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Essential Thor, Vol. 3
posted May 7, 2008


Creators: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta, Joe Sinnott, Artie Simek
Publishing Information: Marvel, softcover, 616 pages, October 2006, $16.99
Ordering Numbers: 9780785121497 (ISBN13)

For as much as I and a lot of other comics readers revere mid-1960s Marvel Comics, it's astonishing how many of them haven't been widely read since that time. In my circle, the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on Thor tends to be the top book in that next tier of well-regarded prime-time Marvel runs, right below Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. Especially well-loved are the Tales of Asgard tales that served as the book's back-up for several issues, fantasy-based stories featuring the main characters. A selection of those are reprinted here.

imageThis book careens into the fairly nuts arena a lot of the time, although almost always in the most appealing way possible. I believe that either Thor or X-Men (with Professor X's death) was the first Marvel book to re-jigger its status quo in a way that significantly changed the tone of the series. This book contains stories after Jane Foster took a powder, ripping much of the classic romance comic vein right out of Thor's hyper-muscular arm, or, if you want, making it more complex with the debut of the Lady Sif. Sif is a patented Jack Kirby ass-kicking big girl (she's also Heimdall's sister, which I never knew when I was a kid), and here comes across more as a softer Big Barda (proactive, lusty) than the conventional "strong companion" character she'd become years later in the series. The disruption in status quo represented by Sif proves to be a good thing for Thor because unlike the many Marvel comics that made use of a contrast between romance-type comics moments and balls-out 1940s action, this run of Thor is all "verily, there are asses over yon we doth must beat." Repeat ad infinitum.

It's quite fun. The panels where Thor is not punching people so hard their light source changes are stuffed to the brim with either a) cool-looking Kirbyana almost always in the form of monsters and machinery, b) Volstagg, a fat coward who can bench press a bus, providing J. Wellington Wimpy-style comedy relief, or c) Thor screaming at someone about how awesome he is in preparation of punching them so hard their light source changes. Only Odin's bad-daddy routine grows a little tiresome by the end of this massive bunch of comics. Even then, to come to the all-Father's defense, it's quite realistic at least to my experience to have a parent that continually makes up stuff about how his son should properly show his love. If you can get past every time Vince Colletta's inks -- which maintain the power of Kirby's art but diminish the attractiveness of the line -- make you have to take a second look at a panel just to understand what is going on, reading this book can be a great time. There are even more Stan Lee lines worth reading out loud than in most other books of the period. Essential Thor Vol. 3 offers far more entertainment than anything super-heroic on the market right now, and deserves its place in the "shade below great" pantheon.