Monday, April 4, 2011

Books I Read: Thorvalanche!

Marvel doesn't want people to forget there's a Thor movie coming out in a couple of months, and they've been releasing an unprecedented number of Thor collections so that moviegoers will have a choice at their local bookstore. Assuming their local bookstore is not a Borders. (Too soon?)

Mighty Thor Omnibus Vol. 1: This is the grandaddy of all Thor collections, of course, featuring the original stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby from "Journey Into Mystery" 83-120. I admit to not rereading most of the stories in this volume -- there's a lot of other stuff in the to-read pile and I remember most of these from reprints when I was a kid -- but they look great oversized and recolored on nice paper. The issues are complete, including letters pages but not ads, even including the "Tales of Asgard" backups that were recently collected separately. There are a few Stan Lee essays, some from previous collections, scattered throughout the book and there's a cover gallery of those reprint volumes I mentioned. Worth having on the shelf if you can get it at a discount and don't already have the issues collected elsewhere.

Thor The Mighty Avenger Vol. 1 & 2: I've talked about this book before, and there's praise for it all over the 'net so I won't repeat too much other than to say if you have even a touch of whimsy in your soul you should check this Reuben award nominated book out. Yeah, I wish the collections weren't undersized, and that they were in one volume, and that the upcoming Free Comic Book Day issue was included, and that the darned thing didn't get cancelled in the first place, blah, blah, blah, but this is genius work from Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee and I'm thrilled it exists. From the trailer, the movie looks to be on a grander scale than this book, but similar enough in tone that I bet people who like the movie will relate to this well. Both volumes include a couple of original "Thor" stories from "Journey Into Mystery", which seems a little reader-confusing to me given that it's a different interpretation of the character.

Ultimate Comics Thor HC: Why, yes, it's a third version of Thor, this time telling the origin of the Ultimate universe Thor by Jonathan Hickman. This is really well done, as Hickman tells the story in three time periods: ancient Asgard, 1939, and the present day leading up to "Ultimates" #1. It's complex without being as intricate as Hickman's "FF" or "Secret Warriors" and there are plenty of surprises for readers used to the Marvel Universe history. As a Teutonic deity, it's logical for Thor to be involved in WWII, which is a concept that Roy Thomas also played with back in "Invaders". No knowledge of other Ultimate continuity is required, though there's lots for readers of "Ultimates" to appreciate, and Carlos Pacheco's art is excellent as always. Highly recommended.

Thor: First Thunder TP: And we're back to the Marvel Universe for a modern retelling of Thor's origin and first year on Earth. These kinds of things can go either way: either they add another level of meaning to the original (Joe Casey's "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes") or they drag on so interminably that you appreciate what Stan & Jack were able to accomplish in 8 pages (Joe Casey's "Avengers: The Origin"). This volume leans more towards the latter, unfortunately. Writer Bryan J.L. Glass and artist Tan Eng Huat, whose full names only appear on the back cover (the stories are oddly uncredited inside for some reason), do get from Don Blake to Thor in the first few pages, I'll give them that. However, after that there's a lot of running around and shouting that doesn't really add much to the original stories, and the finale shows Thor in such a bad light that it's not credible that he was allowed to join the Avengers afterwards. Glass plays the Blake/Thor relationship in the JMS mold, where they co-exist inside Thor's head. I don't mind that bit of historical revisionism so much, but Glass uses it to add a parallel by having Blake complain about his father, who (as far as I know) doesn't really exist since Blake was originally a construct of Odin. Huat, whose work I liked on John Arcudi's "Doom Patrol", seems rushed here to the point where in the last issue the Thing is drawn almost the same as one of the Stone Men from Saturn in the origin story. Even given that this is the early, lumpy, Thing that's a stretch. I can't recommend this, unfortunately.

Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn HC: I left Avengers books off this list deliberately, but this is pretty Thor-centric and has some subtle ties to the Hickman book above. I didn't care for Jeph Loeb's previous Ultimates mini much, but he plays much more to his strengths here with each issue narrated by a different (sometimes surprising) character. It gives the book a tone more like "Spider-Man: Blue" or "Daredevil: Yellow" without sacrificing the over-the-top in-your-face nature of the Ultimates. Frank Cho's art here is my favorite from him ever, equally nailing the big battles and the small emotional moments. If I had one criticism, it's that there are a few too many characters -- there's no reason for Ka-Zar and Shanna to be involved except that Cho probably wanted to draw them, for instance -- but overall this is good stuff. The hardcover also includes a massive fold-out of Cho's interlocking covers for the series.

