The God of Thunder brings the hammer down in these 5 historic comic book runs.
Thor: Ragnarok continues the MCU tradition of mining the comic book long boxes in an effort to appease fanboys and wow general audiences with their bottomless pit of grand sci-fi spectacle. The plots may be twisted and splintered to fit running times and contemporary perceptions of action movie heroics, but the characters on the screen are pretty much the characters found within the books. The MCU is an incredibly proud creation. Kevin Feige is practically bragging with every film, “my toy box is more rad than yours.” Geeks like myself lap it up. We’re his choir ready to belt out another aria and when the muggles applaud or even worm their way into our church loft, the sense of cultural validation acts as a panacea for the decades of ostracizing we experienced on the playground.
Read More: Thor: Ragnarok Review
Iron Man was easy to accept in the movies, he’s metal Batman. The Incredible Hulk stuttered cinematically, but the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde concept was one that we’ve had a firm grip on for nearly as long as cinema itself. The MCU got a little funkier with that frozen boy scout Steve Rogers, but 2011’s Thor was where the Marvel shared universe was either going to ride or die. With good reason. Odinson is a damn strange notion.
When I was a kid, Thor never worked for me. What was this God of Thunder doing on the same team with The Scarlet Witch and Captain America? Super Heroes were one thing and Norse mythology was another. Captain Kirk didn’t beam aboard the Millennium Falcon so how could the All-Father muddle in the affairs of The Avengers? I was a regular George Costanza, my worlds were colliding and I flat-out rejected Stan Lee’s theft from the classical. But maybe it was simply an issue of not reading the right comic books.
To truly appreciate the mighty Thor, I should have just stayed away from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes until I had a proper grasp of the thunder god and his alien Asgardian roots. At first glance, the blonde bombshell makes an absurd group photo. The winged helmet, the go-go boots, the cape, and that hammer don’t gel with the accouterments of the other weirdos on the team. However, when you dive deep into his standalone title, the Marvelization of the mythic hero is as cohesive as any other spandex wrapped superman.
Thor: Ragnarok relishes in Odinson’s vast history. It’s not only a bubbling love letter to the character, but also the many hands that shaped him. Where the previous two films sheepishly dipped their toes into the shallow end of Marvel’s infinite ocean of possibilities, Thor: Ragnarok almost carelessly plummets from the high dive. Cannonball! It’s the kind of infectious entertainment that holds your head under the water, and you’re happy to drown in the depths of the single issue back catalog. If you’re looking to get doused with me, here are five essential Thor arcs to wet your whistle.
You could start at the very beginning with Journey Into Mystery #83, but this is not about eating your vegetables. While there is plenty of nourishment to be found in those early issues, it’s not until Stan Lee and Jack Kirby fully commit to The Mighty Thor title that the God of Thunder firmly establishes himself as worthy. What started out as their answer to the Captain Marvel/Shazam identity eventually developed into a cosmic melodrama of gods and monsters.
Kirby understood the incongruity of rainbow bridges connecting to the marvelous mad science of the Baxter Building. Take Thor to space, that’s where he makes sense. Magic hammers and necroswords are not an affront to the totally scientifically plausible origins of the Fantastic Four if they’re filtered through an extraterrestrial lens. This is the main takeaway absorbed into Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation. It’s that cliché Arthur C. Clarke quote (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”) stretched into a mission statement. In pitting him against cosmic terrors like Galactus and Ego the Living Planet, as well as his mischievous brother, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, cemented Thor’s place in the pantheon of Marvel mainstays.
There is no better jumping on point for new readers than this all-ages retcon. Again, similar to the 2011 film, Roger Langridge, and Chris Samnee reintroduce Thor by emphasizing the joy and humor of the character with a fish out of water story that includes bouts with silver age threats like Fin Fang Foom and Namor, The Sub-Mariner. It’s a romance comic as well, putting the readers behind the eyes of Jane Foster, and we can’t help but swoon with her as she witnesses this confused deity stumble his way through Earth customs while rushing to the next battle. Samnee’s art has a Saturday Morning Cartoon style that is sharp, clean, and square-jawed, but he also magically manages to evoke the bygone Norman Rockwell era. You can practically taste the malt shop. In what timeline does this all take place? Don’t get hung up on the question, just enjoy this quick nostalgic trip to the meet-cute origins of Thor HEARTS Jane. It’s unfortunate that the series simply ends after eight issues, but it’s a taste that will satiate readers while they save up their pennies for some of the larger tomes.
