Thor the Mighty Avenger volume 1: the God Who Fell to Earth


By Roger Langridge, Chris Samnee & Matthew Wilson with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Leiber, Joe Sinnott & Dick Ayers (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4121-1

For many older fans – and of course I mean me too – Thor was the comic that truly demonstrated the fevered and unfettered imagination of Jack Kirby – at least until he relocated to DC at the beginning of the 1970s and really let rip. Living galaxies, the conquest of Evolution: gods, heroes and aliens, machines with emotions and humans without, the strengths and liabilities of family ties and the inevitability of creation itself, all played out on the pages of the Thunder God’s action-packed comic-books.

Once the King left, the series struggled for decades, with only the Kirby-inspired pastiche by Walt Simonson in the mid-1980s offering any kind of quality continuation of action and imagination, although more recent years have certainly seen a few bold attempts to plough their own creative furrow.

In 2010, no doubt on the back of the major motion picture release, Marvel commissioned a superb new interpretation of the iconic but periodically unsustainable star and his convoluted mythos from the irrepressibly wonderful New Zealand writer/artist Roger Langridge (Judge Dredd Megazine, Batman, Star Wars, Fin Fang Four, The Muppet Show, Popeye and Snarked! as well as his own hilarious Fred the Clown and my personal favourite Knuckles the Malevolent Nun amongst so many others) and artist Chris Samnee (Mighty Avengers, Rocketeer, Daredevil etc.) which stripped away most of the baffling accumulated overblown ephemera and created a fresh vibrant new start – which only coincidentally, I’m sure – initially resembled that filmic feel…

The saga unfolds in stormy Bergen, Oklahomawhen junior curator Jane Foster sees a twisted rainbow one night and a week later is suddenly promoted to head a department of the Bergen War Memorial Museum. Almost immediately she’s called on by Security to deal with a giant hobo trying to whack one of the exhibits with a gnarled old walking stick…

That night whilst strolling with her boyfriend Jim she encounters the young – and exceedingly well-mannered – bum again, hurtling through a bar window very much against his will…

The cause is a monstrous, hulking brute who had been harassing women in the hostelry, but even after Jane joins the fray the ugly thug easily overpowers them and beats the chivalrous vagabond near to death before inexplicably running away…

Battered and grateful, Jane and Jim ignore their better judgement and help the dying blonde wanderer – who calls himself Thor – back to the Museum, where he finally and unexpectedly smashes the Viking urn he’d attacked earlier. Grasping a short-handled hammer the shabby lad is miraculously transformed in a flash of lightning and blast of thunder…

Jane has witnessed the impossible and has to accept that the amnesiac Thor may well be the legendarily mythic Scandinavian hero. He certainly isn’t sure: although possessed of incredible might, his memories are clouded and he only vaguely recalls a fight with his father Odin before waking up in a field, banished to this mortal realm of Midgard

With nowhere else to go he accepts Jane’s offer to crash at her apartment even as elsewhere a frantic cloaked figure confronts local scientific sage Dr. Lewis Stephens.

Calvin Zabo is desperate for more of the savant’s transformative crystals and is prepared to kill for them, and once the sociopath has them he swiftly regains his hulking, brutish form and goes hunting for the fools who spoiled his fun in the bar last night…

This series is simply stuffed with hilarious lines and comedy set-pieces and, following a delicious moment when the Thunder God encounters his first telephone answering machine, the exiled godling hurtles to the museum to spectacularly save Jane from the malevolent monster who calls himself ‘Hyde’

A cleverly reformulated Marvel Universe begins to impinge on the series with ‘Here be Giants’ when scientist Henry Pym (and his girlfriend Janet Van Dyne) comes to investigate the murder of his old mentor Dr. Stephens. Thor meanwhile has been plagued with nightmares and wakes to find his brother Loki implanting visions within his tousled head, whilst at the museum Jane’s antics have got her suspended…

As she takes the Thunder God shopping to cheer herself up, Pym, in his dual identities of Ant-Man and Giant-Man, follows a chemical trail from the crime scene and intercepts the bemused boutiquers …and that’s the moment when Loki’s hoodoo in the Thunderer’s head kicks in, causing the stranded Scion of Asgard to see the size-shifting scientist as a dreaded Frost Giant…

Fortunately Pym’s heroism and science proves more than a match for sinister ancient sorcery, else the magnificent concluding adventure of the re-imagined Storm Lord couldn’t happen – and it’s one of the most charming and gently amusing stories in all of Marvel’s seven-plus decades of publishing funnybooks…

Lost and lonely on a weird world of mortals, Thor’s spirits are inestimably raised when three old comrades from Asgard come calling, luring the dispirited Prince on a ‘Boys’ Night Out’

Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg are valiant and boisterous companions (who know more about Thor’s banishment than they let on) and so whilst Jane wisely decides to go out with her own gal pals, the Asgardians decide to check out the old country – courtesy of a magical flying goat chariot. Unfortunately old maps, fog and intoxication make for missed destinations and stopping in London for directions to Norway, the celestial carousers soon settle in for a night of bevies at a hostelry frequented by uptight and touchy superhero Captain Britain.

Cue ale-fuelled misunderstanding, inevitable punch-up and maudlin vows of eternal friendship…

Collecting issues #1-4 (September-December 2010) of the rebooted series and also offering a host of stunning cover reproductions and variants by Samnee and Kirby, this sparkling tome ends with the first two appearances of the original iteration from Journey into Mystery.

Issue #83 (cover-dated August 1962) featured the tale of crippled American doctor Donald Blake who took a vacation inNorway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he was trapped in a cave where he found an old, gnarled walking stick. When in his frustration he smashed the cane into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame was transformed into Norse God of Thunder, the Mighty Thor!

Plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby & Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott became Kirby’s primary inker for his Marvel work) ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel: bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

They were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and the infectious enthusiasm showed in the next adventure ‘The Mighty Thor Vs. the Executioner’ from JiM #84 and inked by Dick Ayers: a classic “commie-busting” tale, very much of its time with a thinly disguised Fidel Castro wasting his formidable armies in battle against the earthbound immortal in a tale designed to display the vast power and varied abilities of the godly superman.

Most importantly Jane Foster was introduced here as Blake’s faithful nurse, a bland cipher adored from afar by the timid alter-ego of mighty hero.

Early death is a comic book tradition that strikes many brilliant series later deemed brilliant, groundbreaking or ahead of their time: past casualties have included the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow, the first volume of the Silver Surfer, Steve Ditko’s Beware the Creeper and the Ditko/Gil Kane Hawk and the Dove as well as almost all of Kirby’s Fourth World Trilogy. Tragically cancelled after only 8 issues, Thor the Mighty Avenger still stands out as  sublime example of a contemporary revamp done right and will certainly only grow in renown as years go by. Moreover, if you’ve never tried Marvel’s fare or find superhero comics not to your taste this might well be a book to change your mind…
© 1962, 1963, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.