While Walter Simonson would continue to write “Thor” for another few years, this arc, this final arc, this arc that encompasses everything he had been building toward when he first took on the title, marks the end of his time as the primary writer and artist. Over half a year, he brought together all the disparate items he had been working on this grand, bold finale. Even with still so much more to come (Loki! Frog Thor!), “The Mighty Thor” #349-354 definitely feel like an ending.
Written and Illustrated by Walter Simonson
Colored by Steve Oliff
Lettered by John Workman
Regardless of what we’re reading, no matter how much we like a title or a character or a creator, despite years’ long investment in certain stories, whenever we read a superhero comic, there’s a voice in the back of our minds — a cynical voice, maybe, a pragmatic voice, possibly — that wonders whether or not this is all worth it. Give it a few years, and it resets back. Wait long enough and all the character growth and this changes everything story beats will be forgotten so a new creator can start at square one. Not only that, but how could there possibly be any growth or change when the same characters have to appear in a team-up book over there and God forbid if it doesn’t stick to continuity. Walter Simonson might spend two years setting up his grand cosmic showdown, but we know the consequences will be fickle. This, then, raises the question: what do we want out of an ending? More specifically, what do we want out of a superhero ending?
These are grandoise stories. These are spinner rack epics. These are loud and bombastic and fun. (Don’t forget, Simonson was working on this series before “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Rises” put the industry in a chokehold.) They’re melodramatic and silly and not so much over the top as never really had a top to begin with. For something like “The Mighty Thor,” we expect spectacle in its dénouement. We want to be wowed and thrilled and on the edge of our seat.
And Simonson delivers just that.
Over six issues, Simonson doubles down on what worked throughout the previous arcs. Surtur finally appears to attack Asgard. It’s his purpose and destiny. He doesn’t really question it. Thor has to figure out who he is as an Asgardian prince, an Avenger, and a defender of people on Earth. He loses everything, has to make sacrifices, and realizes what it takes to be a hero. The plot line itself doesn’t get too innovative or inventive. But Simonson expertly manipulates it. He makes every Surtur appearance brutal and horrifying. Often, the character cannot fit into the panel, at least not without an extreme wide shot. He knows when it’s time for some fan service, like the reappearance of Beta Ray Bill or the clash between Odin and Surtur. He distracts us long enough with Volstagg or Loki or Balder to let us calm down enough to get swept back in with the cosmic struggle.
I also got a kick out of how there were always convenient flashes of light or energy or whatever that blocked out Surtur’s penis. It’s almost screwball in its delivery. It’s like Simonson’s aware of how silly and goofy these stories are, so he throws in a few asides to remind us not to take it too seriously.
In addition to the spectacle of the story, as readers, I think we also want some sort of closure out of superhero endings. Not like in an everything will never be the same sort of way. We don’t expect lasting consequences, and it’s possible as monthly superhero comic book readers we don’t want lasting consequences. More like a did elements introduced within the course of the story actively pay off by the end of it? With a finale this big, did it have time to make sure it closed a chapter?
Again, I think Simonson achieved this. There’s the surface level thing where he brings back characters we connected with earlier. He wraps up Roger Willis’s plotline. But there’s also the relationship between Thor and Roger Willis — like Thor remembers that warrior from way back, which has given him a new appreciation for humans. Or Sif and her desire to do something better and more honorable than fighting with Thor. (Of course, she ends up next to Beta Ray Bill, still fighting for a dude, but I guess we could chalk that up to the ’80s’ gender dynamics.) Simonson takes the time to earn Thor’s eventual victory. Simonson makes it seem fraught even if, deep down, we know it won’t be. Even with two coda issues, he finds a way to smooth things over, address the last lingering story points.Continued below
And there’s the last thing we talk about when we talk about superhero endings. It’s that it won’t end. That there’s still room for the story to go. The characters aren’t finished because we aren’t finished reading these characters. And, yes, Simonson lays the groundwork for the next several years’ worth of “Mighty Thor” stories, too.
In the end, what makes a conclusion stand out is whether or not we thought the whole thing was worth it. Whether or not we found any enjoyment out of it. Whether or not we closed the book or filed away the issue or whatever and felt something. The hardest part of superhero comics does stem from how nothing ever changes, not really. And when we close something like “The Mighty Thor” #349-355, will we want to ever come back to it?