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By Thomas Wheeler

Within its first weekend in the movie theaters worldwide, the AVENGERS movie shattered a great many box office records, and within its first week, the movie had pulled in over $700 million, and within two weeks had made over a billion. Earth's Mightiest Heroes had become Earth's Mightiest Movie Stars, and everybody from Harry Potter to those funky blue aliens from Avatar could only look on hopelessly.

This didn't happen by accident. Marvel Studios had a long-term, distinctive plan in place, something I don't believe had ever been attempted before quite like this, that was nothing less than absolute genius. They created what has become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and commenced it with the first Iron Man movie. Four additional movies later, including the Iron Man sequel, the Captain America and Thor movies, and even the nowhere-near-as-well-received but still better than its predecessor Hulk movie, the stage had ultimately been set for the Avengers movie through a series of brief scenes shown during or after the end credits of these films, or through various references during them. Even those Avengers lacking their own movies, Black Widow and Hawkeye, were brought on board.

Need it be said that everybody except the Hulk is slated for sequels, with an Avengers sequel green-lighted within a week of the first movie's debut. The Marvel Cinematic Universe shows no sign of slowing down.

And, of course, there is an action figure line for the Avengers. It received a lot of promotion, even with special store signage. Target placed stickers on the floor of their toy department that made it look as though the Hulk had come stomping through, breaking up the floor tiles, and a second huge sign hung from the ceiling looking as through he was breaking through. Walmart had huge Avengers signs at the front of their stores.

I've been picking up some of the Avengers figures here and there. This review will take a look at the SHOCK STRIKE THOR figure. But first, let's have a little comic and cinematic history of the Avengers, and of Thor in particular.

The Avengers made its debut in The Avengers #1 (Sept. 1963), and was created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter Jack Kirby, following the trend of super-hero teams after the success of DC Comics' Justice League of America.

Labeled "Earth's Mightiest Heroes", the Avengers originally consisted of Iron Man, Ant-Man (Dr. Henry Pym), Wasp (Janet Van Dyne), Thor, and the Hulk. The original Captain America was discovered by the team in issue #4, trapped in ice, and he joined the group when they revived him. The rotating roster has become a hallmark of the team, although one theme remains consistent: the Avengers fight "the foes no single superhero can withstand". The team, famous for its battle cry of "Avengers Assemble!", has featured humans, mutants, robots, gods, aliens, supernatural beings, and even former villains.

The first adventure features the Asgardian god Loki seeking revenge against his brother Thor. Using an illusion, Loki tricks the Hulk into destroying a railroad track. He then diverts a radio call by Rick Jones for help to Thor, whom Loki hopes will battle the Hulk. Unknown to Loki, the radio call is also answered by Ant-Man, the Wasp, and Iron Man. After an initial misunderstanding, the heroes unite and defeat Loki after Thor is lured away by an illusion of the Hulk and suspects Loki when he realizes it is an illusion. Ant-Man states the five work well together and suggests they form a combined team; the Wasp names the group "the Avengers" because it sounded "dramatic".

The roster changes almost immediately; by the beginning of the second issue, Ant-Man has become Giant-Man and, at the end of the issue, the Hulk leaves once he realizes how much the others fear his unstable personality. Feeling responsible, the Avengers try to locate and contain the Hulk, which subsequently leads them into combat with Namor the Sub-Mariner. This would result in the first major milestone in the Avengers' history: the revival and return of Captain America. Captain America joins the team and he is also given "founding member" status in the Hulk's place. The Avengers go on to fight foes such as Captain America's wartime enemy Baron Zemo, who forms the Masters of Evil, Kang the Conqueror, and Count Nefaria.

In the 1970s, the adventures increased in scope as the team cross into an alternate dimension to battle the Squadron Supreme and fight in the Kree-Skrull War, an epic battle between the alien Kree and Skrull races and guest-starring the Kree hero Captain Marvel.

As to the movie, officially known as "Marvel's The Avengers" it was produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, and is the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is written and directed by Joss Whedon and features an ensemble cast that includes Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård and Samuel L. Jackson. In The Avengers, Nick Fury, director of the peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D., recruits Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor to form a team that must stop Thor's brother Loki from enslaving the human race.

