365 Reasons to Love Comics #204
Why, yes, I have been reading Harry Potter all day (and yes, it’s very good), and have therefore screwed myself out of Reason-writing time. Why do you ask?
I shan’t let that stop me from bringing you cool stuff, however, so look inside for today’s featured character, a brave and mighty warrior. As my pal Stan Burrell would say, “It’s Hammer time.” (Also: In archives we trust!)
That’s “‘Tis Hammer Time” if you happen to be the Mighty Thor, god of thunder, son of Odin, lord of lightning, and owner of one of the coolest hats in comics.
When I was a young boy (quiet, Mellencamp fans), I loved myths. Greek, Norse, it didn’t matter to me. The exciting tales of gods were as cool and awe-inspiring as the exciting tales of superheroes. Imagine my amusement at finding a god who was a superhero: The Mighty Thor! Over the years, I’ve amassed hundreds of Thor issues, and treasure them all.
First appearing in Journey Into Mystery #83 (adapted to comics by Stan Lee, his brother Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby), the Norse god of thunder burst forth into the Marvel Universe and eventually brought the entire vast mythological tapestry with him. There was Asgard, turned into a gleaming fantasy and sci-fi city, with Lord Odin, Balder the Brave, Sif, Loki, Heimdall, and all the others. And there were new characters, great ones like the Warriors Three– Fandral the dashing, Hogan the grim, and Volstagg the voluminous.
The early issues were focused on Thor and his civilian guise as Don Blake, who had but to stamp his cane upon the ground to transform into his godly form. And that magic hammer, Mjolnir– it’s a great little gimmick and the best weapon in comics. Thor used it to smash Commies and mad scientists and the Absorbing Man and the Destroyer and a host of other menaces. Lee and Kirby expanded the scope of the series and took Thor on vast epic adventures into space, meeting up with Galactus and Ego the Living Planet! They also told massive Asgard-based stories against foes like Mangog and the Frost Giants and whoever else. You can find many of these great stories in the three Essential volumes.
It’s from here that my Thor collection has a large gap, because the next major run I have is surely the definitive one: Walt Simonson’s. He swept in, with his bold storyline and titanic artwork, threw away the bits that weren’t working anymore, and forged ahead with tremendous, brilliant stories. I believe that the character of Thor has to exist in an epic poem at all times, and Simonson did just that. Great, sweeping tales of Surtur, Ragnarok, journeys into Hel and back again, Jormungand, the World Serpent, and more! Together with Sal Buscema, he told a true epic, worthy of myth. And it is, of course, because comics gave birth to superheroes, the modern myths that they are.
There are some true classic issues in Uncle Walt’s run, which include: the opening arc, introducing Beta Ray Bill; #355, a reflective and somber story that’s quietly powerful; the arc where Thor is transformed into a frog, and faces huge froggy challenges; the last stand of Skurge the Executioner; and, of course, the battle against the World Serpent, told entirely in splash pages. These are just pieces of the whole tale, of course; it’s all one giant tale, told by a master. Quite a bit of Simonson’s run– maybe all of it? I’m not sure– is in trade. Seek ‘em out.
(Oh, and the answer to the question posed on the frog cover? It’s the story’s title– “Sir!”)
Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz immediately followed Simonson, and they did things quite different. They took Thor back to his superheroic roots. Their entire run is a tribute to the era of Lee and Kirby. These issues include my first exposure to Thor, and I’ve finally managed to track down the whole run. Yes, I love it, though it’s surely not to everyone’s tastes. The scripts have their flaws, but the stories are terrific. We saw Thor fighting against Celestials and death-god Set; we witnessed the return of Hercules; we saw the High Evolutionary and the secret of the Black Galaxy; we got to see the return of Odin; we saw the debut of one of my favorite comics characters ever (but more on him Wednesday); we were introduced to new and interesting characters like future Thor Dargo, Stellaris, the Code: BLUE team (oh, how I love them), and more. We saw Thor’s death, replacement, and return. It was a grand old time.
Then we got the dark years, and some really bad Thor stories. Then Thor’s book ended, and we didn’t get another one for a long time.
But then Thor came back in a series by Dan Jurgens and John Romita Jr! This series also helped catapult my Thor love, and the stories were big and cool and fun, until Romita left, anyway. The fifth issue of their run is one of my favorite Thor stories ever, and it’s about the struggles of Thor’s new human identity, Jake Olson, and Thor’s encounter with a shock jock. Of course, we also got the Dark Gods saga, the return of the Enchanters, and Thor vs. Thanos and Mangog for all the marbles! Some really great work here. I feel the run went downhill, though.
Mike Oeming was brought in to bring Ragnarok in and end the Thor saga– but don’t worry, he’s back now, in a series by J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel. I didn’t like the first issue, but don’t let that stop you.
Why is Thor awesome? Well, he takes the undying myths of old and brings them to a new medium. He’s been polished and revamped and brought into the superhero mythos to have a new run, and it’s been a good time. I love the world, I love the stories, and I dig the noble, brave, indomitable thunder god with the universe’s best hammer. There’s plenty of potential left in the old guy, and I’d love to write him one day, myself. It’s a dream, sure, but one I intend to make a reality.
For a great Thor website, visit Immortal Thor of Asgard.