Part 4 of JSA: A Thunder God Among Us
Doctor Mid-Nite has his hands full holding back an angry thunder god when Thor battles a blond, hammer-wielding young man presumptuous enough to call himself the Mighty Thor! But it’s Dr. Charles McNider who teaches Thor his most valuable lesson.
Near the sacred World Tree of Yggdrasil sat three weird sisters around a fountain, which was named Urtharbrunn. The sisters were Urth, Verthandi, and Skuld. They watched the waters swirl with an unusual interest this day. Urth spoke first, as was her right. “I see three men. One is the Odinson who seems to lessen in stature with every minute. The second also carries his once-regal aura but is all too mortal. The third is also mortal, yet is one with two lives.”
The second of the Norns laughed. “I see more clearly. Thor has lost much of his ancient glory as sung about by in the sagas of old, but he is still mighty. The mortal carries within him the seed of Donar’s power to perhaps be awakened anew. Finally, the third man with two names sees more clearly through the darkness than any save Heimdall himself. He is mortal, yet is one of a band of men most fatal! These heroes would contend well with any who stride the halls of Valhalla.”
The final sister smiled. “While you know the now and that which was, only I see what shall be. I see heroism, wisdom, and villainy, but to whom shall each role be assigned? Watch as I speak further.”
Below, on the world they knew as Midgard, one of the three males in their vision sat alone. He was Thor, and he was in a deep concentration, free for once of the blurring daze of mead. He sat in the JSA Brownstone and puzzled over the nature of heroism.
Normally, he would have disdained to accompany the soft men of the modern era who so lacked the Berserker frenzy that marked his ancient followers. However, these JSAers were not common mortals by any means. He felt he could perhaps be honored by association with them. He had seen wonders enough when the ones called Superman and Doctor Fate had confronted his twisted fellow god, Loki. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Ragnarok.]
His newest guide entered. He was the one called Mid-Nite. Thor gazed at the man. He seemed frail compared to the one called Hawkman. He was gentle, yet skilled as a fighter. This much Thor had seen. The others deferred to Mid-Nite in certain matters. He was respected by beings who could wrestle with frost giants. Perhaps there was more to this man with the odd glass eyes.
“Well met! Mid-Nite, how farest thee?” he asked.
Doctor Mid-Nite smiled. “I am well, Thor. Are you feeling any more comfortable among us poor mortals? I assure you, you’ll get used to modern humans. After all, even Wonder Woman and the Spectre adjusted to us in time, though I admit Johnny’s humor is an acquired taste.”
“The warrior maid intrigues me,” said Thor, studying a portrait of the entire membership of the Justice Society of America. “She seems as powerful as one of the Valkyries who serve my father. And as a comely wench she has no equal, unless it be my own beloved Lady Sif.”
“Diana is truly remarkable,” agreed Doctor Mid-Nite. “She has even battled one of those self-same Valkyries you spoke of–”
The conversation between Thor and Dr. Charles McNider, alias Doctor Mid-Nite, ended abruptly when word reached the doctor of a crime occurring at a particular Gotham address.
“The computer alert says it’s time for us to go into action! That location was an old Pemberton holding, according to the data I have here,” said Doctor Mid-Nite as they hurried to one of the JSA’s Sky-Skimmers.
“Pemberton — what odd names thou mortals have!” said a bemused Thor.
Doctor Mid-Nite stifled a smile as he remembered struggling to wrap his tongue around some of the Norse names from the Elder Edda during some leisure reading in his youth. “Pemberton is an ally of ours, and his holdings are sometimes sought after by a renegade group called the Strike Force,” explained Mid-Nite. “They must have hidden something of use to their criminal group in that building during the time when the properties were controlled by one of their members.”
“This mortal conveyance hath not the fleetness of mine enchanted goat cart,” grumbled Thor as he struggled to fit into a seat in the Sky-Skimmer.
“No? You could just throw your hammer and tow us along behind you,” suggested Doctor Mid-Nite.
“What folly!” said Thor with disdain. “That wouldst only move us slightly in fits and starts. Not dignified enow for a warrior born!”
Doctor Mid-Nite nodded, rolling his eyes. “You’re right. It was a crazy idea.”
