The Mighty Thor, Volume 1 (Marvel Masterworks)
writers: Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
artist: Jack Kirby
Read how it all began, as lame Doctor Donald Blake vacations in Norway only to stumble across an invasion of Stone Men from Saturn. And when we say lame, we man that literally, his frail mortal shell has an injured leg and he walks with a cane.
Fleeing into a cave, Blake discovers a gnarled stick which he coincidentally pounds into the ground, transforming the stick into a hammer and the good doctor into… the Mighty Thor! After a few pulse-pounding encounters with supervillains and aliens, the creative team introduces Asgard and things get quasi-Shakespearean.
So that's why Kenneth Branagh was a no-brainer to direct the movie. On top of everything else, Stan Lee might be able to take credit for inspiring one of the greatest Shakespeareans alive. See how it all actually started with a blond-haired god in shiny helmet and red cape, proof that if comics aren't great literature, they're at least a reasonable facsimile.
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artists: Olivier Coipel and Marko Djurdjevic
Tasked with bringing the Mighty Thor back to the Marvel Universe after an epic death many months earlier, Straczynski starts with a journey through myth and ends up in …Oklahoma? As Thor travels the country reviving his fellow Asgardians where they slumber as ordinary mortals, he explores his responsibilities as God of Thunder and, of course, superhero.
With Asgard now floating above the waving wheat, gods and men mingle in one of the strongest arcs of the character's career. Many of the images by Coipel and Djurdjevic echo in the film, but that's not the reason to buy this. Their artwork is simply gorgeous, and both artists are masters of storytelling even within splash pages.
Straczynski also worked with the Marvel Brain Trust to plot the film, and some of this work's themes get picked up there. Though Marvel has pumped out a lot of Thor product in the last five years, this stands out as the absolute best of it, though Thor: the Mighty Avenger comes a close second.
Thor: the Mighty Avenger Vol. 1 and 2
writer: Roger Langridge
artist: Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson
Marvel made many attempts throughout the past decade to do "kid friendly" comics. Most of them were kid friendly but brain-dead. With Thor: the Mighty Avenger, the House of Ideas got it absolutely right.
Langridge, one of the most underrated writers working in comics today, revamps Thor into a modern setting. For kids buzzing on the movie, some of the concepts will be familiar. Instead of being a physicist (movie version) or nurse (original comics), Jane Foster works at a museum, and a brawny blond stranger claiming to be a Norse God strides in looking for his hammer.
But there are other forces out there to cross Thor, as well as new-found allies including Giant-Man and the Wasp, elements that Langridge just throws in there. He assumes (correctly) that kids will take it in stride, and older readers that know the Marvel Universe will appreciate the building blocks of the Avengers offered, but in a subtle way.
Then there's Samnee. At his best, he's a draftsman in the vein of Alex Toth, and at his worst, he's still one of the best. And this is a kids comic, chugging along and largely overlooked on the stands. It's the way we want to think the original books were, remembering them as being somehow a lot more plugged into modern sensibilities than they possibly could have been.
As a bonus (or, okay, to fill out the volume), Marvel editors include the first two Thor stories by Lee, Lieber and Kirby, so kids (and adults) can enjoy the comparison.
These two volumes are really the best buy for those turned into fans of the God of Thunder by the winsome smile of Chris Hemsworth. They're relatively inexpensive, printed in a smaller format good for younger readers, and seriously, Thor: the Mighty Avenger is just comics storytelling at its best.
Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus
writer and artist: Walter Simonson
This work is so good that Marvel has actually licensed another publisher to do an even more deluxe edition of it. Though well-regarded before, Simonson really made his name on The Mighty Thor. And good thing, because lord, had the title languished in stupidity until he came. (I still get night sweats over Dracula's invasion of Asgard.)
Simonson made the mythos his own, and added two unforgettable elements which sound silly but are actually extremely elegant and a little heartbreaking. First, through the trickery of Loki, Thor gets turned into a mighty frog in Central Park. Forget about the recent revival of the idea in Pet Avengers, this is really cool.
Then Simonson played with an idea set out in that very first Thor story: that whoever holds this hammer, should he be worthy, will possess the power of Thor. And thus we get the horse-like alien Beta Ray Bill, trying to save his race and turning into an intergalactic superhero in the bargain.
There's much more to savor in this run, and with as many quality Thor stories as there are, it does seem odd that it's taken this long for the character to make it to the silver screen. (We'll just forget about that TV movie crossover with the Hulk.)