The first time Jane Foster became Thor (it's earlier than you think!)
An exploration into What If? #10 and the imaginary story of Jane Foster as Thor
Before Natalie Portman's Jane Foster picked up Mjolnir, before Jason Aaron’s critically acclaimed run— Jane Foster lifted Mjolnir and was granted the power of Thor in a 1978 issue of What-If. At the time nobody could have predicted that Foster would serve a memorable tenure as Thor in the mainstream Marvel Universe, and that the storyline would inspire a major motion picture. Although Aaron’s storyline and Portman’s movie don’t take many cues from What-If #10, it’s worth taking a look at the first time Jane Foster became the Goddess of Thunder.
John Buscema’s cover for the issue is a stunning homage to Journey into Mystery #83, with a female Thor standing in Odinson’s place. The cover asks readers “What if Jane Foster had found the hammer of Thor,” and promises a “shock ending.” The story is written by Donald F. Glut, a science fiction writer who did work for Marvel throughout the Bronze Age. The comic is penciled by Rick Hoberg, an artist who would later cross over into the animation industry.
Like most issues of What-If, this one begins with the Watcher reminding us how things played out in the mainstream Marvel Universe, before introducing us to a timeline that deviated from the expected path. In this version of reality, Donald Blake’s nurse Jane Foster accompanied him on his vacation to Norway. Jane Foster was not in Thor’s original origin from Journey into Mystery #83, so her inclusion here shakes up the narrative. When the Stone Men from Saturn arrive, Don and Jane get separated, and the nurse winds up in a cave where she finds a wooden stick.
As in the original story, the wooden stick turns out to be Mjolnir, and Jane Foster is transformed into Thor. Jane is reminded of a Norwegian classmate she had in nursing school named Thordis and decides to adopt that as her name. And thus, Thordis rescues Donald Blake from the Stone Men and begins her superheroic career. From here, Thordis speedruns through most of Thor’s early adventures. She joins the Avengers, fights Radioactive Man, and battles Loki. The God of Mischief is initially surprised to learn that his brother is now his sister, but he quickly surmises the heroine’s true nature. Jane’s adventures take her to Asgard, where she earns Odin’s admiration by preventing Ragnarok.
When Odin tells Thordis that Donald Blake is the rightful holder off Mjolnir, she reluctantly returns the hammer to him. Donald Blake becomes Thor, and Jane is depowered, but not for long. Odin tells Jane that she has proved her worth and grants her permanent godhood. Odin follows this powerup with a marriage proposal, which goddess Jane accepts. Remember, the cover promised a shocking ending!
One refreshing thing about this story is that Thordis is shown to be an effective hero. It would’ve been very easy for Glut to write Jane as a failed hero as a way to make a point about how Donald Blake was the rightful Thor. That’s the approach that was taken in What-If #7 when Betty Brant became Spider-Girl. There are some silly touches, like men constantly leering at her, and the choice to disguise Mjolnir as a hairbrush, but for the most part the story presents Jane Foster as intelligent, powerful, and capable.
Fan reaction to the story was published in the letters pages of What-If #12. “This is what an alternate-reality story should be like,” wrote Robert Kowalski. “What-If #10 was a masterpiece! I have never written about a comic before, but I had to write about that issue,” wrote Debra Ann Barnett. The story struck a chord with readers, but like most What-If concepts, Thordis was a 'done in one' deal and wasn’t seen again.
Thanks to Jason Aaron’s run, and the Thor: Love and Thunder movie, there has been a renewed interest in Thordis. In a 2021 Facebook post Donald F. Glut fondly recalled his role in crafting the story, and expressed excitement at Jane’s upcoming turn as the Goddess of Thunder in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The inscription on Mjolnir says, “Whosever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” If there was ever a question of Jane’s worthiness, one has to look no further than her time as Thordis.
Interested in reading Thor comics, but don't know where to start? Check out Popverse's guide to the 10 most essential Thor comics of all time.