This will be a discussion of Walt Simonson’s run on Thor. I’ll be covering issues of Thor from 337-382, as well as the Balder the Brave mini-series.

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Thor #337

No Title

Writer: Walt Simonson

Penciller: Walt Simonson

Out in deep space, a star goes nova, leaving naught but a small piece of itself. That piece is suddenly grabbed by an unknown being, who begins to craft something from it.

Back on Earth, Dr. Donald Blake is enjoying a walk through Grant Park in Chicago. He’s reflecting on the current state of his life. After being struck by a stray Frisbee, he’s suddenly accosted by two men who take his cane and hustle him into a waiting car. Inside the car is Colonel Nick Fury, who tells Blake they need his help immediately. Blake asks him why he needs the help of an ordinary doctor, but Fury tells him what he really needs is Thor. Blake transforms to Thor as Fury takes him to the helicarrier.

Aboard the helicarrier, Fury turns things over to Jasper Sitwell, who explains that one of their deep space probes detected an alien space ship seemingly destroying a star to refuel and that the same spaceship is headed towards Earth, and they want Thor to investigate. Thor agrees to do so.

Over in Asgard, Volstagg invites the Lady Sif to dine with himself and Balder. Sif tells Balder that since Thor has forsaken her for Earth that she needs comfort in his arms, but Balder refuses. He’s recently returned from the dead and is having a difficult time dealing with the experience (he’s also gained significant weight compared to his normal figure).

Sif leaves and heads towards the Rainbow Bridge to see her brother Heimdall. She asks him if he’s aware of any sort of battle she can fight in to help her forget her misery. He suggests that maybe only Odin can help him now.

Back to Thor, he’s caught up with the alien ship. The ship fires at Thor, but he hurls Mjolnir and destroys the ship’s defenses. He tears a hole in the hull of the ship and then enters while the hull repairs itself. Inside he sees a crystal coffin like structure with a figure inside. Suddenly a hand breaks through the crystal and grabs Thor.

In Asgard, Loki is bored. Apparently he’s been banished to some area of Asgard that is lonely and desolate. He hears and sees a group of warriors engaging in a troll hunt, which is apparently illegal. The troll hides in the bushes, until a pretty woman calls out to it, telling it she can hide him. However, it’s Lorelei who has beguiled the troll and won the hunt.

Loki shows up and invites Lorelei to dine with him. She agrees, against the warnings of her companions. Loki threatens them with exposure to Odin, and they leave.

Back on the alien ship, Thor gets thrown against a wall. He wonders who or what could do this to him, and he’s confronted by a large, somewhat horse-faced alien who introduces himself as Beta Ray Bill. The alien calls Thor a demon and suggests he’s been following the ship. Thor wonders how the alien speaks his language and Bill explains that something called Skuttlebutt scanned and translated his language.

During their fight the ship is taking a lot of battle damage and needs repair. It notices the third planet in this solar system has the necessary materials for the repairs and makes a course for that planet..As the planet nears Earth and as Thor has lost Mjolnir for more than 60 seconds, he suddenly transforms back into Donald Blake. Bill immediately knocks him out. As the ship is about to crash-land on Earth, Bill requests a stasis field from Skuttlebutt, which protects both him and Donald Blake through the crash.

Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. are fast approaching the downed ship. As Fury tells Bill to come out so they can chat, he looks for the hammer his opponent was wielding earlier. He only finds Blake’s walking stick which he strikes against the wall with frustration. Suddenly, he transforms to the Mighty Thor! And he’s able to lift Mjolnir! With Mjolnir he’s easily able to keep the S.H.I.E.L.D. forces at bay.

Suddenly Odin appears and tells Bill they need the power of Thor in Asgard pronto. He teleports Bill away. Blake crawls out of the ship and feels lost as it seems Odin has beseeched him.

My rating: 9/10

So, I think this is a really good start to a brand new direction for Thor. Many of the usual supporting cast are visited and given a status quo, a threat is exposed that Thor cannot easily handle, there’s a mystery brewing, and Loki’s up to shenanigans. Lots of setup for current plots and future subplots.

We meet new characters like Lorelei, catch up with familiar characters like Sif and Balder and discover that Loki is still feared and loathed by most Asgardians. We find out that Nick Fury has known for a long time that Donald Blake is Thor. Most importantly, we’re introduced to Beta Ray Bill. Is he a threat or a menace? Only time will tell (I’m sure everyone reading this will understand where this goes, but since the comic hasn’t gotten there yet, I’m going to pretend that this is a question). How can he lift Mjolnir? Why did Odin take him?

