Oct 14, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Thor Comics You Absolutely Should Kinda Read If You Want

Back Issue Ben contributes to Thor Month, with a list of...

Thor Comics You Absolutely Should Kinda Read, If You Want
Back Issue Ben

With the upcoming release of the second major motion picture starring Marvel’s resident God of Thunder, Thor: The Dark World, I have decided to give you the least imaginative column possible this week, as I am sure there are many “read these books!” pieces strewn about the internet, like body parts after an especially horrible (and tragic) plane crash. My goal is to at least give you some oddball picks to go with the requisite classic runs that everyone probably already knows, but I will talk about anyway.



First off, before we get started, I highly recommend you watch the first Thor movie, if you’re the one person left who hasn’t already seen it. Spectacular performances from an all-around great cast. Tom Hiddleston, of course, is the standout as Loki, but I don’t think you can underestimate Chris Hemsworth as Thor, as that could very easily have been a disaster. I don’t know why there are some people that criticize Natalie Portman’s performance in the first Thor. I thought she was charming as Jane Foster, and portrayed the appropriate amount of smitten. Never let it be said I am all that hard to please when it comes to movies and acting though, I did initially enjoy Transformers 2 in the theater.

(For my money, there have only been two acting performances said to blow me away upon initial viewing, and those are Val Kilmer in Tombstone, and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. While Kilmer is still amazing in Tombstone, Ledger gets less impressive every viewing, mostly because of The Dark Knight Rises. Yes, The Dark Knight Rises retroactively ruined my initial enjoyment of Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. That’s how terrible it is.)


(Duy here. Ben is recommending runs throughout the piece, so I'm linking each run's title to the  volume of it available on Amazon, if available, that Ben is primarily recommending. Hopefully that'll make it more convenient.)



STAN LEE AND JACK KIRBY: JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #83–THOR #177, 179
 
As tempted as I am to say just read #103–177, like I did recently, I will at least try to give you some highlights to focus on, if you’re the type that is spare time challenged. Stan and Jack had quite a lengthy run on Thor, which for some reason gets overshadowed by their Fantastic Four. FF was certainly longer, but Thor was an impressive run in itself, and seems largely unrecognized in the annals of time.

Thor #124-130 sees the Prince of Asgard up against Hercules, and the wacky denizens of Olympus. First Thor finds himself in a titanic bout head-to-head with the Lion of Olympus, before he later has to fight on his behalf because Hercules is a moron and got himself in a tight spot. It’s one of the longer storylines, and is at the peak of the silliness that makes those Silver Age stories so charming even to this day.


Thor #160-162, #168-169 guest-stars Galactus. The first storyline pits Galactus up against his oft-most requested foe (I’m sure), Ego The Living Planet, but it turns out to be a bit of a disappointing affair. Later on, in the second storyline, we get the origin of Galactus for the first time.


 These comics are decent, not great, but #169 has a great cover, and I’m a sucker for early Galactus.


Thor is pitched in furious battle against Him (later known as Adam Warlock) in Thor #165-166. Him was even more of a tool initially than Adam, with no further evidence needed beyond that haircut of his. He kidnaps Sif so that he can mate with her, which Thor takes exception to, as Thor is wont to do.

A few more thoughts:

I love the idea of Balder and Karnilla. Ever since reading it, I have been thinking about it for three straight days. It’s distracting me from daily tasks.

Jane is written out of the book and replaced by Sif in the span of about 3-4 pages (# 136). This is how real life dating should work.

The Wrecker and the Absorbing Man were much more formidable (and entertaining) in their first appearances.

Thor has not one, but two stories pitting him against the Circus of Crime.

I don’t care if she barely ever does anything, Hela just looks awesome.

The cover of Thor #154 utilizes that collage background effect, which I hold so dear to my heart. An underrated cover that you never see referenced anywhere.



WALT SIMONSON: THOR #337-355, #357-369, #371-382; BALDER THE BRAVE #1-4

This is a bit obvious, for anyone that has a little bit of knowledge of the history of Thor, but that’s okay. I’m nothing if not obvious. This is another run you should just read in full, but I’ll throw out a couple highlights at you, to make things interesting (or not).

