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A caped crusader for the gods of yore

He calls himself Thor. He is mightier than a Hollywood blockbuster and more fearsome than a Vancouver Canucks power play.

Thor is a rock warrior, a rock 'n' roll nightmare, a tongue-in-cheek glam-metal thunder god. He stars in comic books, horror movies and a rock opera.

When he sings with his band on stage, leather straps criss-cross his bare chest and he waves a long sword when not flexing massive biceps to play air guitar. He's got spikes on his wrist guards, as well as on his shoulders. He is a Mad Max refugee with a heavy-metal songbook.

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He is what every pipsqueak 12-year-old boy dreams of becoming.

"When I was a young kid, I used to wear my Superman costume when I went to school," he said. "I used to think how wonderful it would be to have a job where I wore a cape. I'm 58 now and still wearing a cape."

He is not Thor™, the Marvel Comics superhero, nor Thor™, the protagonist of the new Kenneth Branagh movie, nor Thor, the Norse god of thunder. He is the former Jon Mikl, son of a Vancouver lumber-company executive, who crafted for himself a character worthy of a monosyllabic moniker.

Thor is a champion bodybuilder who became a metal legend, starring in his own comic books (including "Thor vs. Beastwomen") and B-movies (including Zombie Nightmare). An extensive discography includes such titles as Into the Noise and Devastation of Musculation, while his career is summed up in a DVD titled An-THOR-logy.

A show-biz wiz, he is also a deft businessman. These days, he is marketing sweaters of long-defunct hockey teams.

He has produced a sweater of the Portland Rosebuds featuring a red rose on the chest, the Seattle Metropolitans with barber-pole stripes of red, green and white, and the Victoria Cougars with a turquoise body trimmed with a collar and cuffs in gold. These were displayed at the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame during last year's Winter Olympics.

His most popular sweater featured a maroon body with candy-cane stripes on the sleeve. A large white V with "Vancouver" spelled out on it in maroon letters. This was the sweater worn by Cyclone Taylor and his fellow Millionaires when they won the Stanley Cup for the city in 1915.

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"Forgotten heroes," Thor said.

Thor trademarked the name and logo before marketing a popular line of caps, T-shirts and sweaters. The Vancouver Giants junior team even wore the livery for a game.

In October, Canucks Sports and Entertainment bought the rights from Thor for an undisclosed amount, a business move Thor said imbues the Canucks with the championship spirit of Cyclone.

As he told The Vancouver Sun at the time, "They will win the Cup. So it is written."

Thor spends long, lonely hours doing research on old hockey teams in darkened archives. ("Call me a geek," he said. "I find this stuff fascinating.") It is hard to imagine so colourful a character not being in performance.

He entered his first major bodybuilding contest while still attending Eric Hamber Secondary. While the 17-year-old posed on stage, his clothes and wallet were stolen from a locker. He made his way home long after curfew wearing nothing but bikini briefs, a circumstance in which his mother did not see the humour.

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"My mother just pounded me into the ground," he said. "She thought I was [hustling]on the street corner. She didn't understand what was going on."

The next year he won his first national title as Mr. Junior Canada, and his proud mother became his biggest booster.

He was runner-up in 1971 for Mr. Teenage USA to Lou Ferrigno, who would go on to portray the Hulk on television. He later earned Mr. Canada and Mr. USA titles before putting down barbells to pick up a hammer and a sword.

He had been performing at the Aladdin in Las Vegas when he appeared on The Merv Griffin Show in 1976, an episode including Liberace, Foster Brooks (hic!), and the Watermelon Jug band. Thor waved a short-handled hammer while wearing silver go-go boots and spangled blue bikini briefs. He sang a forgettable song before performing the strongman stunt of inflating a hot-water bottle until it burst.

In his later metal manifestation, he had cinder blocks broken over his chest and even bent steel in his teeth, a trick he learned from Doug Hepburn, the East Van kid born with a club foot who overcame his disability to become a world champion weightlifter.

The sideshow stunts helped earn Thor recognition as one of the "Greatest 100 Frontmen of All Time" by a British music magazine.

Thor will be performing in Helsinki, Finland, on June 1, after which he is the headline attraction at Muskelrock, a three-day metal festival in neighbouring Sweden. His current stage act puts the bomb into bombast: Show his rock opera film and then play the same opera live. Says Thor: "A double feature!"

He has been performing for so long that he now entertains the daughters of his original fans.

"When girls come to the show, they say, 'Oh, my mom told me all about you. She met you,' Makes me feel a bit weird," he said before erupting into a thunderous laugh.

What's the connection between his stage persona and his business interest?

For Thor as for Millionaire hockey players, it's all about the costume.



Special to The Globe and Mail

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