- Thor’s ability to travel through time was removed by a writer, Mark Gruenwald, who had specific views on time-travel in the Marvel Universe.
- In Thor #281-282, Thor gives up his ability to time-travel to save the Space Phantom’s planet, but later discovers it was part of a devious plot by Immortus.
- Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio cleverly acknowledge the purpose of the story was simply to remove Thor’s time-traveling abilities in a knowing wink at the end of the issue.
In Meta-Messages, we look at times that comic books employ meta-commentary, with this latest one being the time that Thor lost the ability to travel through time due to a specific comic book writer having very specific views about time-travel in the Marvel Universe.
One of the interesting things about comics in the beginning of the Marvel Age of Comics is that clearly, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, and the other writers didn’t really think that what they were doing at the time would necessarily be remembered in five years, let alone sixty plus years later, and as a result, those early stories took some major swings, and occasionally, there were some notable misses. However, one of the things that they definitely WEREN’T was consistent, as they would just pull things out of thin air, and then go in a totally different direction in the next issue. It was obviously really EXCITING, too, of course, and those early issues were still a lot of fun, they just weren’t consistent at all. Soon, though, they hit a certain level of consistency, and that’s what we now think of as the “Marvel Universe.”
Thor’s comic book adventures were perfect examples of this, especially since Thor’s stories in Journey Into Mystery had multiple writers working on them, like Larry Lieber, and Robert Bernstein. Robert Bernstein was a particularly unusual writer, as while Bernstein was a talented writer, he was a guy who had a very different approach to storytelling than, say, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee or Steve Ditko, and so some of his stories were REALLY unusual (like when Thor nuked China, or when he had medical doctor Don Blake created a very advanced android).
Since things took such big and wild swings in those early years, it was notable that Thor’s fourth-ever story, Journey Into Mystery #86 (by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Dick Ayers), saw Thor actually specifically ASK Odin for the ability to travel through time with Mjolnir. This was unusual because, most of the time, writers would just pull new powers for Mjolnir out of thin air (here are some of the most unusual abilities for Mjolinir that Silver Age writers pulled out of thin air)…
So Thor just had the ability to travel through time whenever he felt like it. That ability, though, bothered a certain Marvel writer, leading to a story specifically designed to remove that ability (while cleverly acknowledging that that was the intent behind the story)!
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How did Thor lose his hammer’s ability to time-travel?
In Thor #281-282 (a two-part fill-in story by writers Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio and artists Keith Pollard and Pablo Marcos, before Roy Thomas returned to his big story merging Jack Kirby’s Eternals into the Marvel Universe), Thor is contacted by the Avengers’ old foe, the Space Phantom, who needs Thor’s help desperately to help save his home planet…
In the process, Thor’s hammer is stolen, which leads Thor to have to battle his way to Immortus’ castle in the middle of Limbo, fighting the giant known as Tempus, to get to Immortus, who has Thor’s hammer. As it turns out, Immortus offers Thor a chance to save the Space Phantom’s planet, but it will just require a considerable amount of energy from Mjolnir, specifically all of the time-traveling abilities of the hammer. Thor, duty bound to do whatever it took to help the Space Phantom and his people, agreed to the deal, and gave up the ability to travel through time to restore the planet…
This, of course, was later revealed to be all part of Immortus’ devious plot, as unveiled in Avengers Forever, to keep the Avengers from expanding beyond Earth, as Immortus feared that the Avengers, if they were allowed access to time and space, would eventually become a conquering force in the universe (this involved one of the boldest retcons yet, the reveal that Space Phantom was so committed to helping Immortus trick Thor that even his thoughts were lies, as the issue featured Space Phantom’s thought bubbles at certain points, so Avengers Forever writer Kurt Busiek had to explain why his very thoughts were lies, as well).
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How did Thor pay homage to Mark Gruenwald’s view on Thor’s time-traveling abilities?
Well before he was ever working as a comic book professional editor and writer, Mark Gruenwald was already one of the most thoughtful and observant writer in the world of comic book fanzines. Gruenwald edited, designed and did much of the writing for his own fanzine, Omniverse, which was dedicated to the exploration of continuity in comic books.
Gruenwald also wrote a series of articles for DC’s in-house magazine, The Amazing World of DC Comics. As you can see from the Omnivese introduction, Gruenwald was not just a thoughtful, interesting guy, but he was a thoughtful, interesting guy who had pretty hard and fast opinions about things and how things should be done.
And one of the things that he felt strongly about was that Thor shouldn’t have the ability to travel in time, hence the above referenced story that removed the ability for Thor to travel through time.
And at the end of the issue, Gruenwald and Macchio had Thor specifically reference the fact that the story was obviously meant for that purpose, as Thor ends the issue stating, “I am gnawed by the notion that this was all a contrivance to cleave mine hammer of its time-spanning might!”
Very cute, because that’s obviously exactly the point of the issue, and so it was a knowing wink by Gruenwald and Macchio.
Thanks to my friend, Chris, for suggesting this one! It’s Chris’ birthday today! Happy birthday, Chris! If anyone has a suggestion for a future Meta-Messages, drop me a line at email@example.com