“Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”


Mjolnir's inscription is a challenge that has been met by few.


One of those few was architect Eric Masterson. A common man, possessed of great bravery and a selflessness when called upon to help those around him. A mortal who would be granted the powers of a god, and prove himself a hero time and again.


Eric Masterson was the defining character of Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz's run on “Thor.” A run that started as two fill-ins to help editor Ralph Macchio meet deadlines as Walt Simonson's run came to a close, done in hopes of securing their spots as the new creative team on “Daredevil,” which Macchio also edited. Instead, Macchio was so impressed with those two issues that DeFalco and Frenz would chronicle the God of Thunder for six years before crafting Eric's spin-off title, “Thunderstrike,” for two more years.


“Being a huge Kirby fan, being a huge Buscema fan, I had followed the series as a kid, and had loved it to that day; I loved what Walt had done. I said, 'Absolutely, I would love to do Thor.' and Tom wasn't sure about the whole cosmic thing,” said Frenz.


While themes of humility, and Thor's bond with and fondness for humanity gave the book a foundation, the series was also packed with Celestials and new pantheons of gods, intergalactic travel and Asgardian adventures, and ambitious direction for DeFalco, who was more comfortable with street-level heroes.


“That was Tom, as a professional writer, deciding to jump into the deep end. If he wasn't sure he could do cosmic, he was just going to jump into the biggest cosmic story he could think of, which was the Celestials. After introducing the Celtic pantheon, we jump right into the Celestial story which eventually leads to the Black Galaxy. In my humble opinion, he did a fantastic job, and I would like to think that I was at least there as a support system. Embrace what you fear, and see if it works.”


For Frenz, Thor's appeal lies in placing the god amongst humanity, rather than setting him apart from it.


“Thor is one of those characters that is a lens through which we can look at ourselves. He is from this amazing place called Asgard that is full of god-like beings who have incredibly long lives, but because of what he has been through, he respects and has come to understand the glory of the limited lifespan. He looks at human beings as these amazing creatures who get up every day, in the face of sometimes overwhelming odds, knowing that they have a finite amount of time on this planet.


“They have built a civilization, they have built nations and governed themselves and created art and have explored science and have advanced the way they have knowing that each one only has a limited time in which to accomplish these incredible things. That, to him, is just wonderful, and he respects that about the human race, in some ways more than he does of his own race.


“It's a point of view that he doesn't share with too many Asgardians because of his unique experience. Through that, you can tell incredible stories, and you have a particular lens through which to view the human race and our frailties and our stupidities and our glories. That's why I have always preferred that Thor interacts with humans.”


“I enjoyed Gerry Conway's run, where it was very science fiction-y and Thor was in outer space and interacting with aliens, and as much as I enjoy wonderful battles on Asgard where Loki takes the throne, and Mangog is released—those are all fantastic adventures, but I think what was unique about the series was that they would ground it in him returning to Earth at times and interacting with the human race.


“Even though we didn't have Don Blake to play with during our run, that's why we created Eric Masterson, and that's why we took a couple of years for readers to get to know Eric, and get to like Eric, and for Thor to get to like Eric before merging them and seeing those two storylines converge.


“That relationship with humanity, in my mind, is pretty intrinsic to the concept. I know other writers have made plenty of hay without that relationship to humanity, and I kind of despair the fact that a lot of people's view of Thor in the comics is that he is this arrogant being who sees himself above humanity and sees himself above even his friends on the Avengers. I've never agreed with that. Thor learned his lesson; part of his origin story is that he learned humility. As much as responsibility is an important theme in Spider-Man, I think humility is an important theme in Thor.”


Frenz has been pleased that along with recreating Jack Kirby's designs and epic battles, the MCU has introduced this aspect of the character to new audiences.


“I've enjoyed the way they portray him, especially in the first movie. I think they captured very well the theme of Thor learning humility and rethinking his place in the universe, and I thought the first movie did a fantastic job of that.


“I enjoyed the exploration of his relationship with Loki and how that has developed over the course of the films. I think that is something else that is important—DeFalco and I had the opportunity to play with that several times across our run. For Thor, it's not just a good guy/bad guy dynamic; it's a sense of very deep betrayal. He loved Loki as his brother growing up, and was unaware of Loki's resentments towards him. When Loki went full-on bad, it broke Thor's heart. That's another thing I think the movies have shown very well.”


