What are the shiny circles on Thor’s costume?

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Asgardian Fashion 101

Writing for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange, I came across a question about the Mighty Thor that has piqued my interest only in that I had never seriously considered the classic Thor costume and its design. What are those circles on his costume supposed to be? <empty stares; looks of confusion>

I left the question alone for a few days while other writers on the site tackled the problem. My writing calendar was full and I was sure some of the site’s capable admins and moderators would find some worldly wisdom that I, even with all of my superhero history, did not have an instant answer for.

You know what they came up with? Nothing. Fan rumors. Suspicions. European Defense Initiative Bio-Mechanical Suit, from Earth 1610’s Ultimate Thor.

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I was compelled to intervene. Here I was a Thor aficionado and I didn’t know the answer but I knew the European Defense Initiative Bio-Mechanical Suit wasn’t it.

Here is what I discovered. <cue fanfare> Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Bupkiss.

My Official Answer

“There is little in the way of historical references in Marvel canon for the circles on Thor’s chest tunic. He has had this costume since his first appearance in Journey into Mystery #83 (1952).

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If you know anything about me, you know that wasn’t going to be enough. I did a cursory scan of the Journey into Mystery series and the early Thor comics with no results. Then I knew I would have to go meta.

What follows is my research and speculation about those circles. If you know something more concrete, please share it with me through the comments below.

Can history be our guide?

With that said, we can look perhaps into history and see if we can determine what the artist Jack Kirby was hoping to show in this costume design. If we can assume this design was inspired by Thor being an ancient god of war, then perhaps it would be considered a stylized armor design. Since Thor is a superhuman being, he might have little use for armor in his day to day life, but might want to remind his enemies of his valor with a costume that resembled an armor he may have worn at one time. It was a good idea but nothing in my historical rummaging in Journey into Mystery or early issues of Thor, showed this.

Case in point: Here is a picture from Tales of Asgard, Journey into Mystery 101. In it young Thor is seen wearing his costume as we knew it from the classic Kirby era. Since he is wearing it into battle, it is safe to assume it must double as armor for the young godling. Everyone else is festooned in armor that looks like armor, though they resemble classic Earth Vikings wearing platemail instead of chainmail.

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Tales of Asgard, Journey into Mystery 101

If his costume is indeed supposed to be armor, then perhaps what we should look for is an example of an armor with similar properties. Having a bit of history under my belt I remembered an armor accessory I thought might be a match. It was called the Lauersfort Phaelara.

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A closeup of the Lauersfort Phalera, Burg Linn Museum Center, Krefeld, Germany

One of the first and earliest potential armor designs which bears more than a passing resemblance would be the 120 AD, Legionary Roman armor. The phalerae medallions, the large shiny metal disks share a similar placement (though not exact) on the Roman armor. The disk were usually covered with the faces of prominent leaders or mythical beasts denoting bravery or skill in battle. Legion armies also carried them on their banners as group awards for the regiment.

Roman Legionary

From the Augustan period, both infantrymen and cavalry men received the same award when an opponent was killed and his equipment seized: a series of nine phalerae which gravestone reliefs show were worn on leather straps on the upper torso. Once again, these decorations were intended for soldiers up to the rank of centurions. –Armed Batavarians: Use and Significance of Weaponry and Horse Gear, by Johan Nicolay; Amsterdam University Press.

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Turkish, Antique char-aina, (chainmail with mirror plates), Russian Zertsalo (Ottoman inspired)

The phalerae medallions were not unique to the Romans. The Celts wore similar devices for religious reasons and similarities could be found in ancient Mongolian, Chinese, Russian, Ottoman and Japanese armors, often designated mirror armors for their shiny appearance.

Art Imitates Life

Thor has had many different costume designs, many actually resembling armor rather than the cloth or leather of his early designs. These later designs were more inclined to use actual armor plates to depict the circles in his early costume designs, strengthening the appearance to phalerae medallions, even including ornate designs in some of them. I suspect this was a design issue that came about when later versions of Thor’s costume were reimagined by new artists.

I am willing to be one of those artists knew what phalerae were and decided to incorporate that design element into the armor. We don’t know that Kirby wasn’t influenced by phalerae but some of these on the newer armors are too similar to miss.

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Conclusion

While we have no definitive proof the circles on Thor’s early costume were indeed a representation of phalerae medallions, it is at least historically possible the original design may have been inspired by early armors from the Roman, Ottoman and Persian armor designs which incorporated similar elements.

