I think this blog can stand at least one Walt Simonson appreciation post every decade.

§ September 20th, 2019 § Filed under thor § 11 Comments

So I recently took in a few short boxes of, shall we say, well-loved comics from the ’70s and ’80s that I’ve been going through and pricing cheap cheap cheap, and in there was this comic:

This is Thor #336 from 1983, probably best known for being the issue before the following month’s #337, with the beginning of Walt Simonson’s highly-regarded run on the title. (I wrote a bit about that, eep, 12 years ago.) It’s a cover I’d seen plenty of times, over and over again, mostly at the previous place of employment. And it did sell, on occasion…it’s, I think, weirdly a connected artifact to the Simonson era, if only as an example of what had come before Beta Ray Bill was on the scene.

Though perhaps, if you’re a completist, to bring up a topic much discussed on the site this week, you may want #336 for the ballyhooing of the next issue featuring a piece of Simonson’s art:

To be honest, I’ve never read #336, despite seeing it plenty. In fact, I still haven’t really read it, despite that very copy pictured above currently sitting on the desk next to me as I type this. I mostly just kinda flipped through it, trying to get an idea of what Thor ‘n’ pals were up to before the big Unleashing of Thor, as per that letters page ad.

I actually hadn’t read much Thor prior to picking up that first Simonson issue…I think mostly just whatever was in the old Origins of Marvel Comics paperback (and if anything was in Sons of Origins). Simonson was, more or less, my introduction to the character. I knew the basics from reading the origin in that paperback way back when, and maybe saw him in some comic or ‘nother as I expanding into sampling various Marvel comics, but hadn’t really had any Big Thor Action via his own book.

Anyway, looking through #336, I can really see the contrast between what had been coming out and what Simonson was about to serve unto an unsuspecting public. Like, this is the last panel of #336:

…And then, suddenly, this is the last panel, or rather full-page splash, of #337:

Hokey smokes, hold on to your winged hat because ol’ Walt’s got a roller coaster for you to ride.

Okay, this isn’t entirely fair, I’m comparing golden apples with…well, regular apples, I guess, here…one’s the concluding panel to a mostly low-key Marvel-style soap opera-esque thingie, with Thor’s mom being wistful and worried about her son’s love, Sif. And it’s the second of two stories…the first ending with Sif being kinda sad about Thor’s double life as a regular human taking him away from her. Basically, an issue of mostly quiet character conflict.

As opposed to that #337 ending, which is meant to propel you into more action after hitting you with a bunch of action already. It’s the big ol’ beginning of an adventure, not the downbeat ending of characters at emotional odds. Not really trying to say anything was “bad,” as such, just pointing out the contrast. What Simonson was doing was just so different from what had come before…only the Thor comics by Kirby himself (which I had read since experiencing Simonson’s run) could compare to the new visual excitement that was brought to this book.

I like Simonson’s Thor run, is what I’m saying. A big, hold, dynamic presentation that didn’t skimp on actual storytelling…again, not trying to diminish anyone else’s work on the character, but Simonson sure upped the ante for tales starring our Thunder God. Even thirty years on, Marvel still dips into the richness of that run for stories today. Even good ol’ Beta Ray Bill is still around, which would probably shock those Thor fans back in ’83, reading that #337 and wondering just what the heck was going on.

Special thanks to Bully, the Little God of Stuffing, for production assistance on this post!

11 Responses to “I think this blog can stand at least one Walt Simonson appreciation post every decade.”

  • Kurt Onstad says:

    I just went back and read a bunch of early Thor for research on my “Whatever Happened to Donald Blake?” episode. That was some tough slogging for the most part. I really should check out the Simonson era for contrast.

  • David Beard says:

    I loved the pre-Simonson explorations of godhood in a Christian world.

  • Brett says:

    Simonson’s current Ragnarok comic is also brilliant and I am amazed it is not more popular. I have talked to Thor fans who have no idea it exists and suddenly I turn into a preacher to spread the message.

  • Thom H. says:

    I remember collecting Simonson’s Thor run as it came out. I had never been even remotely interested in the character before, but I liked the art so much.

    Same with the Fantastic Four. They never really appealed to me until Byrne took over. Suddenly, the book seemed so fresh and interesting.

    Interesting that both creators were pushing the characters forward while also taking a “back to basics” approach reminiscent of Lee/Kirby. I wonder if that look back to the 60s was happening more generally in 80s comics.

  • Jack says:

    Ahh, Simonson on Thor. Holds the distinction of being my favorite comic run ever with my favorite comic story ever. It’s Thor #362, the one with the Executioner’s last stand. I can’t help but feel that doesn’t surprise anyone who read that run, though.

    I don’t even know how Simonson made a Norse god holding off tides of the dead by dual wielding M-16s WORK, but by god, it worked magnificently, and I sometimes am shocked that a story from September 1985 remains my favorite comic ever. But there you have it.