One thing I did sort of think was a bit of incongruity: when the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents grab Blake, and particularly when they took his stick, why didn’t he resist a little harder? The way the scene was portrayed, it’s not like he recognized the agents—in fact, they acted sort of like mobsters. Yes, I can think of reasons and plausible explanations as to why he wasn’t resisting, but still it seemed odd that he would so easily allow someone to take his stick.

I've been waiting until you posted before re-reading #337. This may have been my second choice in your poll, but I'm glad you picked it. the last time I read long runs of Thor and Fantastic Four, I stopped with the last Kirby issues. My plan had been to, eventually, read through the Simonson and Byrne runs respectively but, whereas I do have a desire to read FF between Kirby and Byrne, I'm not really interested in reading Thor between Kirby and Simonson. 

As I have mentioned from time-to-time over my years on this board, I collected only three titles (Avengers, Hulk and Captain America) for three years via subscription. When those subscriptions ran out, I ventured into a comic book shop for the first time and bought virtually one of everything. The first issue of Thor I bought at that time was #318. I knew Thor as an Avenger but, prior to #318, the only Thor comics I ever bought new were Giant-Size #1 and Treasury Edition #3. I continued to buy Thor through #336, but none of those issues really impressed me, and I don't think I read any of them more than once. 

My first clue that Simonson was coming to Thor was a house ad that he would be taking over the title for 12 issues, but I didn't really know who he was at that time. There was also some coverage in Marvel Age, IIRC. It was after reading that Marvel Age interview that I first began to appreciate Jack Kirby. One technique I have used over the years to expand my horizons in regard to comic books it to find an artists whose work I admire, then find out which comic book artist he admires. (I also developed an appreciation for Alex Toth via Howard Chaykin via that method right around the same time.) 

Then DC released a reprint of Goodwin and Simonson's "Manhunter" series from Detective Comics and I realized I did know who this guy was. I had read some odd chapters of that when it was new, but not the whole thing. For whatever reason, maybe because my reading of it was incomplete, I felt it was too "sophisticated" for me at the time, but I was at the perfect age for such storytelling by the time of his Thor.

I was in college at the time (I have always disagreed with that saying "The Golden Age is 12"), and lived about 30 miles away from my sister and brother-in-law's house. Whenever they would take weekend trips, they would ask me to come down to pet-sit. It was on one of those trips I brought along a copy of Thor #337. I don't remember which other comics I brought or which one I read first, but I do remember that after I finished reading it, I immediately read it a second time before reading anything else. I was also inspired to write a letter (not printed) which i sent the following Monday. These days, trade paperback collections of most series are solicited before the story has even been completed, but back then, trade paperback collections were few and far between. In my letter, I confidently predicted (on the basis of a single issue) that, in years to come, this run would be collected between two covers. (My theory is born out in the fact that I an currently re-reading this run in "omnibus" format.)

I don't remember specifically how I felt about the cover of #337 before I read it (I was probably mildly intrigued), but I do remember the phrase "Far Beyond the Fields That We Know," and by the time I got to "DOOM!" I was hooked. I loved the revelation that Nick Fury just knew Thor was Don Blake because it was his job to know. I also appreciated Simonson's (and Thor's) touch of comedic timing with the deadpan line: "Thou didst not ask." (Also, on Thor's part, there may have been a little bit of payback for the way Blake was manhandled into Fury's car.) 

I loved the new characters (Beta Ray Bill, Lorelei), but I loved Simonson's treatment of the older characters, too, particularly Balder the Brave. Man, I remember the "controversy" in the letters pages surrounding his characterization started almost immediately. But I knew at the time that this was only the beginning of Balder's character arc, and that prediction was borne out, too. And that last page!

"FATHER!"

Unforgettable.

My only disagreement with your post above, Randy, is that I would rate this issue a full 10 out of 10... 11 out of 10 if I could. Incidentally, just out of curiosity, in what format are you reading for your discussion?

I'm using the Walt Simonson Visionaries that Marvel put out a few years ago. 

Ah, thanks.

Here's a bit of trivia before you move on from #337. Speaking of Goodwin and Simonson's "Manhunter" (as I was yesterday), there was a scene set at a mosque in Istanbul in which Manhunter encountered a family of America tourists, Henry, Emma and Nico. If you look closely at the trio walking across Grant Park (near the center of the panel with the skateboarders), you'll see some familiar figures.If they're too small to be seen clearly, don't worry; we'll see them again.

