The Mighty Thor: Volume 1
2013 (originally published 1983 and 1984) • 232 pages • Marvel Comics
Fandom, as I warbled hoarsely to someone at a fan gathering on Saturday, is generated by the blank spaces in a text. (This is not my theory, but Michael Chabon’s.) It’s the storytelling part of that multipart impulse—to take seemingly disparate events and synthesizing them into a satisfying narrative. Nowadays, this usually occurs in the gift economy of fandom itself, due to the evolution of copyright law, but there are still avenues in copyrighted materials open for fans to make their narratives the narrative. You see this with any text that lasts long enough to eventually pull its creative contributors from a generation that grew up with it. There’s the recently disenfranchised Star Wars expanded universe, and lifelong Doctor Who fan Peter Capaldi is currently at the helm of the TARDIS.
Such is the story of Walter Simonson and his epic five year run on The Mighty Thor. I have only ever heard of this run talked about in hushed, reverent tones, as something that shows the full extent of comics’ unique marriage of text and art. So that makes the more mundane and more interesting story of how Simonson discovered Thor all the more interesting. Having discovered the comic while in college, it dovetailed neatly with his own interest in Norse mythology that his imagination was already at work before he realized it. He ended up writing his own version of events long before he was ever offered the opportunity to write and draw The Mighty Thor. And when that chance came, he was ready, recycling what could be used from that first foray into his new work.
That kind of love is what makes for great stories. Simonson begins his run by immediately exploiting the clause on Thor’s hammer and framing everything on a cosmic level. And I mean cosmic—if the first few panels don’t give you chills, I don’t know what will. The joy of Marvel’s Thor (and, as of late, Marvel’s Asgard) is the interplay of high, near-Shakespearean fantasy and science fiction, and Simsonson knits them together perfectly. The best example is the quick, battle-born friendship of the Lady Sif and Beta Ray Bill’s spaceship, the Skuttlebutt, but there are plenty others. This first volume only collects the first eight issues, but so much is absolutely packed into them—action, adventure, humor, bombast, and extensive character development. I simply can’t gush over all of them in the space allotted, so I’ll simply highlight one of my favorite stories. Setting aside Beta Ray Bill’s magnificent arc, of course, because otherwise there’d be no contest.
Now, because it’s 1983, the female characters of The Mighty Thor aren’t as fleshed out as I would prefer. (And the idea of finding any racial diversity here is laughable, despite all the Midgard scenes being set in New York City. Maybe two people of color show up.) Sif, in particular, is shown as being particularly romantically obsessed with whoever is the strongest, and the Enchantress’ little sister Lorelei turns up as someone hellbent on bending Thor to her will, as ordered by Loki. (The Enchantress herself does not show up, because she was quite busy playing villain over in the pages of Dazzler.) I was expecting about as much from my first introduction to Karnilla the Norn Queen, where her first appearance on panel in this collection confirms all of her actions are motivated by her desire for Balder the Brave.
And yet, Simonson deftly weaves in her concern for Balder with Balder’s depression after facing his many victims in Hel. She tries to remind him that he cannot bear all that burden on his own, but he can’t see any sense in either her words or the unerring support of Volstagg at home. True, she possessively desires Balder, but she does so because he used to be the one good, pure thing in the world. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it is refreshing to see a man play Morality Pet to a woman. Every character is treated with the same kind of dignity, kindness, and seriousness, from Thor himself to Eilif the Lost to Odin. In an introduction copied from a different omnibus, Simonson rolls his eyes at people who think comics need to be hip, knowing, or sly to bring up readers; rather, he wants to enthrall readers.
This can sound humorless, but rest assured, there’s a few good jokes here and there, from a surprise cameo from two journalists to Nick Fury’s willful colloquisms. (As a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is so bizarre to go back to original flavor Nick Fury.) But, much like the God of Thunder himself, The Mighty Thor is not here to be witty. It’s to be epic and human, charming and grand. Simonson’s dual role as writer and artist allows him to play with layout in honestly stunning ways, although it does take getting used to his Thor’s ludicrous proportions. Alas, this particular volume features Simonson’s original artwork recolored by Steve Oliffe, which mutes a lot of its early eighties charm. At least Lorelei’s civilian clothes still let us know what time it is in New York City.
I rented this book from the public library.