Today I have a guide to yet another hammer-wielder guide for Patrons of Crushing Krisis to support my Guide to Thor, The Odinson as part of my countdown to Thor: Love & Thunder. Long before Jane Foster was the Mighty Thor, another civilian on Midgard was able to lift Mjölnir to don the mantle of Thor, though it started him on an ultimately tragic path…
Reading every Eric Masterson comic for this Thunderstrike Guide reminded me of why I love the Marvel Universe.
(Below I will vaguely spoil a 25-year-old comic I almost certain you have not read. You’ve been warned.)
Eric began in Thor (1966) #391 as the most minor of supporting characters – an architect at a job site where Thor maintained a human cover identity. Over the course of five years, Eric went from supporting character, to ally to Thor, to intrinsically linked to Thor, to becoming Thor himself! All the while, creators Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz developed a rich personal life for Eric – including a loving relationship with his son Kevin, complex friendships with a handful of colleagues, and an unlikely roommate in Hercules.
A year away from the end of that arc, DeFalco and Frenz dropped a cryptic dire hint in their “The Thor War” storyline in Thor (1966) #438-441. As Dargo, a Thor from a (potentially) alternate future departed back into the timestream, he says, “Promise that you’ll try to enjoy your life – and your power – for as long as it lasts! That you’ll make every moment count!”
At the time this seemed like a remnant of Dargo’s alternate future history that didn’t quite line up with our present. It was just one more offhand dropped hint that future writers would never follow up on.
Except… was it? DeFalco and Frenz would continue penning Eric Masterson through the end of his time as Thor and into his own title as Thunderstrike, when Thor and Odin gifted him with his own enchanted mace as a thank you for his service to Earth and Asgard.
And, uh… VAGUE SPOILER ALERT FOR A TWENTY FIVE YEAR OLD COMIC…
…LAST CHANCE TO ESCAPE…
…Thunderstrike does indeed end in tragedy.
I usually don’t get too attached to comics as I review them to build comic book guides, but this one was a total surprise and it wrecked me.
Eric Masterson never asked for any of this. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider. He didn’t seek out a cure for his shattered hands. He was a regular human being in the Marvel Universe who tried his hardest to do the kindest, bravest, most-ethical thing in every situation even when that came at great personal cost. He even let some criminals walk away from their crimes if he thought it would be better for them in the long run!
Eric kept doing the right thing and kept being punished for it. We’ve seen that sort of thing happen to Peter Parker hundreds of times, but with Eric Masterson it was different. Maybe that’s because we witnessed him being an upstanding, responsible professional before his first run-in with Thor. Or, maybe it was the inevitability of the hand he was dealt – how so often he was manipulated by forces so much larger than himself.
Of course, other comic books have tragic stories of regular people turned heroes. But what makes Thunderstrike – and Marvel – different is how Eric Masterson is still remembered. He continues to be a part of the unending fabric of the Marvel Universe. He has been invoked, but never returned, rebooted, or reversed. His son remembers him and it colors how he views all of the heroes of Marvel, mortal or otherwise, even as he picks up his father’s mystical weapon. Thor will always recall him, as will Captain America. His fate has colored the Odinson’s reaction to other civilians taking on his mantle.
These eight years of Eric Masterson stories I read for this Thunderstrike Guide are still alive, and the emotions I felt reading to the end of his run can still be felt in stories being told today.
That is why I love the Marvel Universe.
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