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CSBG Archive

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!)

7/23/07

204. Thor

Thor 1.jpg

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.

Thor 6.jpgThor 4.jpg

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.

Thor 2.jpgThor 3.jpg

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.

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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.

Thor 7.jpgThor 8.JPG

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.

16 Comments

The second and third trade paperbacks of Simonson’s run appear to be out of print. Mind-bogglingly stupid on Marvel’s part, especially as the fourth one was just solicited.

I’ll probably get killed for this, but I actually like the whole Jurgens thing where Thor takes over the world. Certainly not great comics, but very entertaining and interesting.

I just love the wild and crazy concept of a comic-book Asgard to begin with.

Sure, the execution’s a little…off; the Ye Olde Generick Heroe-Speake in particular kills me every time. But they tried. Somebody had that much imagination, that much pure joy in the medium, that much understanding of what it could be. As a reason to love comics? Right up there at the top.

Greg beat me to it. I’ve wanted to read the Simonson run for months now and can’t because Marvel is dumb.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

July 23, 2007 at 9:24 pm

There’s a couple of digest trades of a series called ‘Thor: Son Of Asgard’.
It’s written for younger readers, and quite frankly isn’t that well written – nowhere near enough characterisation or explanation given to any of the characters – but the concept is brilliant: Thor as a teenager, learning what it means to be a god.
It could have been a superhero Harry Potter.
I brought both volumes just because of the concept alone.
So simple, so brilliant.
I hope they take another shot at it sometime.

There was a run in the early Journey Into Mystery/Thor, starting at #113 that ran for about two years of pure aaamazing comic book joy.
At the same time that Kirby (with Lee, I grudgingly add)was filling the FF with the Inhumans and The Surfer and the Black Panther, he was equally creative and cosmic in Thor. There was a three-parter where Pluto duped Hercules into damnation to Hades, and Thor (who had just had a series of fights with the “braggart” Hercules) steps forward to save him (and to risk his own damnation should he fail).
The storyline stunned me when I first read a reprint of it in Marvel Spectacular. Thirty-four years later, it’s still hard for me to name any other sequence in any comic that I have such a fondness for.

I haven’t read a new Thor comic in at least twelve years, but I’ll snap up any Lee/Kirby back issue that I don’t have (when i can afford them).

To me, he was hero number one. Yea, verily.

Flush it all away

July 23, 2007 at 10:36 pm

Indeed, Thor is a reason to love comics.

And here’s the definitive post about Skurge’s last stand…read it and know the power that is Walt Simonson.

http://daveslongbox.blogspot.com/2005/05/mighty-thor-362-marvel-comics-1985.html

Simonson also brought us one of my all-time favorite bad guys, Malekith the Accursed. :D

And from the high of Simonson, we get the low of Frenz. Frenz’s art just killed that whole run for me. I mean, it looks great for the 1960s, but by the late ’80s and early ’90s, we were already into the era of Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, Ron Lim, etc. And here’s this guy drawing these clunky-looking Kirby faces. Ugh.

Last Thor thought…Ragnarok was one of the best arcs I’ve read. Really epic stuff. Too bad Andrea Devito’s art was all over the place.

The Kirbydotter

July 24, 2007 at 7:29 am

Regarding THOR, I am in the same boat as you Bill: They were basically 3 runs of THOR worth their place in the universal perfect comic book collection.

Lee and Kirby is the original one of course. Kirby’s best run at Marvel was his Fantastic Four. But when he went to DC in the late 60’s, the new saga he wanted to tell wasn’t a FF type of book, it was pretty much a sequel to his THOR themes of mythology vs mankind. I think the main thing that makes FF the more remembered book when you think of classic Lee/Kirby was the art. FF was, except for the early issues, inked faithfully and boldly by Joe Sinnott. Thor was inked by Vince Coletta who had a feeble, scratchy kind of brush stroke. Even worse, he often “omitted” some of King Kirby’s details and backgrounds. ONe of the worse inker ever. I really hope he doesn’t get into your short list of inker week!

