On Delving into Marvel Comics’ Thor

On paper, I should love Thor.

Norse mythology? The Viking age? Absolutely fascinating to me. I’ve read the Volsung Saga, the Poetic Edda, the Greenland and Iceland sagas. I’ve listened to Wagner’s Ring Cycle in its entirety several times (even though I don’t speak a word of German). Northlanders is a comic I look forward to every month. I was more excited for Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun than I was for The Children of Hurin. Harry Harrison and Tom Shippey’s alternate history of the Viking Age, The Hammer and the Cross, is absolutely fascinating.

In other words, I should be all over Thor. Except that I’ve never been able to really get into Thor.

In truth, some of that is my fault; I have problems getting around one of the key implications of the premise — if Earth has a Norse god walking among them, and everyone knows that this Norse god exists, where’s the revival Norse religion and why haven’t millions, even billions, worldwide turned to praising Odin on a regular basis? That’s the writer in me, though, and I realize that. There has to be some suspension of disbelief, and I doubt that the question of revival Norse religions ever entered Stan Lee’s mind forty-five years ago.

Also, I don’t read a lot of Marvel Comics’ output. I never have. I mean, yes, when I was very young I liked Spider-Man and Iron Man, but in my teenage years the characters didn’t appeal to me, and my interests ran more toward Batman and Superman. Getting into Marvel just seems so… daunting.

That’s the main thing, really. I’ve never known where to start.

Several friends recommended that I start with Walt Simonson’s run on Thor, collected in the Thor Visionaries series. So I picked up the first volume through work, and I’ve begun with the introduction of Beta Ray Bill.

And I really like this.

The artwork is fantastic, as one would expect from Simonson. The characters are sharply drawn. Each issue, even though it builds on the last, is largely a self-contained unit.

The best thing, though?

The writing is dense.

You don’t find comics this dense any more. Even Simonson’s narrative style, with its thought balloons and extensive captioning, has gone out of style today. I’ve tried to imagine someone writing the Beta Ray Bill story today, and I keep imagining one of Simonson’s issues would be a six-issue arc on its own. Today’s trends of decompressed storytelling and story arcs designed for the collection are damaging to the narrative and the form. Simonson’s Thor, twenty-five years old, feels refreshing by contrast.

I like the high fantasy-esque feeling of Simonson’s Asgard. I know that Thor’s adventures aren’t confined there, and, as John Seavey as pointed out, that’s one of the problems with Thor as a character — the character has its feet in two worlds, half of the audience grooves to one world, while the other half of the audience grooves to the other, and never the twain shall meet.

(For a different take on Thor than Seavey’s, check out Alan Kistler’s look at Thor’s costume over the decades. Unfortunately, I remember seeing some of those outfits in comic shops in the mid-90s. And whatever happened to Thunderstrike, anyway?)

Nick Fury’s dialogue bugs me to no end in Simonson’s Thor, though; he talks with the diction of an Appalachian bootlegger.

Despite that one flaw, this is fun to read.

Will I continue with Thor? Or will I finish out Simonson’s Thor Visionaries series and call it a day?

Well…

Roger Langridge, he of BOOM! Studios’ Muppet comics, is writing and drawing a new Thor series, and I’m expecting goofy hijinks because that’s what Langridge does. When Matt Fraction’s run on Thor begins this fall, I think I’ll pick up the first few issues. And I’m looking forward to reaching the “Thor as a frog” storyline in Simonson’s run. Thor! As a frog! Ribbit! :)

So I’m going to give Thor a shot. I’m going to make myself like Thor, even if I end up hating it! :h2g2:

And Thor, the god, needs a warcry. Unfortunately, “By Grabthar’s Hammer!” is already taken.

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