Ah, I do remember those characters, but I hadn't noticed them in the background. I'll take another look. 

I took my second break from comics in 1981 so I missed this entire run of Thor when first published. One of my first purchases when I returned to comics reading in 1992 was The Very Best Of Marvel Comics - a TPB that reprinted stories selected by comics professionals. Thor #337 was selected as the favorite of Rob Liefield. I was already a fan of Walt Simonson based on his Seventies work. One disappointment from that period was his late -70's run on Thor where he provided layouts only. I never understood why he wasn't doing  full pencils and inks so #337 was a pleasant surprise.

Story wise it was obvious that big changes were happening. Walt did a great job of whetting the readers appetite for more. Having come late to the party, I wound up reading the latter part of his run from back issues picked up at a comic con. It was sometime later that I finally read the earlier stories via reprint collections.

Thor #338

A Fool and His Hammer...

Writer: Walt Simonson

Penciller: Walt Simonson

The scene calls back to the maker from the first few pages of the previous issue. The individual is forging something.

Back on Earth, Donald Blake stands atop the alien ship calling out for Odin. He soon gives up and is consoled by Nick Fury.

Meanwhile in Asgard, the Asgardians are happy to see Thor until they realize that the Thor they’re seeing is not the one they expected. Beta Ray Bill is also upset and thinking that the Asgardians are more demons sent to torment him. He attacks the Asgardians and demands answers(the attacks is said to be deadly--did he kill anyone?).

Odin shows up and demands to know where the real Thor is. Bill throws Mjolnir at him but Odin just takes it away from him. Bill demands the hammer back, saying he won it in fair combat. Odin traps him in some sort of stasis bubble while he ponders things over, while Bill also wonders if perhaps he’s been a trifle hasty.

Using a magical sphere of some sort, Odin spies on Donald Blake and overhears his conversation with Nick Fury. Odin then spirits lake away, leaving Fury alone.

Thor appears in Asgard and is greeted by Odin. Thor admits that he was beaten by Bill. Odin releases Bill. They all head up a mountain to have a nice chat, with Odin requesting Bill’s story.

Elsewhere, Sif is contemplating Heimdall’s counsel from the previous issue that she seek out Odin for help. She comes upon a scene of Thor and Lorelei kissing, and attacks them, enraged. She lays out Thor and leaves them. Thor sits up and has a laugh,and we discover that Thor was actually Loki in disguise. Lorelei wasn’t too thrilled about Sif’s attack, but Loki tells her that now Sif will leave Asgard and she may have a chance at something her sister, Amora the Enchantress could never do, namely seduce Thor.

Back to Odin and the two Thors, Bill begins to tell his story. Ancient alien race, star went nova, Bill was enhanced to be the race’s protector aboard the ship Skuttlebutt with the rest of his race in suspended animation searching for a new home. They were attacked by an alien group of demons (likely the Brood) and Bill was separated from his people. Now Bill doesn’t want to give up Mjolnir because he believes it will help him in his battle for his people and since he won it fair and square. Thor objects, but Odin stops him and says that Bill has a point. Odin then tells Bill that he wasn’t fighting Thor at this best, because of the enchantment Odin had placed on Thor back when he was younger and more headstrong.

Odin then tells both of them that the reason he recalled Thor to Asgard was because something was going on out there that he couldn’t see and he wanted Thor’s aid. However, he wasn’t expecting two Two

Thors and to make matters worse, there was only one hammer between them, both of whom had a legitimate claim. He asks them both if they will duke it out in single combat, and naturally both say thee aye!

So Odin gathers everyone into his big hall and sends the combatants off to Skartheim, a desolate realm where their fight is unlikely to harm anyone. He’s also removed all enhancements from them, so it’s just mano y mano. He also reminds them that this is a fight to the death. They begin the fight with a lot of trash talking.

Elsewhere in Asgard, Volstagg and Balder are walking down the street. Volstagg tells him that he enjoys eating because he likes to eat as it is one of his joys in life, and that Balder should do the same, rather than eating as a means to escape his own thoughts. Balder tells him that having died, he no longer has a taste for living, particularly as remembers all of those he’s slain over the years.

