Wednesday, June 10, 2009

1983 - The Mighty Thor

The Mighty Thor #337-338
Writer/Artist: Walter Simonson

The Mighty Thor of the early 1980s wasn't all that mighty. Roy Thomas, one of Marvel Comics' strongest writers of the 1970s, had enjoyed a successful run on the title, and had moved on to other projects.

Unfortunately for Thor fans, Thomas left behind a hole that wouldn't properly be filled for three years. Several writers, like Doug Moench and Alan Zelenetz, tried to establish new directions for the Norse Thunder God, but their efforts never caught on.

The Mighty Thor's editor Mark Gruenwald was desperate to rescue the title from slumping sales and possibly cancellation. He hired Walter Simonson as the new writer and artist, and granted him full creative authority on the title.

In an interview with Comic Book Artist's Jon B. Cooke, Simonson mentioned:
We had talked earlier about my core favorite Marvels when I was a comics reader. Of those titles, the one I really wanted to do was Thor, because of my interest in mythology. I had told Mark about the Thor "annual" I'd drawn up in the late '60s. So he knew I liked the characters a lot. He wanted to bring something fresh into the book, and I'd done a little writing by that time.
Simonson had worked on The Mighty Thor three years earlier as penciller, and had since amassed an impressive portfolio, including work on Metal Men, Detective Comics, and his famous collaboration with Archie Goodwin on Manhunter (which ran as a backup feature in Detective Comics). His only previous writing experience though had been on Marvel Comics's television tie-in Battlestar Galactica.

At that time, I had no interest in Thor, but I did have a few Roy Thomas issues from the late 1970s drawn by Keith Pollard. However, all that changed in late November, 1983. I bought a copy of The Mighty Thor #337 simply because of its unforgettable cover. I had never seen a cover like this. An alien version of Thor was smashing through the Thor logo.
"At the time, yeah, it was just a way of saying, "Hey! It ain't your father's Thor!" I wasn't really trying to say, "Hey, step aside you old guys; I'm taking over now!" so much as I was attempting to engage the reader's curiosity, "Wow, what's going on here?" Although I was going to do my own thing, certainly I tried doing a Thor that was as true in spirit to Stan and Jack's work as I could manage. However, I'm not Stan and Jack, I don't channel their stuff, but I love the work they did on the character.
I don't want to do work that's not true to the spirit of the original material. But in breaking the logo up, I wanted to suggest that we were taking off in new directions, and doing things that hadn't been done before, which was the reason I had somebody else pick up Thor's hammer. These days, hefting Thor's hammer is old news; it's been done a number of times since 1983. But it really hadn't been done before that, and that's one of the main reasons I did it.
At the time, the Thor logo was the only logo Marvel had left unchanged from the '60s. Thor had the same logo since the beginning, so breaking that logo was symbolic in the sense of heralding in a new beginning. Alex Jay designed the new logo for me. He designed it, and I kind of art directed it (and that's maybe giving me more credit than I deserve). But I did ask Alex to consider old Uncial lettering. I didn't want to go to runes, because Viking runes are essentially straight lines designed for carving into stone. And Thor's got an "o" in the middle of it. But I wanted to use an archaic typeface as the basis for a logo that would have a modern feel. I think Alex did an absolutely great job on it.

- Comic Book Artist #10

Well, in issue #337, Simonson's relative inexperience certainly didn't show. His first issue on Thor was perhaps the most memorable start to a story run by any writer/artist. Simonson's distinctive art style caught your attention.

He exceeded at charging a page with energy, bringing it to life with a strong cinematic fashion that sparked the reader's imagination as they fill in what lies between the panels. The action often sprawled beyond the panels, emphasizing a bold, larger-than-life feel to it. Thor was drawn physically more impressive, more noble.

Issue #337 also featured another change, but this change was a bit more subtle. John Workman became the new regular letterer and his style added a Norse feel to the title. This new lettering style worked well with Simonson's special effects. Explosive fonts broke through panel borders leaving a clear ring in your imagination. THRAKKT! BARROOOOM! KRANNG!

One of Simonson's strongest facets as a creator was the seamless integration of the story and art. He plotted, scripted, penciled, and inked the stories which would normally require the collaborative effort of several people. In just a two issues, Simonson established a new direction, a new cover logo, and a new style for The Mighty Thor, and, in less than 2 years, Simonson would single-handedley restored Thor's majesty and grandeur and of course secured Thor financially.

The first three pages of issue #337 set up a subplot that will eventually become a major story line. In this opening sequence, a mysterious figure of cosmic proportions began the forging of a foreboding weapon. Simonson immediately captured the tension of the moment and over the story line of the next year, he carefully paced this subplot, moving it ahead, building this rising tension.

Simonson adeptly handles multiple plot threads and really uses them well to set a good pace for the story. He also does a great job with cliffhanger endings: I remember repeated trips to the local convenience store desperately seeking the next issue.

Reprinted in:
Thor: Visionaries Volume #1 by Walter Simonson
Collects issues #337-348


  1. Yup Simonson s run on Thor was the best, and debuting with a classic saga as Bill Ray-Beta , even better. I remember i read Simonoson said, that he wanted to make a landmark from his first issue, he sure did. Generally writers leave this sagas once they have settled in the book, 6 to 12 issues, Walt was daring, and creative.

  2. Ah, my absolute favorite run on "Thor." Heck, it seems to be everyone's favorite, which only makes sense. DOOOOM!!! :)



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