Today’s Super Comic — Thor #337 (1983)

Writer/Artist Walt Simonson had a legendary run on Thor…and I confess I’ve read only a couple random issues of it. I know! Shame on me! And I call myself a Marvel fan!

To be honest, I’ve always liked Thor more as the Avengers’ tank than as a solo character, so I’m not well-versed in his series. But since I’ve been correcting some of my oversights lately, I figured I’d take a look at the first Simonson issue, Thor #337, in Marvel Unlimited.

And yeah, this is a strong start—definitely makes the case that I’ve been missing out.

The high concept is wonderful: What if someone else was worthy of wielding Thor’s hammer?

The cover gives it away. Yes, there is another. An alien, in fact. An alien named Bill—Beta Ray Bill, that is.

Simonson is just as strong on the art as he is on the story. He brings a dynamic style that’s in the vein of Thor’s original artist, the late great Jack Kirby, but there’s no mimicry here. Simonson achieves his own distinctive flair. (“Beta Ray Bill” is a pretty Kirby-esque name, too, come to think of it.)

The cliffhanger works great, too, leaving Thor in genuine peril, his fate uncertain. (Well, as uncertain as a title character’s fate can be, I suppose.)

I may have to check out some more.

Writer/Artist: Walter Simonson

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Thor by Walter Simonson Volume 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — The Ultimates #1-13 (2002-03)

ultimates_vol_1_1The original Ultimates series basically asked, “What would the Avengers be like in the real world?”

They’d be really messed up people, apparently, and hardly straightforward heroes.

Written by Mark Millar, it’s a more cynical take on the team than I’d normally like, but as a change of pace, it’s excellent and full of interesting ideas. The reinterpretation of Thor is particularly amusing—it’s ambiguous whether he’s actually the son of Odin or just a delusional hippie who happens to have powers. Also, when the team battles the Hulk in New York City, collateral damage is shown to be a real concern; super-action has consequences. And at one point, Nick Fury suggests Samuel L. Jackson should play him in a movie, several years before Jackson cameoed in the first Iron Man.

Artist Bryan Hitch creates exactly the right visual tone for this down-to-earth series. The art is detailed, and people look like people rather than cartoons.

The series is easily the second-best usage of Marvel’s Ultimate Comics imprint (after Ultimate Spider-Man, of course). Let’s just be thankful these aren’t the Avengers of the proper Marvel Universe or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Writer: Mark Millar

Penciler: Bryan Hitch

Inker: Paul Neary

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; The Ultimates: Ultimate Collection (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Avengers #32 (2012)

Avengers_Vol_4_32Brian Michael Bendis kicked off his nearly decade-long stint of writing the Avengers by demolishing the team in the “Avengers Disassembled” arc, so it’s fitting that his final storyline reunited the classic team and un-killed the Avengers’ original heroine.

Issue #32 is the second part of what we might as well call the “Bringing Wasp Back from the Dead” arc, though it’s technically dubbed “End Times.” The team’s roster has swelled considerably and branched off into two squads (maybe three if you count the Secret Avengers, but they’re secret, so…shhhh!), but here much of the focus narrows onto Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Giant Man has they shrink into a micro-world to, they hope, find the Wasp and bring her home, like she’s Matt Damon or something.

So, if you don’t count the Hulk and if you want to grandfather Cap in, that means the story focuses on the original Avengers in all their original glory. Whether it’s due to the history or the characters’ chemistry, watching these five working together is always a treat.

In particular, Bendis’s lively characterization of the Wasp is spot-on, and the reunion scene is about perfect. Even at the end of his run (which finished two issues later), Bendis still had it.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Pencilers: Mike Mayhew and Brandon Peterson

Inker: Brandon Peterson

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Avengers vol. 5 (TPB) (2013)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — JLA/Avengers #1-4 (2003-04)

JLA_Avengers_1_CoverTwo major comic book movies this year have featured superheroes facing off against each other. Batman vs. Superman in one corner. Captain America vs. Iron Man in the other. And one of those movies was even good.

But in terms of sheer scope, both are downright pedestrian compared to the JLA/Avengers miniseries, the intercompany crossover that had been in the works for many years before it finally materialized thirteen years ago.

Marvel and DC could have phoned this one in and still sold a ton of copies, but instead they called in the big guns: Kurt Busiek and George Perez. Busiek is a fantastic superhero writer who understands the genre better than most. And if there’s a better artist than Perez when it comes to drawing crowded pages full of classic superheroes, well, that would be news to me.

So yes, JLA/Avengers is the ultimate comic book summer blockbuster. It offers no new insights about these characters, but why would it? The fun is seeing our favorite Avengers and Justice Leaguers interact, and sounding and behaving in-character as they do so. The book performs that task wonderfully, but it does go the extra mile by contrasting these two great superhero universes. The most interesting part is how the Justice League views the Marvel Universe as practically dystopian while the Avengers view the DC Universe as nearly utopian.

But seeing, for example, Superman going into battle while carrying Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer? It’s not high art, but it’s Superman going into battle carrying Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer. And really, that’s what it’s all about.

A grand fun time.

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Artist: George Perez

Publishers: DC & Marvel

How to Read It: back issues; JLA/Avengers (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up