As far as I’m concerned Thor begins in the 80s with the essential Walt Simonson run, which covers roughly issues 337-382 and a Balder mini-series.
This classic run features the first appearances of Beta Ray Bill, the Casket of Ancient Winters, Malekith, and Kurse. Also featured within are the short-lived 80s Thor armor and even more short-lived frog Thor. Interaction with the general Marvel superhero world is pretty minimal. Most of the run focuses on Asgard and/or very Asgard-specific themes and threats. I don’t know well this art and writing would hold up to a modern audience, but if 80s comics are your thing, this is a must-read.
Also of note during this time period: Mephisto 1-4.
This was a very strange little mini-series about Mephisto getting up to satanic shenanigans, that takes place in between Thor 380 and 381, which deals with various superheroes, but ends up all really sort of being about Thor in the end. It’s referenced in the run above, but not included in the omnibus. It’s not particularly necessary, but it’s a fun little overlooked addition.
Skip ahead 10 years or so to the next worthwhile Thor series, Dan Jurgens’ run.
The first quarter of this series starts off pretty well. It’s mainly standard superhero stuff and the kind of Asgard troubles we’ve already seen in Simonson’s run, but it’s not bad. Things start to drag a bit later in the second quarter, but it’s once the Lord of Asgard era begins that this series really takes off. So Odin dies and Thor becomes…lord of Asgard, and the book starts to deal with some very interesting issues for a mainstream superhero comic. After decades of somehow dodging the subject of religion in a book about a god, Jurgens finally decides to approach the question “How would people really feel about knowing for a fact that Norse gods existed and what would it mean to their own religious views?”. Hint: people don’t take it very well at all.
Thor brings this debate about by deciding that the Asgardians need to start getting more personally involved in human affairs and starts going a bit “The Authority” on Earth. This leads to big trouble for everyone involved and is capped off by an interesting alternate future story that shows what would have happened if Thor had continued down this path and become the godly dictator of Earth. Normally religion and politics are the last thing you want to read about in a mainstream superhero comic, but somehow it really works here. This was a great era of Thor comics and easily the best thing I’ve ever read by Dan Jurgens. Hopefully they’ll put this into some omnibuses or something someday.
When last we saw Thor he and everyone in Asgard had just died in yet another Ragnarok. Straczynski’s Thor begins with them all coming back to life and setting their new home up in the middle of a field in Oklahoma for some reason.
While finding all the Asgardians, who had been scattered all over Earth somehow, Thor finds that Loki is now a woman for some reason. Also, he never can seem to find his long-time sometimes girlfriend Sif. Later, it turns out that Loki had been a woman because he was just possessing Sif’s body the whole time. So for however long it was that this went on, 2 years or so maybe, Thor had Sif right next to him and just didn’t recognize her. The audience can be forgiven for not noticing this the first time around because facial features wildly change depending on the artist, so one black haired woman could be any black haired woman without the appropriate costume on to act as a cue. Thor, on the other hand, has been intimately close with Sif for a few thousand years and it is completely unthinkable that he would not recognize her while interacting with her on a daily basis, just because she’s wearing Loki clothes instead of Sif clothes. That always really bothered me about this run.
Anyway…this run isn’t entirely unpleasant, but it is very slow moving and mostly revolves around Loki manipulating Asgard politically, with almost no action in sight, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but doesn’t tend to work out too well when the writer sets up a bunch of long-running plot threads and then decides to have a tantrum and quit the company before wrapping any of them up. It’s basically nothing but set up with no payoff, but luckily the people who came in to clean up the mess handled it very well. I wouldn’t exactly recommend this run, but it does lead directly into the Gillen/Fraction era, so it is technically relevant at least, but that is a tale for another time.
to be continued…