In a summer filled with big-budget comic book adaptations, it’s easy to forget the humble origins of these characters. Starting off as single comics at the newsstand decades ago, these characters have blossomed into full fledged pop culture icons. And while their big screen adventures may wow audiences worldwide, their comic book origins should never be overlooked. So with the May 6 release of Thor rapidly approaching, we give you the five best Thor comics new fans should read before the movie comes out.
1. Thor Omnibus by Joe Michael Straczynski (Collects: Fantastic Four #536-537, Thor #1-12, and #600-603, Thor Giant-Size Finale)
Writer: Joe Michael Straczynski
Artist: Olivier Coipel
What makes it great: Joe Michael Straczynski's (or JMS for short) Thor begins in a startling way as he strips Asgard of all of its cosmic grandeur and places it in the middle of a small town in Oklahoma. To have the Hall of the Gods sharing a property line with the average Joe Sixpack is just the fresh spin that the book needed. There is something surreal about the scenes showcasing Asgardian warriors sitting down at the local diner alongside native Oklahomans.
JMS's Thor is not the loud, universe rattling affair that most comics are. The God of Thunder is more introspective than ever before and the book focuses on Asgard and how Thor plans to lead his people into the future instead of concentrating solely on super powered brawls. This book also features the best characterization of Thor's misguided half-brother, Loki. His actions during this time place him right at the top of Marvel's villainous heap along with the Red Skull, Magneto, and Doctor Doom.
And while JMS’s unique slice-of-life take on Thor is the highlight of the book, the stunning art by Olivier Coipel transcends typical comic fare. It’s not about how big he can draw Thor’s biceps or how many Ice Giants he can fit on one panel but about how much character and storytelling can be seen in one simple facial expression. Coipel’s art is simultaneously understated and powerful. And his redesign of the Thor costume turned out to be so practical that the movie basically ripped it right from the page.
2. Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson Vol. 1 (Collects: Thor #339-348)
Writer: Walter Simonson
Artist: Walter Simonson
What makes it great: Before Walter Simonson became the writer on The Mighty Thor, the book was floundering about for a few years. Writers had a hard time coming up with new problems to present the indestructible God of Thunder with and most of the time it just became a book focusing on whatever monster attacked Asgard that month.
Simonson changed all of that by delving headfirst into Norse mythology and bringing a level of authenticity to the world of Thor. Simonson's Asgard is a rich world filled with technology and innovation, but he always sticks true to the mythological roots of the world as well. This combination of new world tech with old world magic makes his run the most visually unique of any Thor book.
But while Simonson may have updated the appearance of Thor’s world, he makes sure to keep the conflicts between the characters as classic as ever. This first volume of Simonson’s run is a great place for anyone interested in reading Thor to begin.
This run also has many of the sci-fi elements that will be present in the movie and portrays Asgard itself as an important character in the story. It also features the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill, one of the only other characters ever worthy enough to pick up Thor's hammer, Mjolnir.
3. Thor: Ages of Thunder (Collects: Thor: Ages of Thunder One-Shot, Thor: Reign of Blood One-Shot, Thor: Man of War One-Shot, and Thor God-Sized Special)
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artists: Patrick Zircher, Clay Mann , Doug Braithwaite, Dan Brereton, and Marko Djurdjevic
What makes it great: Thor: Ages of Thunder collects various one-shots that Matt Fraction wrote over the years. These stories read more like short mythological cautionary tales than most superhero comic tales and, for a character like Thor, this decision works brilliantly.
These stories depict a pre-Earth, pre-Avengers Thor who is still a brash warrior who carouses with various women and loses his temper at a moment's notice. He is an overconfident and angry God who is always frustrated that he has to clean up the mess the other Asgardians create.
These stories are easy to jump into for people who have never picked up a Thor book before because they are purely about storytelling and have nothing to do with complicated comic book continuity or years of backstory.
And while the storytelling in this book is brilliant, it’s the art that is the real standout. The art in this book is very rarely reminiscent of a superhero tale and instead it depicts these characters like the mythological figures that they deserve to be. Also Thor's classic Avengers duds are replaced by a badass warrior’s outfit that looks like he just jumped off the cover of a thrash metal album.
The portrayal of Thor as an overconfident and cruel warrior, and his subsequent banishment from Asgard, is closely echoed in the plot of the film.
4. Thor and Loki: Blood Brothers (Collects: Loki #1-4, Journey Into Mystery #85, and Journey Into Mystery #112)
Writer: Rob Rodi
Artist: Esad Ribic
What makes it great: With the movie set to explore the acrimonious relationship between Thor and his half-brother Loki, Thor and Loki: Blood Brothers gives readers an alternate take on the conflict by telling the story from Loki’s perspective.
The God of Mischief is a complicated individual and this book details that it’s not hatred he has for Thor but jealousy. It also goes into depth about Loki’s insecure and conflicted feelings towards every main character in the Thor books.
Rob Rodi’s portrayal of Loki is brilliant, but Esad Ribic's art is what makes this book worth the price tag. Ribic is best known for his work on Sub Mariner: The Depths and the criminally underrated Silver Surfer: Requiem, but this might be his best work yet. His beautifully painted pages show the extreme power of Thor and the epic grandeur of Asgard. Ribic’s art is one of the only times that Thor’s world has been detailed with the scope and atmosphere worthy of the original Norse mythology.
Thor and Loki: Blood Brothers is essential in order to completely understand the complicated relationship between Loki and Asgard. Reading the story from Loki's viewpoint helps us to better understand his character and almost makes him sympathetic by the book’s end. But again, that might just be more of Loki's manipulations.
5. Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor Vol. 1 (Collects: Journey Into Mystery #83-100)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
What makes it great: This first volume of the Marvel Masterworks collection of Thor collects the character's first appearance and other early adventures of the God of Thunder. These original stories can seem quaint and sometimes a little goofy today, but they’re a great time capsule to take a look back at where these characters came from.
Stan Lee crafts highly imaginative tales that are filled with fantastic ideas and bombastic battles. His work on the character sets the stage for future writers to further develop the world of Asgard along with Thor’s conflicts with Loki and other denizens of the Marvel Universe. While Lee’s tenure on the character never reaches the same legendary status as his work on Fantastic Four or The Amazing Spider-Man, his Thor run is still highly entertaining.
Perhaps the book's biggest influence on today's comics is found in Jack Kirby’s art. His portrayal of Asgard and the world of Thor is still being replicated today and his artistic stylings can even be seen as an influence for the look of the movie. His work on Thor isn’t as memorable as his art on Fantastic Four or his Fourth World stories, but it’s still light years beyond anything anyone else was doing at the time.
Innocent, nostalgic, and historic are all ways to describe this book. But above all it’s a quality read that is meant to introduce a new generation of readers to Thor. This is a great book to read through before you visit Thor’s world at the cinema.