Much of the tone of the MCU version of Thor comes from this series written by the creator of Babylon 5. As we’ve seen over the course of the movies, the Thor-speak (“I say thee nay!”) returns only here and there to put a button on a joke, but for the most part, Odinson is just your average Avenger. While Asgard hangs in ruins over the small American town of Braxton, Oklahoma, the God of Thunder must reconsider his place as Midgard’s champion. This leads to a lot of comedy throughout the series, but the hero never loses his grandeur. We’ve still got the rivalry with Loki (although he flips genders for a bit to inspire an endless wave of cosplayers), arguments with All-Father, and plenty of devastation from The Destroyer. It’s a slower paced saga that may not hit all your wants and desires, but it’s a necessary leap in the modernization of the character.
This is where you have to jump on if you want to understand everything that’s currently going on in Marvel Comics. Before he could shake up Asgard by casting Mjolnir from Odinson’s clutches and modifying Jane Foster as the Goddess of Thunder, Aaron had to take down the original Norse superman by crushing his ego. Set across three timelines (past, present, future) we encounter Thor as a narcissistic hero primed for a fall. That descent is brought upon an alien creature called Gorr, who has traveled the cosmos slaughtering beings that dare to hold themselves above lesser creatures. Over the course of three ages, we see how Thor’s actions have splintered his notions of worth, and this will ultimately lead to the stripping of his name.
The God Butcher is a terrifying arc solidified by Esad Ribic’s painterly style. Each frame of the book could easily hang in your local art museum, and his classical images firmly establish the character to your classroom notions of mythology. The rage Ribic infuses to Gorr actually upholds him next to Saturn Devouring His Son. The God Butcher is a monster worthy of the Asgardian greatest hits that Jason Aaron would eventually drag his series through, and it’s an utterly original creation rarely seen in a decade’s long format resistant to change.
While much of Thor: Ragnarok’s design is lifted whole cloth from the crackle of Jack Kirby, several of the plot mechanics are taken from Walt Simonson’s most iconic take on the character. From Skurge’s dual M-16s to the doom of Surtur the fire giant. Even the reluctant sibling team-up between Loki and Thor is straight from Simonson’s four-color pages. Hell, everything cool about the character can pretty much be traced back to this fifty issue run. While it would be impossible to adapt the original Ragnarok storyline (not to mention the beautiful madness of Planet Hulk) into a two-hour movie, Taika Waititi and Kevin Feige pull all the right landmarks to still amaze this seen-it-all Marvel junkie. Here is where Hela, the queen of the dead, first truly reduced the God of Thunder to a scarred victim filled with doubt. This film can now serve as the perfect humbling ground to set up Infinity War in the same manner that Gorr recently reclassified Odinson as unworthy in the books.
And there is still plenty of Simonson to mine. I won’t be happy until we get a full-on Beta Ray Bill movie, and I’d be lying if I said the three-issue Thunder Frog story had no place in the MCU. Make it work, Marvel.
No Thor here, but this short ten issue series excels in Asgardian badassery in the form of the warrior-goddess, The Lady Sif. Exhausted from the constant enemy bombardments to the realm she calls home, Sif goes searching for Berserker magic in an effort to secure her borders. She may or may not find what she’s looking for, but there’s no question that Kathryn Immonen proves with every panel that Sif needs no blonde bimbo on her arm. In a short time, this two-volume mini-series wears its geek on its sleeve without falling into nostalgic blather. You’ve got tributes to Jack Kirby’s many monsters as well as a heartbreaking encounter with my man Beta Ray Bill (that right there is worth the price of admission). With Tessa Thompson calling on Marvel to push an all-female Avengers film (aka A-Force), Journey Into Mystery will confirm The Lady Sif’s necessary place next to Valkyrie’s proclamation for whoop ass.