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Some Thoughts On Walt Simonson’s Thor Run

I was going to try and do in depth reviews of every issue of Simoson’s legendary run on Marvel’s Thunder God. Then I realized that really, who was I kidding? I do have some thoughts related to the first year’s worth of the run, though (337-350, to be exact. It’s a baker’s year!). That as close as I care to get to depth, thank you.

Spoiler Disclaimer: I’m gonna go ahead and talk about certain plot details from this comic run that is almost exactly as old as I am. So, if you haven’t read it yet (I can’t act all that snobby, since I just started reading it last week), you may want to sit this one out.

I like Beta Ray Bill as much as the next hammer wielding space horse afficionado, which is quite a bit in case you didn’t guess. That said, I wonder how many people would consider him a “Mary Sue” were he introduced today? He beats Thor in combat twice (although under mitigating circumstances) and Odin and Sif develop crushes on him almost immediately after meeting him.

Hell, I wonder how many people were up in arms over him at the time? I know that one of the reviewers in Amazing Heroes hated him, going by the Watchmen special issue I got off ebay, but what about the rest of fandom? Most of the token complaint letters they’ve printed so far are more about people not liking Walt’s art.

Speaking of those letter, it was pretty funny that even before the internet became the place for comic fandom discourse, people would make melodramatic proclamations that a new creative team had ruined their favorite comic, and that they were dropping it forever after having followed it for decades. Nice to see some things are timeless!

Anyway, I think Simonson stays on the good side of making his pet character shine at the expense of everyone else in the cast, but I can see people not agreeing.

The use of “Doom!” during the build up of the Surtur storyline is highly reminiscent of Hellboy, even if Mignola uses it in a different way. John Workman’s lettering on this book in general is a sight to behold. I’m not usually a lettering fetishist (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but Workman’s right up there Ken Bruzenak and Todd Klein as someone who adds something to every comic they work on with their lettering.*

As Harvey Jerkwater pointed out, part of Simonson’s appeal is that he does not hesitate to put a cap in a plot’s ass. His two examples are great, and you can see even some of that tendency in the early stages of his Thor. That said, I would have loved it if he’d dragged out Thor drinking Lorelei’s Golden Mead for months, mainly because it amused me that she kept getting cock blocked by Thor running of to fight monsters for a couple issues. So, yes, I am saying that he should have played it more like a sitcom. That would have mixed well with Norse mythology and Marvel Comics bravura, right?

This isn’t comics related, but man, there were a lot of ads for video games in these comics. It’s quite an eye opener to see that, especially the ad for Super Mario Bros. on the Atari. I think I knew that existed and stored it as a bit of trivia that I buried somewhere deep in my subconscious along with the names of the characters on C.O.P.S. and most of my college education. It’s kind of hard to believe there were so many consoles before the NES (and that Frogger was made for all of them). It’s really a trip to be reminded that Nintendo’s mascot appeared on someone else’s console.** It’s like Tucker Stone says; you miss out on these kinds of details when you buy old comics in trades.

I am kind of regretting not doing that, though. Although the comics are in great shape for their age, but the visual quality can vary pretty wildly. Also, there’s the space and aesthetic reasons to get the trades (or just wait for the eventual Omnibus). That said, the guy who sold them to me on ebay did send them in two large shopping bags, and there’s something very cool about grabbing another issue of them after I’ve finished one. And there are the ads and letter pages; those are nice extras.

One of the few things that didn’t work for me is the joke about Nick Fury giving Thor glasses when he asked him to hook him up with a new secret identity. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve seen a lot of those jokes before, though, and I honestly don’t know if Thor bumping in to Clark and Lois just to drive the point home made it funnier or lamer. Is it possible to find something half funny, half whince inducing?

And hey, did Simonson ever draw a SHIELD story? If not, why the hell not?

Bemusement at Superman allusions aside, that’s pretty much it as far as complaints so far. When you have to go to the throwaway gag well to find something bad to say about a comic, I’d say it lives up to its reputation. Also, given that I wanted Simonson to make a running gag out of Lorelei’s love potion, I probably shouldn’t be picking on anyone’s comedic chops, especially since Dr. McNinja*** is a part of his legacy.

*Stan Sakai and Dave Sim would be part of that list if I’d read enough of Usagi Yojimbo and Cerebus. Oh, and Chris Ware’s pretty okay at it, too.

**Well, beyond CDI, but I like to pretend that never happened. Just like Nintendo. And all sensible people, really. And Donkey Kong also muddles things there.

***You really need to read the alt text to get the reference there. Or know that Walt Simonson was Chris Hastings’ professor in art school.

22 Comments

I tried to read Walt Simonson’s Thor once, since I heard it was really good. Pretty much every time Thor opened his mouth I wanted to stop reading, so after a few pages…I did.

