Editor’s Note: With capes and cowls and iron suits, comic book fashion doesn’t just make the man — it makes the brand. But when you want to see the intersection of evolution, practicality and design for your mystery men, you don’t call the Fashion Police — you call in an Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. And now, we’ll let Alan take the reins, as he focuses on one Avenger whose apparel runs electric: The Mighty Thor.
Welcome to the new AGENT OF S.T.Y.L.E. By Alan Kistler
Fashion and comics have always gone hand in hand. No, seriously. After all, superheroes and super-villains, like runway models, need their appearance to have an immediate effect. Their look needs to say who they are and how they operate, while leaving a memorable impression in the mind. It also needs to be stylish enough that we will recognize the character no matter how drastically different another artist may draw him or her.
With all the movies that are coming out now, the look of a hero’s costume has become a greater concern because now we’re finally seeing many of these characters translated into a live-action world. Last week, we got a look at what Thor will look like in his upcoming film. Fans are still chatting about it. So why not put it all out on the table? Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. will be a weekly look at the evolution behind the artistic costumes of heroes, villains and others.
Now for those of you not familiar with Thor of Marvel Comics, this is the basic story. It begins with Dr. Donald Blake, a physician living in New York. Though excellent at his job, Don felt somewhat insecure due to one of his legs being practically useless, forcing him to walk with a crutch or a cane at all times. Soon after the modern age of heroes began, with folks like the Fantastic Four, Ant-Man and Iron Man making their debut, Don felt a strange urge to vacation to Norway. While exploring the mountains, he stumbled upon a plot by others to conquer the world and was spotted. Running into a nearby cave for safety, he lost his cane. Exploring the cavern, he found a strange, gnarled walking stick that seemed to be waiting for him. When he struck the walking stick against the ground, there was a lightning strike and Don Blake was transformed into Thor, the Norse god of thunder. The stick in his hand was turned into Mjolnir, the mystical uru hammer. On its side were the words: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”
Don initially believed that he had somehow inherited the power and form of the real Thor. He embarked on a double life as a superhero, becoming Thor whenever a super-villain or some otherworldly menace threatened innocent life. Later, he was brought to Asgard, home of the Norse gods, and eventually learned the truth. He had been born Thor, son of Odin the All-Father, step-brother to Loki, god of mischief. But after many centuries of battles, he had grown arrogant and Odin eventually had enough. To teach his son humility, Odin sent the thunderer to Earth, transforming him into the human named Donald Blake with no memory of his true identity, crippling one of his legs so he would have to learn how to overcome a handicap. After seeing that Don did indeed learn humility and that he dedicated his life to healing others, Odin had been satisfied and had mentally guided the doctor to Norway, leading him to the very cave where he had been born centuries ago. Mjolnir could only be lifted by someone who it deemed worthy and the fact that Thor could now wield it was proof of how he had grown.
Considering himself as much a part of Earth as he was of Asgard, Thor continued his life as a hero, both on his own and as a founding member of the famous super-team the Avengers. He has fought aliens, cosmic forces, super-villains and, most often, his step-brother Loki. He’s a pretty epic hero and it’s no wonder we’re getting a movie of him at last. So, you’ve got the basics. Let’s look at the evolution of his design!
KIRBY’S CLASSIC LOOK
Ah, Jack Kirby, you wonderful artist, you wonderful man. I’ll admit, sometimes your costume designs are too wild and weird for me (COUGH – Mr. Miracle – COUGH), but sometimes you strike gold.
This is the first cover appearance of Marvel’s Thor. What Kirby did here is nothing short of inspired. This outfit says both “superhero” AND “viking.” You have a standard superhero cape, but clasped onto shoulder pads rather than tucked into a shirt collar or simply tied around the neck. The circle designs on the shirt give an impression of the metal discs that some old warriors would wear to help deflect arrows and blades, causing them to slide away from the body rather than get enough force to pierce the armor plate.
The boots have leather straps around them, giving a sense that this person is from a time centuries ago. The helmet, of course, furthers this impression and the wings on it give a sense of ancient gladiators. The fact that the helmet is polished and highly decorative also gives a sense of royalty, fitting for the son of wise Odin, All-Father of the Norse Gods.
We should note that when Thor was introduced in the early ’60s, it was still pretty unheard of for men to sport such length. So to a 1960s reader, the hair is another marker that Thor comes from a more savage time, or perhaps more mythic, time.
But this outfit doesn’t just speak of the past. A sleeveless black tunic extends over the sleek blue pants, which is a very superhero style of dress. Notice also that this outfit is all primary colors, another classic comic book hero trait. In fact, Thor’s blonde hair acts in tandem with his golden belt and boot bandages, giving balance to the color.
Most of the characters Kirby worked on with Stan Lee did not wear capes. The X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, these figures were all very powerful but noticeably cape-less and the same went for most villains. In the 1960s Marvel Universe, capes were often reserved for those who needed to give off a sense of power and majesty. Dr. Doom, a man who mastered both science and sorcery, wore a cape. Magneto, a terrorist who intended to make his race the masters of Earth (with him at the top, of course), wore a cape.
And so, Thor, god of thunder, wears a cape. This makes him seem a bit grander when standing next to other Marvel heroes and it gives a great sense of wind and motion when he’s summoning a storm or hurling his mighty uru hammer Mjolnir. It also reminds you that he’s a prince when you see him alongside his fellow Asgardians, most of whom don’t wear capes but who do have similarly cool armor designs.
In fashion, people always talk about how important the silhouette is. It sometimes applies for superheroes too. Look at Batman. And it works for Thor as well. Look at him in silhouette here. Is there any doubt who that is? Just a great look.
Many years later, in 1991, the Thor suit was slightly updated for use by the man Eric Masterson when he sort of filled in for Thor. As you can see, this is Thor’s costume but with metal boots and actual metal plates now on the tunic. Eric also wears a mask, unlike the real Thor.
Years later, starting with artist George Perez, some folks who drew Thor would now draw actual metal plates on his tunic as well. Sometimes they’d draw only the top four circles as metal plates and would leave the lower two circles as mere designs on cloth. I think this works just fine.