The Mighty Thor: Volume 2
by Walter Simonson
2013 (originally published 1984) • 238 pages • Marvel Comics
There is something about old school fantasy—sf that was produced between 1977 and 2001 and the attendant/appropriate rock and heavy metal—that fascinates me in a very specific way. It’s this kind of unwarranted nostalgia for something I’ve never experienced, somewhat similar to my love for the eighties. But this is more specific, usually coming with daydreams of reading poorly designed Tolkien paperbacks out on the roof in the summer of 1995. (The flannel shirt tied around the waist of this teenager who never was goes, of course, without saying.) Something about that entire configuration has been setting me on fire lately, and I’ve been trying to tease out why.
Upon reading the second volume of Walter Simonson’s legendary run on The Mighty Thor, I think one factor is just good old-fashioned Norse mythology. Its sweep covers both the fantastic and the mundane, the epic and the low, the bombast and the humanity. And you certainly can’t beat the location. It’s the kernel of fiery truth that many bad Tolkien imitators completely miss, focusing on the trappings and not the heart. (Look, nobody can be the second Tolkien, okay? The degrees required alone would bankrupt you in the United States. We just need to make peace with that and move on.) Simonson not only acutely understands the emotional underpinnings of Norse mythology, he understands where that ties into the unique bombast and mythology of Marvel comics.
As I said in my review of the first volume, “the joy of Marvel’s Thor (and, as of late, Marvel’s Asgard) is the interplay of high, near-Shakespearean fantasy and science fiction”. A lot of what I said in that review obviously still applies here, so I will try not to sound like a broken record. In this volume (issues 346 through 355, for those playing at home), Simonson veers away from science fiction and towards straight fantasy. The cosmic shudderings of the previous issues finally come to fruition, with the introduction of Simonson’s Malekith, as well as his take on the fire demon Surtur. While the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim are more of a gateway enemy for Surtur, they still reflect Simonson’s attempts to infuse Marvel’s Thor with even more Norse mythology. Surtur reflects that as well, but he adds a more basic mythical element: scope. Simonson delights in highlighting distance and size; Malekith is able to assume a creepy, shadowy form that darts from place to place, while Surtur’s heft and size is lovingly rendered. But it’s not all physical. In one of the denoument issues, there’s even a discussion on the nature of myth, as a character reflects on Odin’s many different backstories.
As a young man, Simonson began writing and drawing his own Thor stories, which he promptly raided for this run, but this volume includes the issues that use the most of that material wholesale. This edition includes a handful of panels compared against Simonson’s originals, and they are more or less the same, which is astonishing. The composition and art only seems to improve as we draw closer and closer to Surtur’s long-awaited confrontation with Odin. While I don’t disparage Steve Oliffe’s new coloring of Simonson’s original artwork, I still wish I could have seen the originals: the color palette is such a huge part of the story.
This does mean that the fish out of water elements are ignored for more mythic situations, such as Frigga and Odin parting ways for what they believe will be the last time. (It is and it isn’t. Comics: capable of the ultimate Schrödinger’s story.) New York City does play a part, as fire demons are unleashed over Manhattan and battle the armies of Asgard, and the use of the Twin Towers in a trap twinges the heart. But Lorelei, finally successful in her attempts to drug Thor (!), fades into the background, albeit not before having a fight with her older sister. (That’s as much screen time as the Enchantress gets. Ennui!) The only Midgardian connection there truly is is Roger Willis, a Korean War veteran whose father has handed him down the task of protecting the Casket of Ancient Winters. It doesn’t go so well, but Willis is the one who stops the eternal winter on Earth by piecing together the casket with superglue.
My roommate rented this book from the public library.