I’m sorry, I’m sure behind all the dialogue it’s pretty wonderful, but you couldn’t pay me to read that kind of nonsense coming out of a person’s mouth.

It’s my all time favorite superhero run, I crack it open every few years and enjoy it all again. The whole plot with Malekith and the Cask of Ancient Winters is simply perfect.
What I like when Thor is interacting is Fury is Nick making a comment about his shoulders, which is something Jack and Stan did repeatedly with Thor and Captain America, manlove at it’s finest.

The story with the last Viking praying to Thor! The campaign into Hel! Jormungand the World Serpent! It’s a run everyone should aspire to.

Bernard the Poet

June 30, 2009 at 5:06 am

“I wonder how many people were up in arms over him at the time? ”

Near the end of Simonson’s run, when Buscemi was pencilling it, Marvel printed a lot of letters from fans complaining that Thor had been turned into a wimp. He couldn’t beat Beta Ray Bill, Surtur, Kurse or Hela.

I’ve never understood that complaint. Who wants to read a string of easy victories, personally I’d like to see the villains win a few more.

But then I always spend the last ten minutes of CSI shouting at the screen – “Demand to see a lawyer, don’t confess you fool, they’ve got nothing on you, just sit tight, c’mon you can do it”. So maybe I’m in the minority.

Tom Fitzpatrick

June 30, 2009 at 5:09 am

Insoasmuch as I love Simonson’s run on Thor, I really liked his Starslammers series.

I was wondering about his Fantastic Four run, what issues were those, and did he draw ALL of them?

I haven’t read much of Simonson’s Thor stuff, but what I have i’ve loved. I’m a big fan of the “buy a complete run for almost nothing” too, it feels like it’s more about the comics then, less about the look-at-my trade-collection thing, but that’s a personal preference I probably shouldn’t extrapolate into criticism.

My favorite memory of ads in comics is that portion of time where it seems like Legends Of the Dark Knight was sponsored completely by the second Predator film. Posters, back cover ads…it felt like that movie was in the process of coming out for about six years.

I agree!
This is the greatest superhero run ever. It’s chock full of those “Fuck Yeah!” moments that reminds you why you like comics in the first place. The Surtur Saga, the hilarious arc where Thor gets turned into a frog, etc

The all splash page fight with the World Serpent has got to be (along with Miracleman vs kid Miracleman) the best superhero battle ever.

And the Skurge’s sacrifice in Hel always brings a tear to my eye. “He stood alone at Gjallerbru…and that answer is enough!” Just beautiful stuff.

read that like five years ago. cant relate to all the praise though.
except for the thor “horse” idea, fairly run of the mill fantasy. some good fight scenes, though.

Roquefort Raider

June 30, 2009 at 6:00 am

Hey Brad,

The “bump into Clark Kent” joke was a lot funnier back then, precisely because this comic is pretty old. In the early ’80s, that kind of thing just wasn’t done. Of course, any self-referential joke is bound to get old fast. Fury’s reaction to seeing Thor in a t-shirt remains funny, though.

Beta Ray Bill is something of a wasted opportunity. I think he would have been much more popular in the long run if he had remained his own man and not a cheap copy of Thor. Ersatz characters rarely become great on their own, unless they really go their own way. For example, She-Hulk was pretty boring as long as she was merely a female Hulk; she started to be cool when she became something else entirely, just retaining the color and the muscles. Compare her to Beta Ray Bill, Thunderstrike, the Sharon Ventura Thing, War Machine or USAgent… “the same as the old character, only less interesting”.

Simonson’s Thor did many important things : reconnect with the character’s mythical roots, give him a sense of majesty once more, unbalance the status quo somewhat (but not enough to go the boring way of “everything will be changed FOREVER!”) and made readers care about what happens in the mag. The book also looked beautiful; such great designs, such great use of norse motifs.

Simonson’s FF run had a lot to like about it, despite the fact that it didn’t make a terribly significant contribution to FF history. (Then again, after Lee/Kirby and Byrne, did ANYBODY make a significant impact on the FF? Claremont? Waid? Millar?) Among the memorable stories:

- The FF go to Washington to testify in front of Congress re: their opposition to the Superhero Registration Act (which is weird in light of Reed’s 180 degree switch in Civil War). They have a hilarious bout with a series of fourth-rate supervillains who keep interrupting the proceedings. Also, Apocalypse shows up and the FF are too busy changing clothes to stop him. (Seriously.)
- There’s a lengthy storyline in which the FF go to the future to stop the Dreaming Celestial from conquering the universe. It guest-starred Thor and Iron Man, and wrapped up some lingering plot threads from Simonson’s Avengers run.
- The FF end up in an alternate universe where Stalin is still the Russian premiere and the Cold War is about to go nuclear. Not important (and terribly dated–Dan Quayle is the U.S. President), but kinda fun.
- The FF end up powerless on an island full of dinosaurs. Not important, but kinda fun.
- The FF are apparently killed and replaced by Spider-Man, the Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider. The Punisher has an entirely sales-driven cameo. It says so on the cover.
- Reed and Doctor Doom have the most badass time-travel story ever. The reader can either read the story chronologically (and see random Reeds and Dooms popping up through the story), or from the combatants’ perspective, which requires you to flip back and forth through the book. The cover was part of this battle.

