30 Oct 2013


Matt C: When Stan and Jack began reinventing the superhero template in the early 1960s, Thor stood out amongst his irradiated and mutated peers due to the fact that he was an actual bona fide Norse God, not a true original but a creation adapted from legends and myths. It was probably his uniqueness and otherworldliness that drew me to him: an immortal standing shoulder to shoulder with mortal men gifted with special abilities. It was also the the rich history that various writers laid down, a mixture of established lore and new, fantastical ideas that expanded the Marvel Universe into new territory. Thor has featured on a large number of covers across the years, not just his own title, but various Avengers books and much more. Unfortunately many of them were reliant on different variations of a small number of poses, meaning you were highly likely to see the Odinson with Mjolnir aloft behind him, ready to be hurled, or he'd be flying towards the reader, Mjolnir carrying him through either the air or the vacuum of space. Effective up to a point but the lack of variety rendered most as formulaic instead of inventive. I attempted to avoid these standard poses for my ten picks where possible (it does prove to be unavoidable when all’s said and done though!) and selected covers that are, I think, the most memorable, ones that helped shape and define the God of Thunder in the public consciousness… 

10. THOR #262 (1977)

During the Bronze Age ‘floating head' covers were ten a penny, but these days they’re as rare as hen’s teeth. Understandable, because they’re generally accompanied by some excitable tagline (usually along the lines of “One Of These People Will Die!!”), and contemporary comics are generally tagline-free, but also because they’re largely very simplistic and very cheesy. But heck, I love ‘em all the same! This is possibly the best Thor ‘floating head’ cover, pencilled by the redoubtable John Buscema, with the Thunder God apparently due to kill one of the characters within the pages. It’s usually a bit of ruse but enormous fun all the same.
9. THOR #606 (2010)

The Destroyer was introduced way back in 1965 and it’s fair to say that many of his notable cover appearances have involved him employing primitive wrestling moves on ‘Goldilocks’. This one, arguably the best cover image featuring the God of Thunder in recent years, is simple and direct, amply displaying what a force to be reckoned with the Destroyer is, crushing his foe underfoot, quite literally.
8. THOR #171 (1969)

A very nostalgic choice for me. I found a copy of this issue snuck away in a junk shop nearly two decades after its release and the striking Kirby image was more than enough for me to want to immediately own this appearance of one of the Odinson’s most persistent foes, the Wrecker. It cost me the princely sum of 10p which is a purchasing scenario I’m highly unlikely to ever find myself in again!
7. THOR #396 (1988)

During his run on the title, artist Ron Frenz brought a more Silver Age look back to the fore, heavily influenced by Kirby, which lead to a number of classically styled, powerful cover images of which this is arguably the best. Two heroic warriors – Thor and the Black Knight – bravely standing together against encroaching hordes of evil. Exactly what you want from your pseudo-mythological superhero comics books!
6. THE ULTIMATES #4 (2002)

A reinvention of the Avengers for the new millennium, Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates was, for its first two series, modern superhero comics at their finest, and was very instrumental in setting the visual aesthetic for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So while it’s not exactly a Chris Hemsworth lookalike on this Hitch cover, it’s an image that feels more grounded in reality than some of the more colourful antics this character’s 616 counterpart was famous for, and the lightning and rain add just the right amount of visual magic to emphasise that this guy means business!
5. THOR #168 (1969)

The Thunder God takes on one of Kirby’s wildest, most brilliant creations: the world-devourer, Galactus. When the character first arrived on Earth, the Fantastic Four were faced with a godlike being who viewed the inhabitants of the planet as nothing more than ants. From this cover image, it’s immediately clear that this is not how he views the Mighty Thor. A Kirby classic.
4. AVENGERS #276 (1987)

In the midst of one of the best Avengers storylines, Thor arrives from far off adventures to learn that his friend Hercules has been beaten into a coma by the Masters of Evil. Never before has the Immortal Avenger looked so utterly determined to exact vengeance on his foes as he has on this cover, the expression on his face, brilliantly etched by John Buscema, telling you all you need to know to tempt you inside the pages.
3. SILVER SURFER #4 (1969)

A veritable clash of titans as the wielder of the Power Cosmic zooms in to engage the Son of Odin, an image that suggests a cataclysmic collision will follow. John Buscema knocks it one out of the park with this thrilling, sleek and dynamic cover, and unlike the majority of comics of the era it doesn’t plaster any words across the front, simply letting the pictures do the talking.
2. THOR #380 (1987)

Walt Simonson's artistic style was never as technically polished as some but it frequently rivalled Kirby's gift for filling a page or panel with raw energy. This picture, featuring Jormungand the World Serpent towering over the Thunder God, is as potent as it gets, a David & Goliath homage if ever there was one, an implacable hero facing off against a seemingly invincible foe.

Artistically speaking, it's not the best comic cover featuring the Mighty Thor, and it's not even close to being the best cover image rendered by Jack Kirby, BUT as the very first time the character graced the front page of a comic book it's unbeatable. It instantly conveys plenty of information about who this guy is, an otherworldly being possessing great power, one of Kirby's trademarks being the ability to get things across to the reader with compelling simplicity. As such, it's probably the most iconic image featuring the Odinson, setting the visual template for everything that's come since. As is often the case with Marvel's superheroes, it all comes back to Kirby. Nuff said.

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