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Rediscovering Walter Simonson's Mighty Thor

Early reviews for the Thor film, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, and Anthony Hopkins, are strong (Comic Book Resources called it “The Best Marvel Film Yet”), and a rise in popularity means one thing for comic fans: a surge in comics spotlighting the character. In an earlier post, I highlighted a few of the latest Thor-centric books to arrive in time for the film to hit theaters on May 6th, but one release overshadows them all both in anticipation and actual size: The Mighty Thor Omnibus by Walter Simonson.

In the 1980s, I was an avid fan of Walter Simonson’s artwork on X-Factor (where he collaborated with writer and wife Louise), but I never spent too much time with his Thor. There is no getting around the dialogue, with its mythological high speech (“Look to thy weapons, you demons! Up, Toothgnasher! Up, Toothgrinder! Pull for the stars! The foe awaits and joyous battle is before us!”), and Simonson fully commits to it with characters barely breathing between dialogue balloons. But I couldn’t resist the 1,200 pages of what is arguably the most revered run on Thor since the classic team-up of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Thor.omni.compjpgPlus, the allure of Steve Oliff’s remastered coloring make this a must flip-through (see comparison at left), and it’s beautiful-- faithful to the original colors while giving them a new shine. Shadows are deep and enhance the billowing reds in Thor’s cape, and the ink-work is rich to the point where I was surprised that it didn’t bleed through onto my fingers as I lingered. Simonson loves to give his broad-faced Thor even broader grins, and his figures can be lean and long, as is often the case in his female forms, but blocky and charmingly herky-jerky when it comes to the men. And how does Thor walk in those boots? As the issues progress, so too does the flare around the knees in his footwear. There are plenty of Kirby-inspired energy blasts, and Simonson’s expressions can turn from comical to solemn in the same panel sequence. Artist Sal Buscema arrives later in the series to lend his own class to the stories, and his work easily complements Simonson’s, albeit with a softer edge.

What makes this such a great collection is that the stories are just as memorable as the art. Simonson introduces the fan-favorite, beastly hero Beta Ray Bill, who always makes me think of an alien donkey, and he writes a defining moment for Warren Worthington III, better known as the X-Man Angel, in the Mutant Massacre crossover. Then there are the issues where Thor turns into--ahem!--a frog. There is romance, comedy, and harrowing adventure. Origins are forged while gods perish, and I’m pretty sure I spied Fin Fang Foom later in the collection. I’m nowhere near finished with the mammoth book, but I did measure the thickness of the pages: seven inches of Asgardian tales.

I’m happy to report that Marvel bound the behemoth with minimal gutter loss, so readers will not strain the spine to read the trumpeted narration. Plus, there are 50 pages of extras, including character sketches, discarded covers, penciled and inked pages, and a new introduction by Simonson as well as several reprinted ones. Be sure to remove the dust-jacket to find Thor’s silver-embossed hammer, Mjolnir, along the spine. This omnibus is a treasure for Thor fans, and its size looks practically medieval next to anything else on my shelf.

Okay, Marvel, you win. I’m a Thor fan. For Midgard! For Asgard! “So be it.”

--Alex

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How to make the game should be pretty good

I liked the Lee-Kirby Thor. Years ago I picked up the Simonson Visionaries TPB but didn't get around to reading it till my vacation early this year. Imagine my surprise when the plotline was left hanging after that first volume, and I discovered there were multiple Simonson Visionaries after that. I did some quick math and it was actually cheaper for me to buy the Omnibus than to get the remaining Visionaries TPBs (assuming of course I didn't quit midway through). I did get the Omnibus and it's a huge, beautiful book that, unfortunately, I won't be taking on my next plane trip, but I look forward to reading it.

For a long time I wondered if I was one of the few who saw Walt Simonson's run at Thor as one of the great years in comicdom. It was so much better than almost anything else out there. Watchman, considered by some to be good, doesn't even deserve to be listed in the same sentence as. Thor/Simonson.

Other than that time, I was not really a Thor fan, and I did not read the Kirby Thor so I don't have that comparison. But Simonson gave him roots, gave him style, turned something that was a second-rate superhero into a Norse god come to Earth.

Its a masterwork.

I still miss Jack Kirby and hope there is some nod to him in both the Thor and Captain America films.

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