Simonson drew most of the run, but Art Adams filled in on the “new FF” arc, and somebody else drew the Congress issues. There were also two fill-in issues which were injected into the middle of ongoing stories.

I was just thinking one of the smarter things Simonson did, was to ditch the vestigal Dr. Blake secret identity.

Beta Ray Steve

June 30, 2009 at 7:22 am

To really appreciate Simonson’s Thor run you’d have to wade through years of shitty Thor comics..and not with trades either, but month by lousy month. Simonson’s arrival was electric in terms of art and writing. ‘Everything will change forever’ is recognized as a trope now, but Thor needed a dose of that in the worst way. The character and his circumstance were in a state of rigor mortis.
As for Beta Ray Bill, I agree with the Roquefort Raider, he could have been a much more compelling analog for Thor if they had let him distinguish himself from Thor. Morrison did a much better job with this sort of thing in All-Star Superman, where hardly an issue goes by without Superman running into an analog of himself, but they are all distinct from Superman. Beta Ray Bill became too much like Thor to stay interesting, but as a Thor that doesn’t have to live by Odin’s rules, he could have been more interesting than Thor.

I’d say Simonson’s Thor run is equal to Miller’s Daredevil run, but because it’s not hyper-serious, it’s not the critic’s darling.

Clearly, I openly admit to being biased in favor of Beta Ray Bill.

However, I myself have wondered that exact same question. It’s amazing how many grown adults hold grudges over the character even 25 years later, some even laced with a deep hatred that makes me -a person who can hold a grudge with the best of them- cringe. I’d like to think that Bill has been or is starting to be developed as a seperate entity from Thor. Your mileage may vary, but I like the direction Kieron Gillen is taking him, since given what he’s gone through since ‘Stormbreaker’, it only makes sense. Again, strictly IMHO there.

Since we’re on the subject, I really liked Walt’s Thor -the character- too, since he was failable, but not a wimp. I hate this idea that the Thor fandom enforces on people that he [Thor] MUST be invulnerable. He MUST win every single battle and God forbid he lose even once or have a slight loss. Walt’s run wasn’t afraid to challenge those and I bet you dollars to nothing that if Walt tried to pull that sort of thing today, the Thor fen would be crying for his head on a silver platter.

I thought Beta Ray Bill was an interesting character at first, because the process that created him had made him tortured and hurt in a way Thor never was. (My memory is kinda dim, but wasn’t that exactly what drew Sif to him?) It’s true though that once he got a hammer of his own, and once the “Donald Blake spell” was moved from Mjolnir to his hammer, he became kind of a boring Thor clone.

As for Simonson’s Thor being “wimpy”, I never really saw him like that. In fact, when I first read those comic books, I thought Thor was kind of a refreshing change compared to other, “wimpy” and conflicted Marvel heroes such as Spider-Man or the X-Men or Daredevil. Simonson’s Thor has no deep guilt or some hidden, terrible weakness in him, he’s merely a relatively well-adjusted and easy-going god with a strong sense of honor and morality. I suspect that’s the reason Simonson got rid of Donald Blake: he wanted to do a protagonist who was not like the “Marvel type” of conflicted superhero that made the company so popular back in the 60s. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the “Marvel type”, but Simonson’s Thor felt like a nice alternative to that.

I just read this run beginning-to-end for the first time a couple of years ago and really, really enjoyed it. I liked the density of interesting plots, and yet everything kept moving…no decompression or endless talking heads.

I have to say my enjoyment was greatly enhanced by reading the original issues complete with video game ads, letters pages and bullpen bulletins. These details make great little time capsules for my childhood.

Another thing I liked that Simonson did was actually play down the overblown dialogue. I know a previous poster complained about it but Walt actually took out a lot of Shakesperean thees and thous. He still spoke with god-like gravitas in dramatic situations but in general it seemed like this Thor was way better at adapting to the vernacular in Midgard, which actually made him seem a lot smarter than he’d been portrayed in the past.

Overall it’s a great, fun, dense 40+ issue superhero run. They don’t make ‘em like these anymore.

What issues are the Reed vs. Doom time travel story, by the way?

