“These Be Thor’s Greatest Enemies? I Say Thee NAY!”

19+ Villains from Thor’s Past Who Are Very, Very Unlikely to Appear in Any Sequels to the Upcoming Thor film


1. Locus, the Geometric Man
First appearance: Thor #302 (12/80)
Marvel’s march into the movieplex continues with this month’s release of Thor, the tale of a strange man with a mysterious link to a hammer-like object
who saves the world from… well, something bad, I’m sure (I’m only going by the trailer here, people; no pirated previews for this law-abiding citizen). Of course, you can’t have a superhero without a super-villain, and Loki puts in an appearance as the trickster god with a major chip on his shoulder regarding Thor’s golden-boy status. Anyone familiar with the Thor comics (or the basics of Norse mythology) will not be surprised to see Loki in the film; what will surprise anyone not familiar with Marvel’s resident god-hero is how few and far between his truly memorable comic-book adversaries tend to be. This is especially true when Thor moves away from battling other godlike beings to mix it up with mortal malefactors, such as the hapless Aaron Verne, a bank teller whose obsession with geometric shapes (…er, okay) led to his getting fired from his job. Later discovering he possessed the power to form solid geometric shapes using just the power of his mind (which: pretty damn handy, come to think), Verne — now calling himself Locus for no discernible reason — returns to his former workplace to exact his revenge, only to find Thor and the police waiting outside when he leaves. A math nerd versus a thunder god who’s gone toe-to-toe with the Hulk? Yeah, this won’t take too long. Especially when Verne saves Thor the trouble of bruising his knuckles by knocking himself out while trying to lift Thor’s enchanted hammer. As Charlie Sheen might say: Not winning!


2. El Toro Rojo
First appearance: Thor #290 (12/79)
Speaking of deviant behavior, here’s a fellow who is literally a Deviant, in the sense that he hails from a race of super-beings in constant conflict with another race of super-beings called the Eternals (the opposing groups were two of Jack Kirby’s many contributions to Marvel lore during the ’70s that weren’t nearly as mind-blowingly awesome as Devil Dinosaur). El Toro Rojo — or “The Red Bull,” for those of you who speak American — is near-immortal, superhumanly strong and has actual horns sprouting from his head, so really the only career option open to him was touring as a Mexican wrestler. When he encounters another Eternal who’s also moonlighting on the Mexican wrestling circuit  (El Vampiro, if you must know), he gores him in the ring and later tracks him down to finish the job, only to find Thor acting as his protector. Now, most people who find someone as powerful as Thor standing between them and one of their enemies will take a moment to reconsider their options, but Red Bull didn’t earn his moniker by chugging back energy drinks during his finals. Thor dispatched his charging foe in the most embarrassing (if not emasculating) way possible by whirling his hammer really fast and using it to slice off Rojo’s horns, a move that just happened to be the one way to chop his strength in half. Tough luck, Rojo, but a guy like you should know better than to mess with a dude wearing a red cape.


3. The Bombardiers
First appearance: Thor#309 (07/81)
The best runs of Thor comics are the ones that recognize his status as a god and treat him as such by pitting him against either equally godlike foes (see also: Walt Simonson’s legendary run) or cosmic threats on a scale that we mere mortals could barely begin to comprehend (see also: every Thor story Jack Kirby ever graced with his magic). But it’s just not a Marvel book unless your hero is occasionally learning that homelessness is bad, or something like that. This was especially true for Thor in the early ’80s when, in his secret identity of Dr. Donald Blake, he often came in contact with patients and medical emergencies related to the social issues of the time. In this issue, Dr. Blake arrives at a hospital to find it overflowing with victims of a collapsed building — a building, we later learn, that was targeted for demolition by a landlord who’s a little too eager to evict his downtrodden tenants. His agents of destruction are the Bombardiers, a team of mercenaries who tool around the streets of New York City in a not-at-all-conspicuous flying rocket sled with enough firepower to take down any building (and the offensive capacity to hog-tie any heroes who try to stop them). Why it takes an entire team of men to fly the sled — and why it takes a souped-up flying car to do something that can be done far more cost-effectively with a bit of plastique and some wire — are questions never fully explored in this issue, the Bombardier’s first and only appearance to date. Also never explained: how the team’s leader felt getting taken down in the end not by the son of Odin, but by a cat out for revenge. Seriously.


