To capitalize on the new Thor flick, Marvel recently released a $125, 1192-page, and approximately 8-pound omnibus of Walter Simonson's 1983-1987 run on The Mighty Thor. Is it worth the ducats? Forsooth, ye varlet. Forsooth.
You'll notice four distinct things about this tome. The first thing that will strike you about this omnibus is that it's difficult to read.
Physically difficult, that is. The book is so damn large that you can't splay it down on a table without fear of ripping it in twain. Furthermore, if you are of a slight build, resting the book on your lap might cause your legs to fall asleep. My preferred method of reading the omnibus was to cradle it like a newborn: hold it daintily yet decisively. Lying belly to the ground is also recommended. It is not a supine read.
The second thing you'll notice is that this comic is wordy. Compared to modern splash-page-drunk comics, this omnibus is Gravity's Rainbow Bridge.
And even when there are art spreads, nobody shuts up. Case in point: during Thor's stand-off with the Midgard Serpent, there's a full-panel page of Jormungand (with Mjolnir-cracked teeth) berating Thor, gleefully cackling, "You face eternity as an immortal pudding, not even a fool would court such a fate!" Such a bold display of "immortal pudding" would be unthinkable in 2011's funny books. Another favorite panel of mine is when Fafnir the dragon emerges from the East River. He immediately begins screaming demands at confused strangers.
The central characters are cosmic Norse quasi-deities, so they have the propensity to use monologues to explain away points that aren't exactly intuitive. And in Asgard, nothing's particularly user-friendly. Take this speech on page 115, in which Loki explains why Fafnir is immune to the sorceress Lorelei's erotic enchantments:
Foolish girl! To believe that her simple wiles could seduce a dragon to her will, when everyone knows that the dragon is the most irresistible seducer of all. A most satisfactory entertainment. I can hardly wait to see how it comes out!
Ah, the dragon is the most irresistible seducer of all. Well, I've been doing it all wrong.
Simonson's prolixity and cosmic explanations are to the book's benefit, as these characters and their machinations are beyond our mortal kens. As mere Midgardians, should we understand the vagaries of Asgard in full? When Odin combines with his brothers Vili and Ve to become a 1000-foot-tall Voltron viking, must we suspend our disbelief? Do we need to know why the nigh omnipotent Odin needs safety goggles in a dwarven forge? I say thee nay.
The third detail that will catch your eye is that Simonson writes perhaps the best sound effects in comics. Here's but a sampling of The Mighty Thor's onomatopoeic prowess:
- DOOM! (a.k.a. Surtur forging his giant sword Twilight)
- FAAOOOOSH! (the flaming breath of Fafnir)
- SLAAASSHH!! (Hela's Hand of Glory scarring Thor's face)
- FTSAZZZZPST! (Loki casting a spell of binding against a door)
The final thing you'll notice is that Simonson weaves some of the most rippingly epic comic yarns you'll ever read.
There are "fuck yeah" moments almost every other page, from the origins of Beta Ray Bill to Sif's stand-off against Surtur's demons ("Who will be the first to taste this sweet steel?") to the last battle of Eilif the Lost to "he [who] stood alone at Gjallerbru."
The book is jam-packed with heroes being heroic and villains relinquishing old enmities in the face of apocalypse(s). Simonson even imbues absurd moments with legendary cachet, like when Thor turns into a frog and defeats a gang of evil Central Park rats.
Sure, the book plods in some places and shows its age in others, but it's remarkably consistent over 1000+ pages. Side stories involving the Mutant Massacre (a 1980s X-Men event), the Soviet Titanium Man, and Justice Peace (a time-traveling Judge Dredd analogue) are unnecessary but wrap up quickly (and are welcome nostalgia for those who remember them). Overall, the Simonson omnibus is an engrossing, rollicking superhero read. It's best enjoyed with a flagon of mead and a penchant for mythic lunacy.