Starts in FF #350. IIRC, #351 was a filler issue that had nothing to do with the story. #352 was the time-travel fight; #353-354 involved Reed and the FF getting arrested by the Time Variance Authority for screwing with the timestream in #352.

I’ve always been a fan of Simonson’s work and I enjoyed his Thor run. That said, there were a few things that bothered me:

-His insistence in bringing more “mythologically correct” details to the series, up to and including directly hinting that the fact the current Asgard was a recreation and not the original (a detail Roy Thomas and/or Mark Gruenwald had come up to explain the differences between the “real” Thor and the Marvel comics version) was false. I understand why he wanted to do it, but thrashing a previous continuity just to fit your personal vision doesn’t sit well with me.

-Going along with that, he also started redesigning everything, from having the Golden City of Asgard made of wood rather than metal (!!) to changing the original designs for Surtur and the Midgard serpent. (Not that his designs were bad, just not explained.)

-Also, and this is more personal taste than anything, but, his artwork here always looked kinda crude to me. As if he needed a better inker. Otherwise, it was awesome. DOOOM! indeed! :D

But there was plenty I enjoyed: from the humor of “Thor the Frog” to the despair of Hela’s Curse and of course, the Epic battle with Surtur. Oh, and as for Bill? Yeah, it was pretty much obvious he was invented to -pardoning the expression- “steal the Thunder” off of Thor. As such, he never bothered me much because I knew he was never more than a temporary annoyance- no way this guy was really going to replace Thor in his own book! I do agree he was more interesting before he became all Thor-ified, tho.

In general, while I do not agree with all the changes Walt did, I think he injected a new, enjoyable atmosphere to the series, and he did create several new interesting characters, like Lorelei and Malekith. His run deserves to be called a classic.

i am all about buying up cheap runs of back issues and reading them that way instead of buying trades. yeah, trades may sit nice on your bookshelf and occasionally the colors are crisper, but you lose so much. the ads and letters pages are huge. it helps to immerse you in the entire time machine experience of the material and place the content in context. also, if you do it right, buying the back issues can be MUCH cheaper than trades. then, to top it off, a lot of wonderful stuff still isn’t even collected. that’s another thing you miss with trades.

with that said, i bought one of the SImonson Thor trades and had a hard time getting thru it. however, i wonder how much more enjoyable the comics would be as back issues instead. probably far more enjoyable for me.

But then I always spend the last ten minutes of CSI shouting at the screen – “Demand to see a lawyer, don’t confess you fool, they’ve got nothing on you, just sit tight, c’mon you can do it”. So maybe I’m in the minority.

What, you too?!? LOL… I also end up saying the same thing during the last five minutes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Amazing that suspects will lawyer up at the drop of a hat and keep their mouths clamped shut on the original Law & Order, driving Sam Waterston completely up the wall in his efforts to secure a conviction, but on Criminal Intent as soon as Vincent D’Onofrio starts quirkily tilting his head while making a left-field shot-in-the-dark psychoanalysis, suddenly perps are tripping over themselves to confess.

Um, what where we talking about again? Oh, yeah, Walter Simonson’s Thor. Yeah, that was a good run :)

I bought the whole run off ebay as well! Man, that was money well spent. Walt strolled onto the Thor book and blew the doors off the hinges, turning everything up to 11 and putting the reader on a helluva fun ride. I was a Thor fan before I read the run, but it’s what made me a disciple.

I tried to read Walt Simonson’s Thor once, since I heard it was really good. Pretty much every time Thor opened his mouth I wanted to stop reading, so after a few pages…I did.

Walt really downplayed the overbearing dialogue, actually, and let Thor talk like a normal bloke.

One thing that colors my reading of the book is that I have very little experience with Thor as a solo character. I’ve only read bits and pieces of the Lee/Kirby run, and practically nothing else. Also, the dialogue can occasionally get a little corny for me, but I think that’s part of the charm. And I have seen worse Thor dialogue, too.

Oh, yes. In the DeFalco run which immediately follows Simonson’s, the dialogue immediately goes back to pseudo-lofty Stan Lee verbiage. But I love that run unabashedly anyway and will fight anyone who disses it.

I am old enough to have read Simonson’s THOR as it was coming out. My memory was that there was an incredible buzz around Beta Ray Bill. I had hated Thor to that point, but was intensely curious about to see what everyone was talking about. So, I read it from the top as it was coming out.

The effect was very similar to the early issues of Gaiman’s SANDMAN in that the reader really felt this god was being beset on all sides. Thor seemed to have more and larger problems that he could ever hope to solve. I hadn’t read much Kirby at that point, so the scope of the action was just stunning. Like Morrison’s JLA, everything just seemed to be huge and full of portends.

To be honest, the title fizzled for me well before Simmonson left. I never really engaged with the cast, so once the buzz of the epic-ness of the title wore off I was done.

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