Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Mighty Thor #337

November 1983
Story - Walt Simonson
Art - Walt Simonson
Lettering - John Workman Jr.
Colors - George Roussos
Editing - Mark Gruenwald
Editor-In-Chief - Jim Shooter

It’s a strange thing to sit down and start reading an issue that kicks off a run considered one of the greatest of all time, but The Mighty Thor #337, the first chapter of Walt Simonson’s epic five-year stint on the book, is arguably one of the best first issues of a run I have ever read. Right from the cover featuring the now-familiar alien figure of Beta-Ray Bill smashing the logo with Thor’s hammer, while dressed in Asgardian garb is both intriguing and captivating; it’s a classic image, one that’s been reprinted time and time again to draw people further into the mythology of Thor, and the expansive world Walt Simonson placed him in.
The issue kicks off with a three-page sequence of what I assume to be an elemental character forging some horrific device in the stars. The gigantic word “DOOM!” ends the sequence, and it is truly a chilling way to open an issue. It generates numerous questions and for someone who isn’t totally in the loop when it comes to the world of Thor, it piques my interest without putting me off, which was something Matt Fraction’s debut on the series in 2010 did extremely quickly. The next few pages feature Dr. Donald Blake, Thor’s human form, wandering through the stereotypical ‘80s park, only to quickly be kidnapped by a group of men we soon learn are Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., working for Colonel Nick Fury. By introducing Fury into the mix so quickly, Simonson manages to drag Thor into the real world, and the Marvel Universe at large, providing grounding within a reality that doesn’t totally move into the fantastical.
Fury assigns Thor with a mission to take a look at a space vessel heading to our solar system that seems to have destroyed a space probe. As Thor heads to intercept this vessel, we’re treated to a quick scene featuring some of the extended Asgardian cast that seems to set up Sif’s need for a meeting with Odin. Back to Thor, we seem him come under attack from the space vessel in a great little action sequence, which ends when he comes aboard. After a few moments, Thor is attacked by an alien figure, before we quickly move onto a scene of Loki, pondering his boredom and desire for mischief. It’s clear that Loki’s up to something, but what exactly it is we don’t fully learn just yet.
Back on the space vessel, Thor finds himself battling an alien creature, called Beta-Ray Bill. The design of Bill is fantastic; he’s a strange-looking creature that seems almost frightening, and yet there’s a slight glimpse of humanity in his presentation. He battles Thor for a few pages, but soon the vessel moves into our solar system, which somehow causes Thor to lose his powers and revert back to Donald Blake. He is quickly defeated by Bill, just before the vessel crashes on Earth. Nick Fury announces that S.H.I.E.L.D. are about to attack and that the occupants should surrender. In response to this, Bill picks up Donald Blake’s cane, whacks it in anger and transforms into an alien version of Thor.
Bill prepares to attack the oncoming S.H.I.E.L.D. forces, as Nick Fury tries to assess the situation and launch a counter-attack. Before the fight can truly get under way, Odin appears to Bill, mistaking him for Thor and dragging him back to Asgard (presumably for this meeting Sif was seeking earlier). As Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. approach the wreckage of the vessel, Donald Blake emerges, screaming "FATHER!" to the heavens as he realises his father has abandoned him, taking Beta-Ray Bill in his place.
Now, I’ve read a lot of comic books (and I mean a lot), but this might be one of the best first issues I have ever read. It establishes the old characters quickly, brings in a new antagonist in the form of Beta-Ray Bill, sets up numerous mysteries and has a cracking cliffhanger. Walt Simonson clearly has a fondness for Thor, right from the off, and this issue literally kicks off a run I now anticipate to be flawless from start-to-finish.

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