Reconsidering J. Michael Straczynski’s Impact on Thor

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.

Comments

  1. Straczynski’s run on Thor is one of my favourite comic book runs of all time. Loki as a woman was just pointless though.

  2. mattstev2000 mattstev2000 says:

    Totally agree about his run on Thor – it was absolutely top notch.

    I tend to disagree about his Amazing Spider-Man run. I think that’s his Marvel defining run. Personally I thought that was the best run the characters had in my memory. Certainly a lot better than the current run. 

    Even when some of the editorially mandated stories started to weigh his ASM down and the ridiculous ending that was foisted on him by JoeQ and crew the characterisation of PP (and pretty much everyone else in the book tbh) was pitch perfect.

     

  3. WeaklyRoll WeaklyRoll says:

    I agree with @Mattstev2000 that JMS’ run on ASM was his Defining Marvel Run. His Thor, while very well written and plotted, with some amazing art, was short compared to his ASM run; though i am sure that given more time to develop the stories and plots he wanted, like the Loki as a woman plot.

    I loved this story, it got me into thor, but it was also a double edge sword, in that the more i looked up Thor, the more I began to realize that Thor was more Fantasy SF then Fantasy Medieval, which JMS’ Thor seemed to be. Given more time on the book, we may have seen a reason for all this, but it wasn’t really touched upon and I always wondered why it was more Lord of the Rings than Star Wars.

  4. mikeandzod21 mikeandzod21 says:

    I also agree with @mattstev2000, his Spider-Man run was brilliant, especially in terms of character development. His Peter was a sympathetic character, not the jerk he is now. I do have to say that JMS changed Loki back to a man during his run, and Dan Jurgens killed Odin during his run, to give credit where it’s due.

  5. Conor Kilpatrick conor (@cskilpatrick) says:

    @mikeandzod21  Peter is a jerk now?

  6. cprevite cprevite says:

    I loveStraczynski’s run on Thor. Loved the return of Donald Blake; Loved the use of Broxton; Loved the new costume. I even loved Loki as a woman (who was both creeeepy and strangely hot as drawn by Coipel). It also had great use of supporting characters from the Asgardians to the citizens of Broxton.

    I also agree that its impact has been far reaching.  Into the current run on Thor, into Iron Man, Siege and (apparently) the Thor Movie. 

    I also loved his run on ASM (even Ezekial).

    Folks love to slam Straczynski (somewhat deservedly), but when he’s on his game writing comics – his is ON. 

  7. RoiVampire RoiVampire says:

    @mikeandzod21  yeah i’m with conor, how exactly is peter a jerk now? he seems to be the same peter he’s always been except now he has an awesome job and he’s an Avenger.

    Now Xavier, that guy is a jerk.

  8. JMS’s run on Thor echoes pretty much all of his work. He’s great to set up interesting stories and characters but fails miserably when it comes to ending his run and paying off all the hard work. I really loved the run up until those final issues but I did feel it was missing the sci-fi element that seperates Thor from the usual medieval fare. His run on Spidey was definitely his defining run at Marvel. He had Peter’s voice down perfectly and he really developed his character in new and interesting ways.

  9. WheelHands WheelHands says:

    I love this run. Aside from Ultimates and random Avengers issues over the years, I have next to zero experience/interest in Thor. But I picked up these trades to see what the buzz was about, and I tore right through ‘em. A fair share of that praise belongs to Copiel, but I really enjoyed the story too. Good stuff.

  10. avejman says:

    i don’t feel he really finished his run, somone else just tied up the loose ends.

  11. I know I am an unabashed fan of JMS, but his Thor run is the Thor I will remember. Sort of how conor said in the video show how Walt Simonson’s Thor run will be the Thor he remembers. JMS and Coipel’s run was just great from issue to issue. Everything had a purpose and the characterizations were spot on. I never wouid have cared about the Warriors Three if JMS didn’t put time to make them a focus on the book as well. JMS was able to make a very interesting Thor book without having to bring Odin back at all.

    Also, let’s not forget Kieron Gillen’s short run that finishes what JMS left on. I still agree with his decision to leave the book early because his run shouldn’t have been tarnished by a stupid event. Even though Gillen had to go into Seige with his story he was able to make an entertaining run as well.

    This is a great time to be a Thor fan and it’s all thanks to JMS, Oliver Coipel, and Kieron Gillen. 

  12. Cormac Cormac says:

    ‘short run’? Kieron Gillen end up doing 10 issues, plus the Siege Loki / Beta Ray Bill stuff. I liked it better than JMS’ stuff or Fraction’s in the end.

  13. mattstev2000 mattstev2000 says:

    It’s weird because I found Gillen’s run on Thor almost unreadable, especially the bits after siege featuring Mephisto and Hel. It was so disjointed and cumbersome I couldn’t get through it. 

    It’s one of the reasons I didn’t pick up Journey into Mystery despite being a huge Thor fan. 

  14. Cormac Cormac says:

    Well, he had to stitch two very different pieces of cloth together on the fly and got told halfway through that Fraction’s run would be late, so I cut him some slack. 

  15. rodfa02 rodfa02 says:

    Wow, some love for JMS’ Thor run!  

    While Simonson’s run on Thor is fantastic and classic, my personal favorite depiction of Thor was JMS’ run as well. His characterizations were handled very deftly. Also, no other creator fleshed out Donald Blake to quite the extent he did.

    Yes, JMS has had quite a few problems with his comic book work lately, but I also think he is the creator that many love to bash right now. His runs on Superman and Wonder Woman certainly haven’t helped.

    Still, his work on Thor is considered among the best, and rightfully so. 

  16. Joshua Joshua says:

    this is bananas!! The ifanboys and ifanbase throw out all this hate to JMS in years past, then a movie comes out which he was apart of writing, does really well and is greatly recieved and now JMS is liked????? 

  17. Conor Kilpatrick conor (@cskilpatrick) says:

    @Joshua  Well, liked by Chris Arrant. I still don’t like any of his Thor stuff that I read. Also, Josh did enjoy the first JMS Thor trade back in 2008, which is three years before the movie came out.

  18. Joshua Joshua says:

    @ Conor what specificially don’t you like about JMS Thor? If he didn’t “cross the street” to DC, could keep Olivier Coipel on art, and kept Marvel editorial from making him be apart of the crossover b.s. I personally believe JMS + Coipel’s Thor run would be legendary.

  19. Conor Kilpatrick conor (@cskilpatrick) says:

    @Joshua  I can’t really give you specifics. It’s been years since I last read it and have since excised it from my brain.

  20. Conor Kilpatrick conor (@cskilpatrick) says:

    NOTE: For the second time today I hit “delete” instead of “reply”. Not having a good day. Sorry Joshua. You asked if Chris Samnee’s Thor was ever going to be collected.

    @Joshua  It already has been.

    Volume 1
    Volume 2

  21. Joshua Joshua says:

    @ Conor, haha no problem. Thanks for the info. I haven’t kept up with Marvel lately, Blackest Night sucked me over to the DC side (stuck with them ever since). Last Marvel stuff I read was Secret Invasion. Fear Itself I’m getting b/c I have mad respect for Fraction and he hasn’t dissappointed me yet.