in a single issue —- but he appears in nine issues this year, causing problems from behind the scenes. At a time when most Marvel titles are still figuring out what kind of stories they want to tell, these Thor stories are unusually focused.
Unfortunately, that focus doesn’t mean that the stories being told are very good. Lee and Kirby are struggling to make Donald Blake interesting; at this point, he’s used primarily as Thor’s weakness, rather than his own character. My biggest problem, though, is Thor’s motivation. We still don’t know how separate and different Thor and Donald Blake are, so it’s difficult to understand why Thor is interfering with Earthly matters. I understand why Thor would want to battle Surtur and save the planet, but the small-scale stuff —- fighting the Grey Gargoyle or Cobra —- seems beneath a god that has almost every super-power.
While there are some interesting challenges this year —- I liked the introduction of the Enchantress and Executioner, and the Magneto fight was fun —- many of the villains Thor battled were definitely outclassed by the hero, and only a plot contrivance prevented him from defeating them immediately; Zarrko is the main culprit here, but the fact that the main recurring villains for the year were Cobra (four issues!) and Mr. Hyde (five issues!) makes no sense to me.
The artwork is good in these issues. Aside from Don Heck pencilling the main story in Journey Into Mystery #100, Jack Kirby pencilled all of the main stories and the “Tales of Asgard” back-up features. Like a lot of Kirby’s work at the time, there was a decent number of inkers working with him, but things settled down in the second half of 1964, with Chic Stone handling the main inking chores, and Vince Colletta finishing “Tales of Asgard.” Consistent artistic teams make a big difference, and this is one of Marvel’s best-looking books in 1964.
Another under-appreciated aspect of this title is that there were a few continued stories being told. Issues #99-100, 101-102, 105-106, and 110-111 were all two-part stories. Were these stories very good? Well, no —- they were the stories with Cobra/Mr. Hyde and Zarrko —- but allowing stories to expand beyond a single issue opens a lot of artistic possibilities for storytelling, and it’s worth noting that Lee and Kirby played with that concept here.
I guess I should mention the “Tales of Asgard” back-up stories, too. They are fine as supplementary material, but not really worth getting excited for. Most of the stories have involved a young Thor trying to prove himself worthy of lifting his hammer. I think these stories would be better served if they were multi-part tales, but so they have all been self-contained short stories. These are noticeably better than in 1963, though, because they feel less like Asgardian history lessons and more like actual stories.
What About the Sub-Plots and Continuity?
It can be fun to track the minor story points throughout a year’s worth of comics to see what ideas were developed, which were quietly dropped, and what weird trends emerged.
- The relationship between Jane Foster and Donald Blake waxes and wanes throughout the year. They go on a few dates, act lovey-dovey for a bit, but then get passive-aggressive with each other when the plot requires it.
- Odin was open to the possibility of granting Jane immortality if she proved herself worthy in 1963, but he decided that she was unworthy pretty early into 1964.
- Odin’s motivation for keeping Thor and Jane apart is revealed: Odin once loved a mortal, who presumably died and left him despondent.
- Jane Foster gets kidnapped several times this year. And yet, it doesn’t strike her as odd that Thor is the one saving her every time.
- Loki is still restricted to Asgard, as punishment for his many misdeeds. However, he is no longer chained up; instead, he spends most of his time advising Odin. This raises some legitimate questions about Odin’s decision-making skills.
- Thor continues to pretend that his secret identity is important, without actually doing a good job of concealing it. He transforms from Blake to Thor (or vice-versa) several times in plain view, but no one catches him.
- Thor continues to tap his hammer to access some powers, while other random powers show up from time to time. Apparently, he can use his hammer to hypnotize, track Asgardians on Earth, and time travel. He can also create tornado-strength winds by flapping his cape.
- Odin halved Thor’s powers as a punishment in Journey Into Mystery #101. They were never explicitly restored, but it was never mentioned again after that story.
- Donald Blake saves Doctor Strange’s life through surgery. This is the first time we have seen Blake tend to another super-hero.