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Thor: Marvel’s Archetypal Breadwinner Essay

The greatest stories of all time follow a formula. Along with these formulaic stories emerged characters that are similar in nature, and these characters became known as archetypes. There are many famous archetypes, but perhaps the most famous archetype is the hero. A hero is defined as a protagonist who goes on a quest or a journey to bring about greater good to the universe (Campbell). According to the great American mythologist Joseph Campbell, the hero must meet nine criteria in order to be considered an archetype. In addition to these nine criteria, the hero must also experience twelve specific events in a particular order. (Campbell). Thor is a mighty and powerful hero through his godly traits, but it is Thor’s story that makes him memorable as a hero. Marvel claims they do not make archetypes for monetary gain to avoid controversy (Gazillion). However, the comics company intentionally reinvents certain characters as archetypes, and ignores their past comic book origins and storylines, in order to bring them on par financially with other breadwinning characters. Marvel depicts Thor as an archetypal hero through his super-heroic qualities and story because of the financial success that comes with archetypal mythos. In order to be considered an archetypal hero, Thor must meet nine criteria (Cambell):

1. Has an unusual birth in danger or royalty.
2. Leaves family or home land, and lives with others.
3. Has a traumatic event that leads to an adventure or quest.
4. Seeks spiritual guidance from a mentor or help from allies.
5. Have a special weapon that cannot be wielded by anyone else.
6. Prove worthiness throughout the adventure.
7. Goes through a transformation and be inflicted with an ‘incurable’ wound.
8. Experiences atonement with a father archetype.
9. Is rewarded spiritually after life.

Thor must meet these nine criteria set out by Joseph Campbell because every character deemed an archetypal hero meets each of the nine requirements in different ways. In his Norse myths, his past comic book series and his new comic book series which came out in 2012, Thor meets all nine requirements for an archetypal hero. Thor meets the first requirement of royal/unusual birth since he is a prince of Asgard. Later in life, Thor leaves his home to protect the people of Earth. When Odin banishes Thor for his arrogance, this traumatic event leads Thor on an adventure to Earth (Thor Annual #11). Thor seeks advice from his father Odin and is aided by the Avengers, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. He wields Mjölnir, a special hammer that can only be wielded by those deemed worthy. (“Thor”). In the comics, Thor proves himself a worthy hero through his relationship with Jane Foster, defeating enemies such as his brother Loki, and his prominent role in the Avengers. On his archetypal journey portrayed in the comics, Thor goes from being an arrogant prince and pompous Viking warrior god to a selfless guardian of the universe.

In Norse mythology, Thor experiences an incurable wound by being infected with the Midgard serpent’s venom during Ragnarok, an apocalyptic Norse end of the universe (D’aulaire). Thor reconciles with his father Odin through his heroism on Earth and love of Jane Foster. Since Thor proved his worth, he is allowed to live in Asgard once again. (“Thor”). Also in Norse mythology, there is a prophecy of Thor’s death. When Thor dies from the Midgard serpent’s venom, he will rest peacefully in Valhalla and be given the highest honors that could ever be bestowed upon a Viking warrior (D’aulaire). Regardless of his divine qualities, Thor is such a great archetypal hero because he proves himself worthy to rule Asgard and hold the title King of the Realm Eternal. Thor is an archetype not only because he exhibits all the qualities of an archetypal hero, but his journey or story mirrors the format of the archetypal quest. There are many comics and comic series which tell of Thor’s journey, but none portray his journey as an archetype like his newest comic series written in 2012 by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic.

In the most recent Thor comic series titled Thor: God of Thunder, Thor is depicted as an ageless entity. The series shows three different versions of Thor: Young Thor, Modern Thor, and King Thor (see fig. 1) (Aaron). Young Thor is a young Norse god who lives in the 9th century B.C. and leads a heathen life getting drunk in mead halls and sleeping with multiple women. (Aaron). He is obsessed with becoming the greatest warrior and most revered of the Norse gods. Modern Thor is the superhero readers are familiar with. He is depicted as more mature, fatherly and an emissary of Earth. (Aaron). King Thor is Thor in the distant future. He struggles to survive and keep Asgard in one piece as the universe around him is falling apart. He is constantly defending Asgard from aliens called berserkers who serve Gorr the God Butcher. (Aaron). As readers, we know Thor completes his archetypal quest through of the portrayal and stories behind of each of his personas. Every hero’s journey begins with a single step. In the first comic of Thor: God of Thunder, Thor is introduced as a stereotypical Viking warrior and is feasting in a mead hall after a glorious victory (Aaron). This Ancient Norse background is the hero’s ‘ordinary world’. The ordinary world is shown against a background of a particular environment or heredity (Campbell). During the feast, a boy barges into the mead hall and tells the people of a dead warrior lying outside.

