Essential Thor Vol. 7

Essential Thor Vol. 7

First Published: October 2013

Contents: Thor #248 (June 1976) to #271 (May 1978); and Thor Annual #5 (1976) and #6 (1977)

Key Creator Credits: Len Wein, John Buscema, Walt Simonson, Tony DeZuniga, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 6

Overview: So over the last 14 years of Thor adventures at Marvel, we have seen some epic runs led by some of the greats in comic book history. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and John Buscema. With this final Essential Thor volume, we can now add Walt Simonson to that list.

This book is very evenly divided between a long run by Buscema and a long run by Simonson, both overseen by writer Len Wein. There are a couple of extra inclusions, like the Annuals and the Tales of Asgard stories. But the three names to focus on our Wein, Buscema, and Simonson.

The first half of the book feels like one long story, as Thor and his friends discover that Odin is missing, and must travel the stars in search of him. Along the way, the Norse deities encounter many obstacles along the way, before tracking down the All-Father being used as a power-source for the wall around the Doomsday Star.

Returning to Asgard, the band of travelers finds that Loki has tricked Balder into surrendering the throne to him. Thor once again defeats his step-brother, and normalcy is returned to Asgard. This gives Thor the breather to return to Earth, where we get to finally see Dr. Donald Blake again.

The highlight of this collection for me was Thor Annual #6, as Thor is kidnapped across time and space to help out the Guardians of the Galaxy. Mind you, this is not the GotG with Rocket and Groot that we fell in love with in the summer of 2014 – and eagerly awaiting their return this weekend! This is the original GotG with Major Vance Astro, Charlie-27, Martinex, Yondu, and Nikki. This is such a fun story!

What makes this Essential?: I can give you two great reasons to read this book: 1) John Buscema; and 2) Walt Simonson. This is a book you buy primarily for the artwork. The stories are decent, but the non-stop space epic looking for Odin started to get stale after awhile. (Remember, this searching for Odin started in Essential Thor Vol. 6!) Towards the end of this volume, when Odin has been found and balance has been restored to Asgard (for now), Thor returns to Earth. And it’s like a breath of fresh air. We get to see Donald Blake again, and we see Thor interact with Iron Man and the Avengers. I get that there is a need for a character like Thor to be featured in EPIC stories, but so much of the charm of the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby Thor was that he was tethered to Earth by his dual identity.

So, back to the art! I’ve sung the praises for Buscema in the past many times over. And I heartedly recommended Simonson’s second and more famous run on Thor during my review of Essential Thor Vol. 4. To get both of these artists in one book is worth the suggested retail price of this book! Give it a read while you can still find a copy on the shelves. 

 

If you like this volume, try:  the current run of Mighty Thor by Jason Aaron. Back with my review for Essential Thor Vol. 3, I suggested you check out Aaron’s run on Thor, God of Thunder. That run came to an end in the fall of 2014, and this new series launched in October 2014. However, this is a different look at Thor. Sure, Thor still wields Mjolnir, still wears the red cape and helmet, and still calls Asgard home. But this Thor no longer uses the same bathroom as the Warriors Three. This Thor is now a female, as the inscription on the hammer reads “…if she be worthy….” Jason Aaron fully gets the big-picture view of Thor, Asgard, and Norse deities. This is an excellent companion piece to his first series, so please pick this up!

Essential Thor Vol. 6

Essential Thor 6

First Published: October 2012

Contents: Thor #221 (March 1974) to #247 (May 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Joe Sinnott, and others

Key First Appearances: Firelord, Dweller-in-Darkness, Horus, Isis, Osiris, Seth, Mimir, Servitor

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 7

Overview: Given his success in the cinematic Marvel Universe, you can fully expect Marvel to keep cranking out Essentials of the Bronze Age adventures of our favorite Norse deity, Thor.

This volume could be divided up into two sections, with the first section of 18 issues featuring stories from Gerry Conway and John Buscema. With the first issue of this volume, #221, Thor is joined on a series of adventures with his old friend, Hercules, the Demi-God from the Greek pantheon. The title becomes a “buddy cop” team-up of sorts, as the two hang-out around New York City, stumbling from one misadventure to the next.

