Thursday, September 15, 2016

Finally : a Thorsday with Walter Simonson

Since I have already posted all the stuff from the Ragnarock story by John Buscema and Tom Palmer Today I bring you a special post in lieu of Walter Simonson´s 70th birthday at the beginning of this month. I said that I would do a THORSDAY post and on this blog posts don´t get scratched, they only get postponed. Even if it sometimes takes me longer to do it. Anyway, let´s travel back to a time when THOR was about manly things and writers knew that his uru hammer has no special healing abilities.

At this point there is probably not much that hasn´t been written about Walter Simonson´s groundbreaking THOR run thanks to the omnibus book that is one of Marvel´s most popular omnibus editions among fans. It´s also out of print so if you actually own a copy you´re one of the few lucky ones and currently there are copies sold on amazon with the price range going from 360 to 680 bucks. Anyway, I´ll not try to do the definite Walter Simonson Thor post and instead I will just indulge myself a bit, write about my reading of the series and return to some of my favorite scenes.

Now I didn´t start reading Walter Simonson´s THOR run with his first issue because the first issue from that run that I saw was by fill in artist Sal Buscema and it didn´t really thrill me. This was long before I started reading american comics on a regular basis. I know I had the stack my uncle who was a G. I. had left us which included a lot of CONAN issues by John Buscema which ruined me for all following CONAN series and also AVENGERS 81 which was the first time I saw the Vision. There must have been some american comics I bought at the newsstand at the bus station in Ludwigsburg. But I had no idea where to get american comics - yet. I was visiting an aunt and at the railway station they had a newsstand that said " international magazines " and because I saw that they had some comics I went over. As I said, the THOR issue didn´t look very interesting so the comic I ended up buying was ALPHA FLIGHT issue 20 because I was a huge John Byrne fan at that time. And it also introduced Aurora´s new costume which might have slightly influenced my decision to buy this.

Anyway, that was when I became aware that there were american comics sold at newsstands at the bigger railway stations in Germany which was the start of my reading of american comics. When I DID get my first Walter Simonson THOR issues they were already at the point where Thor went into hel and got disfigured by Hela which means that I read Walter´s first THOR stories as back ups in Condor´s DIE SPINNE or in some Sonderheft.

What grabbed me about Walter Simonson on THOR - besides the fantastic art - was his writing. Unlike what is going on in the current Thor books he didn´t contradict any of the old stories by Stan Lee or the mythology of the character, he just built upon it by bringing his own style to it which brought in many elements of the old norse myths but also new aspects.

For instance he was one of the first comic book writers who did away with Thor´s secret identity because he clearly realized that Thor doesn´t really need a secret identity in Today´s day and age to work. Moreso, giving Thor a secret identity is just a unnecessary burden for the reader and a crutch for lazy writers. There were good writers after Walter Simonson but not many that were as dedicated as one can see by how many gave him a new secret identity up to the fiasco with new Thor Girl.  

Now what are my personal highlights of that run ? One of the first is clearly the saga about Beta Ray Bill not just because it kicked off the run. On one side it presented an updated, more aggressive modernized version of Thor that served to draw in new readers while at the same time emphasizing the importance and values of the real Thor without making him boring or dated. That is something Today´s writer clearly learned nothing from.

Also Walter Simonson just didn´t hand the hammer over to Beta Ray Bill for a dozen issues before giving it back to the real thunder god ( as I´m sure things will return to normal once the whole novelty of the " new Thor Girl as a symbol of female empowerment " thing has worn off or it starts hurting Diney´s profits - whatever happens first ) he created a rival who was as noble as Thor and who had as legitimate a claim on Mjolnir.

Walter solved this problem in a clever way by Odin making a new hammer - with some help from the dwarves- called Stormbringer for Beta Ray Bill.

So instead of going for the cheap approach that throws everything that has come before into the garbage can Walter knew that any replacement was going to be just temporary unless you are willing to kill off Thor.

Because let´s face it, being Thor is not something he can just turn off. Now being the god of thunder THAT may be seen as more of a job description and with any job it could be done by another person. Possibly. Even being the protector of Earth - which is something that has to do with Thor´s heritage since his mother is basically planet Earth itself - is something that could be passed down to another person. And this has already been done a few times in the past. But he IS Thor. That is his name and as much as some writers might try to convince you by coming up with clever plot twists - if you call whispering something in somebody´s ear so they are not worthy of lifting the hammer anymore clever and not stupid - just by giving Thor the name Odinson you can´t make somebody else Thor. You could legally change your name to Robert Downey Jr but that doesn´t mean you become him or get his good looks, his money or his acting abilities. And I bet Jason Aaron has no idea what Nick Fury has whispered into Thor´s ear and we will learn what it was as soon as he comes up with a version he´s happy with. Somebody online said that Nick Fury probably told Thor what the Marvel comic universe is becoming under the guidance of Disney and that´s the theory I am going to stick with.

Coming back to GOOD writing on THOR, Walter Simonson and Beta Ray Bill even back then Marvel realized what a great story it was because back then their trade paperback list was really short but one of the few you could get besides The Dark Phoenix Saga was The Ballad Of Beta Ray Bill.