Development of The Avengers began after the success of the film Iron Man in May 2008, when Marvel announced that The Avengers would be released in July 2011. With the signing of Johansson in March 2009, the film was pushed back for a 2012 release. Whedon was brought on board in April 2010 and rewrote the screenplay originally written by Zak Penn. Production began in April 2011 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before moving to Cleveland, Ohio, in August and New York City in September.

The Avengers premiered on April 11, 2012, at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California. The film, released everywhere else May 4, has received positive reviews from most film critics and set numerous box office records, including the biggest opening weekend ever in North America.

As to the storyline, and you may consider this your SPOILER WARNING: After his fall from Asgard into space at the end of the Thor movie, the Asgardian Loki meets the Other, the leader of a warmongering alien race known as the Chitauri. In exchange for retrieving the tesseract, a powerful energy source of unknown potential, the Other promises Loki a Chitauri army with which he can subjugate the Earth. Nick Fury, director of the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D., arrives at a remote research facility during an evacuation. Physicist Dr. Erik Selvig is leading a research team experimenting on the tesseract, and Agent Maria Hill explains that the object has begun radiating an unusual form of energy. The tesseract suddenly activates and opens a portal, allowing Loki to reach Earth. Loki takes the tesseract and uses his staff to enslave Selvig and several agents, including Clint Barton (Hawkeye), to aid him in his getaway.

In response to the attack, Fury reactivates the "Avengers Initiative". Agent Natasha Romanoff is sent to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner; agent Phil Coulson visits Tony Stark to have him review Selvig's research; and Fury approaches Steve Rogers with an assignment to retrieve the tesseract. While Barton steals iridium needed to stabilize the tesseract's power, Loki causes a distraction in Stuttgart, Germany, leading to a confrontation with Rogers, Stark, and Romanoff that ends with Loki's surrender. While being escorted back to S.H.I.E.L.D., Thor, Loki's adoptive brother, arrives and frees Loki hoping to convince him to abandon his plan and return him to Asgard. After a confrontation with Stark and Rogers, Thor agrees to take Loki to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier, and imprison him until the tesseract can be acquired.

The Avengers become divided, both over how to approach Loki and the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to harness the tesseract to develop weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent against hostile extra-terrestrials. As the group argues, Barton, and Loki's other possessed agents, attack the Helicarrier, disabling its engines in flight and causing Banner to transform into the Hulk. Stark and Rogers try to restart the damaged engines, and Thor attempts to stop the Hulk's rampage. Romanoff fights Barton, and knocks him unconscious, breaking Loki's mind control. Loki escapes after killing Coulson, and Thor and the Hulk are each ejected from the ship. Fury uses Coulson's death to motivate the Avengers into working as a team. Stark and Rogers realize that simply defeating them will not be enough for Loki; he needs to overpower them publicly to validate himself as ruler of Earth. Loki uses the tesseract, in conjunction with a device Selvig built, to open a portal above Stark Tower to the Chitauri fleet in space, launching his invasion.

The Avengers rally in defense of New York City, but quickly realize they will be overwhelmed as wave after wave of Chitauri descend upon Earth. With help from Barton, Rogers, Stark, and Thor evacuate civilians, while Banner transforms into the Hulk again and goes after Loki, eventually beating him into submission. Romanoff makes her way to the portal, where Selvig, freed of Loki's control, reveals that Loki's staff can be used to close the portal. Meanwhile, Fury's superiors attempt to end the invasion by launching a nuclear missile at Manhattan. Stark intercepts the missile and takes it through the portal toward the Chitauri fleet. The missile detonates, destroying the invaders' lead ship, thereby disabling their forces on Earth. Stark's suit runs out of power and he falls back through the portal, but the Hulk saves him from crashing to the ground. Romanoff deactivates the portal to prevent further invasion. In the aftermath, Thor returns Loki and the tesseract to Asgard. Fury notes that the Avengers will return when they are needed.

In the first of two post-credits scenes, the Other confers with his master - who turns out to be none other than Thanos - about the attack on Earth.