There are several key stories during this run of Thor & Hercules: Galactus returns to Earth once again, this time with his new herald, Firelord. But Galactus is not here for dinner; rather, he needs Thor’s help in dealing with Ego, the Living Planet. Upon resolving that conflict, Thor arranges a swap with Galactus, giving Firelord his freedom on Earth, and in exchange, he gives Galactus the old guardian of Asgard, the Destroyer, to animate and use as his herald.

During another adventure, the long-lost love of Thor, Jane Foster, returns but she is on the brink of death. Thor does anything he can to help prolong her life, but nothing is helping. Finally, Lady Sif sacrifices her life, and merges her soul with that of Jane Foster, reviving the former nurse. From that point forward, Thor and Jane Foster are inseparable. However, Odin feels that Thor has once again disobeyed his orders, and banishes Thor from Asgard (again!). Foster still has some of the memories of Sif, and often picks up a sword and jumps into battle with Thor.

The second section would cover the final nine issues, where Roy Thomas and then Len Wein take over the scripting duties from Conway. In this section, we meet the Egyptian pantheon of gods, such as Horus, Isis, and Osiris, as a pyramid springs up in Southern California. Thor is forced to team-up with the Egyptians to save his amnesiac father, Odin. In other issues, Thor, Jane Foster, and the Warriors Three travel to the end of time to stop the Time-Twisters from destroying the universe. And we get one final match-up with Firelord, who has been mesmerized into helping rebels trying to overthrow a democratically elected government in South America.

What makes this Essential?: I honestly had no idea of the Thor & Hercules team-up adventures that dominate the majority of this book. For those issues alone, you should track down this Essential. These are solid stories from the mid-1970s that do not get revisited often enough. The art from Buscema and friends remains stellar. Buscema’s artwork is solid enough that it works just as well, if not better, in black & white as it does in color. With the developments between Thor, Jane Foster, and Lady Sif, this is a worthy read for the advancement of the characters. 

Footnotes: When Thor #231 was published, page 14 was printed out of order. For this Essential, the pages were placed in the correct reading order.

Also in issue #231, a reference is made to an adventure that Hercules had with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #28. That issue can be found in Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2.

If Gerry Conway is writing a book in the 1970s, you can expect the title character to make a visit to see Tom Fagan, as Thor did once again in issue #232. For more information on Tom Fagan in Rutland, Vermont, see the review for Essential Avengers Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try:  the Hercules: Prince of Power Premiere Edition from 2009. This collects the two Hercules miniseries from 1982 and 1984, both done by Bob Layton. The two series each took place roughly 500 years into the future, as Hercules is traveling the galaxy. Accompanied by a Recorder, he crosses paths with the Skrulls, Starfox, and even Galactus. This is Hercules at his bombastic peak, bold and brash and looking for fun. Set so far into the future, you do not need to be deeply versed in Hercules’ history in the Marvel Universe. Track this book down – you will thank me later!

Essential Thor Vol. 5

Essential Thor Vol. 5

First Published: May 2011

Contents: Thor #196 (February 1972) to #220 (February 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, John Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Silas Grant, Ego-Prime, Young Gods, Mercurio the 4-D Man, Ultimus, Krista

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 6

Overview: If you are worthy, it is time to hold up the hammer and possess the power of Thor. Welcome back to another Essential Thor volume.

In this volume, Thor battles new foes such as Ego-Prime and Mercurio, but must still deal with familiar villains such as Pluto, the Absorbing Man, and Loki. Of course, Thor’s ego gets the better of him once again in Asgard, and Odin banishes his son (and some of his friends) to Earth for some time. Which leads to some humorous moments as the Asgardians hanging out at Avengers Mansion with Jarvis, the butler.