Thor: Siege Aftermath TP: Oh, look, I've reviewed these issues (#611-614) already:
Rather than keeping things in limbo until Matt Fraction is ready, Kieron Gillen chose to use his post-Siege issues to tell a sweeping epic called "The Fine Print". The deals that Loki made with Hela, Mephisto and the Disir resonate even after his death, and Thor is forced to journey to Hell to save what's left of the Asgardian afterlife. There's some really beautiful character work in this arc. Gillen remembered something about Thor's mother that I had forgotten and used it to great effect, and the ending revelation about Loki's motives and how they affect one of the major characters from the JMS run took my breath away. My only (extremely) minor quibble is that there wasn't much room for Don Blake in Gillen's Asgard-centric run, and I hope Fraction uses him more. I think the book works best when there's a balance. This arc is getting collected in November with some 1966 Thor issues, and I highly recommend it.
Those classic Thor issues (actually from 1970) turn out to be an unexpected treat because they're drawn by Neal Adams. An alternate "Women of Marvel" cover and some of Doug Braithwaite's pencils, which I should have mentioned before are spectacular, are also included.

Thor: Godstorm HC: This Kurt Busiek and Steve Rude miniseries from the beginning of the century finally gets a collection, and a nice oversized one at that. Busiek's story of a sentient storm that defies Thor's will across the ages is light and engaging, and doesn't require any knowledge of continuity (though it works within it.) Rude's art is at it's Kirbyest here, which works well and looks great on the bigger pages. His painted covers are especially beautiful. Because the tone is similar, this might be a good volume to give to any "Thor: The Mighty Avenger" fans that are sad that book is gone, but aren't interested in the regular book.

Thor: The Warriors Three HC: Not the current Bill Willingham miniseries, this instead is a collection of Marvel Fanfare stories by Alan Zelenetz ("Alien Legion") and Charles Vess. Back in the '80s, "Marvel Fanfare" was an anthology title meant to display great artists who might not otherwise have time to do a Marvel book. Vess, who you might know from Neil Gaiman's "Books of Magic", "Sandman" and "Stardust", doesn't disappoint: the pages of each stand-alone story are gorgeous. An oversized hardcover would have been nice, but it's something of a minor miracle that these stories are collected in the first place, so I won't complain. The book opens with the Warriors' first full-length solo tale from a 1976 issue of "Marvel Spotlight". The story, by Len Wein and John Buscema, is a little dated but fun as the Warriors, left on their own in Manhattan, find a damsel in distress and accumulate a motley band of New Yorkers as they help her. (Fandral to cabbie: "Thou art a most valiant man indeed, Myron J. Maxwell, but thy place is here, in the defense of the fair lady!")

Thor: The Quest for Odin HC: These 1977 stories are interesting to me because they're from after the Stan & Jack era, and after I started reading comics, but apparently before I discovered Thor because they're not familiar to me at all. (I may not always be able to come up with details of things I read long ago off the top of my head, but if I see something I can always tell you if I've read it before.) Written by Len Wein and mostly drawn by Walt Simonson (!) and John Buscema, these stories feature Thor, Sif and the Warriors Three boarding a giant wooden sailing vessel (which I am not making up) and sailing from Asgard into space to look for the Doomsday Star where Odin allegedly is. Along the way, they encounter such luminaries as the Stone Men from Saturn, the Kree Recorder, the Destroyer and the Grey Gargoyle while Balder and the Norn Queen deal with the Enchantress, the Executioner and (surprise!) Loki back home. What can I say, it was the '70s. The stories are fun enough and my 10 year-old self probably would have enjoyed them, as would kids today, but for grown-ups I can't recommend this for other than nostalgia reasons.

Thor: Worldengine HC: In 1995, Marvel hired Warren Ellis to revamp Thor. Not, according to his introduction, "one of those revamps where Everything You Knew Before Was Wrong" but "one of those revamps where Everything You Knew Before Isn't quite so interesting as What's Happening Now". Ellis takes us inside Thor's head for the first time by having him narrate in plain English, and amps up the Norse mythology while at the same time stranding Thor on Earth. I still like this, but I wasn't as impressed on this reading as I was when these issues originally came out. The pace is awfully slow, and it's got yet another chain-smoking Englishman with a bad attitude in it. Mike Deodato's art remains excellent, however. A "Journey Into Mystery" reprint issue is also included, because this is apparently required by law.

Thor: The Lost Gods TP: (Warning: Does not contain Thor.) From Warren Ellis' promising start above, we get this mess. Somehow I missed (or wisely avoided) this 1996 version of "Journey Into Mystery" that took place while Thor was tied up with "Heroes Reborn". Because of the events of "Worldengine", the Norse gods have been scattered across the Earth (well, mainly New York) in mortal guises without their memories, and replacement Thor Red Norvell has to seek them out and restore them. (Sound familiar, JMS fans?) Though I often like Tom DeFalco's work ("Spider-Girl", "Thunderstrike") this is not his finest hour, and it's not helped by "Deodato Studios" drawing everyone in unfortunate '90s fashions (rollerblades? really?) with their giant unfortunate '90s butts sticking out every which way. Hard to believe this lasted 11 issues. Pass.