As for Thor - technically in one sense, Marvel Comics didn't create Thor. They just adapted established Norse mythology to the growing Marvel Universe. The character as such first appeared in Journey into Mystery #83 (Aug. 1962) and was created by editor-plotter Stan Lee, scripter Larry Lieber, and penciller Jack Kirby.

He has starred in several ongoing series and limited series, and has been a perennial member of the superhero team the Avengers, appearing in each of the four volumes.

Stan Lee in 2002 described Thor's genesis early in the Marvel pantheon, following the creation of the Hulk: "How do you make someone stronger than the strongest person? It finally came to me: Don't make him human — make him a god. I decided readers were already pretty familiar with the Greek and Roman gods. It might be fun to delve into the old Norse legends... Besides, I pictured Norse gods looking like Vikings of old, with the flowing beards, horned helmets, and battle clubs. ...Journey into Mystery needed a shot in the arm, so I picked Thor ... to headline the book. After writing an outline depicting the story and the characters I had in mind, I asked my brother, Larry, to write the script because I didn't have time. ...and it was only natural for me to assign the penciling to Jack Kirby..."

Thor's father Odin decided his son needed to be taught humility and consequently placed Thor (without memories of godhood) into the body and memories of an existing, partially disabled human medical student, Donald Blake. After becoming a doctor and on vacation in Norway, Blake witnessed the arrival of an alien scouting party. Blake fled into a cave after they heard him and began to pursue him. After discovering Thor's disguised hammer Mjolnir, and striking it against a rock, he transformed into the thunder god.

Defeating the aliens, Thor shared a double life with his alter ego: treating the ill in a private practice with nurse - and eventual love - Jane Foster and defending humanity from evil. Thor's presence on Earth almost immediately attracted the attention of his adoptive brother and arch-foe Loki; who returned repeatedly to Earth in a bid to destroy Thor. Loki was also responsible for the emergence of three of Thor's principal foes: the Absorbing Man; the Wrecker, and the Destroyer. On one occasion, Loki's tactics were accidentally beneficial - although successful in using an illusion of the Hulk to draw Thor into battle, it resulted in the formation of the superhero team the Avengers, of which Thor was a founding and longstanding member.

As to his cinematic debut, Thor is a 2011 American superhero film based on the comic book character of the same name published by Marvel Comics. It was the fourth film released as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film was directed by Kenneth Branagh, written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, and stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba and Stellan Skarsgård. The film tells the story of Thor, a god who is exiled from his homeland of Asgard to Earth. While there, he forms a relationship with Jane Foster, a scientist. However, Thor must stop his brother Loki, who intends to become the new king of Asgard.

In AD 965, Odin, king of Asgard, wages war against the Frost Giants of Jotunheim and their leader Laufey, to prevent them from conquering the nine realms, starting with Earth. The Asgardian warriors defeat the Frost Giants and seize the source of their power, the Casket of Ancient Winters.

Now in the present, Odin's son Thor prepares to ascend to the throne of Asgard, but is interrupted when Frost Giants attempt to retrieve the Casket. Against Odin's order, Thor travels to Jotunheim to confront Laufey, accompanied by his brother Loki, childhood friend Sif and the Warriors Three: Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun. A battle ensues until Odin intervenes to save the Asgardians, destroying the fragile truce between the two races. For Thor's arrogance, Odin strips his son of his godly power and exiles him to Earth as a mortal, accompanied by his hammer Mjolnir (the source of his power) now protected by an enchantment to allow only the worthy to wield it.

Thor lands in New Mexico, where astrophysicist Jane Foster, her assistant Darcy Lewis and mentor Dr. Erik Selvig, find him. The local populace finds Mjolnir, which S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson soon commandeers before forcibly acquiring Jane's data about the wormhole that delivered Thor to Earth. Thor, having discovered Mjolnir's nearby location, seeks to retrieve it from the facility that S.H.I.E.L.D. quickly constructed but he finds himself unable to lift it, and is captured. With Selvig's help, he is freed and resigns himself to exile on Earth as he develops a romance with Jane.

