Have you ever been in the presence of sheer wonder?
I hope I haven’t over-dramatized my point, but this special collection of seven of Simonson’s issues of The Mighty Thor (Issues # 337 to #340 and #360 to 362) represents some of the finest artwork and storytelling the series has ever seen.
Like any comic-collecting kid in the 70’s and 80’s I was aware of Marvel’s The Mighty Thor, but I dismissed the title as frivolous. I was a bit of a mythology fanatic at the time and I wasn’t able to reconcile Stan Lee’s Thor with the Teutonic god. To me, if you were going to do a comic book about a legend, then you needed some of the hallmarks of that legendary character, something more pronounced than just the names.
Then along came Walt Simonson.
Simonson’s art reinvented the whole comic for me. Not only did he incorporate the background legends, and the Anglo-Saxon/Nordic customs and traditions into his stories, he even changed the architecture of Asgard from techno-spotted, monorail-ridden spires into lofty stone towers punctuated with dragon heads and runic motifs.
Simonson converted me to the Church of Thor.
With the re-invention and new graphic representation of Thor, Simonson also re-ignited my passion for mythology. So much so that when given the opportunity at my University, I studied Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon poetry, recognizing and delighting in the familiar inspirations of one of my most revered comic artists. Simonson’s work had a huge influence on my education. Consequently, in my current role as a teacher of English and History, I am able to pass on that influence to my students in turn.
This is why I am completely blown away and overwhelmed by the Second Printing of Walter Simonson’s The Mighty Thor:Artist’s Edition.
If you haven’t seen an Artist’s Edition before, the books are oversized, to provide space for the finely detailed copies of the original galley pages. Complete with white-out marks, taped-over dialogue and smudge marks, you are that much closer to seeing the art as it was first created. . Due to size, it’s a physically unwieldy book to read, but this affords the reader the ability to truly indulge in t he artwork. At close-up range, you are able to appreciate the detail of Simonson’s work – his expressive characters, the intricate working parts of the jewellery, the filigree on the weapons and armour. (I am compelled to mention that Simonson’s skill in reproducing a beard is legendary – I don’t know any other artist who can draw facial hair like this guy!) Of course, the hirsute Vikings add yet another dimension of historical veracity into this Thor; one more exquisite detail that places the Thunder God back into the realm of Nordic pre-history.
Just as compelling as the art are the story lines chosen for this re-issued edition. Issues #337 to #340 introduced Beta-Ray Bill – one of the only beings worthy enough to not only bear Mjolnir, but also to wrest it away from Thor in combat. Bill was to become a beloved character in the series, as well as a staunch ally to Thor – one he called brother. Even though the alien Bill was hardly the stuff of ancient Viking mead-halls, he was still a hero. One I could accept because of his innate worthiness and sense of duty to his people. After all, if the heroes and lords of Asgard could welcome him into their ranks, couldn’t I as well? It is in moments like these that we see that Simonson’s skill as an artist is matched by his talent as a storyteller. To be able to introduce such an alien element as Beta Ray Bill into this tapestry of human culture and actually make him work is something no less than masterful.
Simonson’s stories recall the tales of the ancient Skalds. They are rich, epic, endearing tales of bravery, loss, and sacrifice. In the arc of issues #360-363 Thor leads an army of heroes into Hel to recover unjustly imprisoned souls. There he is savagely scarred in his battle with Hela, Queen of Hel, and Skurge the Executioner – one of Thor’s oldest enemies – reveals a side of heroism one would not have expected. Thor rides into battle on his chariot pulled by his two goats (true to Norse myth) after summoning powerful spirits through rune stones – pure legendary magic. Simonson then introduces a modern twist as Thor’s army equip themselves with modern M-16 rifles and various other small arms in addition to their axes and swords. Only Simonson could have fused these two starkly contrasting and incongruous elements together and make it work so well.
I was very fortunate to have met this exceptional talent (and his lovely wife Louise), and to thank him personally for his incredibly positive influence on my life and education. This amazing special edition is made possible because of Walt’s ownership of his original art, and I highly recommend it.