Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 216

The Mighty Thor

by Walter Simonson
Genre: superheroes, Norse mythology
5 vols (Thor Visionaries 1-5; I don't know why but Comixology only has 1-4 ) or 1 oversized omnibus edition
ISBN: 1302908871 (Amazon)

Simonson’s writing is superb. The ideas that govern Marvel’s Thor are from another era and not in-line with the sensibilities of contemporary audiences. Simonson defeats this problem perhaps effortlessly (at least it seems so) by giving all his characters overly dramatic monologues, which they happily trade back and forth as if in dialogue. Their language is ludicrously flowery and their verbal ticks would be clownish if it weren’t for their identities as gods. Somehow all this over-writing works—the characters and their lives become fascinating and engaging, something worth the readers’ time to pursue.

One of the glories of Simonson’s run on the book is that the whole thing (nearly) reads as a single story. While that sort of thing happens much more often post-AD 2000, in the mid-‘80s, such a long-running arc was pretty rare. The first chapter of this omnibus begins with a great and shadowy figure slamming down a tremendous flaming ingot (made from an exploded galaxy) onto an anvil. The sound that ingot produces as it makes first contact with the anvil is an ominous onomatopoeia that echoes across the universe: “DOOM!” It’s a famous image from the era and recurs throughout the work while this particular piece of Simonson’s saga works itself out. From there, story after story spins out, each the natural result of what came before. With few exceptions (and they seem to be publisher-mandated annoyances), nothing within the work stands alone.

Simonson also shows a wonderful knack for story beats. His narratives skip all over the place, with a page devoted to one character followed by two devoted to another followed by a half-page devoted to a third before returning to the first and then introducing a fourth. I’d say it was staggering to consider how he keeps so many narrative balls in the air while maintaining such a crisp story pace, but nowadays it seems like any number of worthwhile manga that hit American shores do the same. As well, Simonson seems happy to deliver several kick-ass moments per chapter—from charges against unbeatable foes to noble self-sacrifices to remembrances of those sacrifices to laugh-inducing come-uppances. Simonson the writer delivers.

But as much fun as Walt Simonson the writer is, it’s probably Walt Simonson the artist who most viscerally turns Thor into a hero whose songs we want to learn. Simonson himself is on art chores for the first two-thirds of the book and when he bows out to keep strictly to the writing aspect, the book is poorer for the loss. It’s not so much that Sal Buscema is a poor artist—it’s more just that he’s not Walt Simonson. (Simonson returns for the the big climax in the third-to-last chapter, and if that battle had been drawn by Buscema instead of Simonson, we’d be missing one of the greatest single chapters in comics history.) Simonson’s art is rough and tumble, full of a kind of visual braggadocio. He makes these gods look as if they might actually be warriors. His design sense reveals a kind of dynamism that was largely missing from the era in which he worked (and isn’t really apparent today either).

That I can unreservedly recommend this massive collection does not mean that there aren’t issues with the work. After Buscema takes over on art, it seems like some of Simonson’s writing spark wanes as well and I’ve always felt it difficult to be as invested in some of the latter stories. Another issue is due to a couple interruptive crossovers. In the aforementioned Power Pack crossover, the kids from Power Pack suddenly appear and are suddenly gone, and today’s readers will probably have no idea who they are or what place they have in Thor’s world. Even worse though, the primary McGuffin from Marvel’s Secret Wars miniseries shows up having resurrected one of Thor’s foes who had been killed earlier in the volume (the resurrection happens in another series and is not reproduced here). Later in the series, Thor gets shoehorned into participating in the X-Men event “The Mutant Massacre.” And in another instance, occupying three bare panels, a costumed supervillain is unceremoniously murdered by a homeless person; it’s part of the Scourge storyline running through Captain America’s book at the time, but doesn’t make any sense to readers without that kind of knowledge. These episodes are a shock to the system and a great argument against crossovers in the midst of ongoing stories. While the pagecount is already high, it would’ve been nice to have had some sort of explanation of these things—if this book is meant to be a kind of stand-alone omnibus.

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