A battle with Ulik forces Thor and his friends to return to Asgard, which they find empty of all people. That mystery leads them into space chasing intergalactic slavers. That, in turn, leads to another battle against Mercurio, whom we thought was destroyed six issues past. Finally, Thor defeats all enemies, and returns to Asgard with his friends and Odin, only to find Asgard ruled by another Thor and Odin. Confused yet? Trust me, go pick up this volume and see how this wraps up!

An interesting insert occurs with issue #200. I don’t know if this was planned from the start for the anniversary issue, or the need to meet a production deadline, but this appears to be a filler issue by Stan Lee and John Buscema (with a prolog and epilog by Gerry Conway and Buscema). It has nothing to do with issues #199 or #201, which makes me lean towards Marvel just trying to meet a deadline. Anyway, Lee gets the chance to tell his take on the Ragnarok story, which according to Norse legend is the end of the gods in a final battle. In Asgard, Odin has a prophetess share how the Ragnarok would play out: Loki triggers the start of Ragnarok, then does battle with Thor while the world around them falls. The Asgardians and the world dies and is reborn again. As the prophetess ends her tale, Odin cautions Loki that only those deemed worthy are reborn in the new world, and Loki slinks off wondering if he is part of that number.

What makes this Essential?: The stories in this volume are interesting. Not Gerry Conway’s best work ever, but by no means his worst work either. The stories split nearly evenly between those on Earth, those on Asgard, and those in space. The Earth and Asgard stories seem to be the more-complete stories, but the space stories feel like they are not fully complete. Almost like Conway wanted to do something a little more with them but held back, either by choice or editorial constraint. Buscema’s art once again shows the epic proportions of Thor and his entourage. These stories are an interesting read for a Thor fan, but I don’t know if I would say these are truly Essential. 

Footnotes: Thor makes his first visit to Rutland, Vermont, in Thor #206 and #207. For more information on Rutland, see Essential Avengers Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try:  the Ragnarok story from 2004 from Michael Avon Oeming and Andrea DiVito. This wrapped up the 1998 Thor series, as all of the Avengers-related titles were disassembling around the characters (and the readers). The Thor story was the best ending of those titles, Once again, Loki has aspirations of taking over the throne of Asgard, and resurrects Surtur to begin the Ragnarok. Over the course of six issues, spanning many months, the various Norse gods meet their demise in battle. At the end, Thor beheads Loki, and places himself into hibernation, until it is time for Thor to return. This story has been collected in two editions – a 2009 Avengers Disassembled hardcover that collected the ends of the Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man titles; and a 2005 Thor: Disassembled trade paperback.

Essential Thor Vol. 4

Essential Thor Vol. 4

First Published: June 2009

Contents: Thor #167 (August 1969) to #195 (January 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, John Buscema, and Gerry Conway

Key First Appearances: Hildegarde

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 5

Overview: Welcome back to the world of Asgard, home of the Norse gods. Led by all-seeing Odin and served by his dutiful son, Thor, god of thunder and protector of Midgard (Earth).

These comics expand the adventures of the thunder god to cosmic proportions. Odin sends Thor on a journey into mystery to track down the world-devourer Galactus. Later on, Odin and the Silent One travel into the universe to face Infinity, and they must call on Thor to rescue them from oblivion. As always, we see the ambitious Loki looking to take the throne of Asgard for himself, leading multiple attacks by giants and trolls.

As cosmic as this volume gets, Thor remains true to Earth as well. Deadly encounters with the Wrecker and Doctor Doom challenge Thor to his very limits. Thankfully, with his loyal friends like Balder, the Warriors Three, the Lady Sif, and even the Silver Surfer, Thor finds himself to be worthy of any task or challenge laid before him.

What makes this Essential?: For the artwork alone, this volume should be in any collection. With art by Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, and John Buscema, there is not a badly drawn issue to be found in this book. You can see the majesty of Asgard jumping off of the page; the thunderous rage of Thor; the evil manipulations of Loki. This is just a beautifully drawn book. However, this is not Stan Lee’s best writing. For all of the talk about comics of today being written for the trade paperback, Stan Lee was doing it 40+ years ago. The stories in this volume stretch out across multiple issues; ten years earlier, Stan and Jack would have the stories done in one issue, or two tops. If you can find the book, pick it up for the art.