Thor and a band of his friends find the warrior’s body, and they are confused as to where the warrior came from. (Aaron). Thor pokes the dead warrior with a spear, and he realizes the dead warrior was a god (see figure 2). This particular event in the panel describes the part of Thor’s archetypal journey known as the call of adventure. The calling is an event in which external forces trigger change in the ordinary world and places the hero in an unsettling position (Campbell). Thor is clearly unsettled in this panel because of the shocked expression on his face. The villagers’ wide eyes and open mouths depict shock, fear and uneasiness. From this event, Thor becomes fearful of the dead god because he realizes that he too is not truly immortal or invincible. He also realizes he is being hunted and threatened by an unknown entity. Naturally, a hero’s natural response is to briefly avoid the situation at hand and stick to the status quo. Thor refuses this calling to adventure by persuading all his friends to join him in the mead hall to gorge in wild game, drink cold mead and fondle women (Aaron).

Eventually, Thor comes to realize that he must confront this new problem head on like every other brave Viking warrior. As danger makes its way into the hero’s world, a figure known as the mentor is supposed to appear to the hero encouraging him to go on an adventure and face the problem. The mentor is often depicted as a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives the hero training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey (Campbell). For any of Thor’s adventures, there is no true mentor figure for Thor (Marvel.com). Despite Thor having no mentor, the mentor-like figure in this comic series is King Thor. This mentor figure, however, does not appear to his younger self until later in the comic series (Aaron). In Thor: God of Thunder #8, King Thor travels back in time to bring Modern Thor to the future and convinces Modern Thor to aid him in stopping Gorr the God Butcher. (Aaron). Thor’s mentor appears out of sequence in the archetypal journey, and this fact is grounds for denying Thor archetypal status. However, the mentor convinces Thor to go on an adventure and provides advice that Thor will use later in his journey. After the mentor appears and trains the hero, a traumatic event happens that leads the hero to go on a quest or journey and the hero crosses a threshold into a ‘special’ world unfamiliar to him.

Thor experiences this traumatic event when he is banished from Asgard to Earth in another comic series (Thor Annual #11). On one adventure, Thor fought frost giants in the realm of Jötunheim and almost caused a war to break out between the frost giants and the Asgardians (Thor Annual #11). As a result of foolishly picking a fight with the frost giants, Odin stripped Thor of his powers and godhood. He then banished Thor to Earth in order to teach Thor humility. (Thor Annual #11). These two occurrences are important because these events connect the old comics to the new comics and explain why Thor dwells on Earth as a young god and modern superhero. On Earth, Thor goes through many tests to prove himself worthy as a hero and becomes humble in the process. His first test is to slay Gorr the God Butcher. The first eleven issues of Thor: God of Thunder is about Thor’s adventures hunting Gorr throughout time (Aaron). Thor’s first test occurs in the fifth issue when he encounters the god butcher for the first time. (see fig. 4). The fight is brief, but, Thor proves himself worthy as a warrior since Gorr flees from the fight.

After trying to destroy Gorr back in ancient times, Thor prepares for a great challenge known as the ordeal. In this preparation, the hero often has disheartening setbacks. He is torn apart by challenges, which allow him to put himself back together in a more effective form for the ordeal to come. (Campbell). During the approach, Young Thor tries to fight Gorr in a cave in order to end the massacre of gods. Gorr comes out, but only to capture and torture Thor. (Aaron) After being tortured for seventeen days, Thor is interrogated by Gorr about his origins and Asgard’s location. Thor refuses to answer and is further tortured (e.g. see fig. 5). As Young Thor is being tortured, Modern Thor and Viking allies rescue Young Thor and help him escape. (Aaron). The facts that Thor does not kill Gorr and was tortured for seventeen days are disheartening setbacks for the hero. Thor, however, starts putting himself back together by learning about Gorr’s plan to destroy all the gods in the universe throughout time. In putting himself back together for the ordeal, Thor becomes aware of his arrogance and changes. In another panel of the fifth issue, Modern Thor asks himself about being compared to lesser gods. As Thor is fighting another berserker, he states that Gorr has traveled from all over the universe and killed anything that is immortal for over 2,000 years. Most of the victims were lesser gods.

