The Mighty Thor, by Walt Simonson

thunder frog I got into comics in the 80s, a copy of Walt Simonson’s Thor was one of the first Marvel Comics I bought with my own pocket money. (#359, where Thor is ensnared by a LOVE POTION brewed by The Enchantress’ sister) Years later I went back and read foundational 60s greats like the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four, and the Steve Ditko Spider-Man, but at that time they either weren’t available or just didn’t feel current. Simonson’s Thor was my Kirby.

The other comics that were exciting and praised at that time – Daredevil, Uncanny X-Men, later on things like Watchmen and the post-Watchmen DC stuff – they were all built on interrogating or complicating the last 20-30 years of comics, which was an awesome thing to come in on (yay! punk!) but also made me feel I’d arrived a little late – in time for the downfall of something I’d never really known to begin with.

Simonson’s Thor stood apart from that. It wasn’t trying to complicate or question anything, it was expansive and celebratory. Later, of course, there were a lot of self-consciously expansive, celebratory superhero comics, rowing back against that complication – but they all seem a little mealy-mouthed next to that Thor run. Simonson’s Thor run – from #337 to #382 – starts within a month or so of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, that hammer-blow that started comics’ revisionist age. And it ends within a month or so of it too. Perhaps you could see it as the last blast of Marvel’s initial heroic age, a Silver Age Ragnarok.

But of course, what Simonson was doing was actually very similar to the 80s revisionists – rebuild a concept from its roots up. His opening issue overturns the series with trick Marvel are still using now – it turns out someone else can pick up Thor’s hammer. And the run is even more similar to the kind of post-revisionist syncretic approach you eventually got on, say, Grant Morrison’s Batman. Take all the different kinds of stories an idea has proven able to support. Do them all at once, more integrated and more awesome. 60s Thor had myth, cosmic sci-fi, sudsy sleeves-up Midgard stories, guest stars, brawling aplenty – but before Simonson it had never been that well woven together: tonal shifts that used to demarcate storylines instead switched around from scene to scene. Meanwhile he made Asgard, not Midgard, the spine of the series – understanding myth as the thing you can do with Thor that you can’t do with anyone else.

kracalactaka But not myth with that air of slight mystery and reserve you get with the post-Moore crowd. There’s little of the austerity of high fantasy, and not quite the kind of post-modern mingling of myth and life you get with Neil Gaiman. This is Stan Lee myth, American myth, as much Barnum as Homer. The kind of myth the Marvel Universe, that expanding rubberband ball of snake oil, invention, swiped ideas and deadline panics, might earn. In the final Simonson storyline – largely pencilled by Sal Buscema – the world serpent Jormungandr goes undercover as a washed-up old 60s Marvel monster on a park bench, and two orphaned Midgard kids save the Nine Realms. It’s less heralded than Simonson’s opening storyline, and though Buscema turns in vivid, aggressive work it suffers from the art switch. But the mix of tone – the epic and the sentimental, the bombastic and the knowing – is perfectly done.

When Simonson was still the penciller, he took all that and drew the fuck out of it. Thor is LOUD – John Workman’s lettering makes the run sing – and is always in motion. A lot of Thor comics since – particularly in the painted art era – fall prey to the temptation to have the big moments feel like tableaus, or children’s book illustrations – beautiful, beautiful fantasy art, but static. Simonson’s Thor isn’t just an unashamed hero comic, it’s an unashamed ACTION comic, full of movement and force and a barely stilled vibrancy in the hearty, blocky figures – even when they’re talking or at rest. It’s a clever, well-thought-out comic which, like its hero, is happy to present an uncomplicated, good-natured surface.

It’s become fashionable, in these heady days of comic writers with speakable music tastes, to associate Thor with metal. Simonson’s run feels like rock music too, but of a slightly more populist kind. It’s Glam, basically. Not the Bowie-esque, androgynous kind of glam, but the platform-booted, big-riffing, big haired, Queen, Slade, KISS kind of glam and hard rock. Simonson’s Thor is inventive, melodramatic, ludicrous, occasionally baroque, unashamedly itself. I adore it: my favourite Marvel comics run, to this day.