Footnotes: This is a hard Essential to track down. Marvel published this in June of 2009, but no re-issues or second editions have been released since then. Given the character’s popularity with the movie franchise, it’s surprising that this has not been kept in print, especially given the talents who worked on these issues. If this is not currently in your collection, you may need to turn to eBay in order to find this volume.

Kirby left Thor (and Marvel) in 1970 due to contract issues, and took his services over to DC Comics. One of Kirby’s first projects at DC is what would become to be known as the Fourth World saga, with the introduction of Darkseid and the New Gods. There is enough examples to note that the New Gods’ origins came with Kirby’s work on Thor over the previous eight years. Check out Comic Book Legends Revealed #444 over at Comic Book Resources for a complete recounting of how Kirby was building the New Gods concept.

If you like this volume, try:  the incredible run on Thor by Walt Simonson. This is the ultimate run by any single creator on this title, elevating Thor and Asgard to new heights. Simonson introduced Beta Ray Bill, an alien who was just as worthy as Thor to hold Mjolnir. We witnessed Ragnarok as the great winter storms took over the world. And the mischievousness of Loki reached new lows as he turned his step-brother into a frog. This has been collected numerous times, as trade paperbacks and most recently as an oversized omnibus. However you choose to read this, the Simonson Thor should be part of every comic library.

Essential Thor Vol. 3

Essential Thor Vol. 3

First Published: October 2006

Contents: Thor #137 (February 1967) to #166 (July 1969)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Ulik, Orikal, Growing Man, the Enchanters, the Wrecker, Mangog, Athena

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 4

Overview: It’s time to go back to Norse Mythology 101, true believers, as we look at the third volume of the Essential Thor series. Get comfortable, because with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby telling these tales of Asgard, we are in for some incredible adventures. You will not want to put this book down

At the end of the last volume, Odin had decreed that Thor should stop his infatuation with nurse Jane Foster. A spell was cast to change Jane’s heart, and she quickly moved on to a new job and a new interest. Jane would be seen very sporadically throughout this volume and the upcoming volumes, but her story with Thor is not yet done.

Instead of Jane Foster, Odin “encourages” his son to turn his eyes upon Lady Sif, who happens to be the prettiest warrior in all of Asgard. Sif is ready to say “I do” but Thor’s heart is still heavy for the love he once had. This turn in direction is also used to start focusing more of the stories of Thor in Asgard proper, with the occasional visit to Earth.

A pair of important foes are introduced in this volume. The first is Ulik, the mightiest of the rock trolls. The trolls are always looking to expand their empire anywhere within the Nine Realms. Thankfully, Thor and his mighty hammer Mjolnir stand ready to push them back. Midway through this volume, Loki returns to confound his step-brother once more. Hiding out from his brother, a common thief known as the Wrecker breaks into Loki’s hotel room. Karnilla, the Norn Queen, casts a spell at Loki but it hit the Wrecker instead, granting him great strength and invulnerability. Definitely strong enough to go toe-to-toe with Thor.  (Years later, the Wrecker will share some of his powers with three other felons to create the Wrecking Crew.)

As the book progresses, we see Kirby’s influence on the book take control – larger panels, double-page spreads, and cosmic stories. Of course, that means another visit from Ego the Living Planet, who is at odds with Galactus, devourer of worlds. Doesn’t get much more cosmic than that, right?

What makes this Essential?: This is a must own Essential. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby hit their creative peak with the run of issues in this volume. While there are some story arcs taking place firmly on Earth (Circus of Crime, the Wrecker), we get more of Asgard and Thor’s place in the universe. Ego the Living Planet returns, and familiar faces from the pages of Fantastic Four come over for a visit, in Adam Warlock and Galactus. Kirby has moved away from the 9-panel pages to go with the larger 4-panel pages or even full page splashes, making the saga of our favorite Norse deity seem that much more grander. I say this should be a must own for the Kirby fans and/or Thor fans.