Walter Simonson’s Thor was also my favorite. Simonson is one of the rare artists who can really do justice to Kirby’s creations. Byrne is another, Mignola, John Romita Jr., Bruce Timm, Darwyn Cooke. Maybe one or two others. I, an ultimate Kirby fan, must admit the unadmittable: I prefer Simonson’s Thor to the Lee/Kirby! Gasp! Choke! Yep. While Lee and Kirby’s mythology wasn’t really Norse. It was a mixt of many elements with strong influences from their jewish background, science fiction, etc. Simonson really got into the Norse mythology with the Midgar serpent, the big Ragnarok build up (remember the repetitive big “DOOM” sound from the very first issue?), the introduction of Malekith the dark elf, etc. While Kirby’s Asgard was more an spacey, alien city, Simonson’s Asgard really looked Norse! Later Thor got a Viking armor and a beard. Simonson also explored more fully the other Asgardian like the Enchantress, the Executionner (who got a noble death), Balder (with his own mini). Thor was so hot during Simonson’s run that Chris Claremont (who always wanted the spotlight and the best for his mutants) couldn’t resist dipping his X-men into Simonson’s universe in a couple of annuals and mini-series.

John Romita Jr. recent run was cool because, well, because it was drawn by John Romita Jr.! Like I wrote when he got his own entry, Romita Jr. can make any character look cool. I don’t even remember the story lines (sorry Dan Jurgens), I know they weren’t bad, but I remember the run mostly because a JRJR Thor looked good.

“I’ll probably get killed for this, but I actually like the whole Jurgens thing where Thor takes over the world. Certainly not great comics, but very entertaining and interesting.”

I did too, though I didn’t finish it for some reason. Not innovative, exactly, but a nice take on Thor, who is usually a tough character to write (though Jurgens, on the whole, did a great job).

Further reason that whoever is in charge of creating those top five lists around here should do a top five hats.

we were already into the era of Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, Ron Lim

Ron Frenz is better than all of those guys.

Last Thor thought…Ragnarok was one of the best arcs I’ve read. Really epic stuff. Too bad Andrea Devito’s art was all over the place.

I gave up after the first issue. Didn’t like it very much, myself.

Further reason that whoever is in charge of creating those top five lists around here should do a top five hats.

Other awesome helmets include those worn by Orion, Peacemaker, and Galactus.

I liked Frenz a lot on Spider-man, but his Thor work got a bit stale, I thought. But DeFalco was the one who really ran out of gas on Thor and stayed on too long. (Of course, who boots the editor-in-chief?) The stuff with Set was really quite good, but it went to hell later, and the Thunderstrike stuff was pretty awful for the most part.

of course, in comparison to Simonson, everyone pales in comparison! It’s really impressive how well Simonson’s run works as one long story, and at the same time is all of these wonderful nuggets that read wonderfully on their own. Simonson managed to portray the grandeur of Thor while still keeping him accessible and interesting. When Walt’s Thor cut loose, you could see why his enemies trembled before him!

If you want a dose of Norse fun, check out
http://www.graphicsmash.com/comics/brathalla.php

fun fun stuff!

DeFalco ran out of gas on every book he was writing at that time: Spider-Man, Thor and Fantastic Four, amongst others. That said, I think his work is better when he’s not working with a 60’s style penciller, as the last two issues he did of Fantastic Four with Carlos Pacheco are actually a lot easier to stomach than the ones he did with Paul Ryan.

Other awesome helmets include those worn by Orion, Peacemaker, and Galactus.

And Ma Hunkel.

C’mon, it’s a lady grabbing a soup pot to beat the hell out of a bunch of gangsters.

Hail Thor!

The Kirbydotter (and others like him) are supposed to be Kirby fans, right? So how in God’s name do they write bad things about Vinnie who teamed up with Jack to creat one of the most exquisite runs in comic book history? It’s like saying “my face is beautiful but I have an ugly nose”. Makes no sense!!!

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