Taking in the situation, Thor asks himself ‘what does this say about gods that no one ever noticed or cared?’ (Aaron). At this moment, he realizes that being a god is not about seeking glory, recognition or fame. Instead, it is about protecting those in need of his protection and being kind. Ultimately, Thor realizes that selfless acts of kindness receive the most positive recognition. Gorr particularly killed those gods for granting prayers and exemplifying all that is good. (Aaron). Through this realization, Thor transforms into a selfless guardian of the Earth and changes internally for the better. The mission of destroying the God Bomb is known as the ordeal. In the ordeal, a hero must face death or his greatest fear (Campbell). Thor learns about a device known as the God Bomb and tries to destroy it. The God Bomb is comparable to an atom bomb designed to kill all divinity in the universe (Aaron). In the seventh issue, Young Thor is captured by Gorr and enslaved along with other gods to work on the God Bomb. In the following issue, King Thor travels to the past to bring Modern Thor back to the future in order to free Young Thor and stop Gorr. (Aaron). In the ninth comic, the three Thors try to stop the bomb by fighting Gorr in a large space battle of epic proportions. After a failed attempt to kill Gorr and stop the bomb, the three Thors are separated (Aaron).

This first attempt to kill Gorr is disheartening to Thor because of the harsh punishments each Thor experiences after defeat (Aaron). Even though each Thor is cruelly tortured in a distinct way such as being nailed to an ice comet, all three Thors become stronger as heroes. Also, in the ordeal, Thor faces adversity in order to prove his worth and is tested to his limits. Generally, the ordeal is one of the most important because the hero attempts to prove his worth and is tested to his limits (Campbell). Thor’s greatest attributes as a god and hero are his physical strength, magical powers and war intelligence (Lindow). Each of Thor’s greatest attributes as a superhero is reflected by each of his personas, and these attributes are tested to the extreme. In the ordeal, we as readers see Young Thor use all of his brute strength in trying to defeat Gorr. Modern Thor uses his magical powers to summon thunder and his hammer defending the ship from which all the Thors are fighting on. King Thor commands the other two Thors and uses war tactics as a king to fight Gorr. (Aaron). During the battle, each Thor fights separately in his own way and they do not work together as a team. Because the three Thors do not work together as a team, they fail in defeating Gorr.

However, each Thor becomes stronger as they all break free of their torture and reunite with a greater focus and persistence. In the tenth comic, Thor experiences an event known as the seizing of the sword. Seizing the sword is the event where the hero is rewarded for facing death in some way, and the hero internally reconciles with himself (Campbell). In the event, Modern Thor seizes his ‘sword’ when Gorr’s son decides to stop working for his cruel father and help Thor find his hammer. Thor also reconciles with himself internally by reclaiming his courage to stop Gorr and accepting his role as protector of the universe (Aaron). As Thor reclaims his hammer, he frees the slave gods and leads an army to stop the God Bomb from detonating. Thor’s journey is almost complete as he experiences the return. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero leaves the Special World to reclaim his place in the ordinary world and demonstrate change (Campbell). In this comic series, we see Thor travel all over space and time. Even though Thor doesn’t return home to Asgard to face evil, he returns back to Asgard at the end of his archetypal journey. His new strength is depicted as Modern Thor fights berserkers and wields two Mjölnirs (Aaron).

When Modern Thor returns to Gorr’s enslavement camp, the battle to stop the bomb begins. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she goes through a great sacrifice or a literal moment of death and rebirth. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved. This event is known as the resurrection. (Campbell). In the final comic of the God Bomb series, Modern Thor faces Gorr in a hand to hand combat. As the bomb is about to detonate, all the living gods including Odin pray to Thor to stop the bomb. (Aaron). While Thor is in combat, the bomb detonates and the gods start dying. At the last minute, a second Modern Thor appears from the near future (see fig. 6). This new modern Thor physically sacrifices himself by absorbing the bomb’s blast and unleashing it upon Gorr. As Gorr dies, his son reveals that it was not the gods that betrayed Gorr but rather himself. Gorr tries to kill Modern Thor, but is decapitated by Young Thor (Aaron). Thor overcomes this final last minute danger by saving the universe from destruction, and completes his journey. Even though Marvel makes Thor follow the archetypal journey perfectly, the comics company claims that they purposefully do not create archetypal characters for monetary gain to avoid literary controversy and misconstrued interpretation. One example of how Marvel avoids archetypes is through the super-villain, Loki. Traditionally, Thor’s brother Loki in Norse mythology is considered a trickster archetype.

