Like many others, sculptor John Magnan’s initial foray into the world of Marvel Comics was through the series of movies collectively known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
When he went to see 2011’s “Thor” because of a longstanding interest in Norse mythology, Magnan jokingly admits to developing a bit of a “man crush” on the film’s star, Chris Hemsworth. More importantly, he had a fascination with a particular object: Thor’s hammer.
First, a little background: in August 1962, in “Journey into Mystery #83,” Marvel Comics introduced a superhero based on the thunder god of Norse myth. As reimagined by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Mighty Thor was lame Dr. Donald Blake, who when he tapped his walking stick against the ground, was transformed into a muscle-bound, long blond-haired do-gooder.
In the comics, Thor’s hammer is a fierce weapon of elemental power capable of drawing down thunder and lightning. Magnan reinterprets the Asgardian Avenger’s hammer as a gavel, capable of delivering punishing vengeance to those caught up in the criminal justice system.
“Hammer of the Justices” is Magnan’s exquisitely crafted reenvisioning of Mjolnir. Unlike the comic book version, it is not made of enchanted Uru metal formed by Dwarven blacksmiths, but rather of ash, purpleheart, leather and steel. It sits upon a pedestal with a missive from the Allfather Odin: “Whoever holds this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”
That “if they be worthy” bit sticks in the craw, as sadly, not all judges should be wielding a gavel.
Magnan draws much inspiration from the characters and accoutrements of Marvel, but as he points out with comic book boldness, “KNOWLEDGE OF MARVEL COMICS OR MOVIES NOT REQUIRED!!!” He is absolutely right but a familiarity with the source material deepens one’s appreciation.
Magnan’s work resonates with a certain political and social urgency, touching on a wide variety of concerns.
“Captains of America” is his take on the most iconic shield in pop culture — the bulletproof red, white and blue weapon of Captain America. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941, Cap fought the fictional Red Skull, the Serpent Society and Batroc the Leaper and famously punched Adolf Hitler in the face.
In a 1974 “Captain America Secret Empire” storyline by the writer Steve Englehart, the hero traces corruption to the Oval Office and unmasks the notorious Number One as someone with a striking resemblance to President Richard M. Nixon. He is the leader of the evil Committee to Regain America Principles. Before he kills himself, he shouts “High political office didn’t satisfy me! My power was too constrained by legalities!”