They are suddenly challenged by a young warrior Agnar, who wants to fight with Balder. Balder refuses, saying he’s done with fighting, but Agnar continues to attack. He’s then blocked by Volstagg, who steps on Agnar’s foot and then carries him away from Balder while he explains to young Agnar what a great warrior Balder is—while sitting upon him (that Volstagg, he’s a bad mothe—shut your mouth! Just talking about Volstagg).

Back at the fight, Thor and Bill knock themselves out simultaneously while riding a rock in a river of lava. Bill gains consciousness first and sees the rock headed towards a falls. Knowing that he could simply let Thor die in the falls, he instead rescues him just as they are going over. The two of them are transported back to Asgard, and Bill is declared the winner.

My Rating: 9/10

So yeah, another strong effort here. All of the previous issue’s plot lines were continued and begin to come together in some instances. The fight between Thor and Bill was good and I’m glad that Simonson is not ignoring Thor’s supporting cast.

Some additional thoughts:

* One issue I’ve always had with Thor’s mythos is the idea that he's the only one ”worthy” enough to wield Mjolnir. I would think there would be plenty of superheroes who just by their nature should be worthy on a regular basis. What makes Thor so much better than Captain America or Spider-Man? I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation other than “it’s magic”, and it’s always bothered me.

* I’m a big Volstagg fan. I know he’s a comic relief character—and I would never want him to be anything else—but I love it when he’s portrayed in a competent manner. I love the way he dealt with Agnar and let Balder go on about his way. Not to mention I think Simonson nailed Volstagg’s entire philosophy—enjoy life as best you can, because you’re not going to be around forever.

It always used to rankle me the way Volstagg was portrayed when he was first introduced, namely as a coward. How is a coward going into battle with Thor and the Warriors Three? I’m glad that over the years he’s become a much more capable combatant, even if his fighting style is a little unique(something I’ve always wanted to see is a situation where Fandral and Hogun are incapacitated and their attackers think they’ll have an easy time with Volstagg, only to have Volstagg release his true power and mop the floor with him. I’ve always assumed there was a hidden badass in there).

* I like the idea that Lorelei is the sister of the Enchantress, as it makes sense. She’s out to bewitch and beguile, and that just seems fitting.

I'm going to make a few quick observations before I go off on my usual tangent.

I'll just tell you right now, I give all four issues of this initial storyline 10/10 because I think of it as one single story.

Skuttlebutt is a neat design for a spaceship: it has the conning tower of a submarine yet the heavy guns of a battleship.

I feel exactly the same way about Volstagg that you do.

Not to get ahead of the story, but I see Agnar very much in the vein of Hal Foster's Prince Valiant in the early days.

Regarding the "enchantment" of Mjolnir, I think a lot of what is considered "worthy" is subjective based on Odin's will. For example, Loki has been known to lift it. I'll also point out that Steve Rogers, as The Captain, once lifted it, thereby proving his worthiness to Thor. the problem I have with it is the misunderstanding that Mjolnir is too heavy to lift. No, that's not it; it's enchanted. The hammer itself is no heavier than it appears; a good, sturdy card table would support it. The point is: it stays where Thor puts it. Someone told me (I think I read it on this board) that the question was raised in one of the Marvel movies whether or not a elevator could lift it. Of course, as long as Thor put it there. But no one other than Thor could take it out.

I don't know how it is in the tpb you're reading, Randy, but the original has an example of one of the most common (and frustrating) coloring errors in comics; namely, on page two, Don Blake is drawn with his eyes closed and his eyelid is colored white! (Odin forbid an artist should draw a character winking.) In the omnibus I am reading, the entire thing is recolored using state-of-the-art techniques. There is some "controversy" surrounding this practice, but I'm all for it. The last scene of Thor and Bill floating down a river of lava in Skartheim looks like something out of Revenge of the Sith. Of course, in 1983, even Star Wars could not duplicate the SFX of comic books coupled with one's own imagination.

There's a technical "error" on display here which is often found in lesser comics. I put the word "error" in quotation marks because, in this instance, it actually works. The "error" has to do with relative time in two scenes of varying length presented simultaneously. If handled well (as it is here), it's virtually unnoticeable. In this case, I'm referring to Thor and bill's mission in relation to the story Volstagg tells Agnar. Watch it play out over the course of the next few issues. Also, it works here because we're dealing with stories based on myth: "Volstagg sat on Agnar for a week, regaling him with the exploits of Balder the Brave."

