Like many boys, my childhood was filled with comics. For me those comics were collections of daily strips, particularly Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, and heaven help me, Garfield. I also was big on Asterix, partially because I had never heard of him before moving overseas. My favorite comics were (and probably still are) Tintin. But unlike a lot of people, superhero comics were never something I got into until adulthood. I do remember the hoopla surrounding the death of Superman, and I had some passing casual interest in TV shows about them. Batman: The Animated Series began while I was young, and the X-Men had infiltrated popular culture as well. But the world of the superhero comic was one that remained closed off to me.
Two things drove me to try and get into them. First of all, around the time I started college the first Spider-Man movie hit theaters. I went and saw it at midnight with all of my college buddies and really enjoyed myself. By the time Batman Begins came out in 2005, I was well on my way to being one of those superhero fans who never read the comics at all. The second thing was that my eldest son became obsessed with supers, and I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned more about the Marvel universe in the four years he’s been around than in the previous 27 of my life. But the truth is, I tended to appreciate more than enjoy them. That’s not totally the case. I really enjoyed Batman: Year One and All-Star Superman. I got into a few trades of Ultimate Spider-Man before the library stopped being able to provide successive ones for me to read. But overall my comics journey yielded more enjoyable stuff when I stuck to independent works like Usagi Yojimbo or Persepolis. The mainstream superhero comics were a little distant for me.
I’ve found that’s changed recently, and it’s almost all because of Thor. For many years, my only exposure to Thor was in the 1987 Elizabeth Shue movie, Adventures in Babysitting. In that film, there’s a little girl who is obsessed with Thor. When I first saw the movie nearly twenty years ago, I didn’t even know that Thor was a superhero at all. As I got older I became more aware of the god of thunder through cultural osmosis and the first movie, but nothing gave me any clues that he was worthy of obsession from anyone. But as I began to intentionally discover comics, several friends recommended that I dig into what many consider the ultimate run of Thor comics, those by Walt Simonson in the mid-1980s. Collected in five volumes, I read the first two trades and enjoyed them. It was only in the last couple months that I landed all five trades. When I consider this was the version of Thor that was around when Adventures in Babysitting came out, it suddenly seems obvious why someone would be a huge Thor fan. In short, these comics are awesome.
I don’t have a lot of context to which I can compare these books, but I can tell you that they are about as much fun as any superhero comic I’ve read. Simonson wrote Thor for five years, and in that time he created a narrative that feels unified without ever dilly-dallying around to resolve stuff. Storylines always wrap up in just a couple of issues, but they leave consequences that the characters have to deal with. Since he wasn’t writing with trades in mind, they’re best when I consume just a couple issues at once. They are so dense and eventful that to burn through them is overwhelming. It’s like having a never ending buffet of the richest foods in the world.
It’s amazing how it all feels so precise and meticulous, and yet feels almost gleeful. A lot of superhero comics are big ol’ slogs, and even some great ones (The Dark Knight Returns comes to mind) aren’t really what I would call fun. But these? These make me feel like a kid again. I have cracked a big ol’ grin on several occasions, most recently in the frame below. After Thor turns into a frog (seriously) this is what happens when he lifts up his hammer. If I could sum up what I enjoy so much about Simonson’s Thor, it’s all here. The explosive action, the overwrought dialog, the way it embraces fantasy, and the willingness take absurdity seriously.
I still feel like the endless parade of superhero comics is an easy place in which to lose yourself and end up reading something you don’t love. I was once given the advice to follow writers instead of characters, and if the results are this good I can see why that is. I look forward to setting them alongside my stacks of Tintin and Asterix, comics that I’ll be pleased to enjoy with my sons and by myself for many years.