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Some Thoughts On The Rest Of Walt Simonson’s Thor And Beyond

Continuing my in depth, critical survey of Norse mythological superheroics of the 1980s. Short form: It’s great and everyone should own it. The rest of this post is pretty much overkill, but you can read it if you want to, I guess.

After the Surtur saga ends with Odin being taken off the board, this just keeps going with the epic storylines. We get considerably less Beta Ray Bill and considerably more Sal Buscema art, but neither’s a bad thing, really.

I also wound up getting the Balder the Brave mini which tied in to the Siege of Hel storyline (which in turn gave us this classic story. I’d find the “buy another comic to get the full story!” trick annoying today (in fact, it’s why I’m not buying Uncanny X-Men right now; I don’t want to read Dark Avengers, even if it’s written by Fraction. The $4 price tag doesn’t help either).*

I had no problem with it in this case, though. It was nice that it wound up being more than just gimmickry, as Simonson picked up the plot thread in his swan song on the book, too. That said, I wonder how many people buying this off new stands were annoyed by the constant shout outs and call backs to it.

It kind of sucked to lose Simonson on pencils, but I’ve liked Sal Buscema’s work since his days on Spectacular Spider-Man, so he’s as good a replacement as you can get. Really loved the way he drew the Frost Giants, for one thing.

Simonson returned to do layouts for this issue. It was awesome. That’s all I’ve got there.

The X-Factor crossover worked as well as it possibly could. That would make sense, given that Walt is pretty close to that book’s writer. I also liked Iceman’s brief involvement in Loki’s scheme a few issues later.

Loved the Frog Thor issues. Just that they existed along with all the other issues of the series, really.

So, yeah, I’m pretty fond of this comic. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the perfect Marvel comic. There’s action, mystery romance, suspense, pathos, beautiful art, mythology, epic battles; face it true believer, it’s pretty much everything that’s great about Marvel in one broad shouldered, eventually bearded package.***

I also liked reading the Bullpen Bulletins. I often read them before the comics themselves. I hate to be nostalgic, but I kind of miss those. Hell, I liked it when they started running creator interviews last year. I also liked being able to read the reactions to the issues shortly after reading them.

I don’t want to sound nostalgic, because that road leads to thinking that 1993 WWF**** was better than anything ever. That said, it’s kind of sad that they don’t exist anymore.

One last thing; I got a handful of issues that followed Simonson’s run. Most of them are written by Tom Defalco, who’d have his own long run on the character. One is written by Jim Shooter, scripted by Stan Lee, and drawn by Eric Larson. This comes after Shooter lost his job as Editor in Chief (I think the announcement of that is in the same issue, but I can’t be bothered to go and find it). So, that’s a pretty crazy creative team.

I’ve only read Defalco’s first issue, though. It’s an inventory story set during Secret War, basically. It’s as corny and bland as I’ve come to expect from Defalco, and features art from the painfully generic Ron Frenz (and I say that as a guy who likes Tom Grummett). That said, there’s a solid idea there about the Enchantress almost changing her ways, so it wasn’t as bad as I made it sound.

*Those really aren’t comparable situations, I just wanted to bitch about the X-Men/Dark Avengers crossover. Even if I’ll probably get the trade, because Jetpack Cyclops.

** So yes, I’m saying it’s like the Spirit with Volstagg. Which makes it a better comic than the Spirt. That is a fact.

*** The debate over Thor growing a beard in the letter pages was hilarious. Of course, being overly fond of my own beard, so I may care about it more than I should. But seriously, people were freaking out because of the beard and the fact that he changed his costume. I realize this was happening around the same time that they were changing up a lot of the Marvel stalwarts (Rhodey as Iron Man, Black Costume Spidey, John Walker as Cap), but seriously; Simonson even worked in a line from Thor about how people occasionally change clothes, I assume with no evidence in response to the backlash.

**** I became a wrestling fan in 1993 and I’m not nostalgic for those shows compared to today’s WWE! But then, growing up in the ’90s made me pretty nostalgia immune.

