This article is part of The Reading List, a recurring column where we encourage you to take your enthusiasm for a particularly groovy movie or TV series and direct it into a wide array of extracurricular studies. This entry picks the best comics to read alongside Thor: Love and Thunder.
Although its subtitle indicates no relation to specific comic book arcs, Thor: Love and Thunder borrows heavily from the Jason Aaron/Esad Ribić/Russell Dauterman era. At the heart of Taika Waititi‘s film are the God Butcher and Jane Foster, the Mighty Thor storylines. They are well-regarded and frequently celebrated these days whenever Thor Odinson comics are mentioned. However, despite a few panel lifts here and there, Thor: Love and Thunder and those two glorious story arcs share little in common regarding tone.
Thor: Love and Thunder, like all Waititi movies, rapidly bounces between heartbreak, absurdity, and joyous stupidity. If you’re deeply invested in the God Butcher stuff from the books, you might find the experience alienating. Jane Foster’s turn as Thor is an essential narrative and emotional moment from the comics, and with such reverence comes a preciousness. Waititi and his co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson happily antagonize preconceived notions. They’re doing their own thing. You either jive with it, or you don’t.
If you do jive with Thor: Love and Thunder, and you’re looking to continue that hair metal celebration by diving into some Thor comics, well, I’m not going to recommend the books by Aaron, Ribić, and Dauterman. They are brilliant. I love them deeply, and I’ve spoken about them elsewhere.
Meet Daniel Warren Johnson
Instead, I’ve comprised the Reading List below almost exclusively from writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson‘s bibliography. Don’t look at these titles as clues or narrative links to the MCU. Thor appears, but he’s not the key to continuing your Thor: Love and Thunder party. In many ways, Johnson is Taika Waititi’s comic book counterpart. He loves a good time. He is not afraid to be silly and frequently strives for the most captivating and ridiculous images possible.
As with Thor: Ragnarok and Thor: Love and Thunder, Daniel Warren Johnson’s comics are metal AF. They’re just rad, and that radness is accentuated by longtime collaborator and colorist Mike Spicer. Together they bend space and time to deliver designs and anatomy lessons that you won’t find in any other comic. And, as is critical with Taika Waititi movies, Johnson’s comics lull you into a false sense of silly security before they unleash purposefully heavy-handed emotional gut punches. You will cry reading every one of the comic books on this list. Also, you may snag a few tattoo ideas.
Beta Ray Bill
Since the first Thor film, fans have pleaded for Beta Ray Bill’s inclusion within the franchise. It’s not my place to spoil whether those fantasies are finally satiated in Thor: Love and Thunder, but that’s not really my point for kicking off this Reading List with Daniel Warren Johnson’s five-issue mini-series.
In the movie, Thor Odinson is still reeling after Avengers: Endgame. He’s somewhat pulled himself from despair after the deaths of his mother, father, brother, and ninety percent of the Asgardian race. Yet, he’s adrift, floating from one fist fight to the next alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy, who don’t have the internal fortitude to support the thunder god’s heartache. They got their own stuff going on.
Daniel Warren Johnson’s Beta Ray Bill finds its title character in a similar state. Bill feels lost in Thor’s shadow. Stormbreaker belongs to Bill in the comic continuity, but it was recently destroyed. Along with his starship’s A.I. and a few other cosmic outcasts, Bill sets out to claim Surtur’s Twilight Sword as his own instrument. The mission is necessarily impossible, providing a grand distraction from the doubt and self-loathing brewing within Bill. Uninterested in easy solutions, the comic leaves Bill in a different place than where he started, but the self-discovery journey is long from over. At least it’s begun.
It’s time to leave the Marvel Universe, friends. We’re jumping ship, hopping over to Image Comics.
Murder Falcon is Daniel Warren Johnson’s masterpiece. The world is under attack. Monsters rampage across the globe, gobbling humans and trashing buildings. Additionally, Jake’s life is crumbling. His girl is gone. His band is busted. Any kind of future seems nonexistent until his ability to shred a guitar empowers an interdimensional badass named Murder Falcon to save the day.
You’ll be banging your head throughout your Murder Falcon reading experience. Each page-turn reveals a sight you’ve never seen before. Pumping beneath it all is a Bill & Ted‘s Excellent Adventure belief that music can unite the planet and topple tyranny. And as you’re rockin’ out to what Johnson and Spicer are laying down, you’ll suddenly crash into the genuine human hurt fueling the narrative. Murder Falcon is badass. It’s also a profoundly meaningful and empathetic work, and I need everyone reading this article to devour it. Please. Thank you.
Wonder Woman: Dead Earth
Wonder Woman is a great character, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus regarding her single greatest comic book storyline. Superman has All–Star Superman. Batman has The Dark Knight Returns. You can debate those picks, but where’s the debate for Diana? With Wonder Woman: Dead Earth, Daniel Warren Johnson hoped to stir some and maybe kick off a string of rad new one-off stories for the hero.
Dead Earth begins with Diana awakening from a long sleep. The planet has gone full-Fury Road. The usual heroes who once populated the sky are gone, presumably dead. It’s on Wonder Woman to protect Earth’s remaining populace from Kaiju beasties but to do that, she must rediscover her faith in us. We’re worth saving, maybe.
There are sequences in Dead Earth that you’ll never forget. Minor spoilers – Diana wielding Superman’s skull and spine like a ball and chain. Hot damn, that’s gnarly. Again, as with all the other titles on this list, the comic’s metal AF images mask a demand for healing. Diana is suffering. Those around her are suffering. Daniel Warren Johnson is suffering. Those reading are suffering. Wonder Woman: Dead Earth sees you, and it feels so good to be seen. You’re not all better when you’re done, but you’re thinking about the possibility of better. That’s enough.
Do A Powerbomb!
We’re back at Image Comics. Do A Powerbomb! issue one just came out. We’re still waiting to see where it goes, but it’s already apparent that Daniel Warren Johnson is up to his usual tricks.
The publisher is pushing Do A Powerbomb! as “The Wrestler meets Dragonball Z.” Not sure if that goes all the way in containing the comic’s tempo, but it’s pretty darn close. Johnson drops us into a world that’s not quite our own. Lorna Steelrose is a pro wrestler looking to free herself from her mother’s shadow in a fashion similar to Beta Ray Bill dodging Thor’s massive reputation. The first issue concludes with a villainous introduction and a science fiction/supernatural invitation into something possibly related to Enter the Dragon or Mortal Kombat. We shall see.
Do A Powerbomb! is the one comic on this list that you can catch just as it’s starting. We don’t know where Johnson is gonna take us, but my confidence in its excellence is secured. Since discovering Daniel Warren Johnson, I have yet to make a Best Comics of the Year list without his inclusion. I guarantee you can catch me at the end of 2022 for more Do A Powerbomb! celebrations.
Thor: The Mighty Avenger
Okay, fine. You want some Thor comics too. I get it.
Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee is an all-ages romp from a few years back. It exists away from modern continuity, during Thor’s early days when he was eagerly wooing Jane Foster. The comic is a sweet stumble from issue to issue as the hero clashes with numerous baddies and discovers what makes humanity remarkable.
There are more popular Thor comics, but maybe none more romantic. Langridge and Samnee are an exceptional combination, providing warm, fuzzy feelings alongside traditional Bif! Bam! Pow! Marvel collected the eight and a half issues in one spiffy trade paperback that’s sorely out of print. Digital editions are equally worthy and readily available. New and old readers will dig it.
Thor: Love and Thunder is now playing in theaters everywhere.