Review - Walt Simonson: Writer, Penciller, Auteur

The other day I purchased perhaps the heaviest tome that will ever sit upon my bookshelf: a Marvel Comics omnibus containing the entirety of Walter Simonson’s run on The Mighty Thor. A hardcover with over a thousand glossy pages, the compendium collects Simonson’s nearly four year run writing the Mighty Avenger, the bulk of which was also drawn by him (Sal Buscema pencilled 18 of the 45 collected issues).

With the exception of a few high profile scribes, Grant Morrison and Brian Michael Bendis chief among them, it’s rare nowadays to see a single writer dictate the course of a character and the surrounding universe for so long. And after reading most of the omnibus—I still have yet to read the final two fifths or so—I want to see more of these auteur efforts, because Simonson’s run contains some of the best superhero comics I have ever read.

When talking about superhero comics, we’re talking about a genre whose long-running characters have been handled by countless writers and artists over the course of their existence. As a result, quite a few of them have been defined not by their creators but by the contributions of those who came, in some cases, much, much later. The grim, dedicated Batman of the Christopher Nolan films more greatly resembles the character as written by Frank Miller and Jeph Loeb than how he was originally envisioned by Bill Finger and Bob Kane back in 1939. And while the Punisher owes his existence to Gerry Conway, Ross Andru and John Romita, Sr.’s collaboration in a 1974 issue of Spider-Man, it wasn’t until 2000 that Garth Ennis crafted the modern depiction of the character for Welcome Back, Frank.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Walt Simonson

Likewise, the portrayal of Thor and his fellow Asgardians in Kenneth Branagh’s recent movie owes a lot to what Walt Simonson did in the mid-’80s. While Thor’s filmic origin is (mostly) inspired what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby came up with for the character in 1962, the less overt but no less important episode—Loki’s elaborate deceptions, the culture of Asgard, and the comic interactions of the Warriors Three—can be found in the pages of this omnibus.

It’s an epic story in the most classical sense of the word, not only long but far-reaching—from the golden spires of Asgard to a galaxy’s blasted core to the very bowels of the underworld. And like any good epic it also has a cast of interesting characters. There’s Lady Sif trying to find her own way and improve herself without becoming too reliant on others, Volstagg’s tomboyish young daughter Gunnhild bashfully hoping to impress Hogun the Grim, and the seductive Lorelei’s mission to woo Thor and upstage her older sister the Enchantress. Best of all, though, is former warrior Balder’s depression following this escape from Hell and his later revitalization. For all of its awesome action sequences—and believe me, there are many—the series’ strength lies in Simonson’s deft characterization.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Walt Simonson

And let’s not forget Beta Ray Bill, the alien warrior chosen to lead his scattered people to a new home and who, after a scuffle with Thor, discovers he’s one of the few beings in the universe worthy enough of lifting the Mighty Avenger’s hammer, Mjolnir. In time, he becomes one of the Lightning God’s closest allies and friends, as well as a surrogate son to Odin, who forges him a hammer of his own. His relationship with Sif is one of my favourite parts of the series and certainly the most touching.

Simonson is just as excellent an artist as he is a writer. His pencils are fluid and dynamic and just as capable of rendering subtlety as they are the broader strokes. Recoloured with richer, more vibrant hues for this omnibus edition, you’d think the series had been on the stands just ten years ago rather than a quarter of a century.

                                                                                                                                                                                 Walt Simonson

Simonson’s run on Thor is probably too pricey for the average buyer—it cost me three weeks’ worth of tips—but it can also be found in softcover volumes under the Marvel Visionaries banner, and with the same recolouring as well. It’s one of the best examples of superhero comics and arguably the most definitive rendition of that character—a character who, at one point, turns into a frog.

                                                                                   Walt Simonson

Did I mention how much I love this comic?

1 comment:

paul said...

Agree w/ your opinion on this great run, but I believe the Visionaries TPBs contain more or less the original coloring.