18 Comments

The issue with Erik Larsen (proper spelling BTW) was Erik’s first work at Marvel. Shooter hired Erik and they worked out the story together. It was filed to be a fill in issue. It eventually saw print years later.

Erik goes into the story on his bio page. http://www.savagedragon.com/eriklarsen.htm

Bernard the Poet

July 30, 2009 at 2:47 am

Sal Buscemi is a perfectly competent artist, but he seemed like a slap in the face following Simonsen’s sumptious pencils. I can’t read the Midgard Serpent or Destroyer story without thinking how much better they could have been with Simonsen drawing his own story. Does anyone know why he stopped doing the art?

In the early ‘Eighties, I was still buying my comics from the local newsagent, so references to the Balder mini-series, was incredibly frustrating. It wasn’t just Thor, the X-Men seemed to reference at least half a dozen mini-series: Wolverine & Kitty Pride, X-Men vs the Alpha Flight, Illyanna in Limbo, etc, etc and none of them were available at local retailers. And when they made Secret Wars direct sales only… well, to my adolescent mind that just seemed cruel.

Of course, I was a massive comics fan, so I started to get the train into town and picking up my stash there instead, but how many comic fans didn’t bother? How many fans just stopped reading comics altogether?

Doesn’t Walt stopping drawing Thor roughly tie in with when he started drawing X-Factor ?

DeFalco had the unenviable task of following Simonson on not just one, but two books, as he picked up Fantastic Four a few years later. Each time there was the inevitable enormous dip in quality. They’re just mediocre comics, filled with bland art, painfully corny dialogue, and dull characters. While Thor descended from mythic glory into sub-standard Lee/Kirby pastiche, Fantastic Four headed right for the ditch immediately with the revelation of Alicia Masters as Lyja and continued from there, with forgettable villains (anyone here remember Occulus? How about Huntara? Devos?) and shock tactics to goose sales (Sue’s skimpy outfit! Franklin is PSI-LORD! Reed’s dead! Lyja’s pregnant! Starbrand crossover! Maybe not that last one.).

Held up to Simonson’s runs, DeFalco and Frenz’s Thor and DeFalco and Ryan’s FF are just awful. It reinforces my theory to never let an editor in chief anywhere near the writer’s chair if he’s not Stan Lee in the sixties.

Stephane Savoie

July 30, 2009 at 4:38 am

Two asides:
-Simonson would bring back one of his Thor characters, Justice Peace, in his great Fantastic Four run.
-One of the Thor fill-in issues during Simonson’s run was written by Christopher Priest (still going by Jim Owlsley in those days). Years later, he would would revisit that very story in his Black Panther run. Fun fact.

And, yes, this Thor run is truly one of the greatest things Marvel ever put out.

When Kirby left Thor, the stories became stale, like many other Marvel series. Uninspired. Boring. Rushed. When I got the first Simonson Thor I couldn’t believe it. Simonson, whose work for me always was rather odd-looking, revived the character. Thor – I think – is Simonson’s best work. When Sal Buscema took over it was a disappointment, but at least Simonson still was the author.
Thor for me is Lee/Kirby on one hand, Simonson on the other.

Hmm..I remember that Enchantress fill in…I always liked it, but then it featured Lorelai and the Enchantress, and I alwayus liked them.

I think you could argue that Simonson’s Thor run was Marvel’s high point of the ’80s.

In fact, I would argue that, though I’m racking my brain for competition…

Bernard the Poet

July 30, 2009 at 9:53 am

Miller’s Daredevil?

Yes, I love Simonson’s Thor run. I’ve also got every issue of DeFalco and Frenz’s run, and I love that too– it’s a total 180 from what Simonson was doing, but it was a fun homage of sorts to the Lee/Kirby era, and! it gave us Eric Masterson, a character I just adore.

Just wanted to comment on Bernard the Poet’s first comment, about fans in the early ’80s being put off by all the direct sale minis and whatnot. I can totally identify with that – the nearest comics shop was in a city about 20 miles from where I lived at that time and I didn’t feel like making the trip out every weekend, so I mainly depended on the drugstore/supermarket spinner racks and magazine sections. I remember when “Secret Wars” came out, I was really annoyed, and it was about that time, around my late junior/early senior year of high school, that I pretty much stopped following regular monthly titles altogether and never really went back.
Simonson’s Thor, by the way: pure awesome.