Loki discovers that he is actually Laufey's son, adopted by Odin after the war ended. Odin, overcome with stress from Loki's discovery and Thor's exile, falls into the deep "Odinsleep" that allows him to recuperate. Loki seizes the throne in Odin's stead and offers Laufey the chance to kill Odin and retrieve the Casket. Sif and the Warriors Three, unhappy with Loki's rule, attempt to return Thor from exile, convincing Heimdall, gatekeeper of the Bifröst - the means of traveling between worlds - to allow them passage to Earth.

Aware of their plan, Loki sends the Destroyer, a seemingly indestructible automaton, to pursue them and kill Thor. The warriors find Thor, but the Destroyer attacks and defeats them, prompting Thor to offer himself instead. Struck by the Destroyer and near death, Thor's sacrifice proves him worthy to wield Mjolnir. The hammer returns to him, restoring his powers and enabling him to defeat the Destroyer. Kissing Jane goodbye and vowing to return, he and his fellow Asgardians return to confront Loki.

In Asgard, Loki betrays and kills Laufey, revealing his true plan to use Laufey's attempt on Odin's life as an excuse to destroy Jotunheim with the Bifröst Bridge, thus proving himself worthy to his adoptive father. Thor arrives and fights Loki before destroying the Bifröst Bridge to stop Loki's plan, stranding himself in Asgard. Odin awakens and prevents the brothers from falling into the abyss created in the wake of the bridge's destruction, but Loki allows himself to fall. Thor makes amends with Odin, admitting he is not ready to be king; while on Earth, Jane and her team search for a way to open a portal to Asgard.

In a post-credits scene, Selvig has been taken to a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, where Nick Fury opens a briefcase and asks him to study a mysterious object, which Fury says may hold untold power. An invisible Loki prompts Selvig to agree, which Selvig does.

In my opinion, the movie was an excellent take on what had to have been a difficult character to bring to the screen, at least seriously. Thor and his adventures tend to have a certain over-the-top quality simply because of their grandiose nature. However, the movie fared well, and the scenes around Asgard were staggeringly impressive. And certainly, the movie set the scene for Avengers, introducing us to Loki, as well as Thor, and showing his interest in the Cosmic Cube, clearly recovered from the Captain America movie, and now in the present-day hands of SHIELD.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive -- not to mention tall. In the Avengers line, the figures of Iron Man and Captain America come in at slightly over 4" in height. Thor is almost 4-1/2". At that scale, that's a noticeable difference.

But then, Thor's always been a big guy. Let's discuss his best known costumes for a moment. Arguably Thor's longest-lived and most iconic costume features a black top and trunks, blue leggings, and a red cape. The costume is sleeveless. In more recent times, Thor has adopted a different costume in the comic books, one which is a little less super-heroish in its design, and which, among its most notable variances from the original, adds chain mail armor, especially to the formerly sleeveless arms, as well as to the formerly blue-clad legs. This newer costume has been generally well-received by the fans, and was certainly the basis for the costume in the movie. That is, when Thor wasn't exiled to Earth and was mostly wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Although the costume didn't have armored legs, it certainly had armored arms.

Interestingly enough, in the Avengers, Thor is seen wearing a sleeveless version of his costume -- since his exile is no longer a factor. By the time of the final battle in the movie, however, he has brought back the armored sleeves and is in full battle mode. It's an interesting nod to something fairly close to the original look of Thor, although it's also worth noting that the sleeveless version of Thor's costume also sometimes abolishes the cape -- which I'd personally wager was a nightmare to wear, probably snagging on everything from furniture to battle debris.

Now, there is a sleeveless Thor figure in the Avengers movie line. But it's marked as "Comic Series", and only superficially resembles the movie Thor. It's not a bad figure, but I'd sort of call it a cross between the comic Thor and the movie Thor, and isn't really that close to Thor as he appeared in the movie, which is what I wanted. And since I'd also picked up the Mark VII Iron Man figure, the newest version of armor which Stark didn't really implement until the final battle of the movie against the alien invaders commenced, I had no difficulty in choosing the Thor figure with the armored arms.

The headsculpt is an excellent likeness of the character as he appears in the movie. One thing did surprise me, and that's that the hair was not apparently molded separate from the face. They appear to be one piece, although there also seems to be a second part to the head underneath the hair that consists of the neck attachment. Thor's facial features are very well painted, and nicely detailed. He has a decidedly stern expression on his face. The eyes, quite small, are very neatly done.

