Once upon a time, there were two hammers, being wielded by two very similar beings. At least in mannerisms. Thor Odinson was in possession of Mjolnir. Beta Ray Bill had Stormbreaker made for him. However, modern day readers were seeing the trend of gods wearing capes and winged helmets become outdated.
So, artist and writers at Marvel were wondering what could be done to bring some new blood into the comics with more up-to-date looks to them. It would carry a 90’s badassery to it that seemed to push the boundaries, but still carry the essence of heroism and optimism underlying all the comics that kept them feeling good about doing the right thing.
And that’s when artists and writers at Marvel introduced a more relatable everyman to the comic books. Eric Masterson, the man who became Thor who would eventually become Thunderstrike.
The Man, The Hammer
This guy is the walking 90’s. Short beard, ponytail, and a thunderbolt earring on his left ear; all this guy was missing was a Harley Davidson and a pair of Hollywood shades. So, to keep it in the realm of comic books, he also had a relationship with a woman who was revealed to be a demon essence living in an axe he grabbed off of one of his enemies. Just so it wasn’t too grounded in reality.
The character joins a lineup of similar characters during the time period who take on an edginess to them that struck criminals with awe and fear. All the while captivating readers with dynamic art styles and accoutrements that pushed design elements out of the realm of realism and into the ridiculous. A number of them sported overwhelming biceps and held large exaggerated guns and outfits that were too obtuse to be practical. Just look at Punisher 2099. Or the X-Men under that same futuristic title. Then there’s McFarlane’s Spawn. And Cable’s over-the-top armament, pouches, and overall aesthetic.
And along those lines, we begin the tale of Eric Masterson with Thor #391 in 1988. With that story by Tom DeFalco and artist Ron Frenz, Thor meets with architect Eric Masterson, who gets injured by falling girders while fighting a villain named The Mongoose. Thor has occasional run-ins with Masterson over the course of later comics, setting up the minor character for a much larger role in the Marvel Comics universe.
The Two Merge into One
During his stint with the god of thunder, Masterson gets abducted, meets Hercules, and gets wounded in each of the tussels with the supervillains. At some point, the wounding was severe enough that Thor had to seal both his powers and form in Eric’s mind to save him. Masterson now had the ability to change into Thor.
This continued for a while in the Mighty Thor comics, with the two persons living in one body, with all the conflicts of the personal life of Eric Masterson clashing with the heroic responsibilities of Thor. That is, until the two were separated by the Red Celestial in a story involving the High Evolutionary, and the creation of a new blue celestial.
Thor and Masterson merge again, as the former had to be saved by Masterson this time. Their final separation happens a short while later, this time by Heimdall, leading to Thor being banished and Masterson becoming the New Thor.
A New Thor
Masterson also was part of a sort of early Thor Corps in Thor #439 through 441 (not to be confused with a title under the same name by DeFalco and Pat Olliffe in 1993, or the Battleworld God Emperor Doom version, both of which had a limited issue runs). Subsequent issues show his training with Captain America, fighting with Mephisto, and searching for the real Thor. He eventually finds Thor held captive in his subconscious.
After releasing the real Thor from his captivity, he once again becomes the new Thor. Things shift around in a troublesome love triangle between him, Lady Sif, and the original Thor. Unbeknownst to Masterson, this was due to a spell put on him by Amora the Enchantress.
A scuffle ensues between Thor and Masterson, and it abruptly ends when Odin interjects. Thor gets Mjolnir back at the end of this battle, and Eric gets a new stick from Thor. And the mortal discovers the cane is actually a new weapon, fashioned specifically for him by Odin, but more of a mace rather than a hammer.
And the mace is called the Thunderstrike. Yes, he named his superhero alter-ego after his weapon.
The Short Run of Thunderstrike
Masterson also enjoyed a solo series in 1993 titled Thunderstrike, wherein the titular hero dons a new look, finally rocking the ponytail and a manly beard, with an earing in pure 90’s style. However, Masterson unlike the original Thor, was mortal. And like all mortals, he eventually meets his end in a subconscious battle against the essence of a weapon he had picked up along the way, the Bloodaxe.
The woman essence in the axe who manifested as Skurge. Masterson defeats the cursed aberration within the axe. However, the psychic backlash from this battle destroys both the Thunderstrike weapon and the Bloodaxe. It also ends up killing Masterson in the process. The events are covered in the full in the Thunderstrike comics running from 1993-1995, ending with issue #24.
And… with that, he’s dead.
Popularity is Immortality
I had some questions about the popularity of the Thunderstrike character. DeFalco talked about his experiences in a Life of Reilly interview that Thunderstrike was one of their more profitable books, despite its cancellation. He stated that the title was selling more copies than both Thor and the Avengers combined.
Furthermore, Eric Masterson has only made scant appearances in later books. He comes back to life in the Earth-616 reality as part of the Grim Reaper’s undead legion. However, after battling the Avengers, the Scarlet Witch returned Masterson to the spirit world.
A version of the character serves as a short lived part of the Thor Corps of the Battleworld of Earth-15513. But there was hardly a mention of him as part of the larger group.
Essentially the takeaway for Masterson is that popularity will keep a character alive. Remember Thunderbird from the X-Men? Wolverine won the popularity contest in those early issues. Add to that, we keep seeing Beta Ray Bill, even though he’s also mortal of sorts. Skurge the Executioner keeps coming back from the dead. Heck, even Throg the Frog of Thunder/ Puddlegulp has been around longer than Masterson.
But this guy who was in both Thor comics and had his own solo title in the early 90’s?
That guy dies.
And maybe we see an iteration of his character pop up once every decade or so.
The Mace Passed On
Later in the comics, there is a repair and remodel of the Thunderstrike mace. And Kevin Masterson, Eric’s son, inherits it. It’s at that point we get Thunderstrike as a 2nd series in 2010, written by Tom Defalco and Ronald Frenz. The story ran for a good 5 issues.
It led to Kevin being part of the Asgardians of the Galaxy. On that roster was Throg, Skurge, Angela – the long lost sister of Thor who is actually a character IP Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane had fought over for creative rights. Long story short, Gaiman won and now she’s a Marvel character. Also on the roster was Valkyrie, the Brunhilde version, and a Destroyer piloted by kid Loki.
I intended to talk about Thunderstrike being a memorable character from my youth. But I’m reading more about what happened in the comics at the time. Even as I read now, the dialogue and his mannerisms make him more a whiner and wreckless bull in a china shop. Not someone who displays authentic heroics and attitude. It doesn’t surprise me that his character run ended in the early 90’s like it did.