Bringing a new human to bond with Thor that readers could accept was a tall task, but following the innovative run by Walt Simonson gave DeFalco and Frenz the freedom to experiment and get more creative where they felt it would benefit the book.


“In a lot of ways, Walt Simonson paved the road and exploded a lot of the givens, a lot of the tropes by creating Beta Ray Bill and getting rid of the Donald Blake persona and on and on. It was pretty much no holds barred. We knew we wanted a close relationship with humankind. We didn't go in assuming it would be a new human identity, but it is something we talked about. We discussed and threw away a bunch of ideas of how Thor might get a new human identity.


“Curiously enough, one of the things we thought about and discarded was Thor taking a mortal's identity, like a mortal dies heroically, and Thor feels compelled to take that mortal's identity. We felt that that was gross, and wasn't in character and it would need to be one hell of a compelling reason, and it would involve changing the tone of the book completely, so we discarded that idea. On top of that, one of the early names we had for the mortal character was Jake Masters, on one of my sketches.


“We decided if we named him Masters, we'd have people assuming he was related to Alicia Masters because of course, you can't have similar names without there being some sort of relationship—we've learned that from every Wilson in the Marvel Universe. We decided to go with Masterson because it sounded more Nordic, and we changed Jake to Eric, but later, on a different run, the other creators decided to have Thor take the identity of a dead man whose name was Jake. (laughs) I'm not saying that they were at all privy to what we had discussed, but it was interesting to me when that happened because I went, 'Oh, they're doing something that was basically something that we decided we didn't want to do.' And it's a pretty popular run.”


Experimenting with Thor's status has become a recurring theme throughout the modern era, and the current saga of Jane Foster assuming the identity of Thor has energized debate among readers.


“I've had people come up to me and go, 'Would you and Tom DeFalco have ever given the hammer to a woman?' And I said, 'Hell, yeah.' Why wouldn't you entertain that? That's not a bad idea; it's kind of a cool idea. I can almost guarantee we would have approached it a little differently, and we probably would have given her another name besides Thor because Thor is his name. It's kind of like Falcon not taking on the identity of Captain America, but the identity of Steve Rogers, that seemed a little odd. So we might have come with a new name for her, like we did with Thunderstrike or Walt did with Beta Ray Bill.


“There tends to be this proclivity to attach a motive to everything, and believe me when you're trying to create monthly comics; you're just trying to come up with the next idea to throw against the wall and hope it sticks. The people who say it's just pandering to diversity, I don't see that as a bad thing. You can make the argument that you shouldn't do it with your existing characters and that you should create new characters, I wouldn't have a really strong argument against that, but for storylines—did anybody really think that Jane Foster was going to stay Thor forever? Nobody thought that any more than they thought Electric Blue Superman was going to last forever. Sit back and enjoy the ride, that's always been my attitude.”


As for the creation of their own replacement hero, “write what you know” applied to Eric Masterson.


“There were some parts of me, some parts of Tom DeFalco, some parts of my brother who, at the time, was a single father. We liked the idea of making Eric a single father because we thought we could parallel his relationship with Kevin with Odin's relationship with Thor. It would give Thor a new insight to the father-son relationship, as he is sharing this experience with Eric, it might give him some insight into Odin.


“You are looking for elements that will give you some story legs and give you places to go. The ex-wife and the custody battle. At the very moment that Eric decides that it's not fair to Kevin to live this double life and be Kevin's primary parent, and he gives up the custody battle, Thor realizes that there is this larger responsibility, and you try to parallel these dramatic elements, and I thought we had some moments that played fairly well.


“He's left-handed because Thor has always shown to be right-handed. We tried to recreate some of the balance with Don Blake: Thor is a warrior, Don Blake is a healer; Thor, as a warrior, has been known to destroy things, Eric is an architect, a builder.


“Eric was shown once or twice to have a fascination with cars, that was Tom. He also had a bit of an art background; he would do little drawings for Kevin from time to time, so he had some art skill beyond architecture. In the backgrounds, we would show drawings of Thor by Kevin, and we followed through on that, not so much in the 616, but in the MC2, that Kevin was pursuing an art career.


“We wanted to make Eric a nice guy, that you would actually enjoy his company and want to read about him, so we weren't big on making him an ass hat or a prick, or give him a drinking problem. An everyman for relatability than a fascinating dark side. As he says in the finale of 'Thunderstrike,' 'I'm just a guy from Long Island.'”


Eric's status as a divorced, single parent was one of the character's defining traits. His son being named Kevin, was actually lifted from another hero's son.