The first four issues, #337 – 340, see Thor meet the horse-faced Beta Ray Bill, who not only surprisingly beats him in battle, but is also able to lift Thor’s enchanted hammer Mjolnir.




Because of his awesomeness and worthiness (Bill is basically a horse-faced version of ROM Spaceknight, with the powers of Thor; if that doesn’t grab you I don’t know what will) Bill is granted an enchanted hammer of his own, and he and Thor bring many whippings to the demon horde that plagues Bill’s people. (He even gets the love of Sif, because she is a “hammer chaser.” No seriously, take a gander at her dating history, it is hilarious, wondrous, and kinda sad.)


Thor next fights Fafnir, which prompted me to consider what an advantage subsequent writers had over the guys that blazed the trail on Marvel characters. Sure, Stan and Jack were co-creating wonders month after month, but there were just as many duds in that ammo pack of greatness. A guy like Simonson can come along years later, and build off of all the successes, cherry-pick some of the forgotten gems like Fafnir, and ignore all the mistakes, like the Thermal Man, or Replicus. A little something to consider next time you’re berating someone about the virtues of comic creation (how dare you berate others!).




The second must-read out of the myriad of wonderful little tales by Walter Simonson is obviously the Surtur Saga (Thor #349 - #353), widely considered by many to be the greatest Thor story ever. The most ancient-est evil of all, Surtur, has found his way out of the prison Odin and his brothers trapped him in an eternity ago (thanks to the efforts of Malekith, who, word is, will be prominently featured in the second movie). Now, he seeks to dip his mighty blade into the Eternal Flame that is safeguarded within the great hall of Asgard itself, and then use it to set the nine worlds on fire.






All of Asgard assembles to stop Surtur, even villains like the Enchantress and the Executioner. The Avengers also answer the call, with Thor and Beta Ray Bill leading the forces of good to save all of existence. I love it when the writer can really make you believe, and feel, the weight of the situation, and Simonson is able to do that in this story splendidly Epic is a term thrown around all too often, but I can never think of a proper replacement for it, so I’ll use it here again. It’s an epic story, one that befits the tales of Gods and legends. It’s an absolute can’t miss.

Plus this is one of the greatest panels in the history of superhero comics.




THOR #383 BY TOM DEFALCO AND RON FRENZ


This is a Secret Wars II tie-in, which features the Enchantress telling a behind the scenes tale of her and Thor together during the first Secret Wars. I’m as much a mark for Secret Wars as I am for Dr. Doom, and both are part of this story here.




Also, I really love Frenz’s work on Thor. He was able to do his own rendition of a creepy Spider-Man in the Ditko mold when he worked on that book, and here he does his best channeling of Jack Kirby.


There’s just something about his art on this series that hits me in the right spot. It’s got a classic comic book kind of look to it, and yet it’s clean and powerful.




THOR: DISASSEMBLED, THOR (VOLUME 2) #80-85 BY MICHAEL AVON OEMING AND ANDREA DIVITO


Loki makes his final attack on Asgard, followed by an army of Thor’s greatest villains. We see Thor’s greatest allies killed or maimed (poor skinny Volstagg). It’s Ragnarok in the truest sense of the word, as this really could serve as the last Thor story (and did, for a couple years). But it’s as much about the nature of storytelling itself, if not more so, than a rollicking disaster epic. Divito’s art has never been better than it was on this series.



Plus we get to see Thor pull Loki’s head off.




JOSEPH MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI (JMS): THOR #1-12, #600-603, GIANT SIZE FINALE #1


There was a time when I thought JMS might have been a competent comic book writer. In my early days upon my return to comics, in my naiveté, I may have thought his Spider-Man run was okay (until Sins Past) with its mystic totems and old guy with spider powers, and that his Thor run was pretty good (even if it was really a Loki book). Like I said before, I’ve been known to get distracted by the shiny quarter that is Coipel art, who was his artist on Thor. Sometimes it’s kinda hard for me to accurately gauge the quality of the writing anytime an artist like Coipel is on a book, because I find his artwork (and his Thor in particular) just so beautiful. Naiveté plus Coipel, equaled me enjoying JMS Thor comics.

