During his exceptional career, Jack Kirby co-created some of the most enduring superheroes, including a number of Marvel Comics favourites like Captain America, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Thor. And because a significant portion of his career was spent freelancing for both big comics publishers, Kirby also created lasting DC properties such as the Challengers of the Unknown. But if you’re a comics fan, or if you read my article, you know all of this already.
What you may not know is that the first time Jack Kirby drew Thor and his mighty hammer he drew it for DC. That’s right. Thor and Thor’s hammer didn’t make their first appearance in Journey Into Mystery #83 (cover date August 1962) as the Mighty Marvel would have you believe. Instead, Jack drew both the thunder god and his hammer five years earlier in Tales of the Unexpected #16 (cover date August 1957) in a story called “The Magic Hammer.”
The DC Origin of Thor’s Hammer: Gerald Bard, Thunderer
On an expedition to find gold, Gerald Bard’s Indigenous guide comes upon an old hammer lying in the dirt. The guide picks it up out of interest but Bard reminds him that their expedition is about gold, not hammers. He tells his guide to throw the hammer aside and get back to the task at hand. Surprisingly after the guide tosses the hammer aside, the previously clear sky opens up in a torrential downpour complete with lighting and thunder. The guide insists the freak storm is related to the hammer, but Bard is skeptical until testing his guide’s theory the following day. Experiencing the same results, Bard admits that the hammer must be the cause.
The wheels start turning in Bard’s greedy mind, and he decides to use the hammer to make a name for himself as a rainmaker. So begins a dastardly tale of greed and graft as Bard goes from one town to another extorting the inhabitants for as much money as he can.
The DC Origin of Thor’s Hammer: Don’t Bank on It
Reveling in his moneymaking scheme’s success, Bard is on his way to the next town. Perturbed by some coyotes, he absentmindedly tosses the hammer in their direction to scare them off. Missing the coyotes completely, the magic hammer hits a tree and destroys it. Bard realizes that the hammer, in addition to causing freak storms, is also a super-powerful weapon. And like any con-man, Bard only sees dollar signs. With the mighty hammer in hand, Bard decides to forego rainmaking and concentrate instead on bank robbery.
Bard’s new scheme doesn’t even get off the ground, though. Across the street from the first bank he’s targeted, a booming voice beckons, “My hammer — give it to me!” Looking around, Bard is startled to see a glowing golden man in viking garb. The glowing man introduces himself as Thor and demands that Bard return the hammer stolen from him and hidden on Earth by his mischievous brother Loki.
The DC Origin of Thor’s Hammer: Let’s Keep This Loki
Thor tells Bard that as punishment for allowing Loki to steal his hammer, Thor was reduced to the size of a man and forced to wander the Earth in search of his hammer — essentially the setup for the 2011 MCU film Thor. Thor also reveals that every time Bard has used the hammer the hammer has called out to him in protest of the evil it’s forced to perpetrate. The jig is up. Thor demands his property be returned to him.
But Bard, showing characteristic shortsightedness, refuses to return Thor’s hammer and instead hurls it at the thunder god, attempting to kill him. Recognizing a return to its true master, though, Thor’s hammer restores him to his previous size and might. This is bad news for Gerald Bard who flees the mighty Thor, chased all the way by lightning. Bard’s horse, spooked by the storm, bolts and leaves him in the rain. But before long, a local sheriff ambles by. Bard, raving about Thor, asks the sheriff if he saw the thunder god but this only gets him arrested. On their way downtown, Bard hears Thor’s booming voice, “Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho! Loki! I have my hammer back! HO, HO, HO!”
Obvious comparisons to Santa Claus aside, Bard is terrified and pleads with the sheriff, “Do you hear him? Do you hear Thor?” But the sheriff, unshaken, replies that the only thing he hears is thunder.
The DC Origin of Thor’s Hammer: Final Thoughts
This was a great little story. Kirby’s art, especially his rendition of a proto-Thor, is excellent. Full of the trademark “Kirby krackle,” his art buzzes with the illusion of electricity. And, though the writer is unknown, I give him or her serious props for coming up with an engaging story with a moral lesson that avoids preachiness — after all, how many of us will actually come across an enchanted hammer? The basic lessons? Don’t be a jerk. Don’t con people. And, most importantly, don’t mouth off to ancient gods.
The comparisons to Marvel’s Thor are pretty obvious, but in terms of the art Kirby really stepped up his game when he rehashed his 1957 idea in 1962. Gone is the glowing golden monotone and Santa Claus laugh, replaced by a colourful costume and flowing golden hair. In fact, Kirby’s 1957 rendition of Thor is more in line with Walt Simonson‘s bearded Thor of the ’80s, or the bearded and red-haired Thor of Norse mythology. I suppose the bottom line is if you’re going to recycle an idea, just make sure it’s a good one. It was.