With the Thor movie less than a day away in North America, comic fans and the movie-going public at large are looking back to the source material that started it all: the Thor comics. Although the character’s initial creators (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber) are chief amongst those responsible for the character about to hit the big screen, a fourth figure holds a similar distinction: J. Michael Straczynski. His retooling of the Thor character in comics back in 2007 paved the way for comic series’ current successes as well as the Thor movie, but it’s not without some derision from fans, critics and even Marvel itself.
For comic critics and pundits, J. Michael Straczynski has become a polarizing figure. He became one of the first “Hollywood” writers to seriously enter comics with the 1999 launch of Rising Stars, and was later tapped by Marvel’s then-new regime of Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas to write Amazing Spider-Man. Straczynski had a lengthy 50+ issue run with the wall-crawler that ended after some mis-steps in storylines and an alledged disagreement between Quesada and Straczynski on the latter's final story-arc. After a small run on Fantastic Four, Straczynski jumped into what would be his defining project at Marvel: Thor.
In 2007, J. Michael Straczynski re-charged the then-dormant god of thunder named Thor with artist Olivier Copiel and presaged much of what came later for both the comics and movie version of the character. The writer pulled back the lofty character’s fabled “Thor speak” to a more palatable level, and contrasted the Asgardian’s role as gods versus the Middle American values and visuals of a small Oklahoma hamlet called Broxton. His pairing with House of M artist Olivier Copiel added much to this new chapter for Thor, including a new costume, and worked to recalibrate the character – and the Asgardians in general – for modern audiences.
J. Michael Straczynski scripted this revitalized Thor for over two years and, although his final issues saw him go out with a whimper instead of a bang, it’s the changes he prescribed with those key issues that set the tone for everything that’s come since. Although Marvel has thrown out some of those more cosmetic changes (Loki as a woman, Odin’s death), by-and-large comic writers like current Thor writer Matt Fraction are working off a platform set up by Straczynski.
Although the Thor movie takes its story from the character’s origin published in the 1960s, some of its tone and the feel of the locale borrows liberally from Stracynzki’s run. He also co-wrote the core story that the screenwriters expanded on for the movie, and the film-makers invited Straczynski out to the set for a cameo in the movie, much like Stan Lee’s famous Marvel movie appearances.
In recent years, J. Michael Straczynski has hit more than a few bumps on the road in comics with the ending of Amazing Spider-Man, the delays on The Twelve, and his ill-received and prematurely ended runs on Superman and Wonder Woman, but I’d argue that his run on Thor still sets the standard and will be long-remembered by fans and the industry alike.