I had completely forgotten about the little caption after the "Next Issue" blurb: "Better stock up on copies, kids! this one'll be a collector's item for sure!" I don't know about #339, but by issue #340 my LCS at the time had put a hard limit of one copy per customer on Walt Simonson's Thor. There's nothing that will make me want something more (or there wasn't then) than telling me I can't have it. I remember asking a friend of mine to come with me to Rock Bottom Comics the next Wednesday Thor shipped and giving him the money to buy me a second copy. I'm pretty sure that was the first time I bought a duplicate copy of a single comic, but I didn't buy multiples of any other in the run, just that one.

I always feel about comedy relief characters that they must show some ability that explains why the "serious" characters put up with them, like how Spritle and Chim-Chim were brave and resourceful when the chips were down, which explains why Speed didn't just tie them up in a sack and drown them.

Randy Jackson said:

Thor #338

A Fool and His Hammer...

* I’m a big Volstagg fan. I know he’s a comic relief character—and I would never want him to be anything else—but I love it when he’s portrayed in a competent manner. I love the way he dealt with Agnar and let Balder go on about his way. Not to mention I think Simonson nailed Volstagg’s entire philosophy—enjoy life as best you can, because you’re not going to be around forever.

It always used to rankle me the way Volstagg was portrayed when he was first introduced, namely as a coward. How is a coward going into battle with Thor and the Warriors Three? I’m glad that over the years he’s become a much more capable combatant, even if his fighting style is a little unique(something I’ve always wanted to see is a situation where Fandral and Hogun are incapacitated and their attackers think they’ll have an easy time with Volstagg, only to have Volstagg release his true power and mop the floor with him. I’ve always assumed there was a hidden badass in there).

Agreed. To me it's a staple that was started in the Golden Age. Woozy Winks, Doiby Dickles. even Ebony White (when Eisner wrote him) were all competent when things mattered. Most sidekicks were. Not as good as the hero, but not someone you'd want to mess with either.

Except for Aqualad. Aqualad stunk.


The Baron said:

I always feel about comedy relief characters that they must show some ability that explains why the "serious" characters put up with them, like how Spritle and Chim-Chim were brave and resourceful when the chips were down, which explains why Speed didn't just tie them up in a sack and drown them.

I guess I get that, but still--why wouldn't Steve Rogers be worthy all the time? Why wouldn't Superman? Is it simple favoritism for Thor? Why was Jane Foster deemed worthy for as long as she was?

If it's simply Odin saying, "I decide who's worthy", fine, state that. If there's a 60 second timer on the hammer that basically "checks for Thor" I could buy that. However, I've never seen a canonical explanation for who can and cannot lift it that would exclude the likes of Spider-Man or the Thing or most other Marvel Superheroes.

I just feel that the enchantment is poorly explained.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Regarding the "enchantment" of Mjolnir, I think a lot of what is considered "worthy" is subjective based on Odin's will. For example, Loki has been known to lift it. I'll also point out that Steve Rogers, as The Captain, once lifted it, thereby proving his worthiness to Thor. the problem I have with it is the misunderstanding that Mjolnir is too heavy to lift. No, that's not it; it's enchanted. The hammer itself is no heavier than it appears; a good, sturdy card table would support it. The point is: it stays where Thor puts it. Someone told me (I think I read it on this board) that the question was raised in one of the Marvel movies whether or not a elevator could lift it. Of course, as long as Thor put it there. But no one other than Thor could take it out.

"Why wouldn't Steve Rogers be worthy all the time?"

Oh, I think he is, he had just never tried to lift it before or since (that I know of). In the context of the story I cited, Thor knew that Steve Rogers had recently been stripped of his Captain America identity and he had recently been in conflict with Iron Man, so there was some doubt in Thor's mind whether or not this "Captain" was trustworthy. But then when he was able to wield Mjolnir, all his doubts were put to rest. 

"I've never seen a canonical explanation for who can and cannot lift it that would exclude the likes of Spider-Man or the Thing or most other Marvel Superheroes."

I know Hulk has tried to lift it several times, and I think it's pretty clear why he's not worthy. In the case of Spider-Man, I personally have always assumed because he was too "angsty." Has the Thing failed to lift it before (in Marvel Two-In-One, maybe)? If he has tried and failed, well... I don't know. It seems to me that most often it's villains who try to lift it. I can't think of many heroes who have off the top of my head.

"I just feel that the enchantment is poorly explained."

I don't necessarily disagree with you; I was just playing devil's advocate (and I anted to mention the "weight" thing).

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