Thor Best Comics (1961-1971)
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Thor. Norse god who lives and fights amongst mortals. When I first saw the trailer for the 2011 film, I thought it was a film about the mythological figure, not the comic book character. I didn't even know there was a version of Thor in comics. Now, he's one of my favorite characters. Apparently, Stan Lee wanted to write a hero who had the powers of a god, and since most people were familiar with Greek and Roman stuff, he wanted to delve into the relatively unknown. And since Jack Kirby had an interest in Norse myths, they went with Thor. And they made one hell of an epic series, one of Stan Lee's best. It didn't start out that way as the two creators had to find their footing in the story first, but once they did it really took off, making it such a hit that it's the first solo marvel character to get a fourth film. A weird thing for people not familiar with the comics, Lee and Kirby decided to give Thor a secret identity by having him have a human counterpart who switched places with Thor called Donald Blake, a lame doctor (lame meaning limp, not boring). If Thor lost his grip on his hammer for more than 60 seconds, he turned back into Blake (he could also just slam his hammer to the ground but the other way created more problems). An interesting concept that sort of worked. But what really worked was the blend of modern day crimefighting (or 1960s modern day), sci-fi, and Norse myths that helped cement this character as one of the most popular superheroes of all time. Here are some of his greatest stories from his first decade:
15. Thor Vol 1. 159: The Answer at Last
This was the story that explained the truth behind Donald Blake and was probably the main inspiration for the 2011 film (that I've seen so far). Thor was apparently a brash, arrogant, and reckless warrior who was constantly going around starting fights. So, Odin sent him to Earth to teach him humility under the guise of a lame doctor who helped the sick and weak. When he was ready, his hammer would be returned to him. While the film didn't do the whole Donald Blake thing except for some small easter eggs planted here and there, this was basically its main premise. Not the best issue, but certainly an important one in the story of Thor.
14. Thor Vol 1. 175-177: To End in Flames
When Thor's evil brother Loki siezes the throne of Asgard, he quickly learns why that's a bad idea since Odin didn't just order people around but also kept many monstrous beings in check, one being the giant fire demon Surtur. And when that giant fire demon Surtur escapes, his wrath is terrible. Now Thor must lead an offensive to hold off the demon while his friend Baldur travels to a land of Death to rescue Odin (that has unseen repercussions later) before they all burn. Great action and some suspense, but that's pretty much it, the stakes the same as other stories. Still a fun story, but one that doesn't stand out too much.
13. Thor Vol 1. 134-135: The People Breeders
The introduction to one of the stranger but more interesting characters of Marvel: the High Evolutionary, a scientist obsessed with advancing genetics to create the perfect race. But he's no villain (yet). He just wants to build a better world. Thor's journey here, however, interrupts a vital experiment and creates a beast so much more advanced than any other creature that it threatens the world, so now Thor and the High Evolutionary must team-up to fight this threat. This story is pure Marvel science fiction and fantasy, showing off anthropomophic animals educating themselves but also wielding swords and spears in battle.
12. Thor Vol 1. 137-139: Troll-Asgard War
When the trolls find a new source of power, they use it to launch an all-out assault on Asgard and come very close to victory. The introduction to characters such as Lady Sif, a woman who was also a warrior (somewhat, she still needs rescuing all the time unfortunately), and Ulik, the troll general and one of Thor's strongest foes. The writing and storyline are simple but the fun parts are with Thor finally meeting his match blow for blow and where Asgard is actually invaded with even omnipotent Odin fighting for his life.
11. Journey into Mystery Vol 1. 104: Giants Walk the Earth
When Odin is absent from the throne, angry at Thor, Loki takes advantage and unleashes two massive giants to attack Earth and kill Thor: Surtur the fire giant, and Skagg a storm giant. Surtur is familiar to fans of Thor: Ragnarok and Skagg is a nobody who never appears again after this. This issue was a lot of fun as Odin is forced to freeze time on Earth to keep the public from panicking and he, Thor, and Balder all band together to take on these giants. This issue set the precendent for what Thor could be as before this, Thor's adventures were more basic and didn't really break any ground of the superhero genre. This issue did.
10. Thor Vol 1. 179-181: When Gods Go Mad
The worst occurs when Loki manages to switch bodies with Thor, instantly going on a rampage across Earth and demanding the world's surrender despite the attempts of Thor's friends to stop him while Odin banishes Thor, thinking he is Loki, sending him to the realm of Mephisto (Marvel version of the Devil). With the governments of Earth on the verge of attacking Loki and Thor being tortured in the thrall of Mephisto, Thor's allies Sif, Balder, and the Warriors Three (Hogun, Fandral, and Volstagg who have way more personality in the comics than the films) race around to set things right before it's too late. Stan Lee's writing was starting to get stale here at this point with much of the dialogue coming off as bland and fake, but he still managed to craft an intriguing and twist-filled story.
9. Thor Vol 1. 169: The Awesome Answer
When talking about Galactus, most people assume his best stories have to do with the Fantastic Four. They couldn't be more wrong. In fact, Galactus's origin is first told in Thor's comics, in this very issue. Galactus tells Thor his story, of how he comes from another universe and how all his people died from a mysterious plague and how he became the being known as Galactus. When Galactus was first introduced, he came off as a living god impartial to the destruction he caused. And now, Stan Lee humanized him. He humanized God. That's a story worth reading.
