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Thor Best Comics (1971-1981)

Updated: May 5

Thor was one of the series that neither faltered in the 70s nor did it soar to new heights after its success in the 60s. By the time the previous decade ended, Gerry Conway had already taken over from Stan Lee on the title. Sadly, he made the classic mistake of trying to write Thor how Lee had done it, making his first stories fall short. Thankfully, he found his footing and dove into the character and his world, making his one of the most underappreciated runs in Thor's history. What he was most successful at was how he focused on the science fiction side of the character, creating some of the coolest concepts and storylines because of it. He created the villain known as the God Jewel before throwing Thor up against the Black Stars, a massive five-pronged solar system threatening life everywhere. He didn't forget the mythological aspect either, bringing Thor's buddy Hercules back for some epic team-up action. But Conway's biggest success was the towards the end of his run where he made a sequel to Lee's Titan clash between the cosmic giants Galactus and Ego, instigating a seconary and more epic battle between them. Under Conway's direction, Thor stayed strong while other Marvel Comics fell short from the change in creative directors. Lee made Thor the powerhouse he was and thankfully Conway was able to keep it up.

Sadly, Conway's stories fizzled out towards the end and it was time for a new writer. Len Wein took the reins and was able to guide Thor well, providing some of the most unique stories in a while. He brought back some classic Thor villains from his earliest days before launching an overarching storyline about the disappearance of Odin, taking Thor on an odyssey across the universe to solve the mystery. Wein was able to keep up the momentum and his run became the second-most underrated.

After Wein left, Roy Thomas took over, bringing the character back to his mythological roots and reinventing classic Norse myths for newer readers. Then he launched one of his biggest stories by bringing in Jack Kirby's Eternals into the story all for Thor's special 300th issue. Sadly, he wasn't able to finish the story himself which made it drop in quality towards the end. Still, it stuck the landing and kept Thor as epic as possible.

Sadly, once Thomas left, Thor entered his weakest era yet with writing teams Gruenwald & Macchio and later Doug Moench not knowing quite what to do with the character. Thankfully, their runs were shorter and the 1980s and Thor's renaissance were right around the corner. But that's for next time.

9. Thor Vol 1 214-216: The God Jewel

This is the story where writer Gerry Conway began to find his groove, embracing the science fiction elements of the Thor title and just running with it into this wild and crazy tale as Thor faces off against an entity in the form of, as the title states, a god jewel. A massive jewel with godlike powers seeking to rule the universe and holding Sif and Karnilla hostage to keep Thor at bay as well as antagonist Mercurio who needs the jewel’s power to save his world, even if the women die in the process. While Conway was still finding his writing style here, John Buscema’s artwork elevated the story even more with panels of epic designs. Gerry Conway had been struggling on the Thor title for a while after Stan Lee passed it to him, but here he managed to find the right way to tell the stories.

8. Thor Vol 1 272: The Day the Thunder Failed

Roy Thomas starts off his Thor run here with an adaptation of one of my personal favorite Thor myths, his trials with the giant Utgard. Thor and Loki, lost in Jotunheim, meet a giant, and are intimidated by his size and power. Then, invited to the giant’s home and challenged to compete in a set of trials, Thor and Loki fail miserably as Thor is unable to lift a cat, fight an old woman, or even finish a cup of mead. It is only at the end that it is revealed that Utgard is a master of illusion and the contests were designed to make Thor look bad and yet he still managed to impress, as the cat he lifted was in fact the tail of the World Serpent and he still managed to lift it a tiny bit. A nice story, adapted and brought beautifully to life by Roy Thomas and John Buscema.

7. Thor Vol 1 311: Grief More Than a God May Bear

Doug Moench was not the best writer for Thor but he did manage to write one story that stood far above the others that tackles a persistent and tragic issue to this day: the shooting of a Black kid. When a police officer mistakenly sees a young kid who just robbed a convenience store reaching under his jacket for a gun (he was clutching his heart due to medical problems), the officer shoots. This stirs up an angry mob that storms the clinic where the kid was sent and where Thor works in his alter ego of Donald Blake. As Blake feverishly works to save the kid’s life, things only get more and more tense outside as the police respond aggressively to the rioters. Eventually, Blake has to leave the operating room and transform into Thor to try and settle things. Of course, the story ends tragically with nothing truly resolved as this is a story with no big foe or threat that can be overcome so easily. Moench does his due diligence in the sensitivity of this topic and actually makes it work pretty well for Thor though the reason this story is ranked lower than others is because there were many other heroes that could have served better with Thor just being the one chosen and in the end not really resonating as much with the story itself.

6. Thor Vol 1 273-278: Ragnarok

Ragnarok is major part of Norse mythology and has been a term tossed around a lot in the Thor comics, all the characters dreading it. And yet, no one has ever explored it until now as Thomas takes what he knows from the myths and brings them to life here as the day of Ragnarok rears its head, threatening all of Asgard. Starting off with old Stan Lee character Harris Hobbs wanting to make a TV show based on Asgard, thinks take off from there with the return of Loki, the death of Balder (pulled straight from the myths), and the rise of a new Thor who badly beats the old one, all leading to a climactic battle with the forces of Hela. In the end, it is revealed it was all the machinations of Odin which leads to Thor questioning his devotion to his father (something everyone should be questioning at this point). Often times before, the Thor comics had pulled little from the source material, instead doing its own thing. But here, Thomas brings back the original myths to the comics, binding them together in a fascinating way.

