Posted - June 22, 2013 | Updated : August 27, 2015
My great hope with this post is that someone who's never heard of Simonson's run in Thor gets introduced to it here. This is the kind of comics that is an absolute joy to experience.
Simonson starts his run with a mysterious series of panels showing some kind of cosmic forging.
This is a foreshadowing of events that will build up slowly before taking over as the main story arc.
For now, the tale segues to a peaceful scene.
Dr. Donald Blake is walking through Central Park. Notice how this panel dates the comic by showing the 'boom box' the smiling guy is carrying in the lower right photo? That's clearly a cassette player there. What is a cassette you say? Pay it no mind, pay it no mind, moving on . . .
Unlike the cassette player here's something that's pretty timeless.
S.H.I.E.L.D.'s patented flying car! Inside is Nick Fury himself here to ask Dr. Blake/Thor for help.
No writer/artist will feature S.H.I.E.L.D. in a comic and not show the Big Kahuna.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier.
According to S.H.I.E.L.D, something mysterious and powerful is headed for Earth and they want Thor to intercept it in deep space. So off he goes.
Is Thor the only one who can do this? Let's see. Iron Man can't possiblly go that deep into space, specially since, in this time period, Tony is still going around in the Mark II armor. Hulk. Nope. Besides, who can request anything from the Hulk? Dr. Strange can do it but its outside of his specialty. Silver Surfer. He can do this but how do you get in touch with him? Thor has both the power and the range and is the best choice for this.
The mysterious space object is a spaceship called the Skuttlebutt.
Look at the front end design of this ship. It's a big open port. I wonder if this design was inspired by Space Cruiser Yamato?.
Before long, the Skuttlebutt senses Thor's approach and fires a shot.
It's a direct hit from a ship meant to protect the life of an entire alien race. Very few superhumans can survive something like this but Thor does more than that - he responds in kind.
From the depths of space we go back to Asgard and Simonson's excellent rendition of Loki's castle.
To be followed by the God of Mischief himself.
Back to the battle in space, we are introduced to the unforgettable Beta Ray Bill.
By now, Beta Ray Bill is already a legend in the Marvel Universe but this is his first appearance. It is a measure of Beta Ray Bill's power that he is able to wrest Mjolnir from the Thunder God and wrestle with Thor - a class 100 powerhouse.
Unfortunately for the Asgardian, he turns back to Dr. Donald Blake in the midst of battle - allowing Beta Ray Bill to beat him.
For those unfamiliar with Marvel's Thor, explanations are in order. There is an enchantment on Mjolnir that causes Thor to change back to Don Blake if he ever let's go of his hammer for more than a minute. This enchantment is only in effect if Thor is within the boundaries of Midgard (Earth). Unfortunately, the sentient battleship Skuttlebutt has been so damaged by the battle of the two powerhouses, that the ship decides to make an emergency landing - on Earth!
Thor's defeat is a technical one, but it is a defeat nonetheless. With Don Blake unconscious, Beta Ray Bill distractedly picks up Mjolnir now in the form of a cane. He accidentally strikes the cane on the wall and . . .
This is momentous. Beta Ray Bill has won the power of Thor! First off all, not just anybody can do that. Only the worthy, it says on the hammer
Only the worthy may be able to wield the power of Thor. This reveals Beta Ray Bill as a truly exceptional person. The big question at this point is, has Thor lost his hammer and his power?
In short order, Beta Ray Thor tests the power of his hammer and likes it.
Now, just as things are about to get crazy with Beta Ray Thor on one side and S.H.I.E.L.D. on the other (remember Skuttlebutt crashlanded on Earth), this happens.
Odin, mistaking Beta Ray Bill for his son, transports the hapless alien to Asgard!
I'm used to Thor being very unflappable but having lost Mjolnir and the power of Thor to a powerful adversary I can't fault Don Blake for being in the edge of panic.
Back in Asgard, Odin, and the rest of the Asgardians, realize that the power of Thor is wielded by a stranger. Beta Ray Bill, magically transported to a place he does not know, fears the worst. He strikes out with the most powerful weapon he has, throwing Mjolnir at Odin himself!
I love what happens next.
The demeanor of Odin truly becomes the Lord of Asgard, Father of the Gods. Mjolnir, one of the most powerful weapons of all is thrown brutally at him and he just stands there with a nonchalant "Perhaps or perhaps not". I love it. And the next line : "Strike not your creator and return not to this false master". Beta Ray Bill's jaw must have dropped upon hearing this one.
Once Odin has sorted things out Don Blake is immediately transported to Asgard and returns to his true form as Thor. With one panel Simonson effectively conveys how fond Thor and Odin are of each other. Although sometimes they do have a falling out.
What follows next is vintage Norse mythology as Odin invites both Thor and Beta Ray Bill to, get this, Hlidkjalf (lids-kyalf?), the High Seat.
Notice how Simonson draws Beta Ray Bill's red cape - you can almost feel the cold, Nordic breeze wafting about this high place.
