Tales of Thunder1 of 12
At the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2020, a new era of Thor will begin, as participating shops open their doors for the launch of Donny Cates and Nic Klein's Thor #1.
As Cates calls upon heavy metal thunder (he's stated his run will be inspired by the imagery of metal bands), we've been struck as a bolt from the blue with the inspiration to read back on these ten essential Thor tales before the new story begins.
God Butcher/Godbomb (Thor: God of Thunder #1-11)2 of 12
It’s safe to call this one a modern classic.
Jason Aaron is a man who was truly born to write Thor, and his first arc is appropriately ambitious, pitting three different versions of Thor (from three different time periods) against the terrifying Goor the God Butcher. By showing us the once, current and future versions of Thor, Aaron is able to examine the character from many different angles, something that’s not always easy to do in a medium in which change is often just an 'illusion.'
But thankfully, it’s not all character psychology as Aaron throws in action sequences and fight scenes (expertly drawn by Esad Ribic) that will inspire metal bands for years to come. This run is a perfect distillation of the stories that came before turned up to eleven.
Thor: The Mighty Avenger3 of 12
Believe it or not, there was a time before Chris Samnee was a household name. But for Thor fans who were paying attention, he was a best kept secret.
In the lead-up to the theatrical release of the first Thor movie, Roger Langridge and Samnee presented a different kind of Thor than the one comics readers were used to. His adventures were a little bit more lighthearted, but still maintained an epic heart, pitting Thor against Fin Fang Foom and Namor. But more than anything else, it thrived in providing an essential look at Thor’s relationship with Jane Foster. It simply hasn’t been written better before or since.
Mangog (Thor #154-157)4 of 12
You can’t have a best Thor stories list without a story from Stan and Jack. They were always ready to take Thor in bold new directions, and this story featuring Mangog introduces a Ragnarok scenario that it seems even the God of Thunder cannot survive.
As one would expect, Thor wins the day - but not through sheer power. In fact, he can only fight Mangog to a draw. Odin is able to revive the monster’s family, quelling his hatred and in turn his strength. This is a mighty Marvel tale that stands up with the best of them.
The Eternals Saga (Thor Annual #7, Thor #283-301)5 of 12
This classic story was started by Roy Thomas and finished by Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio, with artist John Buscema eventually giving way to Keith Pollard. But it was born from the imagination of Jack Kirby, as all the creators involved tried to take Kirby’s vision of the Eternals and the Celestials - which mostly inhabited its own universe prior and marry it to the Marvel Universe.
The result is something that has left an impact on Asgard ever since, with future creators finding new ways to weave in those familiar Kirby elements whenever possible. Even Thor: Ragnarok bears that mark - and “The Eternals Saga” may have at least a little bit to do with that.
We'll see what carries over when Marvel Studios adapts The Eternals in 2020.
Thor: Disassembled (Thor vol. 2 #80-85)6 of 12
All good things must come to an end and as the “Disassembled” storyline ripped through Avengers, it eventually fell to Thor as well. The beauty in this ending is Michael Avon Oeming’s reverence for the character’s history, revealing the nature of the cycle of Ragnarok and how it all weaves together.
It’s a love letter, not only to Thor but to comic books in general and the cycles of death and rebirth within them.
Mjolnir's Song (Thor #380)7 of 12
Part of the way through his run, Walt Simonson ceded art duties to the still exceptionally talented Sal Buscema - but he would occasionally jump back to the drawing board. Thor #380 sees our hammer-wielding hero facing off against a seemingly insurmountable foe, the Midgard Serpent.
To this point, readers had seen Thor stare down against any number of men, beasts, or demons, but this time things are different. Hela casts a curse that weakens Thor’s bones and the Midgard Serpent, Jormungand, is large enough to encircle the entire planet with its body!
But the issue isn’t memorable just for being a helluva fight. Simonson decided that the best way to translate the sheer size of the serpent was to do the entire book as a series of splash pages. The result is a comic that looks nothing like anything that came out at the time and served as a precursor for the big, bombastic storytelling tropes of the 1990s.
Thor vol. 3 #1-68 of 12
A lot happened when Thor was taken off the board in the years before the first Marvel Civil War. But after Tony Stark’s failed attempt at cloning the Thunder God, it was time for Thor to return. And boy did he.
J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel were up to the task of redefining Thor for a post-Civil War Marvel Universe. They did so by acknowledging the gap and taking their time to establish Thor’s supporting cast, even if they did have to put him in a strange new place (Broxton, Oklahoma) to do it. The result was a run that humanized Thor but also reminded readers what made him so cool to begin with.
The big highlight of the first six issues would have to be issue #3, in which Tony Stark and Thor have a very friendly chat regarding Thor’s feelings about being cloned. (Spoiler alert: it’s not very friendly and there isn’t much talking. Lots and lots of punching, though.)
The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill (Thor #337-340)9 of 12
You had to know this one would have a spot on the list. When Walt Simonson introduced the horse-faced Korbinite known as Beta Ray Bill and imbued him with the power of Thor, he flipped everything we knew about the God of Thunder and his hammer on its head! But in doing so, he created a new hero and added to the mythology of the character.
With this story, Thor became more than just a singular hero but rather a heroic ideal. And the selfless Bill became a lens for readers (and Thor himself) to examine the Odinson through. Bill became Thor’s reminder that he needed to continue to strive to be the best hero he could be despite his brash and sometimes impulsive demeanor and his friendship with the worthy alien has been a mainstay and fan-favorite ever since.
Skurge's Last Stand (Thor #362)10 of 12
Part of the reason that Walt Simonson’s run is so revered is for the way that he was able to elevate characters that had never really been given a chance to shine. To this point, Skurge the Executioner was little more than a hapless henchman serving the will of Amora the Enchantress.
But with Hela’s armies bearing down on Asgard, Skurge made a character defining decision. Sick of being laughed at, Skurge stayed behind to face the hordes and claim his place in Valhalla. It’s a hero’s turn coming from one of the most unlikely of places and Simonson plays it perfectly.
“...and when a new arrival asks about the one to whom even Hela bows her head, the answer is always the same. He stood alone at Gjallerbru and that answer is enough.”
The Surtur Saga (Thor #340-353)11 of 12
“The sound of thunder reverberates through a billion billion worlds... DOOM!”
With that, Walt Simonson began to build up the threat of Surtur the fire giant, and by its end “The Surtur Saga” would cement his legacy as the greatest creator to ever work on the character. It’s one thing to tease out a threat over the course of a year - it’s another to deliver on it. By the time Thor and Surtur were forced to come to blows, readers were enthralled with the journey and cared about Thor and his supporting cast in a more meaningful way than they ever had before.
And it wasn’t just Simonson’s writing but his art and collaborations with letterer John Workman and colorist Christie Scheele that made this run, and this story specifically, the quintessential take on the Thunder God.
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