Thor: The Death of Odin TP: These books never work out well for Odin, do they? Poor bastard. Anyway, I've read the latter half of Dan Jurgens' run, but these stories were new to me. I thought they were weaker than the later issues, which I really liked at the time. Things start to come together about halfway through the book when Stuart Immonen takes over the art, but there's still a lot of space spent on "inside baseball" stuff like how the Thor/Jake Olsen transformation technically works, how he heals from injuries etc. Decent stuff, and worth having if they collect the rest of Jurgens' run, but not amazing.


Thor vs. Hercules TP: An anthology of Thor/Hercules battles, starting way back with their first one in 1965's Thor Annual #1 and going all the way through Thor's "Incredible Hercules" appearance. Like all anthologies, it's a bit uneven, but the stories here are generally good. I'm partial to the "Incredible Herc" story (though I already have it collected), but my other favorites were the Steve Englehart/John Buscema story from 1976, the Bob Harras/Jackson Guice fill-in from the Walt Simonson era, and the two included issues of Mike Oeming & Scott Kolins' "Blood Oath" (the full collection of which is out of print, according to Amazon.)

Also available is the Thor by J. Michael Straczynski Omnibus, containing his entire run on the book including the anniversary issue and the finale issue. I talked about those individual issues when they came out, so I won't go into them again. (But I liked them a lot.) There's also a Thor Spotlight out, containing the usual spotlighty features like interviews with Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, Robert Rodi and Dan Jurgens but very little about the movie even though the issue has a Chris Hemsworth photo cover.

Captain America product is starting to roll in too, including some more Omnibuses (Omnibi?) (I may have used that joke before), so I'll be back to talk abut those books soon.

6 comments:

  1. "Tis a massive task thou hast endeavored mightily to complete! Many a candle must have burned down to the wick as you pored over and perused these voluminous volumes! Yea, verily, thee hast pulled it off" . . . . Volstagg a.k.a. Volstaag
    Nice work on a real glut of Thor offerings, Jeff. I appreciate your doing the homework for the rest of us and noting where the better reads are. I want to check out those Langridge THOR: THE MIGHTY AVENGER and ULTIMATE COMICS THOR. As a younger reader I owned a copy of 1965's THOR ANNUAL #1 and loved that classic Lee/Kirby Thor vs Hercules story. I must have read it a dozen times. Don't know if it would hold up today - alas, my copy is long gone. I have the GODSTORM tale in single issues - - but I can't even remember what the story is about or if I ever read it. (Busiek usually leaves me with a memory of his work, so I'm thinking I stock-piled it and should dig it out and read now.) I love JMS Thor stories and have most of these in the single volumes, except for the last one. Wow - - and I thought that there are an ungodly amount of Thor single issue titles on the comic shop stands right now - - watch out for the bookstore collections.

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  2. Thor and the Warriors Four is a recent release that's absolutely fantastic. The four kids of Power Pack, when they realize that their grandmother is dying, decide that the best thing to do is to go to Asgard to get one of Idunn's Golden Apples, since they keep the Norse Gods alive. Then, all sorts of wild hijinks happen. Basically, everything you want to have happen in a Thor comic book — Loki and the Enchantress scheming, Frog Thor, Beta-Ray Bill, the Midgard Serpent, and Ragnarok itself — happens. Yes, it's for the younger set, but it's a ton of fun, and someone who's read and loved Thor: The Mighty Avenger would be right at home with this.

    I read Worldengine about a year ago, as part of Thor Visionaries: Mike Deodato, which collects Worldengine, plus a couple of other issues before the "Heroes Reborn" stuff. "Worldengine" has some interesting ideas, but like a lot of Ellis' work, it's a slow burn for three parts, and then the fourth part wraps it all up too quickly and conveniently. I've always suspected that the English detective was intended by Ellis to be a new human avatar for Thor, much like Jake Olsen was a few years later, but when "Heroes Reborn" was decided upon, Ellis knew he wouldn't be able to finish his story so he scuttled the character and whatever plans he had.

    And no mention of Thor can be complete without notice of the Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus. Even though I have the five Visionaries volumes, I'm seriously tempted to drop the coin on this beauty.

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  3. Yes! I loved "Thor & the Warriors Four". I read it a while ago, so I didn't think to include it here, so thank you for bringing it up.

    I've got a copy of the Simonson Omnibus on order, but it's not here yet. (Speaking of the "Visionaries" series, don't buy the Byrne FF ones if you're into that because an omnibus of that is coming too.)

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  4. Hey, it's great to hear from some new folks to the website. Allyn, thanks for the comments and please come back again.

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  5. Jeff left a comment on my blog the other day. I investigated the link, and... well...

    Ten years ago, I'd buy comics at the BC Sports Collectibles in Downingtown. I was the manager of the EB up at Exton Square for a couple of years, until I transferred with the company to Raleigh.

    Then I bounced back north, and got a job working in the comics industry. (Look in a copy of Previews. You should find my name.)

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  6. Wow, I was familiar with your "Star Trek" work but it never would have occurred to me that you had been connected with the shop. Small world!

    (Allyn's blog is at allyngibson.net, by the way.)

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