Which you got for a measly nine bucks. My, how things have changed.

The next big thing was of course the confrontation with Surtur during which Loki almost acquired noble traits as he defended Asgard all alone against the fire demon at some point. Of course this was only because he had other plans for Asgard but nevertheless this was one of the few times we saw Loki fight side by side with his hated stepbrother and his adoptive father. Which in turn made it all the more dramatic when Odin seemingly fell in battle. At that point Walter Simonson was still an unknown quantity so the possibility that this was really the end of old Odin was very high.

Back then the death of Odin and subsequently Thor becoming the new ruler of Asgard hadn´t been done to death so logically the next story was about the successor of Odin which had a neat twist by presenting it like an electoral race in which Loki also was one of the candidates. Which wasn´t as ludicrous as it sounds since he had fought against Surtur to defend Asgard even if it was only for his own selfish needs. But even so a big part of the Asgardian populace began supporting Loki´s candidature.

Of course Loki used trickery to steer the outcome of that election in which he was aided by Lorelei who bent Thor´s will with her magic and womenly ways. She had earlier fallen under a love spell of Loki and tried her best to make his wishes come true. Walter Simonson came up with Lorelei to take the role the Enchantress had previously filled out which shows again his writing chops. There are just too many writers who take the easy way out and just reverse all the changes in a character they don´t like or which don´t fit with the story they are writing. You see this happen in comics a lot and in the end you have somebody like Magneto flip flopping so fast between being a villain, a revolutionary, a terrorist or a misunderstood hero that you loose track which version of him he currently is. It also might differ from series to series as Marvel doesn´t have editors who make sure characters stay consistent from book to book anymore.

Coming back to THOR, anybody who says that Walter Simonson is not good at drawing women should check out his really flawless rendition of Lorelei.

Of course I can´t talk about this story without mentioning which is either Simonson´s most brilliant or most ridiculous but in any case most famous creation besides Beta Ray Bill : the frog of thunder. Taking inspiration in old earthen fairy tales Loki comes up with an enchantment that changes Thor´s godly form into that of a frog when kissed by a maiden. And you thought Odin constantly stripping Thor´s godly powers or reducing them any other day of the week was a problem. Of course Thor wouldn´t be Thor if he gave up or yielded to despair - even in diminished form - and he somehow managed to lift the hammer and get the power of Thor back.

Thor frog headed back to Asgard to have words with Loki about who is best suited to rule which lead to one of the most hilarious Loki / Thor battles ever and the humor was a big aspect why this run was so popular.

Over the years one of the things Walter Simonson is known for is that he turned Thor into a frog and the character had such a big fan following throughout the years that Marvel created Throg - another frog who ended up with the power of Thor and who is a member of the Pet Avengers.

There are a few things I´m not going to elaborate on here because I want to talk about these things in a separate post like the death of Skurge which is slated to get the DEATH IN COMICS treatment since I started that series or issue 380 in which Thor fights the Midgard Serpent and which was - almost - done entirely in splash pages. I also liked the last part of Walter Simonson´s THOR run where the art was done by Sal Buscema which would really get the short end of the stick if I included it here and which will be one of our next THORSDAY posts. But before closing the book on Walter Simonson´s Thor for Today I have to mention one of the best things from this run : Thor´s battle armor. When he was burdened with Hela´s curse that his bones would become as brittle as an old man´s or a fifty years old comic fan´s bones Thor created this armor and fused it with his body through magic lightning. Now that´s what I call hardcore ! 

I want to end this post with a quote from Duy´s Walt Simonson´s Thor : A Retrospective at THE COMICS CUBE which is a truly enlightening read as he meticulously dissects every aspect of maybe the greatest run in comics history : In a time when superheroes regularly got " deconstructed " and made to look fallible and all too human, Walter Simonson managed to show us, via the Mighty Thor, that superheroes can in fact resemble humanity - with petty squabbles, problems with love, and mourning their families - without once forgetting the grandeur and scope that they're capable of, the fantastic worlds they're capable of taking us to, and the sense of wonder that they can instill. Superheroes and gods are larger than life, and can make us feel larger than life as we read them.

And with that we have already started with the links for the post. Like I said, everybody has written about Walter Simonson´s Thor so naturally many of my favorite Thor moments pop up in Chris Sims´ The 10 Most Awesome Moments In Walter Simonson´s Thor over at COMICS ALLIANCE .

MARVEL COMICS OF THE 1980s has many posts on Walter Simonson´s Thor including the ones where I found the original art for the cover of Thor 350 , the Thor vs Beta Ray Bill fight and the cover for the The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill trade and they also have a post called My Favorite 1980s Marvel Slugfests that includes Thor´s battle against the Midgard Serpent from Thor 380 as well as Thor´s fight against the Celestials from Thor 387 to 389 ( which I wrote about in this post ). Both battles are included in John " The Mego Stretch Hulk " Cimino´s The Top 5 Greatest Battles Of The Mighty Thor at HERO ENVY , BLOG INTO MYSTERY has a post on Thor 352 and since I already dedicated an entire post to the female Thor I won´t bore you by re - posting that and instead I will let Robert Conway at REAXXION tell you How The New Female Thor Shows The Grip Feminists Have On Comics. Last but not least as a Zuckerle for my german readers DAS SAGTE NUFF, the german comic magazine about  Marvel comics from what comic historians call the Williams Era has two posts of Jack Kirby´s Thor with black and white pages and german text ( part 1 / part 2 ).