“If you remember the wonderful series 'The Greatest American Hero,' Ralph Hinkley's son was named Kevin. One of the things that always bothered me about the series is that Ralph's single-parenthood and the conflicts with his ex-wife, and his custody of his son was something that was dealt with early-on—in fact, the character of Pam Davidson was his attorney dealing with matters related to Kevin, but Kevin disappeared from the series. By the time Ralph and Pam get married, Kevin is nowhere to be seen. So I wanted to name Eric's son Kevin as a reminder that we never lose track of him. One of the things I am proud of is that Kevin never disappeared from 'Thor,' never disappeared from 'Thunderstrike,' he was always very much a part of Eric's life.”


While Odin, Lady Sif, The Warriors Three and other mainstays populated the Thor side of the adventures, it was also important that Eric have a full supporting cast, a decision that could prove troublesome fitting them into the spaces between big, sweeping adventures.


“One of our frustrations was that we wanted to keep featuring the supporting cast, and we had trouble fitting them into any given issue. At one point, it felt like every time we featured the fellow architect Jackie Lukus; we were reintroducing her. Which is why we ended up tying her, and a large portion of the supporting cast, into the Bloodaxe mystery because that was a good way to keep them in play.


“One of the other things we did at one point was have Jerry Sapristi and Susan Austin do an intervention because they thought that Eric's erratic behavior was because he had been drinking. Our thought was that Jerry, somewhere in his past, somewhere in his family, he had encountered behavior like this before. At the time, my brother was a drug and alcohol counselor, so I could ask him about that kind of stuff, so we had ready professional reference for anything we wanted to do with that.”

For the team, it was essential when building the cast that they be introduced as characters who could contribute story ideas and generate subplots.


“It was funny to us, at the time when 'Thunderstrike' was being published, we were getting a lot of letters from people that were complimenting us on this radical idea of having supporting characters because it wasn't the standard at the time. Certainly, it was a trope, and a strong supporting cast was something that made Spider-Man Spider-Man. In the 90s, it was the time of the dark anti-hero, and all of the super-characters just interacted with other super-characters, and there weren't a lot of man-on-the-street supporting characters. People didn't have friends because everybody was a hard-bitten anti-hero.”

When Eric fully assumed the responsibilities of the Thunder God, the creators got to fully explore the idea of a regular guy with the power of Thor, by having Eric go to Asgard the first time and confront the other gods and interact with the Avengers. Frenz also took the opportunity to adjust his artistic approach on the title.

“When Eric took over as Thor, there was a decision on my part to pretty much divorce myself from the Kirby influence as much as I could. Certainly not from the things I learned of storytelling to dynamics, but in the nature of recreating some of Kirby's anatomy or style. One of the reasons I did that, is because it helped me get a handle on what made that character unique, and nobody did the original Thor better than Jack. As far as how Thor stands and how he throws the hammer and how he moves through the world, I was always more influenced by Jack Kirby than anybody.


“Once we got to Eric taking over, and Eric's version of Thor with the new costume, I did make a conscious decision to put the Kirby away and pursue my own style. I'm not a Kirby, I'm like the third, least-talented Buscema brother at best, or I'm the Romita, son that John doesn't talk about when it comes to my own approach to characters. I'm very influenced by Sal and by John Romita. That pretty much became the look of the book.”

“The World Still Needs Heroes.”


After a few years of having Eric carry the title, and the hammer, it was time for Thor to return. Plans were being crafted on what next to do in the title when an unexpected opportunity presented itself.


“We never anticipated that Eric was going to get his own strip. (Marvel's Sales Department) came to Tom and said, 'We understand that you're wrapping up this whole thing and Thor's coming back, and Eric's not going to be Thor anymore, and Tom said, 'Yeah.' 'The sales have been really strong, so we were wondering how you would feel about Eric having his own title,' and Tom must have said to them, jokingly, 'And what would that be called?' 'Well, that would be up to you.'


“It was a surprise to both of us, but we started thinking about it. From such arbitrary business decisions are creative ones made. As things started to be developed, we knew that Thor was going to go very cosmic, so we knew that Eric would be grounded. Walt had already paved the way with Bill being given his own hammer, so we decided to take the easy way out on that one.


"We came up with the name Thunderstrike simultaneously. Tom and I have had a few moments where we just get in the same stream of consciousness and start rowing. For me, Thunderstrike was about the AC/DC song “Thunderstruck,” and I thought would be a cool name. Tom came up with Thunderstike thinking much more practically, that he wanted it to be racked alphabetically near 'Thor.”


