Why I know Walter Simonson’s Thor run is one of greatest comic runs ever! By Rick B.
So after over a decade of nothing important happening and sales dropping to the point of near cancelation, Marvel handed the struggling God of Thunder over to artist writer Walter Simonson. Simonson became a huge name with his award winning artwork on the Manhunter backups in the 70s. He was fresh off an exhilarating run on Marvel’s Star Wars and the historic Uncanny X-Men and Teen Titans One-shot and was offered pretty much free reign over Thor and his buddies. If the book flopped it was going to be cancelled anyway, so the story goes. So Walter decided to go soaring past big and go on a full on Mythic tale of Jotun proportions!
The first thing he did was replace Thor. This was a huge deal at the time. Jason Todd was around but had not yet become Robin, Spider-Man had not gotten his black costume yet, Hulk had not turned back to grey yet, Superman had not died yet, heck Azrael did not even exist yet to replace Bruce Wayne as Batman. Nothing quite like this had happened in comics before, the closest comparison at the time was Rhodey taking over for Tony Stark as Iron Man, but they were friends and compatriots. When Rhodey donned the suit it was because Tony quit being Iron Man. No, not only was Thor being replaced, it happened right on the cover! No mysterious shadows just a huge orange horse faced alien in a Thor costume. Everything was destroyed by Beta Ray Bill, even Thor’s decade’s old logo was crushed to smithereens. Once inside the breathtaking cover, the reader was transported into a whole new visual style for Thor. Gone was the stock Marvel artist look of Thor. His cape erupted into Jack Kirbyesque billows of fabric. I can almost draw a direct line from Kirby to Simonson to McFarlane on crazy giant capes blowing and warping in the wind. Hel, even Thor’s knee pads grew three times in size that day. Dynamic panel layouts and hyper detail rendered craziness exuded from Walter’s pencil. Thor is sent back into space by none other than Nick Fury, Agent of Shield! And once there Thor gets his butt kicked by the craziest costumed alien since again, Jack Kirby. Then that crazy cool orange horse faced extraterrestrial transforms into a brand new Thor inspired version of himself. That’s right for the first time someone other than Thor Odinson was able to lift Mjolnir without the aid of being Odin, having Odin enchantments, or a machine! This most scary looking alien dude was worthy and became a new Thor on the spot!! The first issue ends with Thor reduced to Donald Blake, powerless without his hammer Mjolnir and trapped on Earth. KRAKABOOM!
After the Ballad of Beta Ray Bill the game changing differences continued. Donald Blake was gone, Thor having to Clark Kent himself with glasses and a ponytail. He moved from New York where almost every Marvel book was based to good ole’ Chicago. More and more Norse and Viking inspired tales where interwoven into modern epics. Fafnir’s dragon, Odin’s brothers, golden apples and more factored into every story. Even more so than the old Tales of Asgard features Stan and Jack had back in the Journey Into Mystery day. And every once in a while a dark figure cackled and banged Doom! Doom! Doom on cosmic anvil, building something evil. Eventually the story started in #337 ended in #354 with Odin dead, the Rainbow Bridge shattered and Asgard in ruins. Thor then actually took an entire issue to rest after the battle. The epic craziness continued with Asgardians in hell with machine guns fighting demons! Enchanted love triangles, 6 foot tall frogs with hammers! Thor was so popular at the time Balder the Brave got his own 4 issue mini-series along the way. Hel, Thor and Simonson were so on fire they helped usher in one of the first multiple title, multiple issue crossover events, the Mutant Massacre! That’s right, Simonson and Thor were key elements in the first major X-Men event! Why had Thor not been around at the time, Angel would not have been saved from the Marauders and 30 years of Apocalypse themed X-Men stories might have never have been. Sadly as his fame grew with Thor, Simonson left penciling chores on Thor to go work with his wife on X-Factor. As that book exploded Walt soon left after his epic Thor run too soon. There was a preview of more Simonson Thor to come in Marvel Age Annual #6 but Frost Giants never got their chance for revenge. Happily after his X-Factor run was concluding he bravely leapt on to Fantastic Four. And guess who came along? Thor. So much Thor in fact that there was even a joke about it on the cover of issue #339 Simonson’s Thor was so thrilling and epic that every creative team to this day, thirty plus years later are compared to his character defining run.