Welcome to Opening Panel, a series where we tell you the best place to start with franchise comics. Ragnarok is upon us. The third Thor movie that is, not the destruction of the entire universe, although I suppose that’s coming. If you’re as jazzed for the movie as I am, you might want to hunker down and wait for the end of days with the comics that inspired the movie. Lucky for you, I’ve compiled a list of the best Thor to read.
Lee and Kirby
Where to start if not from the beginning? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original Journey into Mystery/Thor stories take a bit to get going, but once they do, they rock into high gear. Introducing the mystical side of the Marvel Universe, most of what we think of as Marvel’s Thor starts here.
Besides super heroics, they retell the myths of old. See Thor face the Destroyer, reforge his hammer in the refineries Pittsburgh, and witness the rise of the Mangog and Ragnarok unfold. And for you hardcore Marvel buffs, read the origin of Galactus.
Fella, if I haven’t sold you on this epic run, you might need to get your head checked. It’s Shakespearean drama at its most cosmic! Available in paperback Epic Collections, digitally and in several hardcover omnibuses.
Walter Simonson’s The Mighty Thor is often considered one of the all-time great Thor runs. Personally, I think it rivals Lord of the Rings as one of the greatest fantasy stories ever.
Building heavily on Kirby’s work, Simonson crafts an epic tale of heroism. Thor finds another who can wield the hammer, a horse-faced alien named Beta Ray Bill. Surtur the Fire Giant attacks Asgard hoping to ignite Ragnarok and leave reality in cinder. Thor then journeys to Hel to reclaim souls of the dead from the Goddess of Death. This all culminates as an immortal Thor, cursed to never heal from his injuries, fights the World Serpent, the being destined to slay him.
The series humanizes the gods, spending time on their personal lives and feelings. What do actions and words mean when you have forever to deal with them? Loki, while not the main villain, has plenty of great schemes throughout the series. Issue 362, The Executioner’s Last Stand is one of the best single issues Marvel has ever released, as Thor’s old enemy Skurge dies heroically, sacrificing himself for his former foe.
Simonson is a tremendous artist. Every panel bursts with energy, and when you see the sound effects, dear god(s). Simonson isn’t a “writer” or “artist.” He’s a creator. Simonson eventually hands over art duties to Sal Buscema who is also a brilliant artist, so worry not.
Writer Jason Aaron and artist Esad Ribic took over with 2012’s Thor: God of Thunder. The series jumped between Thor’s past, present, and future. Pit against a foe who questioned his very nature, Thor struggled to answer the question: Should there be Gods?
Aaron wrote the Original Sin crossover event where heroes’ secrets are laid bare. With it was a God of Thunder crossover with Al Ewing’s fantastic Loki: Agent of Asgard series, The Tenth Realm. Thor and Loki discover a hidden secret of Asgard; they have a sister. In the Original Sin series proper, Thor loses his worthiness as Nick Fury betrays him with another secret.
After that, Aaron joined with artist Russell Dauterman to start what shaped into a truly great run. The series, just called Thor, saw a mysterious woman pick up the hammer and take on the mantle. (It’s been out for a while, so there’s no spoiler in saying it’s Jane Foster.) Odin is back and growing more power-mad than ever. The new Thor must fight against a literal evil patriarchy.
After that, Secret Wars kinda flubbed with Marvel’s publishing line. Every book got replaced with an alternate reality version of itself. Aaron and artist Chris Sprouse brought us Thors, starring multiple Gods of Thunder as cops of the multiversal mash-up planet Battleworld. Not just a throwaway, the events of this do come into play in The Mighty Thor, a continuation of the previous run. This is where everything from the beginning of Aaron’s run starts coming to a head as Thor faces the greatest challenge of her life. Like the Simonson run, lots of X-Men characters and elements show up (Aaron previously wrote X-Men). Still coming out, it’s time for Aaron’s Ragnarok and it’s shaping up to be one of the all-time defining Thor runs. Running simultaneously was The Unworthy Thor miniseries, where the former Thor hunts for a hammer of his own and is captured by the Collector. (Not influenced by the movies at all, nope.)
Thor: The Mighty Avenger
So. That was a lot, huh? You might be thinking “I like Thor, but I’m not ready to devote myself to an ongoing continuity.” You’re in luck because I have the perfect series for you too! Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge (The Muppet Show, Graphic Classics) and Chris Samnee (Daredevil, Black Widow). It’s as smart as it is beautiful. It follows the basic Thor origin. He gets exiled, meets Jane Foster, and learns humility. It’s so much more than that though. Thor’s character arc is shown in a much more compelling and human way than ever before. For maybe the first time, his and Jane’s relationship seems real. She is now her own character and not just a love interest. Reinterpreted as an archaeologist, she helps Thor come to terms with Earth.
The series is kind of a Thor: Team-Up series, with most issues featuring characters throughout the Marvel universe. They were clearly building to something that never got made. It’s a shame. Easily accessible, completely self-contained perfect for both the casual reader and the fan that needs a breath of (well-crafted) fresh air.
Available in two paperbacks and digitally. There’s also a Free Comic Book Day one-shot by the creative team where Thor meets Captain America, but it might be kind of hard to find. Worth it if you can.
Serving as the basis for the Hulk sections of the movie, Planet Hulk finds the Emerald Avenger kicked off Earth by the Illuminati. Not that Illuminati. This one is Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Professor X, and all the other heroes who think they’re smarter than everyone else. Deciding the Hulk is too dangerous, they send him to what they think is a peaceful planet, but he ends up on the savage Sakaar.
Forced into gladiatorial combat, the Hulk leads a revolt against the planet’s Red King. Written by longtime Hulk writer Greg Pak and drawn by Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti. Planet Hulk is a modern classic, now one of the defining pieces of Hulk cannon. Available in digital, paperback, hardcover omnibus, a prose novel, and an animated film.
World War Hulk
Set immediately after Planet Hulk, his peace on Sakkar is taken from the Jade Giant and he wants revenge. Angrier than he’s ever been, the Hulk heads back to Earth to kill the Illuminati. It’s Hulk vs every hero in the Marvel Universe. One of Marvel’s big events, there were crossovers with many other series, but you only need to read the main story. If you like cool story driven fights, this is the book to read.
Once again written by Pak with art by John Romita Jr., this is the Hulk at his most fierce.