“Hoo-boy!” It’s Hammer Time Redux for my second-favorite comics character of all time! Once again, most of you will think he’s lame beyond belief, but maybe, out there, there’s a few of you who believe that the world still needs heroes– and that today’s star was one of those heroes. (For more entries, see the archive!)
206. Eric Masterson/Thor II/Thunderstrike
My favorite comics character, as we now all know, is Elongated Man. My second-favorite? Thunderstrike! Yes. A Thor legacy character, you ask? Created by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz? Indeed! Eric Masterson is one of the greatest comics characters ever!
Eric first appeared as a mild-mannered architect in Thor #391, during the early part of DeFalco and Frenz’s run. He was a single father and a regular bystander who happened to find himself in the middle of a few Thor battles (because Thor had his disguise of construction worker Sigurd Jarlson, at this point), and ended up befriending the thunder god. Eventually, he even tagged along on an adventure with Thor involving the High Evolutionary, Wundagore, the Black Galaxy, and the Celestials. Upon returning from said journey, the two are attacked by the evil Mongoose, who critically injures Eric. Thor begs Odin to heal his friend, and the All-Father does so– by merging the two.
It was a return of sorts to the “Don Blake” school of secret identities, cane-stamping and all, but the cool twist was that Eric was his own man, and always his own man. Unlike Don Blake, who was Thor, Eric and Thor were two different people with different personalities, though their merging caused them to grow closer over time. And Eric became a classic Marvel character, trying to balance a career, fatherly duties with son Kevin (Thor’s biggest fan), and still keeping up fighting crime and saving Earth and Asgard as the Mighty Thor. To complicate things even further, Hercules moved into his apartment as good buddy “Harry Cleese.”
Much like Spider-Man, Eric’s story was one of power and responsibility. This was Thor, though, so Eric also had to deal with living up to Thor’s godly nobility. That was a theme that’d last throughout Eric’s entire run in comics– how does one live up to a god?
Also, this era of the Thor title produced one of the few comics moments to bring tears to my eyes (and on, like, my fourth reread, of all things), when Eric finally relinquishes custody of his son to his ex-wife and her new husband, because he’s got to go off and try to save the universe as Thor, a mission from which he may not return.
Hercules will give you a hug if you need one. That’s why he’s cool.
Shortly after this, Thor got into a major battle with Loki and finally killed the guy. Odin frowned upon this and banished Thor, but leaving the power and the hammer to Eric. A mortal with the power of the thunder god! Could he prove truly worthy of wielding Mjolnir? Once again, could he live up to a god? I quite enjoyed how this run of stories deconstructed the Thor mythos, in a way. Eric couldn’t be bothered with the warrior’s code, and he didn’t battle the way Thor did. He’d fight dirty and use sneaky tactics if he had to. However, he wasn’t quite sure how to handle Thor’s enemies, because they weren’t really “his.” Heck, in one story, he let the Absorbing Man go. I enjoyed the friendships he struck with Beta Ray Bill and Dargo Ktor (The Thor Corps!), and his relationship with Sif, bittersweet and doomed as it was.
Eric had fun little one-liners: “Eat Uru!” “Blow it out your mandible!” (that one was to Annihilus). And of course, his catch-phrase, “Hoo-boy!”
Also, he had a fantastic costume (in my opinion):
I loved Eric’s supporting cast, and how it grew over time. There was his son Kevin and his ex-wife Marcy and her new hubbie Bobby Steele, as well as Eric’s assistant (who had a major torch for him) Susan Austin, and his architect colleague and love interest Jackie Lukus, and a few others. And for Thor, well, he got to pal around with Code: BLUE, a crack SWAT-like team of cops tasked to take down super-menaces. Great characters, them: Marcus Stone! Rigger Ruiz! Mag Dog Rassitano! Jock Jadson! Mother Majowski! And the other one! I wish they’d stuck around. Have they appeared in any comic since the Thunderstrike series wrapped up that wasn’t written by DeFalco?
Eric’s run as Thor was great fun, but it was temporary. The original Thor came back, as he was always going to (he was “banished” to the inside of Eric’s mind, which is why he could lift the hammer), but that wasn’t the end of Eric’s story. Thor took the hammer back and returned to Asgard, but he left Eric a mace named Thunderstrike, in which was carved “The world still needs heroes.” Eric could finally be his own man, and his own hero. The Thunderstrike series was launched!
Thunderstrike was street-level Thor. Eric had to deal with a different kind of menace– drugs, guns in school, carjackers, and the like, and a new kind of morality– how far was too far, and where the line between “doing good” and “following the law” was. Of course, there were big fights and super-villains too, as well as the usual corny sense of humor and classic Marvel angst.
What was the measure of a man? Eric was constantly asking that question, seeking to live up to the example of the mighty Thor: his best friend, his brother-in-arms. He proved, however, that he didn’t need to, that he was a great hero all along. The last issue definitely proved that. Eric’s archnemesis Bloodaxe turns out to be one of his closest friends, but he saves him/her (I won’t spoil the surprise for you) by taking the axe away. It possesses his body, however, and he goes on a rampage. It takes Eric’s inner spirit to save himself– and everyone around him– from the terrible power of the Bloodaxe, but he does so– at the cost of his own life. His last words? “Hoo-boy!” Haha! The world needed a hero, and Eric stepped up to the plate, as he always did, sacrificing himself for the greater good.
Dig this page (click for big):
He never needed to be a god; he was a man, and that was good enough for him.
The Thunderstrike series was incredibly ’90s, but, like Sleepwalker, it’s a true gem of the decade. The writing was hokey but the stories were strong, and Ron Frenz’s pencils looked gorgeous when inked by Al Milgrom. And it was lettered by Rick Parker and Janice Chiang! Whatever happened to them?
So yeah, Eric Masterson is one of my favorite characters. He was the star of the first several Thor comics I ever read, and I took a liking to him right away. Truly a character in the mighty Marvel manner, Eric was a guy who always thought he was in Thor’s shadow, but finally realized his potential as a true hero in his own right. The true power was inside him all along. Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz gave us this wonderful character, and stayed true to their singular vision for him. His story’s complete, and it was great while it lasted.
(Neat tidbit: Eric’s son, Kevin, took up the Thunderstrike mantle in the MC2 imprint, once again written by DeFalco, and appeared in A-Next and Spider-Girl and the like.)
Now, I’ve got every DeFalco issue of Thor, but I’m missing at least half of the Thunderstrike run. At least I’ve got something to search for– for me, one of my favorite characters isn’t totally “over,” even if I know how it ends.
To Eric Masterson, I give the Thor Corps salute– hammers high!