Note: While Vikings did wear armor into battle, it has not been shown to be an integral part of the armor designs to wear phaelara into battle. Most vikings wore leather furs, cuirboilli (boiled hardened leather) or chainmail tunics with shields into battle.

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A fairly realistic depiction of Viking armor and weapons circa the 5th century AD.

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Asgardians, warlike yet fashionable.

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Un-affirmative Action: Marvel Style

Falcon and Thor

IN MARVEL NEWS:

Captain America has been forcibly retired and sent to an old folks home in issue 21 of his most comic series. He will be succeeded by long time friend, former sidekick and present day Avenger, Sam Wilson, also known as the first African American superhero, The Falcon. Sam will bring his trademark wings to the role of Captain America.

In related news: Thor Odinson has been determined to be ‘unworthy’ to wield the mystic hammer Mjolnir, his constant companion and signature weapon for over a thousand years. He will be replaced by a mysterious woman who will be calling herself Thor, at least while she is using Mjolnir.

This is not news. This is hype. Hype is a specialized form of propaganda which is expected to turn into money at the box office, store front or on the sales floor. Hype does not last, most changes that take place have little to do with the history of the characters being hyped or changed and in the end, things tend to return to their status quo. In other words:

MARVEL JUST WANTS YOUR DAMN MONEY

Neither of these MINORITY characters who have experienced this recent “promotion” in social status into the roles of long established legacy heroes.

Why?

Because it isn’t about social justice. It isn’t about opportunity. It isn’t about making things more balanced. It isn’t about promoting diversity in non-diverse ranks.

It’s about money. Plain and simple.

They want you (or someone who has not been frozen in the ice for 50 years) to obsess over the idea of Captain America being a Black man.

Anthony Mackie rocked the role of the Falcon in the Winter Soldier so the boys at Marvel Marketing and Development decide to take advantage of that and make Cap Black.

Sorta like they did with Nick Fury in the Ultimate Universe. For an entire generation of readers and the general movie going audience, Nick Fury is Samuel Jackson. Except he wasn’t.

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Marvel’s money grab is endemic in the nature of their promotion. But it is a fail before it has even begun because, in the typical new Marvel fashion, they have shown nothing but contempt for the characters and their underlying concepts.

In the case of the new Thor, she is a woman taking a man’s name as her Title. Yes, she is becoming the new THOR. But isn’t that the son of Odin’s actual name? Thor Odinson?

She may be acquiring Mjolnir and all of the powers that go with it, but what happened to her name and since when did being THOR become a title, not a name? When Beta-Ray Bill became Beta-Ray Thor. But note, he kept HIS name.

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Her adoption of the title of Thor, replacing her name is patriarchal without ever mentioning it. She will be less than the male white character in the role because for her to be more, there would have to be a woman somewhere in the development team to address those issues.

And we already know there won’t be. THAT isn’t the Marvel way.

And more importantly she would have to do things Thor Odinson would never do, in order to be recognized as equal. Her promotion was nothing more than a gimmick, something to bring in new readers. Note the level of promotion used.

For Christ’s sake she appeared on ‘The View’. How desperate is Marvel to appear more egalitarian especially in light of so many egregious articles discussing their lack of TRUE diversity? Who were they marketing the new Thor to? I can assure you very few men are watching the View unless someone has chained them to a chair…

MARVEL HAS BLACK HEROES, AND NOW ONE WILL BE CAPTAIN AMERICA.

Yawn. Big Deal.

Yes, Marvel can claim they have Black superheroes, (and I can name ten without breaking a sweat – Falcon, Black Panther, Cage, Spectrum, Storm, Blue Marvel, Battlestar, Goliath, the Prowler, and Bishop) but none of those heroes have the notoriety, fame, accolades or active titles of some of Marvel’s longest running white heroes.

And that is Marvel’s fault for not doing the work to create characters who could bring the imagination to life. To bring the concept of Blacks as equals to the mythology that is the superhero genre. We can imagine, aliens, Negative Universe, god-like men and men like gods, but we cannot imagine a Black Superhero with Powers that can shake the world. It is more than those comic creators want to be responsible for.

To make an equal Black superhero would imply there was an imbalance in the first place. Hence, the most famous of Black superheroes often have NO POWERS AT ALL.