Thor's costume is something I would describe as a fancier, perhaps more elegant take on both his original iconic costume, and his modern costume from the comics. The majority of the costume is a very dark blue. The chest has ornate grey-silver details on it, including a series of six circles, just like the classic Thor, although these are worked more effectively into the design of the costume, with the uppermost two being part of what holds the cape in place, and the lowermost two being part of an ornate belt. There is also some fancy design sculpting in silver down the front.

Thor's leggings and boots are surprisingly high-tech in appearance, given where Thor hails from. Narrow ridged detailing can be seen in this area. The leggings are dark blue, while the boots are mostly black.

Thor's arms are clad in gray-silver chain mail armor from shoulder to elbow, with his lower arms being protected by some fancy gauntlets, although his hands are not gloved.

Thor has a flowing red cape. I found its method of attachment moderately amusing. It's actually secured to the figure in the upper back, with the top of the cape coming over the shoulders to meet up with some detail on the front of the figure. This is precisely the same method used by Mattel's DC Universe Classics figures to secure capes. Admittedly, it's a little odd in my opinion, but it seems to work well enough. The cape is very highly detailed, albeit a little pre-posed to look like the base of it is flapping to one side, but it's not as though it looks like the entire thing is blowing in the wind, so I can live with it.

The painted detailing on Thor is somewhat limited, mostly on the face and torso, with some, but far less, on the arms and legs. Overall, though, the paint detailing is superbly well done, especially on the face and torso.

As one would expect, the figure is very nicely articulated. Thor is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), legs, and knees. Wrist, waist or mid-torso, and ankle articulation is not present in these figures, but it's not that big of a deal. My only concern would have been if the lack of ankle articulation had made it difficult for the figure to stand up on his own two feet, but Thor does not have this problem.

The leg articulation is nicely designed. Sometimes these Marvel movie figures have had rather over-engineered leg articulation that just hasn't worked that well. Fortunately, that's not the case here. It's a good straightforward design that allows for back and forth as well as outward movement.

Thor comes with several accessories. Naturally, he comes with his hammer, Mjolnir. It's nicely detailed, about 1-1/4" in length, with a sizable mallet section and a narrow handle that looks like it's tightly wrapped in leather, with a loop handle at the base, just as it's always been portrayed in the comics.

Then there's the other accessories. No great surprise, in order to add some "play value" to these figures, most of the Avengers figures come with some sort of action-oriented accessory. With a name like "Shock Strike Thor", one might expect that his accessory has something to do with his ability to wield lightning -- which, in a way, it does, if a little indirectly, and the result is one of the most peculiar spring-loaded missile launcher type accessories I've ever seen.

I'm no stranger to such hardware. G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Marvel -- all have had spring-loaded missile launchers of one sort or another. But this one for Thor is an attempt to demonstrate the fact that it's Thor's hammer that really channels the lightning, and that in battle, when he throws this thing, if the "shock" doesn't get you, the "strike" will.

The missile launcher itself is this irregularly-shaped cylinder, with sculpting in it to make it look as though it's made of lightning, with an extra piece attached to it that is designed to look as though narrow bolts of lightning are coalescing and flying off this thing. The missile itself is a painted replica of Thor's hammer, with a halo of transparent blue energy around it, tapering back to the section of the missile that actually fits into the launcher. Firing it gets you a couple of feet of distance on the missile.

It's weird, but I also have to admit that it's a rather clever way to demonstrate one of Thor's major super-powers in an effective enough toy mechanism. Somebody probably got a few headaches thinking, "Okay, we know what the character can do, but how can we turn something like that into an action toy?" They found a pretty decent way, really.

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. This is an excellent rendition of Thor, nicely detailed, well-crafted, and neatly painted. Certainly the character is a major player in the Avengers movie, and will be gaining his own sequel before co-starring once again in the sequel to the Avengers. There are several Thor figures in the Avengers action figure line at this time, and they're all nice figures, but if you enjoyed the Avengers movie, and you're looking for the most cinematically accurate one, then this is the one that I would say needs to be part of your collection.

The AVENGERS figure of SHOCK STRIKE THOR definitely has my highest recommendation!