Footnotes: The Tales of Asgard stories ended in Thor #145. From issues #146 to #152, a new backup from Lee & Kirby featuring the Inhumans began, but those are not reprinted in this Essential. Finally, with Thor #153, Thor finally gets the entire issue for his continuing adventures.

If you like this volume, try:  the Thor, God of Thunder series that launched in late 2012 as part of the Marvel Now campaign. Jason Aaron helms this title, crafting incredible concepts for Thor. His approach to the majority of the stories is to tell them from three points of view from Thor’s timeline: the current Thor of today, Thor as a brash youth from a 1,000 years ago, and an elder Thor, King of Asgard. The main artist for the book is Esad Ribic, whose art reminds me of Bill Sienkiewicz, but the finished product has the grandeur of Kirby.  What I really appreciate about this title is that it has been left alone from all of the other events going on in the Marvel Universe. To date, you can read this title and not feel the need to pick up crossovers or additional miniseries. This title will be coming to an end with issue #25 later this fall, so catch this while you can, before Thor makes his (or her) next transformation. Thor, God of Thunder has been collected in hardcover and trade paperback collections and should be easy to track down.

Essential Thor Vol. 2

Essential Thor Vol. 2

First Published: June 2005

Contents: Journey Into Mystery #113 (February 1965) to #125 (February 1966); Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 (1965); Thor #126 (March 1966) to #136 (January 1967); and Thor Annual #2 (September 1966)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Key First Appearances: Absorbing Man, Destroyer, Warriors Three (Fandrall, Hogun, and Volstagg), Olympus, Hercules, Zeus, Hippolyta, Pluto, Ares, Artemis, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Cerberus, Tana Nile, Ego the Living Planet, Recorder #211, Count Tagar, High Evolutionary, New Men, Knights of Wundagore, Dr. Keith Kincaid

Story Continues From: Essential Thor Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 3

Overview: Take a journey into mystery, by following the Rainbow Bridge to the fabled world of Asgard, led by the all-father Odin, and represented by the prince to the throne, Thor, god of thunder and protector of Earth.

In the continuation of the Norse god’s adventures, Thor faces off against stronger foes, such as the Grey Gargoyle and the Absorbing Man. Thor is tested to his limits as the Asgardian Destroyer is let loose. Loki’s schemes get more nefarious in his attempts to steal the throne of Asgard away from Odin, only to be thwarted by Thor.

The Norse gods cross paths with the Greek gods, as Hercules, Prince of Power, faces off against Thor in a memorable introduction. Hercules and the other Greeks would appear many times in this volume, and the popularity of Hercules would lead to his inclusion in the Avengers title.

Finally, the scope of Thor and his book expands as he takes a journey into space, where he encounters one of his greatest challenges to date when Thor faces off against Ego, the Living Planet! Following his return to Earth, Thor meets the High Evolutionary on the peak of Wundagore Mountain, which will be a thorn in the side of many Marvel heroes for years to come.

The Tales of Asgard stories continue throughout this volume, giving the reader insights and backstory into many of the supporting characters in the Asgardian mythos.

What makes this Essential?: This is a much better volume of Thor stories than the first volume. While I don’t believe Lee & Kirby hit their creative peak with Thor until volume 3, we see the seeds of grandeur starting to show in the stories. The introduction of Hercules, Zeus, and the Olympian pantheon creates counterparts to the Norse gods and gives Thor a friendly rival to go up against. Add in the introduction of the Warriors Three, the Absorbing Man, and Ego the Living Planet, and this could be considered a better starting point for a new Thor reader.

If you like this volume, try:  the Incredible Hercules series from 2008-2010. Following the events of the World War Hulk storyline, Hercules took over the Incredible Hulk title, with it being renamed in issue #113.  Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, the story is a humorous look into the adventures of the Greek demigod partnered with Amadeus Cho, a teenage super-genius. Hercules finds himself caught up in awkward situations, usually due to his womanizing ways or by the actions of his rival Ares. These issues have been collected in hardcover and trade paperback collections and should be easy to track down.

