Over the last eight years there have been a small handful of comics that have peaked my interests so much that I had to read as much as I could as quickly as possible. Books like Saga, Transmetropolitan, and The Dark Knight Returns rank among the top of that elite group. Lately however, a new run of comics has been added to that list in the shape of The Mighty Thor Vol. 1 by Walt Simonson.
It’s no secret that Simonson’s run on Thor is one of the most highly regarded run on any superhero comic, and potentially the best run on Thor period. Having said that I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. I’d read the first few issues of the J. Michael Straczynski run, which brought Thor back from the dead, but was unimpressed past about issue #3. It wasn’t until Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s run on Thor: God of Thunder that I really developed an interest in the characters. The more I began to talk about Aaron’s run, the more people kept asking if I had read Simonson’s work. A couple weeks ago I finally broke down and bought the first trade.
HOLY CRAP! I could probably end my review right there. From almost the first page my mind was blown. The books starts off with the introduction Beta Ray Bill, one of the more recognizable characters from Thor, despite not being one of the older characters. Almost immediately I was taken in by the story. While I knew that Bill was one of the few others who had proved themselves worthy to lift Mjolnir, I believe he was the first (outside of Thor’s family), and Thor’s reaction was palpable. After Beta Ray Bill’s story and the creation of Stormbreaker (Bill’s hammer), things moved quickly and smoothly to Fafnir the dragon and eventually bringing in Loki and Malekith the Accursed.
Throughout each issue, even as the main story is going on, there are several different threads which Simonson is delicately weaving. I’m in absolute amazement at his ability to have some many various plots going on at once without making me feel particularly lost. Don’t get me wrong, there are threads that I have no idea where they are going, but I’m still certain they have a specific part to play in this whole story. For example, in every issue there is one or two pages that only have narration and contain a handful of panels, all of which show the forging of a sword. I’ve finished the first trade and I still have no idea what is going on with that sword except that I’m sure it won’t bode well for Thor in the future. These pages, while not adding anything to the story being told in that particular issue, are definitely doing things to move the overarching story forward. Also, they are done in such a way as to seem unobtrusive. It felt perfectly natural to see those pages every so often. Simonson also used these momentary shifts in the story to help build tension. When the action was just about to peak, he would take a page or two diversion to keep readers on the edge of their seats for just a little bit longer. It’s absolutely brilliant.
Walt Simonson is one of those rare individuals whose gift for storytelling is equally matched by his talent with pencil and ink. This is an absolutely, amazingly beautiful book. The art is both highly expressive and not overly done. When it matters, Simonson puts incredible detail into facial expressions and body language. Conversely, when that level of detail may take away from the scene it’s not there. If the sequence contains a lot of action, there is less detail which makes perfect sense since if the reader were really watching these events unfold, these details would absolutely be obscured. Although I am aware I’m reading a superhero comic that mostly takes place in fanciful realms, it feels like I’m actually being immersed in these places, with these characters. It’s awesome.
Simonson’s understanding of the comic book medium is nearly unparalleled. Those story diversions I was talking about a moment ago; they were usually done at page turns so as to surprise the reader. They expected the climax of the previous scene but instead were greeted by something else entirely. In modern comics that are grossly over saturated with double and single page spreads, Simonson uses well-crafted panels and actual sequential art to tell his story. Coming off a recent Convergence binge, it was thrilling to once again be reading something that was so well put together. I’m also completely blown away by Simonson’s use of sound effect words. While not used in comics very often any more, there were once a fairly common way of providing a description of what the reader should be hearing. Simonson is able to incorporate them in a ways I had never thought of. They are built in a parts of the world, such as making “DOOM” a portion of the anvil that is being used in the sword forging. Not only does it provide an audio cue, but it helps the reader understand that while they may not fully understand what is going on with the sword, it can’t be good since every strike of the blacksmith’s hammer is accompanied by the word “DOOM”.
From both a narrative and artist standpoint, there are few comics that better exemplify what the comic book is truly capable of. After having read the first trade, I’m working very hard not to run out and buy the rest of the trades. Instead I intend to find a copy of the giant omnibus, so that I can have it all available in one glorious volume. If there are any questions about Thor or what superhero comics are capable of accomplishing, this run answers all of those questions and then some. 5/5 Death Stars