As Beta Ray Bill begins to tell Odin and Thor his story we have an exceptionally gorgeous panel layout from Simonson.
Bill tells of how he was selected to be his people's champion and together with Skuttlebutt he is defending his people from a horde of space demons. Look at this panel of Skuttlebutt in full battle mode!
Wisdom is one of Odin's strong points.
From this point on Simonson draws wall-to-wall action panels this being the least detailed but most descriptive.
Check out the caption on the lower right : "The blast levels the surrounding countryside".
So who wins? Here's the picture that's worth a thousand words:
Thor used to be the most arrogant of gods. That's why Odin created the enchantment to change him to Don Blake in the first place. It worked too, just look at Thor among the Avengers, still high profile but reasonable and mature (the Don Blake enchantment should be transferred to Namor at this point). So Thor realizes that he has lost the match. It's hard to take but take it he does.
Beta Ray Bill the victor isn't so comfortable with his victory.
I really like this story because the fighting is left to the best warriors and the most momentous decision is left to the wisest of gods.
You know what I love most about Thor comics? We get to go on Asgardian field trips like this one.
Odin wants the unmatched craftsmanship of the Dwarves to forge a hammer for Beta Ray Bill. A deal is struck.
So who will this woman be? Sif. Who also happens to look great riding off to battle.
Here's an excellent panel showing the battle between Sif and the champion of the Dwarves. Sif will win this match, of course.
I wish Simonson would use the Dwarves mythological name, the Nibelungs.
So there is a side story here about Volstagg telling the story of Balder. About how Balder died during Ragnarok and journeyed in Niffelheim, the Asgardian Hell. I mention it here because Simonson has a great panel showing this Asgardian netheworld.
Simonson also shows us the foundries of the Dwarves.
It's not some medieval blacksmith shop. no, it looks like a major steel corporation. Odin himself said that these guys were the best right?
And so we have it, Beta Ray Thor's magnificent looking hammer.
The next order of businsess is for both Thors to proceed to Bill's people and save them from the demon hord. This 'clinking of hammers' panel is both symbolic and wonderfully drawn.
Sif joins Thor and Bill and the three of them travel via Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher, Thor's magical goats; and it all makes for a gorgeous panel.
The demon horde attacking Beta Ray Bill's people are portrayed as an endless stream of demons as can be seen in this panel.
Thor and Bill must destroy the onslaught at its source . . .
. . . while Sif and Skuttlebutt fight in the front lines.
Thor and Bill resolve the matter quickly with the power of the twin hammers : Mjolnir and Stormbreaker.
Not to belabor the obvious, but Beta Ray Bill looks like a horse. Actually, 'horse' isn't exactly an accurate description. Beta Ray Bill inhabits the bioengineered body of his planet's greatest predator - which happens to look like our planet's horse. Well, as you can imagine, all of this is very depressing for Bill. He's an effective fighter but on the romance front, well, its an obvious disadvantage. Here is where Odin comes in.
And with that, Bill is given a great gift.
This panel effectively captures just how happy Beta Ray Bill is about all this.
When it rains it pours. Not only does Bill get Stormbreaker, Thor-level powers, his original form - he also gets Sif.
Thor returns to Earth and so does Lorelei, also known as the Enchantress. In her seemingly endless attempt to ensnare the God of Thunder, the Enchantress attempts to 'enchant' Fafnir the Dragon.
But you can't out-enchant a Dragon, so it is the Enchantress who becomes Fafnir's thrall. Incidentally, Fafnir isn't really a Dragon, he's really a storm giant, changed into Dragon form by the power of Odin - as a sort of strange punishment.
Here's an entertaining series of panels from Simonson. Thor meets Superman!
Here's Fafnir challenging Thor.
Fafnir is so tough that even this direct hit from Mjolnir fails to pierce his hide.
Fafnir isn't only strong, he isn't only tough, he can also give Godzilla a run for his money.
The subplot involving Balder brings him to the attention of one who has always been smitten with him - Karnilla the Norn Queen.
Look at this wonderful splash page from Simonson showing Valhalla - Asgard's hall of heroes.
Valhalla is the Viking heaven where a select group of worthies do the two things that Vikings love to do most : fight and eat. They get to fight each other all day. At night their wounds magically heal - and I suppose the 'dead' ones come to life -, they head over to Valhalla and feast all night. It's almost perfect, it's just missing just one more fun activity don't you think?
While in Valhalla, Odin points to an empty seat - the one reserved for 'the last Viking'.
Thor happens on a strange yet empty encampment in the middle of the Antarctic.
After surviving the many perils of the camp, Thor comes face to face with its last denizen, an old time lost Viking who's only request is that Thor kill him.
Among the Viking warriors, to die in bed of old age is not to be desired, for one thing it automatically disqualifies a warrior from joining the others in Valhalla. Denizens of Valhalla are 'gathered' by the Valkyries from the battlefield. To die in battle is the preferred way of death, this explains the old Viking's attack on Thor and his request that he be vanquished in battle. Thor has other plans though, and invites the old Viking to join him against Fafnir, currently rampaging in New York.