Which brings us to the Falcon. If in the late seventies when Cap and the Falcon were nearing their combined title together, if you had suggested that the Falcon become Captain America, it would have been a significant idea. At that point, they had been champions of justice, trained together significantly (in fact, at that point, there had been no other hero who had trained to work with Captain America as much or as often.)

The two had developed a level of teamwork that was both seamless and amazingly efficient. The Falcon was his own superhero and had earned his wings (so to speak.)

The-Falcon

At that point, very few people had ever been Cap and he had never stepped away from the role. But today, being Captain America has been little more than a slot on a resume of superheroes. Hawkeye, Battlestar, Super-Patriot, and Bucky have all been the good Captain since the Falcon and Cap teamed up in the past.

So why now? By now, Marvel knows what both you and I already know. The Falcon is the Falcon and a Black man and Captain America is Steve Rogers. The seeds of the replacement are set in that very statement.

Every time they put someone in that Cap’s uniform, THAT PERSON IS DOOMED TO FAIL AND BE REPLACED BY THE GENUINE ARTICLE. The American Dream as embodied by the character means only Steve Rogers will ever hold that role successfully by the inherent prejudice of the character’s design.

America wasn’t ready for a half-white president. The reality caused a social schism that proved racism was not only alive, but happy living in witness protection in the flyover states.

Fans will tolerate their myth-space being overturned for a moment, for the sake of diversion. But think about the nerd-rage over Heimdall becoming Black in the Thor movies. The apoplexy over Johnny Storm being adopted and the brother to Sue Richards in the new Fantastic Four movie.

The nerd answer is always: this is the true depiction of these characters and there is no reason to change them.

300px-Avengers_Vol_1_181Except they were written in a time when racism and exclusion were the order of the day. Don’t be fooled. The day when a Black Character can represent America will come. But it isn’t today. It isn’t the Falcon dressed in Captain America’s uniform.

The day will come when a Black Hero can step up with their own name, without wearing the legacy of a white hero paving the way for them. When the respect of the efforts of Black Men and Women who paved the way for this nation to be the potentially great thing that it is acknowledged by presenting that character with dignity, flaws and the bravery we know Black Men and Women deserve for their time and treatment in the US.

That hero was the Falcon. One of the first non-legacy Black heroes.

If Marvel wanted to do something significant, they would give Sam some superpowers besides, to quote Hawkeye, when the archer was passed over due to color quotas in the Peter Gyrich Avengers, “besides flying and rapping with birds”.

Amen, Hawkeye. It’s about time.

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As an added treat, from Avengers 181(back when comics were 35 cents: When the government decided the Avengers could no longer operate without its mandate, it appointed their first liaison, Peter Gyrich. I hated this man but by the time the Civil War came about, I remembered every word he said had come true. This is one of my favorite issues because we watch Hawkeye, a long-time Avenger get temporarily ousted from the team by Gyrich since the Avengers had to conform to governmental hiring statues, including it seemed, affirmative action. The Falcon wasn’t too pleased with this either. Sam Wilson is many things, but he was not digging the Token Negro thing one bit.

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Journey to the Centre of the Earth (the science edition)

“Science, my boy, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.”
― Jules VerneJourney to the Center of the Earth

Jules Verne’s famous classic postulated the center of the Earth was filled with fantastic monsters at the fridges of the Victorian Age imagination. The scientific truth of it removed the more romantic nature of a lost world filled with dinosaurs, giant plants and super-volcanoes but the core of our planet revealed new wonders, barely even imagined a century later.

The inner core of our planet Earth is filled with mysteries still beyond our understanding and far beyond our physical access. The deepest we have managed to penetrate the Earth’s crust before our technology gave out on us is the The Kola Superdeep Borehole which is 40,230 feet or a mere 7.619 miles (12.26 kilometers) below the surface.

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Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne – Courtesy of Project Gutenberg

The intrepid Professor Liedenbrock embarks upon the strangest expedition of the nineteenth century: a journey down an extinct Icelandic volcano to the Earth’s very core. In his quest to penetrate the planet’s primordial secrets, the geologist–together with his quaking nephew Axel and their devoted guide, Hans–discovers an astonishing subterranean menagerie of prehistoric proportions. Verne’s imaginative tale is at once the ultimate science fiction adventure and a reflection on the perfectibility of human understanding and the psychology of the questor.

Project Gutenberg’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at http://www.gutenberg.org.