Friday, October 28, 2011

Tales from the Long Box: The Mighty Thor #353

Every week Seth goes into his back issue bins, picks out a single issue, story arc, or creative run, pours through it and then writes about it. He calls it Tales from the Long Box. Though old and now either retconned out of existence or made irrelevant by the latest event, these books still share something in common... they're bagged, boarded, and a part of comics history.

The Mighty Thor #353

Walter Simonson is one of those names in comics that you just know. He's often named alongside the likes of Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko amongst others, as one of the great comic artists. His work on Thor in the 1980's plays a huge part in his legacy. Beginning with The Mighty Thor #337 his run ended at #382 almost five years later. Considering he pencilled as well as wrote a hefty chunk of that run it's even more impressive.

His Thor is all over the map in terms of variety of stories told. He started off by making some fairly substantial additions to the Thor canon with characters like Beta Ray Bill being introduced. Later he would delve into more bizarre fantasy-based stories including a not-as-goofy-as-it-sounds arc in which Thor becomes a frog. Yes. A frog. With a hammer.

However, the real meat of the run came fairly early on when Simonson wrote and drew the Surtur Saga. The story concerns a giant molten demon attempting enslave the earth. When this particular issue picks up Thor is beaten and unconscious, while his father Odin has been trapped inside an ice crystal... you know, it's basically like every other day in Asgard. On earth Beta Ray Bill and a host of Asgardians and a plethora of Marvel heroes are battling it out with Surtur's armies. Meanwhile Surtur is trying to ignite his sword , Twilight with flame that will not die... Or something.

I picked this particular issue up from a local shop where I found it nesting in a quarter bin some time back in 2003. At the time I'd had no prior experience with the character, his world or even the fantasy comic genre in general. I was blown away when I read this issue. As stated, I'd never read a Thor comic and this is an issue that essentially ends a story arc. Yet I was easily able to follow it and was completely blown away by the work of Walt Simonson.

I've since read the entirety of Simonson's work on Thor and whole-heartedly proclaim this the best issue. It's loud, it's huge in scope and it's pure comic book fun. Swords fly, villains are felled, heroes fall... it's everything today's comics are not. Coming, as it did, in the midst of the 80's it's written to the hilt. Characters explain things that are clearly shown, and the dialogue is a little stilted. But Thor #353 is a product of it's time and despite these seeming drawbacks they actually manage to enhance the experience for me. This is a book that actually benefits from it's seemingly negative aspects.The exposition is fun, and compared to some mid-80's books it doesn't feel like you're slogging your way through a swamp of words while you're reading it.

On the other hand, enough can't be said about Walt Simonson's art. His work would influence guys like Jim Lee and Rob Leifeld who, despite their best efforts, to this day can't capture the liveliness he infused in every panel of this book. Everything in this issue looks and feels enormous and epic. Like Lord of the Rings by way of Marvel comics. At times panels seem so full of characters engaged in acts of savagery you're almost afraid the book is going to explode in your hands.

Special mention has to go to John Workman Jr. who handled the lettering on the Surtur Saga. It may seem odd to call out the letterer of a book but once you've seen his work with sound effect text you'll understand what I mean.

This book hit me at a time when I was just getting back into comics and really exemplified the size and no-budget scope that a full blown action comic can reach. You should by all means seek out Walt Simonson's run on The Mighty Thor but especially track down this single issue.

1 comment:

  1. I'm definitely going to go get this title now. I can't wait to see it "blow up in my hands" haha!