The odd couple reached an old factory. “Yon structure appeals to me. It hath the form of a mead hall!” said Thor, admiring the long building.
“Forget the mead. That’s not what we’re here for, remember?” urged McNider. He said quietly, “In that corner I see figures hiding against those crates!”
Thor gasped. “You truly have the eyes of Heimdall himself!”
Doctor Mid-Nite held back on his blackout bombs, since he did not want to blind Thor. It was better to let this super-strong warrior lead the way, as he was seeking a kind of probationary approval.
Thor sent the crates raining down on the jumpsuit-wearing gang. They yelped in horror and ran in two directions.
Doctor Mid-Nite recognized their uniforms as those of the Strike Force. He said, “Don’t rush off on our account!” and tripped them both. As they fell, he delivered a chop to the back of the neck to one of them and applied one of his newly developed tranquilizer patches to the other. Both fell stunned, and he thought, Thanks again, Rex and Wes!
Thor dealt with his two by slamming their head together with a crash. “These puny striplings wrought more than e’er they reckoned when they brought down the sacred wrath of Thor ‘pon their heads!” he roared.
Then Doctor Mid-Nite’s keen eyes spotted another figure, although anyone’s ears would soon have picked up the sound of splintering wood. “Look, Thor — we have company!”
Thor charged and slammed his hammer into a hulking man who wrestled with a huge crate. The blond man groaned and fell forward for a moment before turning to face the Asgardian avenger.
“By the eight legs of Sleipner!” muttered Thor as he looked upon a man who, for all the differences in costume, hair color, and facial demeanor, was clearly another Thor. “You dare steal the regal role of the son of Odin?!” he screamed.
The blond man tossed back his long golden locks and shoved his own hammer into Thor’s red-bearded face. “I’d say that you’re the thief, bud! I have a family right to the name of the Mighty Thor! Can you say the same?” he said as, amazingly enough, he overpowered the huge god of Thunder.
Doctor Mid-Nite’s mind raced. “I’ve seen that man before, or at least one like him, but where?”
The real Thor stood up and, with a black look on his angry face, said, “Mortal, I have worn the mantle of Odinson for eons. You have forfeited your life for such grave and unforgiving trespass.” He shot out a bolt of energy that startled the other clean-shaven Thor until he instinctively blocked or absorbed the deadly bolt with his shorter hammer.
“Thor, don’t kill him! He’s on our side!” called out Doctor Mid-Nite.
The red-haired Thor was lost in his own Berserker fury. He felt his dignity was insulted by this pretender, and he forgot any lesson the JSAers he’d met so far had taught him by their examples of valor and nobility. He shrugged off Doctor Mid-Nite’s arm and crushed the air from the second Thor.
They struggled, and the blond Thor said, “I didn’t see Mid-Nite there! I am sorry. I guess you’re not with those Strike Force creeps.” But his words were lost in the red haze that rose before the storm-dark eyes of Thor. He had lowered his guard for a second’s apology, and that spelled his defeat. Thor beat the younger man savagely.
Doctor Mid-Nite knew his tranquilizers could never slow such a raging behemoth, nor could his strength stop the blows of the juggernaut, but his raw courage still drove him to risk all to try. He thrust himself between Thor and the fallen blond. “Stop it, or you’ll have to kill me first!” vowed Mid-Nite.
The upraised fists of Thor hovered only inches from Doctor Mid-Nite’s head, then slowly Thor realized who he faced. “By Odin! You dare much, mortal! I could have rended asunder your very marrow! Do you presume to come between a god and his rightful justice?” he swore.
Doctor Mid-Nite stood taller than ever as he spoke calmly, “I won’t let you or anyone take a life while I can give my own to prevent it.”
Thor marveled at the bravery of the daring Doctor Mid-Nite. He lowered both arms and said, “You truly have proven much noble! The heart of Balder himself beats within yon red-emblazoned chest!”
Doctor Mid-Nite wasted no time as he bent over the fallen blond Thor. He knew the man had been badly beaten, and even with the obvious superhuman strength possessed by the second Thor, the injuries could prove fatal. He applied every technique he knew from years of medical experience in which he had treated Amazons, Kryptonians, and aliens, as well as normal humans in locations ranging from Brooklyn to Olympus itself.