Essential Thor Vol. 1

Essential Thor Vol. 1

First Published: February 2001

Contents: Thor and Tales of Asgard stories from Journey Into Mystery #83 (August 1962) to #112 (January 1965)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Leiber, and Don Heck

Key First Appearances: Dr. Donald Blake/Thor,  Jane Foster, Loki, Odin, Balder the Brave, Heimdall, Tyr, Asgard, Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, Frigga, Radioactive Man, Merlin Demonspawn, Ymir, Surtur, Cobra, Mr. Hyde, Haag, Hela, Lady Sif, Enchantress, Executioner, Grey Gargoyle, Karnilla, Laufey

Story Continues In: Essential Thor Vol. 2

Overview: Donald Blake, an American doctor vacationing in Europe, finds himself being chased by the Stone Men of Asgard. Hiding in a remote cave, Blake finds an ancient walking stick. Tapping that stick on the ground transforms the weak doctor into the mighty Thor, God of Thunder and Prince of Asgard. Armed with his hammer Mjolnir, Thor sends the Stone Men back to their planet, and establishes himself as the protector of Midgard (Earth).

Over the next two years of stories, we are introduced to Blake’s nurse Jane Foster, who is in love with the thunder god. We meet the royal family, such as Thor’s father Odin, King of Asgard, and his step-brother Loki, god of mischief. We see his friends who stand by Thor’s side in battle and in celebration, like Balder the Brave, Heimdall, Tyr, and the Lady Sif. And any hero is only as great as the villains he battles, and Thor battles humans to aliens to Asgardians.

While this title develops it’s own story and mini-universe, it does crossover into the mainstream Marvel Universe. Thor’s teammates in the Avengers make multiple appearances, and Thor even battles Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The final issue in this collection features a battle between Thor and the Hulk, the first of many such bouts.

This volume also includes the Tales of Asgard stories that were a back-up feature beginning in Journey Into Mystery #101. These stories gave readers the back-story of the Asgardians, telling tales of Thor and Loki in their youth, and exploring the nine realms. Many familiar characters, such as Lady Sif, Hela, and Surtur, were introduced into the Marvel Asgardian universe through these features.

What makes this Essential?: This is a decent introduction to Thor, Loki, Odin, and the other Asgardians, but these are not great stories. When I think of “Thor”, I associate words such as “Epic” and “Mighty” and “Grandeur”. I don’t think these issues give me that. Thor does not stand out against other humans, Asgard looks small, Loki comes across as more annoying than evil. Lee & Kirby will have much better stories collected in later Essential Thor volumes. Other creative teams will have even more impressive runs with the Thunder God. This volume is a good way to introduce a reader to the title character, but I don’t think this is the volume to make someone a fan of Thor.

How many Executioners does one god need?: In Journey Into Mystery #84, Thor battled the Executioner, a pro-Communist warlord trying to wrest control of the nation San Diablo. Thor helps the democratic forces stop the revolt, and the Executioner is, well, executed by his troops as he tries to escape. Whether is was his desire to re-use a good name or an oversight on his part, Stan Lee used the name Executioner again in Journey Into Mystery #103, when he introduced the Asgardian/Storm Giant who is often partnered with the Enchantress.

Footnotes: In his first appearance in Journey Into Mystery #93 (June 1963), Radio-Active Man’s name is spelled with a hyphen. In his next appearance in Avengers #6  (July 1964), the hyphen has been lost, giving us the more familiar spelling of Radioactive Man’s name.

If you like this volume, try:  the 2007 relaunch of the Thor title by J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel. Thor and the other Asgardians had been dormant in the Marvel Universe since the end of the previous Thor series in 2004. In this story, JMS and Coipel bring Thor back to the land of the living, as he seeks out his fellow Asgardians and looks to rebuild Asgard, which now hovers over a small town in Oklahoma. This is a great story to be introduced to the entire concept in a more current time-frame. This has been collected multiple times in paperback and hardcover editions, so you should have no troubles finding this.