But I say thee nay. Having sped through the perpetually-moving-forward-without-taking-a-single-moment-to-catch-your-breath Stan and Jack run, the non-stop talking of the JMS Thor run is even more unforgivable. I may be letting my complete dislike of the man’s online persona color my perceptions here, many people enjoyed his Thor comics, but be prepared for lots of talking, is all I’m saying.


(JMS should not be allowed to write corporate comics any more. If he wants to come up with more abysmal creator-owned comics that never get finished, by all means, let him do that. But keep his out-of-character moralizing, and terrible dialogue away from my most beloved of superhero characters.)

THOR #604-606 BY KEIRON GILLEN AND BILLY TAN

This was the beginning of Gillen working in the Thor-verse (his Journey Into Mystery run with Kid Loki I’d probably recommend over any of this stuff, but it’s Loki, not Thor) and the thankful end of the dreaded JMS era. The story opens with Balder as king and Thor in exile thanks to the machinations of Loki. The Asgardians have relocated to Latveria, where Dr. Doom has been secretly abducting and dissecting Asgardians to determine the source of their power. There’s a great little scene where Balder and the Asgardians confront Doom, only to be beset upon by grotesque creatures formed out of their dead comrades.


Thor intervenes, and we get some great scenes of Thor versus Doom. Up until Doom enters the Destroyer armor and the battle is renewed.



Altogether not the greatest story ever, but I’m almost always a sucker for Dr. Doom, and this is a nice little story many people may have missed following the end of a long and celebrated run by the previous writer.

MIGHTY THOR #1-6, BY MATT FRACTION AND OLIVIER COIPEL


You can tell Fraction definitely did his homework by reading all the old Thor comics before taking over as writer of the book. I can imagine he found the Stan and Jack stories with Galactus to be less than they could have been as well, so he pits Thor vs the Silver Surfer, and Odin vs Galactus in this six issue story drawn by the legendary Coipel. Like I said before, I can’t judge the quality of the writing on this story accurately with Coipel on art duties (I know Fraction has his detractors) so if the story sucks than at least you can be dazzled by the pretty pictures, as I was.



Just know this, Thor hits Galactus in the head with his hammer, so Silver Surfer throws him into Mars.


THOR THE MIGHTY AVENGER #1-8, BY ROGER LANGRIDGE AND CHRIS SAMNEE


This, probably more than anything else, is the series I would give to any new reader interested in the exploits of Thor. Free of years of comic book continuity, and full of delightful writing, as well as the amazing art of Chris Samnee (this is the first time I witnessed Samnee art on a book, and I loved it from the very beginning) this book is definitely well worth digging up.


The first issue is nothing special, which is why a lot of people probably missed out on the rest of the book, ending up in it getting cancelled. But immediately after that you see him in adventures with and against characters like Giant-Man, Namor, Fin Fang Foom, and Iron Man, all wonderfully rendered by the fantastic Samnee.




The fourth issue is the standout, as the Warriors Three join Thor for a night out on the town of Oxford, including a brawl with Captain Britain. One of the great things about reading Thor over the years is the friendship he shares with Hogan, Fandral, Volstagg, and Balder. I could read stories about them going out and getting drunk non-stop, and that’s exactly what this one is. A can’t miss.




(Balder is absent this issue, as he’s often the odd man out when it comes to accessible stories. I also like to think he’s the odd man out in their fictional group as well. I imagine him as the friend who doesn’t drink, but always offers to be the designated driver so he isn’t excluded. They like him well enough, but he’s a bit of a drag sometimes, what with him always crying about his abusive relationship with Karnilla.)

That’s all I’ve got.

2 comments:

JV said...

You should read Thor: God of Thunder #1-11 by Jason Aaron and Essad Ribic and the Warren Ellis/Mike Deodato Jr issues (which Duy already talked about). I think these comics belong on this list.

Duy Tano said...

Ben's work is blocking the Cube, so here's his reply:

Yes, after being practically a novice at Thor comics, I've been on a Thor reading binge that has continued even since writing this list. I hadn't read Aaron's Thor or Worldengine at the time of writing this, but I liked them both a lot and would absolutely include them on an updated list.

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