4. Groonk
First appearance: Thor#444 (02/92)
Hoo boy. Apparently, someone at Marvel thought it would be cute to create a character based on the Grinch from Dr. Seuss’s classic childrens’ book, and “How the Groonk Stole Christmas!” was the horrible, horrible result. Thor is hot on the trail of a Christmas present thief working the streets of New York City when he encounters Groonk, a misshapen, super-strong and intellectually challenged (the only word he speaks is his own name) being who considers himself the protector of a group of good-hearted homeless people. Oh, and because being big and ugly wasn’t quite enough to present him as a credible challenge for our hero, Groonk also comes equipped with eye-beams that conveniently sap Thor’s strength. Their epic battle trashes a mall (…of course) before continuing in the city’s sewer tunnels, where a little homeless girl named Cindy Lou (…of course) tells them to stop fighting. Which they do. She then explains how she read the story of the Grinch to Groonk, who took it to heart a little too much and decided to steal presents for all his friends while wearing a Santa suit. Which… isn’t quite how the Grinch story goes, but let’s just smile politely and nod our heads, shall we?


5. Megatak
First appearance: Thor#328 (02/83)
Gosh, remember when video games were just starting to take over America, with their beep-boops and their wokka-wokkas and their highly pixelated images of death and destruction entrancing both young and old? Simple times. In those early years of Pac-Man and Space Invaders, comic writers got some mileage out of villains with powers based on video games or computers, and they were about as daffy and frozen-in-time as you can imagine. None, however, could match the supreme silliness of Megatak, whose power to mentally control animated phosphorescent images (think of a real-life Pac-Man chomping towards you) gave Thor a hard time for all of three minutes. Industrial thief Gregory Nettles was hired to steal the circuitry behind a revolutionary new video game, which was on display for the first time at an electronics trade show. Disguised as Megatak, the hero of the game, he was in the act of removing a piece of circuitry when the game was powered up; incredibly, the surge of electricity gave him the ability to enter the game itself and to bring its characters back with him into the real world. Thor simply used his lightning-commanding hammer to absorb all of Megatak’s energy and leave Nettles lying on the convention centre floor… which is probably where he should have stayed, as his second (and final) appearance saw him swearing vengeance about five seconds before a masked vigilante shot him dead. It wasn’t made entirely clear during his second appearance if Nettles retained any of his Megatak powers… but it’s a pretty safe bet no one really cares.


6. Zaniac
First appearance: Thor#319 (05/82)
Slasher-film monsters are handy when you need a lot of screaming co-eds in a hurry, but otherwise they’re bloody boring to watch, much less read about in a comic. The basic problem is that, once you get past their frightening appearances and gruesome acts, they’re all given the same backstory (abused/traumatic childhood) and psychological profile (unstoppable killing machine that can’t be reasoned with), which doesn’t tend to make for a memorable villain. Zaniac continues in this tradition, with the added meta-ness of being the crazed star of a slasher film who believes himself to be the monster he’s portraying in the film. After an on-set accident involving explosives and underground radiation(!) transforms actor Brad Wolfe into a larger, stronger version of his character (with the added bonus of being able to create “knives” out of radioactive energy), he sets out on a rampage through the streets of Chicago, eventually finding himself a nice “home for women” just perfect for a little late-afternoon stabbing. Before things get too murderous, Thor whirls his hammer (again with the whirling?) and deflects Zaniac’s “knives” back at him, which knocks him out. A few years later, he was brought back to bedevil Thor, and there was some nonsense about him being Jack the Ripper in a previous life — but you know how it is with sequels, especially sequels to stories no one was thrilled to see in the first place.