5. Thor Vol 1 242-245: The Way the World Ends

Len Wein comes onto the Thor title and decides to bring back perhaps one of the most forgettable Thor villains from his early years, Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, and manages to turn him into a more 3-dimensional character. He appears to ask Thor for help as a new threat has come, one that is ravaging across time itself, destroying each timeline it appears it and is heading for his conquered world next. This story serves as the main inspiration for the Loki series, revealing the Citadel at the End of Time and He-Who-Remains (though this version is not Kang as far as we know). It also serves to present Jane Foster in a much better and more involved role, showing her more as the confident and badass character Natalie Portman portrayed rather than the damsel in distress presented in the early Thor stories. Len Wein proves his worth as a Thor writer as he nails the different characters of Thor, the Warriors Three, and Jane as well as making previous villain Zarrko much more interesting. Wein also juggles several plot threads and crafts a truly unique science fiction tale that eventually led to one of the lead Marvel live action series.

4. Thor Vol 1 218-220: The Black Stars

After finding success with his previous story, Conway continues with the science fiction angle by introducing the universe-spanning threat of the Black Stars, a massive traveling star system destroying everything in its path. With the Rigellians and other worlds in full evacuation, doing their best to escape the cataclysm, Thor and his companions journey to the Black Stars to try and stop the threat. John Buscema proves his worth as one of the best artists of his time with jaw-dropping designs and a single-spread page that is truly breathtaking. And while this story might have ended in a massive battle, Conway decides to go another way, twisting the story on its head as he constantly deconstructs and reconstructs what the Black Stars are to the reader up until the end. The artwork alone makes this story standout but Conway’s approach and heavy world-building here elevate it even more to one of the more remarkable Thor tales of its time.

3. Thor Vol 1 255-266: Quest for Odin

The second half of Len Wein’s tenure as Thor writer and he focuses it all on this long, epic saga of Odin’s disappearance from Asgard. Thor and his companions journey across the stars to find their king while Balder holds the throne at home. Starting off with two standalone tales, one dealing with a stranded ship and its mysterious occupants and the other with the return of old Thor foe Grey Gargoyle and his band of slavers, the story then picks up speed as Thor finds the Doomsday Star, a world very much inspired by Kirby’s early work. It is here that new artist Walt Simonson, who would go on to revolutionize the character of Thor, jumps aboard to craft this tale and manages to breathe new life into it. While Thor deals with the Doomsday Star and its attempts to drain Odin and other gods like him in order to sustain its life, Balder faces off against Loki and his allies Enchantress and Executioner as they invade Asgard. The stories then come together at the end with a massive Thor v. Destroyer battle and final clash with Loki. Len Wein goes all out for this tale, expanding it over many issues so he can make it the best he possibly could and leaving it as one of the truly greatest Thor stories written.

2. Thor Annual 7, Thor Vol 1 283-301: The Eternals Saga

When Jack Kirby’s Eternals was released, it seemed like it existed in another universe given its separation from the rest of the Marvel universe. Here, Roy Thomas fixes that by having Thor meet the Eternals first in an annual issue that takes place in the Ragnarok storyline and then in the main comic series. Learning that the Celestials are on Earth, seeking to judge the planet and its people, Thor gets involved, not willing to see the world he loves destroyed. Thus begins an epic saga as he fights the Celestials, meets both Eternals and Deviants, and learns the truth about his father leading to a confrontation between the two. Thomas also introduces the other pantheons of gods and has Olympus join forces with Asgard to attack the Eternals with Thor caught in the middle. While the story does lose its way as Thomas takes a step back from writing duties towards the end and Ralph Macchio and Mark Gruenwald take over, especially with the story of the Ring, it all comes back together in the extra-sized 300th issue where Odin himself takes on the Celestials in a truly epic battle that ends in a way one wouldn’t expect. Including the secret history of the Destroyer, revealing Thor’s real mother as well as his connection to Earth, and officially bringing the Eternals to the Marvel Universe, this story packs a lot and while it doesn’t keep it up the whole way, it still sticks the landing and marks itself as one of Thor’s best stories yet.

1. Thor Vol 1 224-228: Ego: Beginning and End

One of Conway’s last tales on the Thor title and he decides to redo one of Stan Lee’s best tales by bringing back the two cosmic threats of Galactus and Ego the Living Planet. However, here Thor is forced to team up with Galactus as Ego is proving to be the greater threat. Alongside Hercules and new herald Firelord, Thor journeys back to the Living Planet and fights off against the horde of planetary creations. While that would have been good enough, what truly makes this the best tale was Conway’s origin of Ego. After Stan Lee revealed the origin of Galactus previously, Conway decided to do Ego’s here, crafting a fascinating story for how the Living Planet came to be, humanizing the antagonist. The only truly negative point for this story would be the switch in artists from Buscema to Rich Buckler which was a little jarring, but Buckler still manages to make impressive designs and helps Conway create this story. Throw in a battle with the Destroyer and some fun banter between the characters, and this tale stands as one of the greatest Thor stories written.

And that's it for Thor in this decade. Thanks for reading and til next time where we'll dive into Simonson's run.

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