In the tradition of Mjolnir and Beta Ray Bill's Stormbringer, Thunderstrike was actually the name of the enchanted mace, and Eric adapted it as his own heroic identity when scrambling for a name by which to identify himself.


The same naming conceit was used with Bloodaxe, with the wielder adopting the weapon's name. Bloodaxe debuted in “Thor,” and the mystery surrounding the wielder's identity continued throughout most of “Thunderstrike”


“We brought back The Executioner for an issue by having the axe enchanted specifically by The Enchantress to make whoever wielded it The Executioner. We did a couple of issues of that, and she got away with the axe, so we were playing with what could be interesting. As a counter-point to Eric, who was very much a throwback kind of character of a decent man trying to do the right thing, we thought that we would introduce something more in line with what was being done at the time as a counterpoint.


“Bloodaxe was basically me throwing every 90s trope on the page at one time: skulls and chains and leather and whatever I could think of that would be an Image character was embodied in Bloodaxe. Of course, the character was a brutal vigilante who was out to destroy crime and killed quite a few people who weren't worthy of a death sentence. We would pit Eric against a character who will help us say more things about Eric and will help us delineate Eric's character all that much more.


“A lot of people liked Bloodaxe, whether it was because he was more in the tone of what was being done at the time, or they appreciated the whole juxtaposition from Eric.”


With the reveal in issue number 22 that Bloodaxe was Jackie Lukus, a character inspired by a one-time girlfriend and long-time close friend of Frenz, and who had a similar relationship with Eric in-universe, events were set in motion that would lead to both Eric and the book's demise.


While hints had been dropped since early in the “Thor” run that Eric would meet a tragic fate, how said fate would unfold was never set in stone.


“It was always our overarching impression that the story of Eric Masterson was about this guy who gets caught up in this cosmic stuff and does the best he can but ultimately gets consumed by it. Quite frankly, if he would have just stayed the fill-in Thor, we were leading towards the idea that Thor would take the throne and Eric would be Thor on Earth. Loki would escape for the umpteenth time, come to Earth, and completely overcome Eric and kill him. That would make Thor realize that it was wrong of him to put a target on somebody else and that Earth is very real responsibility for him and for him alone, and he would return to action.”


The book didn't end because of narrative, nor was it a poor seller. Instead, it fell victim, as so many contemporary series did, to a business restructuring plan by Marvel owner Ronald Perelman. Perelman felt that rather than producing 120 comics each month, it would be more economical to cut the line to 60 books and that the remaining books would then sell twice as well. To anyone unfamiliar with Marvel's bankruptcy filing a year later, it was not a successful plan.


“If we were still doing 'Thunderstrike,' I would be one of the happiest men you have ever met, and I probably still am for all the blessings I've had. If 'Thunderstrike' hadn't been victimized by business bullshit, we'd happily still be doing 'Thunderstrike.' It wasn't something that was on a timetable.


“At one point, we were supposed to have a double-sized issue #25. I was going through a bunch of old boxes for things to post on Facebook, and I found a script that I had written for myself for the Marvel Hotline they used to have, that included a teaser for the big finale of 'Thunderstike' that went up through issue 25. We had plotted a whole bunch of stuff thinking that we were getting #24 and a double-sized #25, and when we found out that we weren't getting that, we cut out an entire subplot we had introduced. There was this large guy who worked with Jerry Sapristi named Matt Ballors. The reason we had introduced him was that The Enchantress was going to come back and used Matt as a pawn, and that was going to be going on in the grand finale amongst Seth and all the other stuff. And a few other things got compressed as well.


“Overall, the 'Thunderstrike' series from beginning to end is something I'm incredibly proud of. For many reasons—probably more than just storytelling—it's very hard for me to read #24 without choking up a little bit. I was very happy with what we were able to accomplish in the space they did give us. The last couple of scenes in the cemetery where we see Kevin visit the grave, we see Jackie Lukus visit the grave, and we see Thor visit the grave were, I thought, incredible little character pieces and very on-point. I'm very proud of that stuff.


“I'm always gratified and amazed by how many 'Thunderstrike' fans are still out there. It's still amazing to me that people come up to me at conventions and either have me sign 'Thunderstrike' issues or want me to do a sketch of Thunderstrike or tell me how much they love 'Thunderstrike.' That book was definitely a labor of love for both DeFalco and myself.”