21 March 2016

Review: The Mighy Thor, Vol. 1 by Walter Simonson

Comic trade paperback, 215 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 1983-84)

Acquired December 2015
Read February 2016
The Mighty Thor, Vol. 1

Writer & Artist: Walter Simonson
Inker: Terry Austin
Remastered Coloring: Steve Oliff
Letterer: John Workman

Thor is, I kid you not, my favorite of the Marvel film series (well, though Guardians of the Galaxy may dethrone it). It's goofy, it has space aliens, it has lots of jokes, it has people stealing spaceships, it has mythology: it's basically everything I demand from cinematic entertainment. The actors who play Thor and the Warriors Three seem as if they really do come from a fantasy realm.

Since seeing the first one, I've been curious about the comics, and when it comes to Thor comics, it seems like all roads lead to Walter Simonson. Simonson's one of those people whose work I more know of than actually know. I own his Orion Omnibus and his Star Wars work but haven't actually read it; what I have read is limited to small contributions to things like World Without a Superman, 52: The Companion, and Batman: Strange Apparitions. But Simonson's Thor work is spoken of in hushed tones, and what I knew lead me to expect cosmic mythology, the exact register I would hope for.
Any guy whose power is to defeat his enemies by sitting on them and telling them a story is the kind of guy who gets my respect.
from Thor vol. 1 #339 (art by Walter Simonson)

Vol. 1 of The Mighty Thor did not disappoint. The whole thing is premised on Walter Simonson being the first writer to look at the inscription on Thor's Hammer, "WHOSOEVER HOLDS THIS HAMMER, IF HE BE WORTHY, SHALL POSSESS THE POWER OF THOR," and wonder, who would be worthy? Answer: Beta Ray Bill, warrior cyborg of an alien race. I like Simonson's answer; though being worthy is at least in part about moral purity, it must also be about warrior spirit-- something I would argue that, say, Captain America does not possess. The first four issues here are jam-packed, as Thor is drafted by Nick Fury, Thor goes into space after Bill's spaceship, Thor fights Bill, Bill seizes the hammer and acquires the power of Thor, Odin forces Thor and Bill to fight each other again, a warrior arrives in Asgard to challenge Balder the Brave only to be sat upon by Volstagg, Loki schemes with Lorelei, Lady Sif goes on a quest to the land of the dwarves, a new hammer called Storm Breaker is forged, Thor travels with Sif and Bill to battle alien demons, and Odin redistributes everyone's powers.
Lady Sif is the greatest.
from Thor vol. 1 #339 (art by Walter Simonson)

And after that there's still five issues to go! They don't make them like that any more. (This is why the mid-1980s are a peak era for comics: more sophisticated storytelling, but bloated decompression and gratuitous darkness haven't yet set in.) Like Jack Kirby, Simonson has the talent of packing in an incredibly large number of ideas into a small space, and casting them with a mythological tone that makes them feel even bigger than they are, and like Jack Kirby, he combines his command of word and image to achieve total comic book excellence. The Beta Ray Bill stories are definitely the best part of this collection, the rest of it being much more day-in-the-life-of-Thor-as-superhero-on-Midgard* stuff. He fights sea monsters, is wooed by a woman (who is really Lorelei is disguise), works as a construction worker, and gets involved in some kinda complicated plot involving people who can't eat food that I guess I have to wait for Vol. 2 to fully understand.

Normally this kind of stuff makes me roll my eyes, but I laughed here.
from Thor vol. 1 #341 (art by Walter Simonson)

It's not without its charms: hunky Thor trying to hide his might while working construction, Thor answering the call of the last scion of a Viking line in Antarctica, Thor running into Clark Kent and Lois Lane but no one recognizes each other because of the glasses. And Simonson is one of those writers who keeps a number of running subplots on the boil that come to the forefront in turn, my favorite being that of Balder the Brave who has forsworn killing, and the tragic moment where Loki forces him to confront that choice. Poor guy.
Another way to get my respect is to be a guy who considers the unleashing of his own violence the most regretful thing that could ever happen.
from Thor vol. 1 #344 (art by Walter Simonson)

Like I said, Simonson's art is amazing; his scripting may remind one of Kirby, but he has a bold visual style all his own, stopping this from feeling like pastiche. And John Workman provides some of the best lettering I've ever seen in a comic book, perfectly integrating with the image to drive home the scale of the cosmic events we're seeing. I never thought I'd write a sentence like that!
I originally scanned this page for the bad-ass parallel Thor and Beta Ray Bill pictures on top, but then I realized it was one of a great many examples of Workman's dramatic lettering, so I cropped it less than I had planned.
from Thor vol. 1 #340 (art by Walter Simonson)
* Earth.

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