7. Grog the God Crusher
First appearance: Thor#390 (04/88)
“Fine,” you’re probably now saying to yourself. “Clearly, any mortal who faced off against Thor was obviously outmatched and a big doofus for even thinking he could make Thor break a sweat. But what about all the immortal baddies and gods who could go mano a mano with our boy?” First off, there are quite a few mortals who can claim to be decent sparring partners for Thor, even if their abilities had to be augmented by Loki or  some other outside source of power (see also: the Absorbing Man, and I would pay good money to see someone like Vin Diesel or Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson take on that role in future sequels). But yes, not all of Thor’s more embarrassing foes hail from the Midgard we call home. Take Grog the God Crusher, who immediately earns his place on this list by (1) being named after an alcoholic drink and (2) having the nerve to call himself a “god crusher” when all the gods he opposed remain, to this date, uncrushed. A loyal follower of Seth, the Egyptian god of death, Grog led his armies to kill Thor after the thunder god returned to Earth. This did not go quite as planned, and Grog tasted the first of many defeats at Thor’s hands. Some time later, as he witnessed a battle between Thor and Surtur (a massively big and supremely powerful fire demon), he reveled in his enemy’s apparent defeat when Surtur, seeking something handy to throw at Thor, picked up the entire pyramid in which Grog and his armies were standing and hurled the edifice at Thor. And so it was that Grog the God Crusher was himself crushed. By a god. Oh, irony.


8. Quicksand
First appearance: Thor#392 (06/88)
More observant readers who have made it this far will note that all of the villains mentioned above have something in common besides gross ineptitude: they’re all men. This highlights another interesting aspect about Thor and, well, most male superheroes in general; they don’t tend to relish the opportunity to pound on women, and Thor — despite being one of the more pound-happy heroes out there — also doesn’t meet a lot of female villains during his travels. (Exceptions include Hela, the Norse death goddess who’s not so much a woman as a force of nature; and the Enchantress, whose continual attempts to seduce Thor and being deemed a villain for trying says more about the mindset of most comic writers and fans than they probably realize). Quicksand didn’t set out to test her mettle against Thor; he just happened to be in the neighborhood when she was in the middle of attacking a nuclear power plant. See, Quicksand used to be a scientist at a nuclear research facility when an accident transformed her body into a sandlike substance, and so she decided to avenge her lost humanity by attacking other nuclear facilities. She dropped the revenge thing after a while and even showed signs of enjoying her newfound powers, joining an all-female cruise ship full of super-villains (which… what?) before popping up again during Marvel’s Civil War and The Initiative storylines. No matter what she gets up to, though, she will always seem the second-rate Sandman she was apparently intended to be, and given how he got his silver-screen close-up back in Spider-Man 3, don’t expect this distaff knock-off to get a call from her agent any time soon.


9. Zarrko the Tomorrow Man
First appearance: Journey into Mystery#86 (11/62)
Thor first appeared in Journey into Mystery #83, a tale in which a vacationing Dr. Blake discovers a stick that can transform him into the mighty Thor. His first adventure saw him save the Earth from an invasion of Stone Men from Saturn (really!), while his next two outings had him square off against Loki and a bunch of no-good, dirty communists. Zarrko the Tomorrow Man can therefore lay claim to being Thor’s first-ever mortal archenemy, and he would return several times over the years to cause all sorts of mayhem. Like most other time-travelling villains, Zarrko hailed from a future Earth (the 23rd century, to be exact) in which peace and prosperity reigned, but he was just not a peace-and-prosperity kind of guy. So he built a time machine that allowed him to travel into the past (i.e., the 1960s) and fetch a nuclear missile to bring back to his present and help establish his dictatorial rule. Presumably, he came up with this scheme because the means to build such a device were not known to his people and he couldn’t build the damn thing himself, but this still doesn’t explain why he didn’t just stay in the past and use his futuristic toys to delight/enslave the masses. At any rate, when he wasn’t giving Thor a workout he got tangled up with some other time-traveling heavy-hitters and later decided that maybe a quiet life of not subjugating people wasn’t so bad after all. Just what the super-villain community likes: a quitter.