Today we have only four celebrity birthdays starting with Oliver Stone who turns 70. He is best known for his mvies about political topics like Born On The Fourth Of July, Nixon, The Day Reagan Was Shot or JFK but he also did more action oriented movies like Natural Born Killers, The Corruptor or Blue Steel with sexbomb Jamilf Lee Curtis. I tried to find an animated GIF from that movies but most I found are from her incredible striptease in True Lies. Jamie´s birthday is towards the end of the year and I have already decided to finally do a new version of her post with lots of GIFs.

Also celebrating his 70th birthday is Tommy Lee Jones who was in JFK and Natural Born Killers - among others like The Fugitive, The Client and my favorite movie with Tommy Lee Jones Under Siege because it has another hot striptease from my Top Ten Movie Striptease List, this time by Erika Eleniak. She celebrates her next birthday at the end of this month and you can also expect an updated version with more and better GIFs. 

Coming back to Tommy Lee Jones he also appeared in the comic related - I hate to admit it - Joel Schumacher fiasco Batman Forver and in a movie called Gotham which strangely enough was not comic related in any way, shape or form. Now you could say that the Men In Black movies are comic related since the idea was taken from a comic by Aircel which was bought by Malibu which was bought by Marvel. Anyway, I just saw Men In Black III and I have to say I was genuinely surprised how good the movie was.

When I watched it all I was thinking was " Oh god, let it be better than the second movie ! "  but this part was almost as good as the first movie. I have to give the original movie the higher rating because it introduced the concepts so all of that was not new in the third movie but man, was the story good. It seems they actually learned something from the giant failure of the second movie. Now after all this talk about Men In Black you probably expect me to post an episode of the cartoon show but since that was not very good - and I don´t want to post some random clip or a trailer from the movies - here is one of my favorite Tommy Lee Jones movies. It´s not a big budget movie or a favorite of the movie critics but I saw this when it was shown in theaters and it´s pretty decent entertainment.

Our third birthday of the day is crime novel author Agatha Christie who has probably done more than anybody else to entertain my mother ( with the probable exception of Perry Rhodan ) with her books and the subsequent adaptions through cinema and tv. Naturally I have seen my share of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple movies and tv shows and for me the quintessential Miss Marple actress is Margaret Rutherford and I can still watch Murder She Said ( which is called 16 o´clock 5 from Paddington in Germany ) anytime it´s on tv. Sadly none of her Miss Marple movies are on YouTube but I found there´s an anime series which apparently has her teaming up with Agatha Christie´s other famous detective Hercule Poirot.

We also have another famous writer in our Dearly Departed section, James Fenimore Cooper who fired up the imaginations generations since The Leatherstocking Tales, The Last Of The Mohicans, The Deerslayer or The Pathfinder were first published. He is the creator of the original Hawkeye who was the inspiration for everybody´s favorite archer hero.

By the way I still think the guys a Disney could have pulled off the real Hawkeye costume - with a few slight modifications - in the movies if they had wanted to. Which is the reason why more movie companies should hire cosplayer as costume designers. I mean, just imagine what this guy could do with the kind of budget big movies companies have access to.

Now if I told you there was a team up of Hawkeye and Wonder Woman before the Marvel vs DC series ( or was it DC vs Marvel, I´m never quite sure ) you would probably think I´m crazy but there was a Hawkeye tv series Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter. I only caught a few episodes and the good thing about series from that time period is that there is always good cleavage action going on and Lynda provided plenty of that.

Since most comic readers have Walter Simonson´s Thor comics in their collection - either as single issues, one of the various trade collections or if you´re really lucky as an omnibus - I´m pimping THE best Epic Collection of Thor so far, War Of The Pantheons which you can get at amazon for 25 bucks. Speaking about amazon they also have the highly recommended Epic Collection Avengers - Under Siege for 26 Euros and the 40 Dollar hardcover Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis : Heroic Age for 23 Euros which contains the first 6 issues of Avengers by John Romita Jr and New Avengers by Stuart Immomen as well as Avengers Prime by Alan Davis. 

Since this post is about Thor I want to end the post with fellow Avenger member Scarlet Witch cosplayed however by the lovely Yaya Han. I already posted the first video about this and I have to say I´m still baffled at how many people seem to be bothered by her cleavage or the size of her chest in said cleavage. First of Yaya is a very big chested woman to begin with and it´s not always possible to hide those big 40Ds. Secondly she has always had costumes that - shall we say manage to present her physical attributes in a positive way ? And this is by far not her riskiest costume.

Also her costume making skills are second to none and I´m still wondering when people will get over it and just enjoy Yaya Han´s cosplays like I do.

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