A character called “The Mighty Thor” is one of the best in all of comic books. The God of Thunder has been very important since he first appeared in Marvel Comics in the 1960s. During that time, he has been at the center of many great comic book runs by great writers and artists.
Some of these stories have helped make him one of the best characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or are about to, like Thor: Love and Thunder, which is coming out soon. Everyone should look at them again because the character is still a big part of the comics and movies.
A Spider-Man story that J. Michael Straczynski wrote may be one of the worst comic book stories ever written. But he played a part in one of the best Thor runs in a while. Straczynski made a big change. He moved Asgard from its mythical world to Oklahoma. During this run, superheroes went through a lot of big changes in the years between Avengers: Disassembled and the run by Jason Aaron.
2. The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill
Only Walt Simonson has had such a big impact on a single person. During the 80s, Simonson wrote and drew the title. It was one of the best runs in Thor’s history, from Thor #337 to Thor #382. Some of the stories in that long run have become famous, like “The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill.” This is how it worked out: The alien Beta Rey Bill was good enough for Thor and Mjolnir right out of the gate. A lot of Avengers have used Thor’s hammer since then, but Beta Ray Bill was so good that he got his own. Stormbreaker is the name of his hammer.
3. Ages of Thunder
There’s been a lot of Thor in the Marvel Universe for a long time. It goes back even further than the 1960s. In the timeline of Earth-616, Thor has been alive for a long time. He’s been fighting all this time. His early adventures, which are mostly from mythology, are shown in Ages of Thunder. There are short stories and vignettes about different battles and different parts of the God of Thunder’s personality as he moves toward becoming a hero.
4. When Titans Clash
Journey into Mystery #114, cover by Jack Kirby, Chic Stone, Stan Goldberg, 1965
After a fun but short first appearance in Journey into Mystery #83, Thor had a rough two-year run with some pretty bad stock villains, including Loki, the Enchantress, and the Executioner, as well as some Midgardian villains like Radioactive Man, Hyde, and Cobra. Stan and most of all Jack really started to hit their stride, especially with the introduction of Hercules and Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man. Vince Colletta was a good Kirby inker, but Chic Stone was my favorite. Chic Stone used bold dark lines instead of lighter shadings. Whether Stone’s boldness made Kirby’s dynamism come alive or not, the art in this and Fantastic Four is early Kirby at his best. It’s clear to anyone who reads it that it has been a major influence and inspiration for artists today. Whenever I open up number 114 of these early comics, I feel right in the middle of everything, ready to duck from Mjolnir as it flies out of the panel and look for somewhere to hide as Thor takes down a weird race-car goon. This is my favorite of this group.
Here comes Crusher Creel after that! With the help of Loki, Thor’s foster brother, Loki hit not just one person but a drunken thug with a divine power that was more powerful than that of most Asgardians. Stan and Jack found a new vein of gold. As a good thing, only a few more thugs were permanently enchanted by Asgardian spells. None of them is as powerful or frightening as the Absorbing Man, at least in his early appearances. In part, it’s the picture of Crusher’s face when he was hit with the enchantment that makes it so powerful. His appearance in #114 makes him appear to be the most stupid and scary beast ever encountered by a Silver Age hero. Now, he’s mostly a good person. However, back then, Thor had to vaporize him to get rid of his threat for a while. He came back in #120-123 with Loki’s help, a plan that quickly went awry as the berserker ran amok in Asgard, dreaming of becoming an Asgardian tower and ruling the world.
In this stretch of pure joy, Hercules, who is a lot of fun, the mysterious Destroyer armor, Kirby’s mythic world-building and his version of Ragnarok, and Thor taking over the title from JIM with #126 are all introduced.
5. Cosmic Thunder (Or an Inconvenient Donald, And Jane)
Thor #133, cover by Jack Kirby, Marie Severin, Vince Colletta, Stan Goldberg, 1966
Before the Marvel Silver Age, artists were happy with two-dimensional storytelling, which was a series of still poses. In the end, it was Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko who broke the mold. There was no going back when it came to the new gold standard. Anyone who likes these early StanJack stories should read Thor #177, which marks the end of Kirby’s eight-year run on the title.
That’s not all. If you want to see Kirby at his loosest and most energetic during this time, check out Thor #131-135 and #154-167. In the first batch, we meet the strange Rigellians, Ego the Living Planet, and the High Evolutionary when Thor comes back from space. Dr. Moreau-like experiments are also shown when Thor comes back from the space. Jack became more and more clear that he didn’t care about the lives of humans, especially Jane Foster. #136 is a must-read for anyone who likes Jane. It’s not a happy one. This is where she’s dropped from the title, her mind erased, and sent to love some other doctor who isn’t a god-made android like Dr. Don Blake. Blame Odin or the King. On the other hand, we now have Sif, who at least on the surface looks like an unusual warrioress. She’s really there to be a love interest for the Viking thunder god, but she will at least mostly be able to keep up.
The second batch of stories starts with Mangog, which is a weird monster. Then, Thor fights Galactus and Ego in a huge space battle, and he fights with Him, who later became Warlock. Warlock wants to mate with Sif, the Asgardian love interest and warrior who Jack replaced Jane. The divine origin of Donald Blake can be found in #158-159. If you’re reading Donny Cates’ current run, this could not be more important! Basically, this retcon of Don’s life and Journey into Mystery #83 makes our hero a Christ-like figure, which is both a great idea and a mistake.