However, Loki’s Marvel counterpart is not because of his prominent antagonist role and he sometimes aids Thor to defeat a greater evil. (Gazillion). Even though there are Marvel characters that can be mistaken as archetypal, we as readers mistake characters as archetypal because Marvel can manipulate storylines and other narrative schematics to make the characters appear archetypal. Either unintentionally or intentionally, Marvel manipulated Thor’s storyline to be archetypal in order to popularize his character and drive his character’s comic sales. Thor proves himself worthy as an archetypal hero through his characteristics and journey, but Marvel intentionally allows Thor to do so. The reason why is because the comics company wants to make more money off of his character. Archetypal storytelling has been emulated in popular culture for financial gains. Currently, the best example of this type of phenomenon is the Harry Potter book series. The main protagonist of the book series, Harry Potter, is a young wizard who studies at a magical school of witchcraft and wizardry (Sörensen). In a journal article discussing archetypal characters, themes and symbols in Harry Potter, the main protagonist Harry Potter (see figure 7) fits Campbell’s definition of an archetypal hero perfectly (Sörensen).

In creating Harry Potter, Sörensen states that J.K. Rowling was looking to create a central character that everyone can rally behind and relate to. Even though Rowling unintentionally created an archetypal hero, she looked to mythology and stories told throughout time in order to find a successful storytelling formula. As the Harry Potter book series gained popularity amongst children and teenagers, Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc. caught on to this franchise and started to make movies out of the book series. According to the National Film Registry, the Harry Potter Film Franchise is the highest grossing movie franchise to date worth $7.7 billion (“List”). Although it appears that Warner Brothers stumbled into financial success, the company knew that Harry Potter would become one of the most famous pop culture icons in history. Potter is one of the most famous pop culture icons because of his use of magic as a wizard, and he is an archetypal hero. Archetypal storytelling is not only limited to literature, but expands into other areas of popular culture such as cinema.

Mythos professional H. M. Chang claims that some movies such as Star Wars all follow this mythical allegory of archetypes and archetypal themes. In his scholarly study about archetypal mythos in film, Chang references an interview where George Lucas talked about the success of Star Wars. Lucas claimed that he purposefully wrote Star Wars to follow the mythical story structure and consulted Joseph Campbell’s A Hero with a Thousand Faces for inspiration on creating characters such as Luke Skywalker (see figure 8) (Chang). As Star Wars gained popularity because of its archetypal characters and story, its financial success grew immensely. According to the National Film Registry, Star Wars: A New Hope is the third highest grossing film of all time with $2.7 billion adjusted for inflation (“List”). Chang’s study shows that the monetary figures behind movies such as Star Wars result from moviegoers’ love of archetypal stories. As movie directors such as George Lucas produced breadwinning archetypal storylines, other companies in the entertainment industry imitated these directors’ strategies to make money. The most infamous of these companies is the Walt Disney Company. During the late 1980s into the ‘90s, Disney produced ten high grossing animated feature films.

Famous storyline director Chistopher Vogler once was a Hollywood development executive who worked for Disney in the late twentieth century, and helped create central storylines for each of the ten films. For one of the movies, Vogler admits that he purposefully made Simba, the main protagonist of The Lion King, an archetypal hero (see figure 9). With archetypal elements implemented in the storyline, the 1994 animated film became a box office success grossing $422.8 million. Out of the ten movies, The Lion King is the highest grossing film during that time period, and its financial success even outperformed Beauty and the Beast. (“Highest”). This archetypal phenomenon for financial benefit is designed for appeal. In recent years, The Marvel Comics Company launched many new super hero movies with multiple sequels versus focusing on just one character. One reason for making movies about Iron Man, Captain America and Thor is to connect all the heroes together in one ultimate movie called The Avengers that grossed $1.5 billion in 2012 (“List”).

In the past and to this day, Iron Man and Captain America are considered more popular than Thor (Marvel.com). For the Avengers movie, Marvel needed to make Thor popular like his other superhero comrades because Thor is a central member of the Avengers (“Thor”). In order to do so, Marvel executive Stan Lee and comic writer Jason Aaron used archetypal themes from other Thor comics and Norse mythology to increase Thor’s popularity and make more money off of his character. Like other Marvel superheroes, Thor proves his might as a powerful superhero through his godly qualities. Originally, Thor is desperate in proving himself worthy as the greatest god in existence. Once he learns of Gorr the God Butcher murdering gods, Thor springs into action on an archetypal adventure to stop Gorr.

Through each battle Thor fights, he proves himself worthy as a champion of his people, either Viking or godly. With his well established reputation to win battles, Thor takes on the role of a protector or guardian and saves the universe from destruction. Ultimately, Thor is the perfect superhero to make into an archetypal hero because of his godly characteristics depicted in the comics and Norse mythology. In imitating financial successful franchises with a strong archetypal hero figure, Marvel does the same with Thor in order to refurbish his pop-culture image and revitalize him as one of the best comic book superheroes.

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