“What do you assail?” asked Thor.
“I’m trying to save his life,” said Doctor Mid-Nite. “Help me! I lack the strength to do the job on one so superhuman. I need your help to make this man live!”
“We be warriors,” explained Thor grimly. “The price of glory on the field of combat oft be Hel’s cold touch! Tis the way of the Norns.”
Doctor Mid-Nite shouted, “Get down here and help me! I need your power to revive the boy! He was not with the Strike Force, and if he came here for what I’m guessing, then it was his right! You almost killed him!”
Thor saw the angry hero work miracles as he reluctantly and almost without understanding obeyed the orders of this merciful but heroic man of science.
“You see, we do more than beat criminals up,” he said as they worked. “We don’t work with just our fists. A hero always knows that an open hand can do as much or more as a clenched fist. I am a healer. I do this as well as stop crime. It’s what drives me. All of us want to stop crime; all of us love the rush of adventure, but as for me, I also try to live the oath I took as a doctor, even in this mask.”
Finally, they were done. A combination of Doctor Mid-Nite’s guiding hand, Thor’s power, and energy from the hammer brought the other Thor to an awakened state.
“What happened?” he groaned.
Doctor Mid-Nite smiled at the real Thor. “You did it. You helped me save him. That makes you more of a hero to me than slaying any number of frost giants.”
Thor smiled. “But, Mid-Nite — surely he was a foe. Do we aid our enemies? If not, they will rise to oppose us all on the day of Ragnarok!”
“No!” said Doctor Mid-Nite. “If we show them mercy and charity, then perhaps, just perhaps, there never will be a twilight of the gods, but merely a new dawning for man!”
“I knew the hammer was here. Came to get it. Ran into you and those goons,” muttered the blond Thor.
“Your father possessed what he believed to be a hammer of Thor in the 1950s, didn’t he?” asked Mid-Nite.
The young man answered. “Yeah! He used the power of Thor’s hammer to make it rain all through the arid Southwest back in 1957. He lost the hammer to the real Thor, or so he said, but later it turned up again. It came back to him by magic. Then, when he died, it ended up going to the Pemberton company, and I finally tracked it here after I read Dad’s journals. My dad originally used the hammer for profit, and when he got the hammer back, he only used it for good. But I wanted to use it to protect and help people, like a super-hero does.”
Doctor Mid-Nite explained quickly. “In the late 1950s, while researching a story I was writing, I read of sightings of a man with a magic hammer who could make it rain, as well as his claims of meeting the real god Thor, who took the hammer away from him. I wrote an account about it that was adapted into a comic-book story, but I never learned what became of that man after that.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Magic Hammer,” Tales of the Unexpected #16 (August, 1957).]
Thor puzzled over the weapon. “Tis made by my father. He must have given it to yon mortal’s father for some purpose, using an enchantment with my image to make this mortal think he had met the real thunder god. Mayhaps… he thought it would be more profitable to redeem a rogue than to redeem his own drunken son!”
“Dad’s name was Gerald Bard,” said the young Thor, shrugging, “and he drastically changed his life after that experience, devoting it to help others. My name is Donald Bard, and all my life I’ve wanted to help others.”
“Odin would ne’er have given yon mallet to one unworthy,” said Thor. “If he didst take it from your father and allowed it to return after he had made amends, then I vow ’tis yours by right! Forgive me for mine hasty rage!”
“I do,” said the young Thor. “I guess I did sound like a real jerk telling Thor that I was the true Thor and not him!”
As they left the building and the police carried away the Strike Force, Thor asked, “What be your plans now, lad?”
“I’ll have to decide if there’s a place for a second… er, uh, third… Thor,” said Donald Bard.
Thor laughed, “Mayhaps a name change wouldst be meet!”
Doctor Mid-Nite talked to Don again with some last-minute medical tips while Thor watched the JSAer.
Mercy to a foe, he mused. A healer and a hero! Noble Balder wouldst see much to admire in yon mortal, as do I. For one as blind as old Hod, Mid-Nite sees as far as the one-eyed god himself!