Southeast Missouri State University alumnus gave 'Thor' life

Friday, May 6, 2011
Chris Hemsworth portrays the title character in a scene from "Thor." (Paramount Pictures-Marvel Studios, Zade Rosenthal)

Roy Thomas' interest in folklore and mythology made him a natural fit to write the Marvel Comics character Thor.

"I always had an affinity for the character. When the assignment came up, I jumped on it," recalled Thomas, 70, who lives in South Carolina. He is an alumnus of what is now Southeast Missouri State University.

A former English teacher, Thomas is a prolific author best known for bringing Robert E. Howard's "Conan the Barbarian" to comics, as well as writing many characters for Marvel and DC comics, including Thor.

Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962, Thor is based on the god of thunder of the same name from Norse mythology who wields the magic hammer Mjolnir -- pronounced Mewl-nir -- which means "crusher."

On Thursday "Thor" -- adapted from the comics -- hit theaters. It stars Chris Hemsworth as the titular character; Oscar winner Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Thor's love interest; Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins as Odin, the king of the gods; and Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the evil god of mischief and Thor's archnemesis. The movie is directed by Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh.

"Thor," along with this summer's "Captain America: The First Avenger," are interconnected with the "Iron Man" movies and will spin off into next year's "The Avengers," which is based on Marvel's team of superheroes of the same name.

"I'm amazed to see Iron Man, Thor and Cap on the big screen. [The filmmakers] have done a wonderful job of building the Avengers idea as they have been for the last several movies," Thomas said. "I hope the 'Thor' movie is a big hit."

Despite a long-running comic series and a blockbuster movie, not much is known about Thor. There are blatant differences between Marvel's Thor and the Thor of Norse mythology.

In the comics, Odin banished an arrogant Thor to modern-day Earth, transforming him into a crippled physician named Donald Blake, to teach him humility. When danger arose, Blake stomped his walking stick on the ground and became Thor. The walking stick became the hammer. Thor battled the forces of evil and hoped to win Odin's approval.

In the movie, Odin banishes Thor to Earth as a normal, young human after his recklessness reignites an ancient war in his world of Asgard. The most evil villain of Asgard sends his darkest forces to Earth and Thor must battle them to protect his new friends.

Thomas first wrote Thor during his 1966-1972 tenure on "Avengers."

Lee "wrote him out of the book, but I kept bringing him back for guest appearances," Thomas said. "He's one of the big hero mainstays of the Avengers."

Thomas wrote "Thor" from 1977 to 1980. His most notable story was "Ragnarok" -- released in February in a collected edition -- which is based on the Norse myth where all the gods die, including Thor. In this story, Odin transforms a cameraman named Red Norvell into another version of Thor, who dies in Thor's place.

Along with fellow comics writer Gerry Conway, Thomas proposed a "Thor" film to Disney -- which now owns Marvel -- in 1984, but nothing came of it. Thomas returned to "Thor" from 1994 to 1995. Many of his "Thor" and "Avengers" stories have be reprinted in trade paperback.

"Thor's a well-designed character with strong, primary colors," Thomas said. "What made him so popular was that he's Marvel's equivalent to Superman and the original Captain Marvel."

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