There Is No Fate But What We Snake: How a Radioactive Cobra Humanized Marvel’s Thor
The more and more I delve into the Thor mythos, the more and more it becomes clear that the relationship between Thor/Don Blake and, his nurse assistant Jane Foster, define the series.
I wrote in my last Thor related article how his father Odin forbiddance of his romantic involvement with the mortal woman sent Thor into an almost titanic fit of rage. This moment has stood as an important checkpoint in my Journey Into Marvel. It is such a wonderfully cathartic moment and even more fantastic that it comes from a male character in regards to a female.
The Silver Age Marvel Universe seems to thrive on the ‘will they wont they’ relationship trope.
It began with Reed and Sue in the Fantastic Four, continued with Janet and Hank in Ant-Man and, is further confused by, the love triangle of Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts and Tony Stark in the Iron Man stories.
In the case of the mighty Thor, the trope seems to govern the evolution of the characters and, not a story goes by, that doesn’t revel in the star crossed-ness of Jane and Don.
Within this issue, the antagonist Klaus Voorhees/Human Cobra is purely created as a device to reunite Jane and Don after the proto-Shakespearian banishing that Odin created in the last issue.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this is a bad thing. On the contrary. It is fascinating. Without the humanizing influence of these events, Thor would end up being a cheap imitation of DC’s Superman. Remember, Thor is a ‘Marvel realist‘ version of the Kryptonian.
DON BLAKE‘S INHUMANITY
From the get go, Thor fought an uphill battle for connection with the audience.
As I’ve written before, Thor is a parody of Superman and he carries along a lot of the same character problems of that DC model. Kal-El’s powers are divine, meaning that the reader is forced to faithfully accept that he is powerful. Thor’s could be called the same if it weren’t for Stan Lee.
Stan Lee separated the character from the Superman model by first creating the limitation of the Mjolnir, in that Thor must hold Mjolnir to maintain his power and secondly, that Thor is limited by the rules and laws of his people.
Unlike Kal-El, Thor is subject to the laws his Asgardian monarch and father Odin. Kal-El’s race has been destroyed so this is a limitation that does not exist.
In the last issue, Thor was told by his father that if he chose to pursue a relationship with Jane his divinity would be forfeit. Subject to this law. Don Blake and Thor simultaneously distant themselves from Jane’s clear advances.
Jane, rightfully feeling undervalued by her employer, goes to work for Dr. Andrews who is Don’s mortal nemesis.
Side note: isn’t it odd how sexual interest and employment seem to go hand in hand in Jane’s character. Stan Lee, who directly wrote this one, proves once again that he cannot write women.
These issues often focus heavily on the heightened Asgardian tales of Thor.
This one is a change of pace. We are presented with a human conundrum that could easily happen to many of us non-Asgardians. A father removing his favour because he disproves of his son’s choice in mate. It is a story as old as time.
EXAMINING KLAUS VOORHEES
As a character the Human Cobra is pretty contrived.
Even by Marvel standards he is tired.
Klaus a disenfranchised and ignored assistant to a much more appreciated scientist, of indiscriminate focus, named Dr. Shektor.
Voorhees and Shektor are working on some project in the remote parts of India.
Coincidentally, it’s a part of India that is populated only by caucasians. Seriously, from the looks of Don Heck’s art, there are no Indians in India.
They seem to be experimenting by injecting radioactive materials into various animals.
While trying to kill his boss for some perceived slight, Klaus gets bitten by a radioactive cobra whose venom goes to work on mutating Klaus into a Human/cobra hybrid. Rather then.. you know… killing him.
Everything about this story is over done. From the personal slights to the radioactive cobra bite. He’s essentially a villainized version of the Spider-Man origin story.
Klaus Voorhees is an empty character that is created to further the romance between Jane and Don.
After some coincidental business between Thor and Dr. Shektor, (Don just happened to be both Shektor’s former protege and in India to stop Cobra from killing the doctor) the Thunder God fights Cobra across the world until he ends up in the office of Dr. Andrews holding Jane Foster hostage.
Human Cobra is so thinly designed that in one panel he is an angry loner who wants recognition, only to change two panels later inexplicably into an antagonist that suddenly wants to take over the world.
Voorhees is a melodramatic trope who’s single function is to take Jane Foster hostage. This thin conception bothers me.
I understand the sheer amount of writing that was going on in this period of Marvel, however, it is disrespectful when a writer dupes the audience with a two dimensional villain that has no clear goal beyond foiling the protagonist. This is not only lazy writing, it is writing that is exploitative; mindless words to fill a money making comic.
Ignoring my frustrations with the conception of Klaus, let’s take a look at this all important romantic moment shall we?
Klaus enter’s Andrew’s office coincidentally and promptly takes Jane Foster hostage.
Cobra has just flown from darkest India, with Thor hot on his heals, to battle the god in New York City. Apparently the lack of landmarks in the jungle makes it hard to fight.
He does not go there for any reason beside a sudden need for world domination.
After a few skirmishes that end up being hilariously unbalanced in Thor’s favour, somehow the Human Cobra ends up with his slithery hands all over Jane. This is tackily convenient, I can sense 10 year olds groaning over this, five decades later. This is a convenience that straddles continents and defies geographic logic.
Anyway, accepting the coincidental nature of this whole event, Cobra is ready to kill Jane and Dr. Andrews cowers in his presence.
Suddenly, Thor bursts in and saves the day!
Thor chooses to console Jane instead of pursuing the Cobra and Voorhees gets away. Not a common ending when Thor is involved.
Out of nowhere, spurred on by this rescue from Thor and the cowardice of her new boss, Jane decides to go back to work for Don because she “needs a real man.”
Wait a minute… Jane has many times accused, often without provocation, Don of cowardice. Suddenly, he’s not a coward?
He wasn’t even present at this event. Jane has no clue Thor is Don. Does Stan Lee still remember this?
This whole realization is entirely spontaneous. Another example of exceptionally bad writing.
Jane is now back working for Don. He can totally admit his undying love for her, right?
Don knows there are still threats that exist upon the Earth, having let the Cobra go. Therefore, Thor must still exist to protect the world from its ills.
Thor says: “It seems I can never abandon my legendary identity! For when there is a need, Thor must respond.”
Add martyr to the list of Thor’s godly traits.
I am troubled by Jane’s choice in romantic partners.
Stan’s women define their romantic partners singlely through who they work with. Their selection seems to be defined by other direct authority figure. This is seen in Iron Man, Ant-Man, and here. I wonder why Stan chose to write Jane this way?
Wait… it might lead to a retroactive sexual assault charge.
Fearing a libel charge, I’ll not conject.
Stan has a tendency to rely on cliche and stereotype when he is cranking out work just to sell issues. Judging by the conveniences present in the conception of the Human Cobra and the blankness of Jane Foster’s romantic life; I’d say that the shear amount of titles Stan Lee and the other creatives were responsible for was beginning to lower the collective quality of issues.
Journey Into Mystery has generally been the strongest title. If this one is plummeting, so goes the rest. Journeying On: Julian Munds
Story I Read: “Challenged by the Human Cobra” (Journey Into Mystery #98 Nov. 1963)
Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: The focused writing on Don Blake really develops the character. Thor in this one clearly functions as an alter ego making firm lines as to how the relationship works.
Cons: The coincidental writing of the whole issue. The two dimensionality of Jane Foster. The veiled racism. Human Cobra.
Previous Review:“Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo” (Strange Tales #114 Nov. 1963)
Upcoming Review: “Tales of Asgard – Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants” (Journey Into Mystery #98 Nov. 1963)