Waiting For the Frog

Some weeks back, Ian suggested we do a review of the issues of Walt Simonsons’s Thor run in which Thor, Prince of Asgard, is turned into a frog. It’s one of the most controversial Thor stories of all time, and I think the only Simonson Thor story that is disliked by anybody. I don’t think any or our reviewers have had a chance to read the story since it came up, and I’m not sure when Ian is going to schedule it, so I’m not going to review it … yet. Instead I want to talk about the almost 700 pages of Thor stories written and mostly drawn by Simonson before the controversial Frog story, and Simonson’s work that preceded that.

Back in the 1970s, when I was in about fourth grade, I remember speaking on the phone to my one comic book reading friend, Darrin, about my then-favorite comic book artist, Neal Adams. Darrin told me that his favorite comic book artist was Walt Simonson, and, as I recall, this opinion was entirely based one reading one comic book, an issue of First Issue Special featuring Dr. Fate. I didn’t have that issue, but did have at least one or two issues of Detective Comics featuring the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter story. Right there, on the phone, I had a very tiny paradigm shift. I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that any comic book artist could be preferred to Adams (I hadn’t yet encountered Kirby, or that would have given me a paradigm shift as well), and I contemplated the qualities of Simonson’s art that Adams’ lacked.

To my pre-teen eyes, Adams’ art seemed more realistic than reality. His Batman had masculinity and an awesomeness that blew me away, his women seemed more beautiful than the most beautiful models in the world and settings more exotic. Simonson’s art, though, also drew me into the story. I borrowed that Dr. Fate story and saw magic. Adams drew everything to look real, Simonson drew things that couldn’t be real, but were wonderful. My assessment of Adams as the ultimate comic book artist had been challenged, and I found the challenger to be worthy.

Over the next few years, I bought comic books by Simonson whenever I saw them, though I didn’t find as many as I had hoped. I happily picked up a beat up copy of his Alien adaptation off the bargain table at the mall bookstore, loved his visual take on Kirby’s Fourth World (oh, hey, I discovered Kirby somewhere in there) in an X-Men/Teen Titans crossover, and found his Battlestar Galactica stories to be far more interesting than the tv show upon which they were based.

Then, while in high school, I saw Thor #337 at my local comic shop. Walt had done layouts on the book previously (which I’d missed), but not written the book. With the visual of a strange creature dressed like Thor shattering the book’s logo, the book seemed to jump out at me. The message that this was a new era for Thor reached me loudly and clearly. The inside story did not disappoint, and in my enthusiasm for the new Simonson run, I used my meager allowance and bought three copies. I continued to buy multiple copies over the next several months, eventually stopping only because my allowance really was quite small, even when I supplemented it with some lunch money I saved from going hungry through the school day.

A lot’s been written about this Thor run. I thought it didn’t receive the acclaim it deserved at the time, at least among my circle of friends, but it’s certainly been lauded over time, and reprinted multiple times. There have been a series of trade paperbacks from Marvel with better paper and printing than the original issues, a big fat recolored hardcover omnibus that will wear out your arms if you don’t rest it on something while reading, and an Artist’s Edition from IDW that presents facsimiles of the original art pages and also should come with a bookstand. In fact, I bought a special bookstand for just these sort of books. A second volume of the Artist’s Edition has recently been solicited, so there’s not really an end in sight. I’ve bought multiples of several of the stories over time, and have to deliberate the format I wish to read.

So, I find myself wanting to read nearly 700 pages of Thor stories so I can read the Frog Thor story in context. Here’s a tip. You can pick up the Frog Thor story in the third volume of most of the smaller Simonson Thor collections and read it in time for our discussion, OR, you can start at the spot at which Simonson starts writing the book, Thor #337 or vol. 1 of any of the Simonson Thor reprint volumes and spend hours and hours reading a really outstanding run of an comic book. The choice is yours, but I know where I started.

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