I really liked Byrne’s FF run about then as well. That’s got to be up there for contention as Marvel’s best output of the time, IMHO.

Mike Loughlin

July 30, 2009 at 5:06 pm

While I’ve only read a handful, Stern’s Spider-Man has a strong reputation. His Dr. Strange & Avengers were very good. Longshot was quite enjoyable. Sienkiewicz on Moon Knight & New Mutants were high points. Elektra: Assassin was pure awesome. Daredevil: Born again was great. Peter David’s Hulk started out in ’86…

But none of them can touch Simonson’s Thor (except for Elektra: Assassin, but that was only 8 issues). The stakes were higher, the action was more thunderous, and the melodrama more gripping than any other ’80s Marvel I’ve read. I wish he’d drawn every issue. Nothing against Buscema, but he’s no Simonson. In fact, I never finished the run because the art took such a dip. Looking objectively, Buscema’s art is fine. It just lacks Simonson’s panache.

I haven’t read many Thors from this time period. I’ve got some Surtur issues and a few early Defalco ones. For some strange reason I actually have that Jim Shooter/Stan Lee/Eric Larsen story. I thought it was a pretty worthless fill-in, though. Just one long fight for no reason– I’ve always hated stories like that.
But I have to agree that this was a great time period for Marvel in general. They really do need to bring back the Bullpen page (although I prefer the way it was done around 1994-95), and even more importantly, the letter pages. That’s one of the great things about the current Spider-Man. They actually have a letter page!!

I also hated the appearance of all those direct-sales only books. The nearest comic-book store in those days was in Tulsa, about an hour away, and I didn’t even drive. But I don’t know what these people are talking about with the Secret Wars. I bought it at the local grocery store. (Never got the last issue, though. Still don’t have it.) Several of the other limited series of the time were sold at the grocery store, too, but they usually only had one or two issues from each. (That was really annoying.)

I personally thought DeFalco and Frenz’s run on Amazing Spider-Man was great. The problem with their Thor run was that Simonson’s run was so definitive. Just like the FF had a problem finding a good run after Byrne.

I don’t mind Frenz at all as an artist- I loved his Ditkoesque fusion style in Spidey, and I liked his Thor – until he threw out the ‘fusion’ part and went whole hog Kirby-clone, which I found very boring, as… he wasn’t Kirby.

I will say that Defalco’s ‘God War’ saga was well done, and though it didn’t have the regular goosebump moments of Simonson’s run, when they finally brought back Odin- that was a helluva double-splash page that did give with the chills, as well as the final defeat of Seth’s army and Surtur capping what Simonson had started.

But I’ve never seen a run on Thor to equal Simonson’s.

DeFalco’s Thor run was good. Not great, mind you, but wouldn’t be so reviled if, you know, it hadn’t followed what is probably the definitive take on the character.

The “Alone Against the Celestials” story fairly early on his run was very good and wouldn’t be out of place on Simonson’s run. But, yes, most of DeFalco’s run was a throwback to early Lee/Kirby times. Eric Masterson was a great character, though.

I’ve read somewhere that he became Thor’s writer following Simonson because he KNEW that the poor guys that followed that run would take a lot of punishment no matter what and, as EiC, decided to draw the criticism to himself instead of some poor schlub. I’m not sure if that is true, but it does make sense.

DeFalco’s FF is not defensible, on the other hand. It had a terrible start and didn’t improve much for many years (I read it because in Brazil Marvel comics are published on anthologies). It DID get better in the end, but it was too late. Paul Ryan’s art is decent, though.

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

Maybe a column/vote can be made on the greatest 80′s Marvel comic runs.

in no order,
Simonson’s Thor
Miller’s Daredevil
Byrne’s FF
Stern’s Avengers
Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men
David’s Incredible Hulk

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