10. Sandu, Master of the Supernatural
First appearance: Journey into Mystery#91 (04/63)
Sandu is another one of Thor’s earliest foes, and he’s the earliest known mortal to have his natural talents augmented by Loki’s magic. Over the years, Loki would empower many mortals to do his bidding, and one can only hope he saw Sandu as a practice run before moving on to more promising prospects. A minor-league mentalist, Sandu makes it to the bad-guy big leagues after Loki imbues him with enormous power. He started out small by stealing the wallets of people in his audience, but he eventually worked his way up to taking the entire UN building hostage, threatening to levitate it and the people inside out into space if the nations of the world didn’t proclaim him their absolute ruler. Thor attempts to stop him but gets a building dropped on him instead; in a literal deus ex machina, Odin sends his son the Belt of Strength to even the odds, but then Sandu transports himself and Thor’s hammer to another dimension. Now, had Sandu waited just 60 seconds Thor would have reverted back to his mortal form and Sandu could have easily returned home to finish the job of getting rid of Thor; instead, he immediately grabbed for Thor’s hammer and had a “mental short-circuit” when the enchantments surrounding it made it too heavy for him to lift. I don’t know why so many villains are obsessed with holding Thor’s magic hammer, but I’m pretty sure it’s a road I don’t want to go down.


11. Gray Gargoyle
First appearance: Journey into Mystery #107 (08/64)
Most of Thor’s mortal (in the literal sense) enemies were villains who just happened to have the incredibly bad luck of running into Thor at an inopportune time. The Bombardiers, for instance, weren’t out looking to tangle with the Asgardian Avenger; they were hired goons knocking over tenements when they ran afoul of our socially conscious hero (and one seriously pissed-off cat, though they probably leave out that small detail down at the prison yard). The Gray Gargoyle was different, in that he purposely sought out Thor to wrest the secret of immortality from him (though how he missed the whole “duh, he was born a god” part is another of those mystery of the ages). Chemist Paul Duval was accidentally exposed to a compound that endowed him with the ability to transmute anything he touched to stone, including himself (his victims turned into statues, but he himself remained mobile when in stone form). In his first appearance, readers learned the effect was only temporary, but it was more than enough to enable him to petrify bank guards and anyone else who stood in his way. Bored by how easily riches now came his way, Duval decided the only thing worth having was immortality, and so he hopped a plane to New York City to — all together now, people — claim Thor’s hammer as his own. No such luck, though, as Thor tricks him into taking a tumble into the Hudson River, and a passing ship’s wake pulls our extremely non-buoyant boy out to sea. Whoops.


12. Mister Hyde
First appearance: Journey into Mystery#99 (12/63)
Yes, that’s Mister Hyde, as in “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and…” Stan Lee totally ripped off  paid homage to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale by introducing Calvin Zabo, a crooked laboratory research assistant (hey, it could happen) who concocted a serum that transformed him into a savage and cunning brute. Zabo figured it was the perfect set-up; since everything about him (right down to the fingerprints) changed when he turned into Mister Hyde, he could commit all sorts of heinous crimes in one identity without anyone ever suspecting him in the other. And it might have worked out, had he not let a little thing like revenge against Dr. Blake, Thor’s alter ego, get the better of him. (This sort of thing happened to Marvel heroes all the time; a villain would be gunning for a hero’s civilian identity for the flimsiest of reasons, never realizing the hero who showed up just after the villain tossed his intended victim out a window was in fact that same victim returning in his hero guise.) Alas, brute strength (even the combined strength of twelve human beings, as Mister Hyde gloats) is of little use against a hero who wrestles frost giants for fun, and Mister Hyde wisely traded down to tussle with decidedly more human adversaries, like Spider-Man and Daredevil.


13. The Crusader
First appearance: Thor#330 (04/83)
There has been the occasional story in the Thor canon touching on the relationship between Thor and those humans who choose to see him as a deity first and a superhero second, but for obvious reasons Marvel was never eager to position Thor and his fellow Asgardians as divine beings on the same level as the many forms of God worshipped by contemporary believers. Within his own stories, Thor has never (as far as I can recall) actively sought worship from modern-day humans; in Marvel’s Ultimates title, for instance, he functions more as a modern-day motivational speaker, urging people to find their own answers in a world he sees as too dominated by corporate interests. But it’s not hard to imagine how the mere presence of a figure claiming to be a god from a “pagan” pantheon could be an affront to someone whose belief system precludes that possibility. Arthur Blackwood was one such man, a fervent Christian (presumably Catholic, but his denomination is never made clear) whose unyielding attitude got him kicked out of his seminary; while visiting his family crypt, he received a vision of all his ancestors who devoted their lives to serving God, including several who joined the Crusades. When he awoke, a sword, shield and knight’s raiments had inexplicably materialized nearby. Calling himself the Crusader, he vowed to destroy all pagans and infidels, starting with the “blasphemous” Thor. He posed a serious threat to Thor, even delivering a near-fatal wound to our hero on his first outing, but his newfound strength (the origins of which, like his costume and weapons, were never explained) lasted only as long as his faith remained intact… and, as the years went by, it became all too obvious how easily his faith wavered. So, nice try, Artie. Close, but no.

