I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
When I started reading Marvel Comics, the importance of reading the various titles associated with The Avengers became clear to me quite quickly. After all, a major part of the appeal for the Marvel universe to me was the overt interconnectedness of the various storylines. This didn’t mean that reading multiple different titles was required to even discern what was going on. That’s the way it works now. Back then, the acknowledgments were far more casually. Characters commented on the goings-on in other series and major changes to certain figures in one title were reflected in their appearances elsewhere. The Avengers, by virtue of having a roster that included several characters that also starred in their own series, represented the nexus of the whole Marvel Comics saga to me.
I was a regular buyer of Captain America and Iron Man fairly early on, but the one character who was a central figure in the Avengers roster who I had trouble connecting with was Thor. The Asgardian god of thunder who–according to Marvel lore at the time–spent time on Earth in the guise of Dr. Donald Blake, a physician with a gimpy leg and a wooden walking stick that transformed into Mjolnir, the weighty mallet that was Thor’s primary weapon. Something about the individual comics just didn’t appeal to me, maybe because they looked like they were bogged down in the arcana of its mythical origins rather than springing forward with the two-fisted battles against supervillains that I was really craving. Ironically, though, the creator who finally lured me to Thor did so by unashamedly embracing the elements that I thought had no appeal to me.
Walt Simonson took over the writing and art of Thor with issue #337, one of those odd numbers that is pressed into my memory weighted with tremendous importance (others include #137 and #181). He had a great angle for that first issue, taking the pledge etched onto Mjolnir that promised, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” In order to set that up, Simonson introduced an odd new alien character by the name of Beta Ray Bill.
Thor is recruited by Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D., because even then he was the all-purpose figure to be dispatched to drag heroes into adventures when writers couldn’t think of another way to have them stumble onto, say, an uncertain spaceship floating curiously up above the planet. When Thor scraps with Beta Ray Bill, he’s kept apart from his hammer for long enough that he transforms back into his human form (a side effect of the enchantment that provided the alter ego in the first place), leaving his new adversary perplexed. Beta Ray Bill grabs the walking stick and absent-mindedly taps it against the wall, exactly the sort of the physical action Thor would use to effect a transformation. Bill, uncommonly worthy, gets a surprise.
It was a tremendous start for the series and only began to hint at the long game Simonson was prepared to play. He fully enlivened Thor‘s supporting cast, immersed the story in the social dynamics of the Adgardians and emphasized the overwhelming power of his title character. He also crafted his story with great patience, continually hinting at an ominous major threat that wouldn’t really pay off for about a year.
So my preemptive dismissal of the character and the series was proved drastically short-sighted. It wasn’t about the material, it was about the creator. Someone with a vision, a plan and a fully apparent enthusiasm for the inherent possibilities the series had to offer is what was important. I respected the value that individual creators brought to individual series, but Simonson’s Thor was arguably the first time that it was fully driven home for me how a great writer and artist could completely transform a series into something marvelous.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito