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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 202

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we look at the first story arc in the legendary Walt Simonson Thor run, featuring the debut of Beta Ray Bill!


Really, I don’t know if there has been a more perfect first issue to a writer/artist taking over a long-running title. I suppose Miller’s first issue of Daredevil would count – but Miller had been the artist on Daredevil for quite awhile at the time, so that seems a bit more like an inevitability than anything. And as amazing as John Byrne’s Fantastic Four was as a whole, his first issue wasn’t necessarily as good as the rest of the run (Diablo stories rarely are). Now Walt Simonson’s first issue of Thor, however, was three significant things…

1. Most importantly, it was well-written and well-drawn

2. It was catchy/shocking


3. It was a clever enough concept that it made people really think, “Oh yeah, why HAVEN’T they done that before?”

It’s rare to see a writer look at a book’s history and pull out a concept that should be so obvious, but has not been used yet, and Simonson’s take on the whole “If only those worthy can lift Thor’s hammer, there’s got to be someone ELSE out there who is worthy, right?” idea.

And that brings us to Beta Ray Bill (and one of the most famous comic covers of the 1980s)…

Isn’t that just the best cover ever if you’re trying to say, “hey, folks, new start here!”

The first issue also opens with the legendary slow burn on the run up to the reveal of Surtur, the big bad of the first year of Simonson’s run. Simonson and lettering demi-god John Workman set up Surtur’s reveal beautifully…

So the issue involves SHIELD enlisting Thor in a strange fleet of spaceships that have passed by Earth. Thor investigates, and the main spaceship wakes up its “cargo,” the protector of his people (who have been decimated by attacks by “demons”), Beta Ray Bill!….

During their battle, Thor loses his hammer and turns into Don Blake (naturally, he gets knocked out a few seconds after that turn of events). Meanwhile, Beta Ray Bill thinks that SHIELD is part of the “demons” that have plagued his people (what he and his ship are actually sensing is that the REAL bad guy, Surtur, has enough of the same magic as Thor that Thor’s presence reads as being like Surtur), so he quickly looks for a weapon…

Pretty impressive sequence there by Simonson, huh? What a game-changer!

I also like how Simonson uses SHIELD and Nick Fury in this issue. It’s the classic “use your shared continuity without being a slave to it” deal that writers should embrace more often.

So Odin calls Beta Ray Bill and Thor up to Asgard, and has them fight it out for the right to wield Mjolnir…

I love the way that Simonson manages to give both guys “hero” moments, and also the little bit about how Bill has been genetically altered to specifically be able to withstand heat, so the “victory” is not a matter of, like, Bill kicking Thor’s butt or whatever.

So anyhow, after a talk with Odin, Bill realizes he really doesn’t want Mjolnir, not if Odin and the Norse Gods will help him fight the demons (I don’t believe we know yet that the demons are from Surtur, so that Odin would have a vested interest in helping Bill regardless of whether it was the right thing or not).

And we get the breathtaking sequence where Odin creates a new weapon for Beta Ray Bill to wield…

Pretty amazing opening for just three issues into his run, huh?

And the next issue shows Bill and Thor teaming up to kick demon behind.

The artwork is fantastic, the storytelling is wonderful, the story is bombastic and thrilling – this was one remarkable comic book run. Luckily for you all, it’s all available in trade collections – go get ‘em!!!


Best onomatopoeia gallery EVER!!! (Sorry, Batman)

What a brilliant run of comics.


July 22, 2010 at 8:06 am

Prior to this arc, was there really never any story where another character was deemed worthy enough to be able to pick up Thor’s hammer? Didn’t Steve Rogers pick it up at one time?

Captain Flash

July 22, 2010 at 8:08 am

The best the character has ever been

Prior to this arc, was there really never any story where another character was deemed worthy enough to be able to pick up Thor’s hammer? Didn’t Steve Rogers pick it up at one time?

They all came after this arc (Cap was around #390).

Nobody else’s Thor (even Kirby’s) even comes close to this. So awesome.

beta ray steve

July 22, 2010 at 8:20 am

This was the greatest run of Thor, even better than the Kirby run (much better writing). Thor had been so bad for so long I was getting ready to drop it, after collecting it obsessively since #180.

I really, REALLY want to read this run, but since it’s already taken me this long to get around to it, and there’s a Thor movie right around the corner, I’m holding out hope that we’ll get an omnibus volume or two. Those trades sitting at the top of my wishlist get more and more tempting though…

Simonson is like the uber-Kirby. He’s a good artist and a decent writer on non-Kirby properties, but he just demolishes all the competition when he works on Kirby creations. I keep holding out hope that he will either create a Kamandi series or return to Marvel to do the Black Panther before he dies.

Awesome arc, and the ending is a prime example of how to reboot a character and make it feel organic at the same time.


Simonson’s Thor is the gold standard for Thor stories, and it’s easy to see why. The art is glorious and cosmic in its splendour and you really feel like you’re seeing something larger than life. You have terrific shorter stories running around while Simonson builds to the big SurtWar and it all fits together so well without making the book inaccessible to the new reader.

Glad to see a tip o’ the helmet to John Workman, whose lettering really added to the book. He really made it stand out as something different and wonderful, which rarely happens with lettering today.

The whole run is wonderful, but the beginning, when Walt wrote and drew the whole thing is the cream of a very rich crop.

God was this good stuff. Simonson’s run felt big and epic without sprawling beyond one title. His little grace notes get used as the definitive examples of how to use a shared universe 25 years later.

Another voice in the chorus, but this was a truly amazing run on THOR, easily the best since the heyday of the Lee-Kirby team.

John Byrne’s first issue of his FF run: Incidentally, Brian, I would argue that Byrne’s first issue was intentionally a low key affair, an an attempt to go recapture some of the more earthbound feel of the early FF. Indeed, the very title of the issue (“Back to the Basics”) heralds this approach.

I like that they’re all wearing protective goggles in the forge. Remember, kids, occupational health & safety is important, even for gods!

Hey Brian!

i think that the GL post is supposed to be in the Koolest DC moments, as this is all ’bout Thor.

Thanks, Dan!

Nothing to add to the voluminous praise here. It’s all well-deserved. I just have to say, Roman’s suggestion above really struck a nerve: Simonson doing a revived Kamandi series would be too awesome for words!

Between the opening arc (which I love), the battle for Asgard with Loki, Thor and Odin side by side by side facing Surtur, and Skuttlebutt and Sif facing the demons together. Ah forget it. Simonson’s Thor is really what got me into collecting comics.

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