'Thor' Leaps from Huntington Woods Cartoonist's Pen to Big Screen
Allen Milgrom, who has drawn and inked the superhero for Marvel Comics, says he thinks the fictional Norseman's allure is his sympathy with the common man.
Allen Milgrom remembers buying the first appearances of Thor and Spider-Man – characters published through Marvel Comics – in 1962 at McMillan Drugs, which was located on Coolidge Highway at the corner of 11 Mile Road in Huntington Woods.
“I was a child of the very early superhero revival at Marvel,” recalled Milgrom, 61, of Long Island, NY, who grew up in Huntingon Woods and graduated from Berkley High School in 1967.
"I was 12 years old at the time when Fantastic Four No. 1 (Marvel’s first comic) came out. I was there for all of them: Thor, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Hulk, Avengers."
This was the first time Milgrom encountered these Marvel characters, which captivated his imagination. The trouble was he didn’t enough money on him to buy them.
“They all looked so weird and mysterious," he said. "I basically read those issues standing there. I hid them under a stack of Life magazines. I then rode my bike home fast as I could, cracked open my bank, and rode back as fast I could.”
Luckily, they were still where he’d hidden them when he returned.
“I was just starting to outgrow DC Comics. When Marvel hit the scene, my interest in comics was revitalized,” Milgrom said. “I was teetering on the verge of giving up the whole hobby, which begs the question — what would I have done with my life?”
Milgrom subsequently graduated from the University of Michigan in 1972 and began working at Marvel, DC, Charlton Comics and Archie Comics.
He is perhaps best known for his association with Marvel, which spanned almost 30 years, during which he worked as a writer, an artist and an editor. He worked on many titles, including Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Avengers, West Coast Avengers, Iron Man, X-Factor, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thanos, Captain Marvel, The Infinity War (collaborating with fellow Berkley alumnus Jim Starlin on the latter three) and Thor.
Many of the above-mentioned comic titles have been adapted for the big screen. A movie adaptation of the character Thor, based on the Marvel comic — which in turn was adapted freely from Norse mythology — hit theaters May 6, placing first at the box office two weekends in a row and grossing approximately $119.2 million so far.
Thor stars Chris Hemsworth (2009’s Star Trek reboot) as Thor; Oscar winner Natalie Portman (Black Swan) as Jane Foster, Thor’s love interest; Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) as Odin, the king of the gods and Thor’s father; and Tom Hiddleston (TV’s Wallander) as Loki, Thor’s archnemesis and stepbrother. The movie is directed by Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh (Henry V). Stan Lee, who created Thor for Marvel with the late Jack Kirby, makes a cameo.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t play Odin,” said Lee, laughing. “But y’know, this guy named Anthony Hopkins walked by and – somehow or another – they gave him the nod. It must’ve been a toss-up, but he won the toss. I think Hopkins is the greatest actor, and he’ll be terrific.”
Captain America: The First Avenger debuts July 22 with Chris Evans in the titular role. Both movies are connected and were hinted at strongly in last year’s Iron Man 2, where Captain America’s famous shield makes a cameo (as it did in 2008’s Iron Man). At the end of Iron Man 2, past the closing credits, Mjolnir (pronounced “MEWL-nir”) – Thor’s magic war hammer – is discovered in a crater in New Mexico.
These movies are interconnected and will spin off into next year’s Avengers, a team of superheroes in which Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are considered the definitive members. Avengers will be helmed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon, slated for release May 4, 2012.
“I loved Thor. I loved the concept, I loved the character, I thought he looked cool. I thought it was great seeing these characters from the Norse myths reimagined as superheroes and supervillains,” he said.
In the comic, Thor, god of thunder and a noble yet brash warrior, is banished from Asgard, home of the Norse gods, to Earth by Odin to teach him humility (this also happens in the movie). Odin emphasizes his point by transforming Thor into Donald Blake, a frail physician.
Blake eventually learns he is really Thor and can assume his godly form by rapping his walking stick on the ground (the walking stick becomes Mjolnir). Thor’s strength then rivals Superman’s. With his hammer, he can summon lightning, and the hammer always returns to his hand once he throws it.
“I loved drawing that character,” said Milgrom, who drew Thor when he worked on the Avengers comics in the 1980s. He became the regular inker on Thor from 1991-93, working with the longtime creative team of writer Tom DeFalco and artist Ron Frenz. He would later join them on the Thor spinoff Thunderstrike, which ran from 1993-95.
“Al Milgrom is an imaginative visual storyteller and a true craftsman when it comes to embellishing an artist's pencils,” said DeFalco, also of Long Island, who recently worked with Frenz and Milgrom again for Archie Comics.
When asked what has given Thor such staying power after almost five decades, Milgrom responded: “It’s very appealing for a guy who’s physically challenged to become a superhero.
"Many of the great myths touch something in people; the human condition yearns for great heroes," he said. "Thor is sympathetic to the human race but was not above them. He’s really no different than Superman, who had abilities far beyond mortal men. Both empathize with the human condition and don’t use their powers to lord it over us; they use it for the good of the common man.”