These posts are becoming increasingly more autobiographical, mostly because I can’t figure out any other way to do them. Often when I write about a series or a trade paperback, I’m writing about it because I only recently absorbed it myself. I’m not really an expert. I’m just a guy devouring comics like they’ve got hidden vitamins inside (and hey, I’m betting they do). And because I’m not an expert, there are tremendous gaps in my reading. I mean huge, gobsmacking gaps the Hulk could bound through. For example, I haven’t read much of Chris Claremont’s legendary X-Men run, save for the Phoenix stuff and God Loves, Man Kills. I’m also still behind on Transmetropolitan; I’ve only conquered six of its volumes. And until this weekend, I had never read any of Walt Simonson’s character-defining run on The Might Thor.
I was reminded of my Simonson gap earlier this week when it was announced that he would be returning to Marvel as an Avengers artist. I plan to buy those issues when they start dropping in April, but it occurred to me that I have no real background in knowing who Simonson is other than what I’ve been told. I know he’s a comics legend, that he redefined Thor with a landmark run in the 1980s, that he introduced Beta Ray Bill to the Marvel Universe. I know he’s a killer artist and one of the best artist/writer double threats to ever get in the game. But until a few days ago, I only knew those things because I was told they were true. It’s just generally accepted that Simonson’s a legend.
So after coming to grips with my lack of firsthand information on the subject (admitting is the first step to recovery, kids), I hunted down the first volume of Marvel’s Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson and began reading. I wanted to know just what about this guy’s work made it so special, so vital to the way we see Thor now, and I didn’t want to get it from a Wikipedia article or someone else’s recap. I wanted to delve into it.
At first I thought I was only going to tackle the first issue, just get a sense of the work and then write about it. But I couldn’t stop at the first issue. There was no way. I wouldn’t have stopped at the first issue if the book had suddenly burst into flames. I would have gone out and found another one and started reading in the damn car. Because I was hooked. I’ve read the Stan Lee Thor from the early years. I’ve read the J. Michael Straczynski and Matt Fraction Thors of the past decade. I’ve enjoyed all of them. But I’ve never seen Thor like this before.
Simonson’s first act as writer & artist of The Mighty Thor when he started with issue 337 in 1983 was to introduce a character that was by all accounts Thor’s equal. Beta Ray Bill is a monstrous alien, the last great warrior of his people, out for vengeance against a pack of space demons. We assume he’s a villain, and so does Thor. Bill assumes Thor’s a villain too, and so a battle begins that ends with Mjolnir – impossibly – in Bill’s hands.
So the guy who’s arguably the most important storyteller in the history of Thor’s comics run started his tale by taking Mjolnir away from the God of Thunder and put it in the hands of an alien beast. That’s why I couldn’t stop reading. That, and the dynamic, epic Kirbyesque art that Simonson brings to every single page.
The first part of the Thor/Beta Ray Bill saga lasts four issues, and you don’t want it to be over. It’s not just Simonson’s unexpected plot twist that renders Thor hammerless, or that we begin to sympathize with Bill, or that the art is amazing. It’s that this is a comic that so clearly has a vision imprinted on it. Simonson knew what he was doing from page one. He’s not just telling the story of Thor. He’s telling the story of Asgard. As the God of Thunder deals with the new alien in his life, we see Balder dealing with a kind of cosmic shell shock, Loki scheming with Lorelei, Sif feeling abandoned and Volstagg sitting on someone while he tells them a story (really). It’s among the most complete views of this particular corner of the Marvel universe that you’ll ever encounter. The depth is extraordinary, but what’s most extraordinary is that every bit is just as much fun as the last.
I’ve only read four issues of Simonson’s run on The Mighty Thor so far, but it will be impossible not to keep reading. This stuff is just as good, just as important and just as essential to comics as you always heard it was. It’s epic, cosmic space craziness coming at you from every direction, and you won’t want to stop.