Marvel’s Thor and Thermo-Nuclear War

Journey Into Marvel – Part 54

Thor and the Missiles.

Thor and the Missiles.

Extremites, we forget that at one time the threat of nuclear war was as present as the threat of a thunder storm on a humid day. In 1962, when the world came the closest it ever came to total nuclear annihilation — during the Cuban Missile Crisiscomic books all took a dark turn. Never has this turn been more clear then in today’s Thor adventure. Journey Into Mystery #86 is full of anxiety and shows that even wild stories, about time travel and feats of strength, can be full of zeitgeist ideology.

Much of the anxiety of the period was not directed at the government perpetrators, and often champions of nuclear offence, but at the scientists who created the technology. Even though this is misguided, as anything can be a weapon if put in the wrong hands, the anger was often misdirected at intellectuals. Stan Lee and Larry Lieber reflect this misdirection in Zarrko.

Zarrko steals the Cobalt bomb.

Zarrko steals the Cobalt bomb.

Zarrko hails from a possible future Earth utopia that has forgotten war and hatred. Z doesn’t, for some unknown reason, enjoy peace. He espouses this philosophy in a blunt fashion “Other scientists devote themselves to helping civilization … but I have invented a way of leaving our civilization!” Zarrko uses his ‘science’ — meaning time travel — to become a ruler. Through Zarrko, Stan and Larry show that not all advancements are in the best interest of humankind.

In a clever juxtaposition we are introduced to Thor as he is racing missiles. A general, who looks like Thunderbolt Ross but is not Thunderbolt Ross, has Thor testing missiles to see if they are able to outrun him … or something.


Lee and Lieber, who have become quite the creative team in the last bunch of issues, draw the connection between Zarrko who is looking for a way to steal a nuclear warhead, and Thor who is testing them.

Everything is about warheads.

What’s even more frightening is that Thor and the army are using these killing machines as toys.

The army has a new bomb called the ‘cobalt bomb.’ They want Thor to stand beside the explosion and see if he can withstand it. Out of a “time vortex” Zarrko appears and steals the bomb. Through Asgardian trickery, Thor manages to follow Zarrko. The army has no control over chaos and owning little cylinders of ultimate death cannot be good for our advancement as a species.

Stan Lee and Larry Lieber discuss what true human advancement is. Propaganda of the period equated the splitting of the atom with human achievement. Though It did lead to a cleaner power source, the splitting of the atom was done to make an ultra-weapon in effort to end the worst war in history. Lee and Lieber subvert this propagandist claim and show an advanced future peaceful world held hostage by an archaic ‘achievement.’

When Thor arrives in Future World to hunt down the cobalt bomb, he finds a world crippled because one character threatens violence. They cannot protect themselves. This is a frightening thought as well. It is our paranoia that protects us.

This issue expands on the Don Blake/ Jane Foster relationship. Following the Superman prototype, that early Thor riffs on, Jane is more in love with Thor than the mild mannered crippled Blake. There’s an extended fantasy sequence where Jane shares how she would date Thor. She’d cut his hair, clean his clothes, and, in a brilliant double entendre, she wants to polish Thor’s hammer. The college humour here is just too good to ignore. What a creative way to get around the Comics Code of Ethics.

In a world that was under constant threat of annihilation it is surprising that the creatives could tackle such lofty conversations about nuclear anxiety, and the nature of human advancement, with satirical humour.

This issue is Silver Age Marvel writing at its best.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds

Story I Read: “On The Trail Of The Tomorrow Man” (Journey Into Mystery #86 Nov. 1962)

Rating: 4 out of 5

Pros: Great and timely conversations. A great deal of time is spent on the development of Zarrko. The sense of humour is in top form.

Cons: Is that Thunderbolt Ross or this just lazy Kirby drawing? Some zeitgeist problems… but I except them by now.

Upcoming Review:Prisoners of the Puppet Master” (Fantastic Four #8 Nov. 1962)

Previous Review:The Gladiator from Outer Space” (Incredible Hulk #4 Nov. 1962)


About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on August 18, 2014, in Comics, Marvel, Thor and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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