There’s a lot to be critical of in these stories if you look at them with a critical eye. Kirby overdid it, and Stan must have been tearing his hair out trying to write the art. There’s also a lot of misogyny on both sides, which is bad.
When we’re talking about Thor, we don’t know why he does what he does. This isn’t the case with Spider-Man or Captain America. People don’t care about the title, because it’s just a place for Jack Kirby to show off his ideas about space and energy. Thor’s major stories in the future would be a lot like the “Tales of Asgard” backs, which give a lot of information about the mythic history of Asgard, Jotunheim (the land of the Frost Giants), Nidavellir (the land of the Dwarves), Surtur’s fiery Muspelheim, and Niffleheim/Hel. The four other mystical realms would be left up to later writers.
Thor #225-228, written by Gerry Conway, is the last classic cosmic story for a long time. It introduces Firelord, who is the new Herald of Galactus, and shows how he can help Thor.
Thor and the Eternals: The Celestial Saga is the first honorable mention. It’s an encyclopedic epic put together by Roy Thomas and Mark Gruenwald. It was more of an illustrated info-dump than a good story, but it was the first time Marvel tried to make Kirby’s Celestials, Eternals, and Deviants part of the Marvel Universe. At this point in the movie, Thor also learns that his mother is Gaea (which Jason Aaron’s Avengers may be putting back together).
6. Brother Bill / The Surtur Saga Begins & The Casket of Ancient Winters / The Surtur Saga Finale
Thor #337, cover by Walt Simonson and George Roussos, 1983
After Kirby and before Walt Simonson, Thor as a solo title was boring and stayed in a 1970s style that was almost too simple to be interesting. That old mold was broken on the cover of Simonson’s first issue, #337 (1983), when he made a horse-headed alien super soldier the only other person who could wield Mjolnir. Odin wants his son and Beta Ray Bill to fight each other to see who’s the best. Instead, the two warriors end up bonding, which was what Odin had in mind all along. Stormbreaker will be made by the All-Father for Bill to use as his own powerful mallet. An Odin-enhanced Capt. America is what the alien is like, which makes sense as we learn more about him.
Weapon X is a mix of hand-wavy super-science and something that doesn’t sound very good: Social Darwinist, state-sponsored torture.
As a species flees through space from the demon hordes of Surtur, Bill is the only one left who can save them. Surtur’s early appearances in Simonson’s run are short but terrifying punctuations, which build up toward the Muspelheim attack on Midgard and Asgard, which happens in issues #348-353. #337 says “Doom,” and #353 says “Doom II.” Simonson’s second great character, Malekith, is in “The Dark Elf Saga.” “The Casket of Ancient Winters,” a story that spread to other books, is in “The Casket of Ancient Winters,” too (though you miss nothing by just sticking with Thor).
If you look at Walt Simonson, he didn’t care about Don and Jane. Here, Thor takes on the civilian persona Sigurd Jarlson, but it’s mostly through the Warriors Three or Louise Simonson’s Power Pack that we see Asgardian interactions with humans, not Don and Jane. This is mostly after the Surtur Saga, though. Even though there are some great moments in the rest of Simonson’s run, it never comes together like the first nineteen issues.
Many of the early subplots were more detailed than Claremont’s in Uncanny X-Men, which could have been an inspiration, or it could have been a TV show from the early 1980s. By the end of Surtur, they all worked out well. For the next two years, the main story line was Thor’s fight with Hela, but there was also a lot of other stuff. I’m sorry to say that Simonson’s art isn’t always clear and simple, but it would have been nice because he has so much Kirby-like energy that more decompression would have been nice. Sal Buscema, a longtime artist, has been filling in more and more. It’s nice to see how Buscema’s style has changed over time.
As a Loki fan, I have to say that reading his Silver Age version even in the Bronze Age isn’t very interesting. Even though Simonson made him a little more likable than the simple cackling trickster of old, I still don’t like it. A few nods to a libertarian American exceptionalism that was popular in the 1980s make this run look even more out-of-date in the 2020s.
#355 is the first Buscema issue that Walt ran before he took over with #368. It’s my favorite single issue here. Still, it’s one of the best things Thor can do when he’s on a trip, mourning his father, and recovering from being buried in an avalanche (courtesy Hela). He wakes up in the sparkling cave of his ancestor, Buri, who is still a mystery. There is a mythic wise man who is twice Thor’s height who helps the boy deal with his grief, though he does it in a rough way. Thor’s friendship with Bill and Odinson’s lack of jealousy over Bill and Sif’s partnership were the most depth Odinson had ever been given. Even Simonson’s depiction of him as a hero of Midgard was more convincing than anything else that had been done before that made the case for him.
First, let’s call it “Operation Niffelheim.” In this book, the run by Simonson continues. One-third of what’s in it is the strange miracle of Balder the Brave #1-4 by Simonson and Buscema, which is a highlight but has nothing to do with Thor. It’s Thor #362. Hela and the Executioner Skurge make a last stand, and Thor is badly hurt by Hela and Skurge (a little too Rambo here for my taste).
Defalco’s Retro Run, Part 1: The Return of Odin is number three. Vastly better storytelling than the Celestials Saga, but very simple. God-stuff is fun. With the second volume, things start to get a little more interesting, but it’s all very Silver Age.