Ruby Nation

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Thor's Discs= Kirby's Genius

After blogging about heavier subjects, I wanted to talk about something a bit more enjoyable. So let us discuss one of the omnipresent visual markers of one of Marvel's most beloved characters; the discs on Thor's shirt.

If you were asked to describe the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby interpretation of the Norse God of Thunder, the first things that might come to mind would not be those shiny discs on his manly chest. You'd certainly mention the hammer, the long glam-rock blonde hair, the winged helmet, or the cape. You might even discuss the symbols of his mortal identity, how his hammer turned into a gnarled walking stick when used by his mortal self of Dr. Donald Blake. But you probably wouldn't think of the discs. They'd come in last in your description, if at all.

Yet the discs have been included in every major iteration of Thor. Not only did the original costume endure for three decades without a change, but all the major updates* include these circles. This includes the Heroes Reborn look, the King Thor costume, the current Coipel costume, and the upcoming movie outfit. Even Ultimate Thor, who discarded or modified every other piece of Marvel Thor iconography, kept the discs on his leather outfit.

The late Jack Kirby had a simple, clean style, but his costumes tended to be ornate and unusual. It is a testament to his genius that his characters looked impressive instead of silly. This was especially noteworthy in his DC titles; Mister Miracle had his red-yellow-and-green ensemble, OMAC mixed bright blue and orange with the world's mightiest mohawk, and Darkseid hosted a short skirt and long boots worthy of a schoolgirl hentai. But none of them looked stupid under Kirby-- his stylings were so dynamic and energetic that he made the costumes work. And he also gave us characters of elegant simplicity like Black Panther, Silver Surfer, the Thing, and Captain America.

Thor, however, is more the former than the latter. The discs on his shirt serve no clear purpose; they're not even a clear symbol like the Superman "S" or Captain Marvel's thunderbolt. There's already a "T" symbol on Thor's belt, which under most artists would be enough. But the discs provide a nice disruption of the monotony; their shiny nature contrasts well with the black of Thor's tunic. And the six discs are arranged in perfect symmetry. It's both aesthetically comfortable and impressive, and served as the perfect look for an Asgardian Thunder God.

The discs become the kind of iconography that seems so perfect that you think you should have thought of it. But you didn't. Nobody did except Kirby. It's yet another proof of his unparalleled ability.

* Excluding the short-lived leather look from the Messner-Loebs run, which most of us would likely rather forget.


  1. The discs were also left out of the Thomas/Wyman era eyesore.

    It's worth noting Beta Ray Bill also wears a variation on the discs; Thunderstrike wore a plain cloth version of the discs.

  2. That's definitely one of Kirby's virtues - he did put a lot of effort in attempting to make his central characters as unique as possible. Be it Captain America, Thor, Dr. Doom, the Thing, Darkseid, even Modok...he made sure that they stood out in your imagination.

  3. One thing the top four discs do, to my eyes, anyway, is loosely resemble the way muscles would be drawn on a bare torso in a Silver Age art style. They're roughly where Thor's pecs and abs would be in a Silver Age line drawing, aren't they? (Well, actually they resemble a loose layout/sketch guide for musculature in that style, but the point's the same.)

    Since Thor probably couldn't run around bare-chested in those days and retain the majesty and pomp Kirby and Lee intended for him, the discs strike me as a way of subtly reminding the reader of Thor's physical power without compromising the other traits of the character by depicting him as a shirtless roughneck.

    It's worth noting that when Marvel's Steve Reeves-influenced Hercules was introduced as a foil for Thor, being the pompous, brash, and less "civilized" counterpart of the title character, Herc's costume was noticeably closer to the bare-chested muscle-flaunting look that Kirby's Thor design (I argue) evokes in subtler fashion.

  4. I used to think that those discs were the anti-grav plates that allowed Thor to fly like an eagle, before I discovered that Mjolnir pulls him along like a cat stuck in a washing machine.

    I now believe, in my heart and in my liver, that the discs are purely ornamental, representing six of the Nine Realms over which Thor holds a degree of authority as prince of Asgard. Let us imagine, then, that they represent Asgard, Midgard, Alfrheim, Vanaheim, Nornheim and Jotunheim.

  5. where do you get the fabric from? I want to have Thor Outfits and Ive been to several halloween stores and craft shops, and no one had any idea what I was looking for.. :s HELP, HALLOWEEN IS SOOOOON !