For some strange reason the computer does not allow reviews of individual volumes of the Essential Thor series so here goes.
Volume 1. Yet another classic Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creation. These tales take you back to the start as Dr. Donald Blake finds an old cane whilst hiding from some strange aliens and on striking it on the ground he becomes Thor, the Norse God of Thunder.
The first few years we see him fighting a succession of mad scientists,magicians and evil commies only interrupted by bouts with his evil step-brother Loki. The tales heat up when Odin forbids him to marry the woman he loves and also with the introduction of the Cobra and Mister Hyde who bring Thor into the mainstream of comics.
From then on we get the Grey Gargoyle and Magneto as well as guest slots by Doctor Strange, the Avengers and the Hulk.
Also included are the Tales of Asgard mini-series which are superb adaptations of many of the old Norse legends and introduce several characters that will appear in the next Thor volumes.
The Thor stories are entertaining and educational as well as a good slice of life and fashions in the early 1960's. You even see a frame of JFK in the Merlin story, just a few months before he was killed.
Essential Volume 2 - now Stan and Jack really step up a gear. This volume includes a topical (1960's) trip to Viet-Nam where anti-communist rhetoric abounds. We visit Hades, make several trips across the rainbow bridge to Asgard and then a journey to battle the Colonizers of Rigel and Ego the Living Planet in the Black Galaxy.
Standouts are the Absorbing Man, created by Loki, The Destroyer (Loki again), the introduction of Hercules and the Greek Gods, especially the tale involving Pluto, then there's the introduction of the High Evolutionary. Loki plays several low key appearances in this selection, especially the tales involving the Destroyer.
We see Thor's relationship with Jane Foster rise and fall and volume 2 ends with the introduction of Sif.
Then there is the stunning Tales of Asgard series, which now moves away from actual myths to new stories especially the epic involving Ragnarok. As always the humour is there in Stan Lee's writing but Thor himself does not appear to have much of a sense of humour, especially when compared to Hercules. The other Norse God characters are brilliant, especially Volstagg (a bloated Joxer), Hogun the grim and Fandral the dashing. We also meet Hela the Goddess of Death who plays a very important part in the next Essential Thor volume.
If the lack of colour bothers you then you could always fork out a few thousand for the originals. For me this brings back memories of when I had many of the originals then like a fool..well you know the old story
Vacationing in Norway, a crippled American doctor named Don Blake checks out rumours of a U.F.O. Spotted by the aliens, who resemble the statues on Easter Island, Blake hides in a cave where he discovers an old wooden staff. After striking a boulder with the ancient stick, he is transformed into Thor, the Norse God Of Thunder! A legend is reborn!
Thwarting the stone men from Saturn, Blake returns to the States where he falls for his attractive nurse Jane Foster. In so doing, he incurs the wrath of Odin, father of the Gods.
As if he did not have enough troubles, Thor's evil half-brother Loki is plotting his downfall, with one goal in mind...to become ruler of Asgard!
Originally published in 'Journey Into Mystery' magazine, the first fourteen 'Thor' tales were not penned by Stan Lee, and it shows. Although enjoyable, the stories - which pitted the Thunder God against the Executioner, Mad Merlin, the Demon Duplicators, the Carbon-Copy Man and Sandu - were hardly vintage Marvel.
But as soon as Stan took over, everything changed. The Smiling One gave old Goldilocks a personality, used Asgard more and more frequently as a backdrop to the adventures, and created such sinister villains as the Cobra, Mr.Hyde, the Grey Gargoyle, the Absorbing Man and the lovely Enchantress.
This unique blend of Norse mythology and modern-day ( well, 1965, anyway ) Marvel-style superheroics worked a treat. Not many costumed characters at that time spoke as though they were performing Shakespeare. As for Jack Kirby's artwork...stupendous!
Special mention must be made of 'Tales Of Asgard', a Lee/Kirby mini-series based on the history of Asgard.
But its the 'Thor' stories that make this an essential purchase. Rarely has a strip gone from being a third-rater to a classic in so short a space of time.
Volume 1 of "The Essential Thor" provides the stories of the Thunder God that appeared in "Journey Into Mystery" #83-112, including the five-page "Tales of Asgard" that started appearing in issue #97. In the Sixties I did not start reading Thor until the comic had taken on his name, so this was the first time I had read most of these stories, although I did pick up the "Tales of Asgard" collection that Marvel put out way back when. In retrospect it is hard to ignore that the original conception of this particular superhero was rather lame. However, once Stan Lee, Larry Leiber and Jack Kirby began to take the Norse mythology aspects of the character more seriously, the dynamic of these stories changed considerably. The initial story is that Dr. Don Blake, an American physician vactioning in Europe, is fleeing from Stone Men from Saturn who have landed in their spaceship when he stumbles into a cave and discovers an ancient cane. When he strikes the cane against an immoveable boulder it transforms into a hammer and Blake becomes the legendary god of Thunder. The hammer has an inscription, in English no less, proclaiming "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of...THOR (yes, the inscription even includes the elipses). Don Blake, with his bum leg, and his secret affection for his pretty young nurse, Jane Nelson, is set up in the mold of mild mannered Clark Kent and bookworm Peter Parker, where he is two-thirds of a love triangle all by himself (and his alter-ego). On the one hand the first couple of issues clearly give Thor the powers of the Norse thunder god--he not only calls forth rain and thunderstorms, but makes a volcano erupts--but the stories do not deal explicitly with whether he is indeed a deity. However, all of that begins to change in the third story when Loki, god of mischief, shows up and starts living up to his name. Loki's arrival is crucial in Thor's transformation, not only because it is the beginning of taking the Norse mythology angle seriously (and the Thor comics would provide a scholarly fidelity to the subject), but also because the god of mischief became Thor's major foe. The opposition was ideal because unlike Thor's human opponents, such as the Cobra and Mr. Hyde, Loki could keep coming back for more issue after issue, either directly or through a proxy. Loki only arrived on earth after sneaking by Heimdall, the warder of the rainbow bridge called Bifrost, and once that door was open Odin, Balder and the rest of the Norse gods and goddesses were close behind. Unfortunately the Tales of Asgard fillers are uniformly superior to the main adventures in "Journey of Mystery." Part of it is that they were written by Lee and drawn by Kirby, unlike the other stories (Lee and Kirby actually do less than half of the actual writing and drawing in this collection), and part of it was that they stuck to the ancient Norse legends about the gods. The other flaw was that they stuck with Don Blake and his romance with Nurse Jane, even while Odin went off on his "no son of mine is going to marry a mortal" rant. Eventually we will get around to the Lady Sif, but that is still a long ways off. For now, the more these early issues focus on Thor, Loki and the rest of the Asgardians, the better the stories. The rest require us to believe mere mortals and various meta-humans have a chance against an actual thunder god.
I started to read this book with trepidation, as I am fairly new to THOR(12 months). However I soon forgot all about that and by the end of the second "instalment" I was hooked! It was great to see the development of the character, and although his powers are are well defined in the first issue it is not untill much later that we start to see the development of Asgard(lots of theeing and thowing). In fact it even includes the "Tales of Asgard" It was very nice too see the introduction of some major characters who have plagued the Marvel universe over the years. There is also a history of Thor at the back of the book, which is extremley in depth(i think it's pulled from one of the Marvel handbooks). I think Stan Lee's style must have still been under devolpment as it is only later on that we see his trade mark sense of humour. As for Jack Kirby's art, not much even by today's standards comes close. It's also nice to see the look of the characters developing as well. Kirby is not the only penciller but you hardly notice as his style pretty much dominates the whole book. Overall great value for money. Only complaint is that it's not in colour...