14-18. Growing Man/Replicus/Thermal Man/Crypto-Man/Protector
First appearances: Thor #140 (05/67), Thor #141 (06/67), Thor #170 (11/69), Thor #174 (03/70), Thor #219 (01/74)
So what do you do with an immortal superhero whose strength and energy-channeling powers defy all mortal attempts to subdue him? Why, throw another immortal up against him, of course. But immortals can be a fickle lot, and good luck getting one of them to obey the orders of a mere mortal like you, someone who probably just wants Thor out of the way so you can carry on with the business of robbing banks or plundering the past of its nuclear warheads. Enter the always-dependable giant fighting robot, preferably one that can take a beating just long enough to carry out its crush/kill/destroy programming. Yes, the introduction of a mechanical man to do the dirty work of going up against the hero smacks of desperation and the not-terribly-clever names given to these particular simulacra suggests a certain lack of commitment to the concept (seriously… Growing Man???), but not every comic book can be a saga for the ages. In chronological order, then: the Growing Man could grow big (duh); Replicus was a mechanical bruiser built by an alien scientist and sold to a mobster with more money than brains; the Thermal Man was a Chinese super-weapon that could shoot deadly heat beams from its eyes and hands; the Crypto-Man… well, it was just a big, strong and durable s.o.b. (to the extent that robots have mothers, anyway) with the power to siphon energy from his opponents; and the Protector was an alien construct capable of space flight and durable enough to withstand repeated blows from Thor’s hammer. There were others, of course, and they all provided some exercise for our hero, but no one should expect to see any of their fabricated faces on a Burger King cup anytime soon.         


19+. The Rats of Central Park
First appearance: Thor#364 (02/86)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there have been only a few “must-have” runs of Thor books throughout the character’s 50-year history, and writer/artist Walt Simonson’s run (1983-87) is one of them. Ditching the secret-identity clichés and uber-lame villains foisted upon our hapless hero (see also: the rest of this list), Simonson brought back a sense of grandeur that had been sorely lacking since Kirby’s departure from the series. He did this by returning Thor to his Asgardian roots and having him fight foes worthy of a Norse diety… like a bunch of New York sewer rats. Seriously. For three glorious issues (Thor vol. 1 #364-366), Thor found himself transformed into a frog thanks to the malevolent machinations of Loki, who needed Thor out of the way while political plots were afoot back in Asgard. Falling in with other frogs living in Central Park, Thor learned of an age-old enmity between frogs and rats, and his bravery was instrumental in avenging the death of the frog-king and averting the near-genocide of the frogs at the hands (claws?) of the evil rats. It’s a fun tale that demonstrates the “anything-goes” approach that made Simonson a fan favorite, but it’s probably a little too offbeat for the Marvel fans out there who demand we treat all movies starring thunder gods, super-soldiers, gamma-irradiated monsters and mutated spider-men with utter solemnity. Their loss.

 

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One response to ““These Be Thor’s Greatest Enemies? I Say Thee NAY!”

  1. Okay, while Calvin Zabo / Mister Hyde has yet to encounter the Chris Hemsworth incarnation of the god of thunder, he *did* appear in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series, played by Kyle MacLachlan of Dune and Twin Peaks fame. So you never know who will pop up in the Marvel cinematic universe next. Maybe we can see Luke Cage fighting the Bombadiers when they try to burn down Harlem as part of a gentrification scheme, or Jessica Jones will be hired to investigate whether El Toro Rojo is making illegal bets on the side. Okay, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for either of these, but it *could* happen 🙂

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