  • Tom W says:

    I had #337 off the rack – lost it, wish I had it now, etc – but even as a kid who didn’t read many Marvel comics it was obvious how fresh and different it was. Even as a concept it works: someone else is worthy of Thor’s hammer. And the run is, of course, fantastic. Interesting to see what came before, and how neatly it’s mirrored by what came after; Simonson had carefully and gradually introduced changes to Thor’s status quo, the beard, the armour, but from what I remember they were all swept away and we were back to the original look and storylines within six issues. Innovation was neither rewarded or wanted at Marvel back then…

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    Like you, all I really knew of Thor came from the Origins book, an inherited Thor Annual w/Kirby reprints, and the Hostess ad. Never a favorite character for me, but there was enough to set a status quo in my mind. I do recall hearing in advance about the Simonson run, possibly in Comics Scene or Amazing Heroes, and for whatever reason I decided to be on the lookout for #337. As little as I cared for Thor at age 14 and after 8 years of obsessive comics reading & collecting, that first issue blew me away! And it took some serious hunting to find it as nearly all the local shops were sold out within the first week.

    I kept up with it for about six months, loving the look of the book, but not appreciating the Sigurd Jarlsson phase, and quit when $ got a little tight. When Sal Buscema (one of my least favorite artists) started doing the art, I was glad I had already stopped caring enough.

    As a more selective adult reader later on, I decided to eventually read all these comics, and thanks to Comixology sales I was able to read the whole Kirby run two summers ago, then the Simonson run between last summer and this.

    If anything, Kirby’s Thor is at times better than his FF! And I think he got really good at melding the Gods in Space serials with the earth-bound stories so that the two types of stories complemented each other. And I love the times he has Thor just hanging out on the street in the midst of regular people.

    Simonson’s run holds up well for me now, and even Sal Buscema seems to up his game substantially compared to his other 80s work.

    Even as a kid reader, I noticed how much John Workman’s lettering was a distinct and eseential component of the art. Like Ken Bruzenak’s on American Flagg!, Tom Orzechowski’s on the X-books, and Dave Sim’s in Cerebus, really raised my awareness of how lettering is also part of the art & storytelling. Those few issues of Simonson’s Thor not lettered by Workman just don’t look quite right to me. (Do we know if the awesome sound-effects were part of Simonson’s art or Workman’s?)

    As an adult reader, I can barely stand to look at that old cover and panel from #336. Curiosity may compel me to search it up on Comixology for a buck but it’s exactly the kind of comic I wanted to stop reading even at 14, as I was discovering so much better looking and better reading work from Miller, Sienkewicz, Chaykin, Moore-Bissette-Totlben, the Pinis on Elfquest, & Sim. I’m sorry I didn’t keep up with Simonson at the time, because that would have been equally rewarding, and for a satisfying 50 issues or so.

  • Chris V says:

    I remember finding a copy of Thor #337 at an used book store sometime in the mid-1990s.
    So, I was able to pick up a copy for one buck.
    It was a period of time when I was mainly interested in comics written by people like Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore.

    I remember reading #337 after hearing so many good things about Simonson’s run, and I saw a lot of whining by Thor about how hard it is to be him.
    I thought, “You’re a freakin’ god! Why are you whining about how hard your life is? That’s the last thing that should be happening in a comic about a freakin’ Norse god! This comic is awful.”
    I threw the comic in a stack, hoping it would be worth something, and I could maybe make a tidy profit.

    A number of years later, I had softened on “mainstream” comics, and was trying to track down the Kirby issues of Thor.
    I figured I would pick up some Walt Simonson issues too, just to see if the run was really as bad as I thought after reading #337.
    It turned out I was completely wrong about Simonson’s run on Thor.

    While Beta Ray Bill is great, I still feel that #337 is a pretty weak start to Simonson’s run. It’s hardly a classic.
    His run would go on to be very mythic in tone.
    Whereas, yeah, that first issue is really stuck in the Stan Lee melodrama phase, writing Thor as if he were Spider Man, Thing, or Cyclops.
    “Whoa is me…I’m just an all-powerful god, who can do just about anything. Pity me.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Given your oft-demonstrated fondness for Popeye, I will throw this trivia question at you:

    What is the connection between Walter Simonson and Popeye?

    I give you this clue: this is not about a comic.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Well, as the question seems to have excited no one’s interest, I might as well give the answer:

    NYPD Captain Walter Simonson is the superior officer of Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in THE FRENCH CONNECTION.

    Note that Simonson is played by Eddie Egan, the real-life model for Doyle. Sonny Grosso, the model for Cloudy Russo (Roy Scheider), is also in the film, as the less talkative of the two FBI agents.

  • Ray Cornwall says:

    I don’t think there was a good Thor comic at least the three years before Simonson came on the book, and further back depends on your feeling on Roy Thomas’s run.