Along the way, we get a rare demonsration of Mjolnir's versatility - here able to drill through bare rock.
Thor's invitation is well-received with only one problem, Eilif, the old Viking, has no more strength to fight beside his god, the Son of Odin. Once again we see a surprising capability from Mjolnir and Thor.
The ability to grant youthful vigor.
Eilif, who is actually Odin's 'last Viking', gets to meet the All-Father himself.
Odin, in line with the Norse myths, is cloaked and in disguise going about as a wandering stranger. Simonson's adoption of ancient contrivances like this gives 'The Mighty Thor' a welcome - and fitting - old Norse flavor.
This is a very important point : Odin blesses the spear of Eilif.
And now to the battle against Fafnir!
I like the panel above mainly because of the expression on Thor's face. That's pretty much how the Vikings purportedly regarded war, as an occasion for much joy.
Once again Fafnir gets hit by Mjolnir.
And once again the Frost Giant/Dragon laughs it off.
Right off the bat, Eilif gives a good accounting of himself. First, by blocking a strike meant for Thor.
Showing incredible courage, Eilif takes on Fafnir's fiery breathe full on.
But this is Eilif's best moment.
He plunges his spear into Fafnir in a desperate attempt. Because this spear has been blessed by Odin himself it successfully penetrates Fafnir's impregnable armor giving the chance for Thor to emerge victorious. And through this feat Eilif achieves a Viking's death and earns the last seat in Valhalla.
The series takes us back to a tour of the many places of Asgard. This is Nornkeep, Karnilla's domicile.
From Nornkeep Odin summons Balder, entrusting him with a mission to Loki. A mission that finds Balder facing a horde of demons.
You'll notice that Balder is a bit wide at the waist - a result of his suddenly sedentary lifestyle. For Balder's adventures in Hel has caused him to forswear fighting. It's the same way with athletes that retire suddenly; they have no activity but they still eat like athletes, all those extra calories have to go somewhere. Unfortunately, this standoff with the demons forces Balder's hand and he ends up slaying all of them. The necessity frustrates Balder no end but it is also proof of his potency as a warrior that he is able to vanquish so many foes singlehandedly. Personally, I expect no less from the brother of Thor.
Not happy with his brother's frustration, Loki goads Balder to cut Loki's head off. No kidding.
Not to worry though, Loki isn't known as the Trickster for nothing.
Back on Earth, a woman is being forced to eat a hamburger.
How to explain this one. Hmmm. The woman is being controlled by the Dark Elf Malekith. Anybody possessed by Malekith can be destroyed by feeding them food. Who is Malekith you ask? Malekith is the latest thorn on Thor's side.
All will be made clear as the story progresses but for now meet Roger Willis.
Roger is a character that I got to like a lot because of the way he is portrayed by Simonson. He's just a regular guy but he keeps a level head in the most stressful circumstances. He finds himself in a small war involving gods and Dark Elves but he's no victim thanks to his courage and his .45 calibre pistol. Willis is the protector of the Casket of Ancient Winters that is desired by Malekith.
I like this panel because it presents the weapons of both gods and men :
Mjolnir and a .45. With Simonson at the writing helm, Thor increasingly finds himself with mortals that can't approach his power levels but match him in courage and it makes for a great read - no helpless victims waiting for the hero here.
Malekith, being a Dark Elf, is not a figure from Norse Mythology. Dark Elves are from Faerie which is part of Arthurian Legend - the lore and myth of England. I'm absolutely on board with this mixing and matching of mythologies. Anything to create a good story.
Look at this incredible landscape panel as Roger and Thor near the kingdom of Faerie.
Here's an even better one-pager of the Gate of Faerie.
In the realm of Faerie, Thor comes across a foe the size of the mighty Destroyer.
This is Algrim the Strong. He sure looks powerful but I doubt if he's in the Destroyer's class.
From a personal point-of-view, this is a nightmarish set of panels showing Roger being blinded by Malekith.
Going blind is my greatest fear so these panels really affected me. Roger seems to take it in stride though, he's kept his wits about him, whereas, I, in his place, would be highly emotional and definitely in a panic. Thankfully, this blindness will prove temporary.
I'm a big believer in vengeance, so here's a great scene. Roger is recovering his eyesight but he's lost an enchantment placed in his eyes by Thor called Faerie Vision, so he's unable to see Malekith or any of the Dark Elves. What he sees though is this.
Light in an empty cavern. Roger guesses, correctly, that Malekith is standing right under that play of light. So Roger takes his trusty .45 and takes aim. Then . . .
shoots Malekith right through the arm; a fitting return for trying to strike Roger blind. The bullets are of iron - a particular weakness of the Dark Elves.
After many twists and turns, it's Malekith vs. Thor.
Malekith, a shapechanger, chooses a formidable looking form but against the most powerful Avenger of all time Malekith has no chance.