8. Journey into Mystery Vol 1. 114-123: While a Universe Trembles
A lot happens in this 10-issue saga as Thor has one of his greatest battles with his archenemy, Loki, as the god of mischief unleashes new foes at his brother to battle as well as competing with him in a trial of the gods. One is the heavy metal Destroyer who acts as an invincible doomsday machine that Thor is basically powerless to stop, not anything like that weakass piece of junk that got taken out like a wimp in the film. Another enemy is the Absorbing Man, a man who absorbs the power of anything he touches, who is able to go toe-to-toe with the Thunder God and grow to the size of a building from absorbing that power. It all comes to a head when Loki and Absorbing Man challenge Odin himself after besting the warriors of Asgard, ending in a climax I did not see coming. All that, plus a drop-in to the Vietnam War makes this one of Thor's best stories of the time.
7. Thor Vol 1. 184-188: Infinity
This story stands as one of Stan Lee's last on Thor and certainly his last great one. While he still had cool ideas after this, the writing and dialogue felt bland and stale, having lost some of its Shakespearian appeal. So, when the very universe is being threatened by something known only as Infinity, Odin and Thor investigate and are caught up in a battle with something much more powerful than they ever imagined. And when Odin himself is caught in the thrall of Infinity, Thor must resort to desperate measures to save the day. The art splashes off the page as artist John Buscema (Kirby had left at this point) goes all out in protraying this monumental battle of pure power. The last great Stan Lee Thor story that ends with one hell of a twist.
6. Thor King-Size Special Vol 1. 2: If Asgard Falls
In this super-sized issue, all of Asgard welcomes warriors from all corners in a great tournament. The banter between the Warriors Three is a particular highlight here. But the drawing factor is a definining battle between Thor and the Destroyer who Loki sends to destroy Asgard. In it, Thor can only buy some time as he and his friends hold off the enchanted armor for as long as they can until Odin can figure out how to stop it from destroying all of Asgard. This extended story would have been mediocre if it had been a normal issue, but its extra length grants it the room to breathe and become the great story it is.
5. Thor Vol 1. 145-153: Abandoned on Earth
These 9 issues act as a sort of build-up to one of Thor's greatest stories ever told but still stand as their own contained story that works just as well. After Thor disagrees with Odin, he and a couple allies are banished to Earth and are stripped of their godly powers. From there comes a myriad of problems from the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime (criminals from a slew of different comics), the origin of the Wrecker (a criminal given the powers of a god), an encounter with Hela (goddess of Death), a battle with the Destroyer again except this time Sif is controlling it, a battle with Ulik, and one mighty duel with Loki. Basically, they threw everything at Thor except the kitchen sink here. These issues never let up from the action and readers are hooked from beginning to end. And even that is just a precursor to the main event which I'll get to later. This here shows off Stan Lee's skill as a writer as he weaves many plot threads together in all these issues that combine effortlessly in the end in a satisfying manner.
4. Thor Vol 1. 160-161: And Now...Galactus
In these two issues, two of the greatest cosmic threats in the Marvel Universe face off in a duel of epic proportions: Galactus, Devourer of Worlds and Ego, the Living Planet. The artwork is the main draw here as Jack Kirby goes all out here in showing off the combined power of the two titans as they go head to head. Thor is determined to put an end to Galactus before he causes further harm and teams up with Ego to defeat the godlike being in one mega confrontation that shows off some of Kirby's greatest work.
3. Thor Vol 1. 126-130: Hercules
Norse vs. Greek. Thor vs. Hercules. Technically, they fought in a previous story, but this was their definitive battle and really shows off Thor's arrogant side which strikes nicely with Hercules's. And this is only what starts the story. After a depowering by Odin for defying him, Thor is left weak and humiliated and thus vulnerable. Returning to Asgard in shame, he then finds it in ruins thanks to a coup and must save his father who in turn is ashamed of how he treated his son. And then, Thor must go rescue Hercules from the Netherworld, ruled by the god Pluto. These five issues are Stan Lee at some of his best when providing emotionally grounding stories for his characters. The action and artwork are great as always but the writing and humanization are top notch here and makes this stand as one of Thor's greatest stories ever told.
2. Thor Vol 1. 133: Behold...the Living Planet
Ego, the Living Planet. The main villain from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and one of the greatest cosmic threats. The name is no joke, he really is an entire planet. The MCU made him into a celestial being, but here he is a biome the size of a planet which I have to say is much cooler. In this story, Thor must stop Ego from spreading parts of himself to every corner of the galaxy (wonder where James Gunn came up with his ideas). In one of his greatest fights, Thor must traverse through Ego's very body, battling every step of the way as his enemy is literally everywhere. The artwork from beginning to end is spectacular and features one panel spread across two pages that you would have to see to believe. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decide to take risks like this, it really pays off.
1. Thor Vol 1. 154-157: Mangog
This is without a doubt Thor's greatest story ever told in this era and one of the greatest of all time. The Mangog. One of the most powerful beings in the world, composed of the collection of a billion, billion beings into one massive, omnipotent monster that wants to destroy Asgard and then the whole universe. And he almost succeeds. No matter what Thor or any of his allies do every step of the way, all they achieve is buying a few more previous seconds right up to the final page. Played out like an action thriller, this story grips readers and keeps them on the edge of their seat from beginning to end and if any story should be made on the big screen, it's this one (fingers crossed, Taika Waititi).
And there we are. Thor's most mightiest of sagas from 1961-1971. One of the best Marvel series of the time as well. And the best is yet to come. This is one of the series I would recommend to people interested in reading Marvel comics. Next up: Iron Man.