Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Walter Simonson’s four-plus years as writer and artist on The Mighty Thor generated one of the greatest cycles of epic storytelling to ever appear in Marvel comics. It’s quite fitting then, that this Omnibus is a truly massive 1192 page colossus, which collects 48 issues under hardcovers. As if that wasn’t enough, 48 pages of extras include a foreword and afterword from Simonson, a gallery of the original covers, pencil sketches and promotional artwork. The artwork has been completely recoloured by Steve Oliff, using a less expressionistic style than in the original issues. Not all the art in this book is by Simonson. The final third of the later stories are drawn by Sal Buscema, who has risen to the challenge of the once-in-a-lifetime scripts and delivered some of his best work.
Simonson’s run dramatically restored the excitement and wonder of the character, drawn so powerfully by Jack Kirby that everyone who followed seemed second best. It’s hard to talk about the work of Kirby without resorting to hyperbole because that was the currency that he traded in. The very least thing you can say about him is that he invented much of the visual and conceptual language that underpins superhero comics today. Given how hugely influential his ideas and methods still are, very few people have managed to follow or build on Kirby’s style without falling into pastiche. His dynamically exaggerated layouts are so idiosyncratic that it is almost impossible for artists to imitate them without being overwhelmed by them. Similarly, writers trying to extend his story ideas have created one lame ‘homage’ after another. Walter Simonson succeeded in honouring the spirit of Jack Kirby where almost everyone else has failed because he hadn’t tried to recreate him. Instead he used Kirby’s approach as a jumping-off point for his own distinctive way of working.
Most of this book is painted on a grandly cosmic canvas stretching to the edge of time and space, combining Norse mythology with science fiction Kirby-esque concepts to pitch this story cycle at a monumental level. Beta Ray Bill! The Casket of Ancient Winters! The Surtur Saga! The sacrifice of Odin! The secret history of Asgard! The last stand of the Executioner! Thor the thunder frog! If the profusion of ideas makes it seem as if Simonson has been waiting for a long time to get his hands on Thor, it’s because he has. Among the extra features are pages he pencilled for The Surtur Saga before he was a professional comics artist. More amazing than that is how closely he followed those layouts 20+ years later.
Whether you’re a new Thor reader or a seasoned fan this book is equally impressive. The pacing and narrative flow is perfectly controlled all the way through 48 issues, starting with an ingenious challenge and wrapping up with a completely satisfying conclusion such that you need never pick up another Thor book again. What could top this one? It’s a genuine masterpiece of titanic superhero adventure. If you want to read more of this kind of work from Walt Simonson, check out the equally superb Orion by Walter Simonson Omnibus, which collects his run on Kirby’s Fourth World title for DC from 2000–2002.
The Mighty Thor Omnibus is currently out of print, but everything in it is available in several smaller collections: Thor Visionaries/Thor Legends – Walter Simonson, Volumes 1 to 5 and The Mighty Thor by Walt Simonson, Volumes 1 to 5. The Balder The Brave material is included in book 4 of these collections.