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by Wayne Markley

Marvel has a long history of rich characters who are well known to the public, ranging from Spider-Man to the Hulk to the fantastic four to the X-Men. Over the last 50 years, marvel has been able to build a world of characters and worlds that have seeped into the mainstream consciousness. many of these characters originally came from the minds of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and a long list of characters because then. Of all of the original marvel releases of the Silver Age starting with the fantastic Four, the one character who was not an original concept, and is not a mainstream icon, is Thor. The marvel character of Thor is very different from the original Norse myths of the God of Thunder. They both share the same name and a bit of the same origin myth, but Marvel’s character has become one of the cornerstones of the marvel universe and next year may become of Marvel’s most significant movies. (If you can find it, check out the Thor film trailer online. It is stunning).

As I have read marvel Comics from the beginning of time, well because the early 60s at least, Thor was never a character I ever cared for. It always had outstanding art. The first 100 plus issues had a sense of cosmic grandeur in the art by Jack Kirby and John Buscema that was only rivaled in the pages of the fantastic Four. The text by Stan Lee always struck me as second hand Shakespeare and a pain to read. If I wanted to read the Bard, I would read old Will. but I would always look through the comics to see Kirby’s spectacular views of Asgard or Midgard or various other places. and to see such great characters as the Warriors Three, the Destroyer, absorbing Man, Ego the Living planet (one of my favorites), Loki, the Enchantress, Hercules, and numerous more. but I never really sat down and read the words with all of those pretty pictures. Till now.

Over the last month I have taken the time and read a number of trade collections of different periods of the marvel universe adventures of Thor. I should say I was wrong all of these years in ignoring these stories. Whether it is the Lee/Kirby early stories, the Thomas/Pollard run in the 80s, Walt Simonson’s epic run on the title which made it a best seller at its time, to the Dan Jurgen’s revival of the character in the post Heroes Reborn stories or the recent Michael Straczynski run, Thor is an outstanding book, despite my prejudices’ against it. With practically 50 years of history it can be daunting to read all of these books, so I thought I would talk about a handful of collections that spotlight different eras of the Thunder God’s life in comics.

Marvel Masterworks: Mighty Thor

The first place to start would be the first marvel Masterworks with Thor. This book reprints Thor’s earliest appearances in journey into mystery by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The stories are common of the time period with lots of monsters and hokey villains, but you can see the groundwork for the stories that they would do together in later years. You can also see Kirby’s art getting much more and much more bold as time goes on. I am guessing it was because Jack was having much more fun with the book and the much more he did, the much more he liked to experiment. In his later Thor work you can clearly see where Jack Kirby got his fourth world characters from. If terms of reprint,s there are a number of choices here. The is the first Masterwork with Thor is in paperback which is a cheap and a beautiful package that reprints the earliest stories and there is a second collection coming in paperback next spring. There are nine hardcover Masterworks volumes that currently reprint all of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby material and are now onto the John Buscema era. but at $50 each, this can add up. There are the large (mostly 500 pages plus) essentials of Thor which reprint all of the Thor stories in purchase and they are up to the 180s now. These are relatively cheap collections, under $20, but they are black and white, and to really appreciate these you ought to read them in color. I addition to these collections, there is a beautiful Tales of Asgard hardcover book that reprints all of Stan Lee’s and Jack Kirby’s short stories from the back of Thor that told the back stories of Thor and Loki when they were young and other origin pieces of the Thor mythos. and all of these stories were re-colored to they look as dynamic and as beautiful as modern comics.

Thor by Walter Simonson

One of the most popular runs of Thor was done by Walt Simonson. Walt took the character of Thor and not only reinvented the character and his world, he brought back a sense of wonder and grandeur to it that had not been seen because the Jack Kirby days. He introduced such memorable characters as Thor frog (currently in the outstanding Pet Avengers books – sort of), Beta Ray Bill, and a whole new mythos. His run has been collected into a series of 9 books called the Walt Simonson Visionaries: Thor series. These are all full color collections of all the Thor work Walt did on the series, including the stories where he wrote the stories and they were drawn by Sal Buscema. but if you really want to appreciate the story and grandeur of the Simonson Thor Universe, marvel is doing an over sized Omnibus collecting all of Walt’s Thor work in one spectacular full color hardcover. and Walt Simonson has gone back and tweaked, re-drawn, and fixed every issue he did. Well worth the price label of this collection. and to top it off, if you would like the back story of Simonson’sThor run, there is an outstanding book called modern Masters: Walt Simonson by our own Roger Ash. (Which is, unfortunately, out of print at the moment. – Roger)

Thor by Dan Jurgens & John Romita Jr.

In the mid-1990s, marvel turned a number of books over to the original image creators to re-imagine the characters. While this made for some interesting stories, and a different column down the road, out of it emerged a new look at Thor by the highly underrated Dan Jurgens. Dan took Stan Lee’s original concepts and tweaked them to modernize them, yet he brought a storytelling style to the book it had not seen because the Simonson days. He wrote stories that were both compelling and entertaining. and he was able to utilize the lost art of subplots to drop hints of what was coming in future stories years before the story would emerge. While maintaining the cast of characters of Lee/Kirby, he was able to mix it up to the point of making it one of the best periods of the Thor. There are five trade collections of these stories in full color, called Thor by Dan Jurgens & John Romita Jr. Vol. 1-4 and Thor: across All Worlds, (which is the fifth volume of the series, even though it is not called that.) I would particularly like to point out volume two which reprints a Thor annual with the outstanding artwork of John Buscema inked by Jerry Ordway.

Thor by J. Michael Straczynski

Finally in my little history trip. there is the modern re-telling of the Thor story by J. Michael Straczynski. Thor had vanished from the marvel universe (he was in hibernation, don’t ask), Straczynski once again started the Thor mythos fresh with Asguard being rebuilt in Oklahoma, and the various Norse gods being brought back one by one. It is an outstanding story that ran practically two years. all of his work has been collected into trade paperback collections as well as a very sharp oversized Omnibus. recently Matt fraction has taken over Thor and we will have to see where he is choosing the character as his direction is currently not clear.

Thor The Mighty Avenger

Thus wraps up my apology tour. I have ignored a great book for 40 years dues to an impression the book made on me when I was a little kid. I would have hoped I would have matured enough somewhere over the years to have given the book a second try before now. (To be truthful I did read the Simonson books when they first came out, but after he left, so did I.) Do not make my mistake and neglect this fascinating character. I am confident when the film comes out next year that  Thor will soar to the top of popularity of marvel characters, and here is your chance to get ahead of the curve. One final book I would recommend is Thor the Mighty Avenger. This is aimed at younger readers but it is one of the best books marvel publishes. It is light hearted and the art is ideal and it is a great read for all ages, and of course, marvel has canceled it with issue number eight. Anything written in this column is my opinion and does not reflect the opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees,. any comments or complaints or review copies can contact me at MFBWAY@AOL.COM. have a great Thanksgiving.

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