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Podcasters Journey into the Greatest Thor Comics’ Mysteries

Podcasters Journey into the Greatest Thor Comics’ Mysteries

Thunder! Hellfire! Doom! These are the terms that characterize Walter Simonson’s bombastic and Wagnerian tenure on Marvel Comics’ Thor throughout the 80s. Over 1000 pages from the cartoonist’s iconic, character-defining run were recently collected in a thick omnibus hardcover. And whether listeners have that edition close-by, the original issues handy, or they’ve simply wondered what all the fuss is over, podcasters Miles Stokes and Elisabeth Allie have taken on the epic task of revisiting and reappraising this modern Marvel myth from the beginning.

Put simply, they dig these comics a whole lot. And through the Lightning and the Storm, they want more people-seasoned fans and Thor neophytes alike-to share the joy. In detail. We recently caught up with the pair to talk about the podcast, and what precise magic in Simonson’s work so captured their hearts.

The Lightning and the Storm has a very specific focus as a podcast, thoroughly reviewing dozens of issues, one-by-one, in a single creator’s years-long run. What can listeners expect on each episode?

ELISABETH: In each episode, we usually cover three to four issues of Walter Simonson’s Thor run. As I’ve learned from Miles, what we do isn’t a straight recap—reading the comic point by point—not only because that isn’t particularly interesting in a podcast format, but because if someone just wanted to know what happens, they could read the comics, which are widely available.

So, while we loosely recap what happens in the comics, a lot of what we offer is our reactions and analysis, as well as some context or history on a character or event. We try to tie it all together in a way that’s original and entertaining. And yes, we really like doing voices and acting out the characters!

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So, your look at the material even gets as precise as acting out passages of dialog?

MILES: From the start, my goal with this show was to share my love of my very favorite run of comics with anyone who would listen – to infect as many people as I could with my enthusiasm for these stories. As such, Elisabeth and I go into detail in our discussion of each issue. We’re not aiming to replace the stories by describing so many of their details – instead, we talk about what grabs us about each twist of the plot, each stroke of the pen.

Sometimes that’s a recreation of the dialogue as Surtur confronts Odin (complete with suitably apocalyptic voice filters from our producer Kyle Yount), sometimes that’s silly speculation about just what happens in Thor’s elaborate Asgardian bed. But whether serious or silly – we do our best to get across just why each story is so exciting and emotionally affecting.

After we talk through the four or so issues that each of our episodes covers, we discuss the arc’s superlatives – the best sound effect, the greatest Asgardian headgear, the worthiest non-character object, and the most metal moment. There are typically tons of options, especially for that last category.

It goes without saying that Marvel’s Thor has shot up in the pop consciousness over the past decade, thanks in no small part to Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal. However, does the hero’s characterization in film differ from his characterization on the page?

MILES: Hemsworth is qualified to play Thor in a couple of ways: he’s intensely charismatic, and he looks like he could realistically punch a frost giant to death. His charisma lends itself to a different type of humor than we see in Simonson’s run, though – goofier and more focused on his I’m-not-from-round-here qualities.

ELISABETH: Movie Thor has more of a fish-out-of-water quality to him—he’s new to Earth and doesn’t always think things through. Simonson’s Thor, on the other hand, is more seasoned, more experienced. He’s been part of the Avengers, he’s proved his worthiness to his father Odin, and he’s kind of got his Midgard-Asgard life balance down. He still has his moments of recklessness, but they’re tempered by wisdom.

MILES: In the comics, Thor has not only had hundreds of issues to get used to Earth by the time Simonson’s run begins, but he started out thinking he was a human doctor named Donald Blake who was quite familiar with our modern world. Comics Thor doesn’t have Movie Thor’s naivete or enthusiastic surfer-bro personality, but they share what’s core to the character: innate nobility, compassion toward humanity, and an eagerness to hammer evil right in its evil face.

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Many elements from Simonson’s run have still been used in Marvel movies – especially in the Dark World. But how have villains he created, like Malekith, changed in the journey to screen?

MILES: Oh, man. Malekith is one of my favorite Thor villains, and both he and Kurse are two of my favorite Simonson designs. Unfortunately, I think the Dark World really dropped the ball with both of them – and I say this as someone who loves that movie!

ELISABETH: I, of course, saw the Dark World before I read Simonson’s Thor. I can see why they didn’t replicate Malekith’s crazy blue-faced, golden-maned harlequin look, but I would have loved to have seen it on a real person!

MILES: In the comics, Malekith is a trickster’s trickster, as much based on Celtic faerie mythology as on the Norse Dark Elves. In our podcast, Elisabeth and I have described him as what Loki might be were he not so bound by his own insecurities and pettiness. Comics Malekith is a force for gleeful chaos and destruction, happy to lie and disguise himself as whatever species or gender will accomplish his goals or even just his whims. In the movie, we got a Bad Guy who did Bad Things because that’s What Bad Guys Do.

Kurse another of Simonson creation who appears in the Dark World, of course. Was he toned down, too?

ELISABETH: Kurse and Malekith were part of complex storylines with a lot of supporting characters that were allowed to play out over a year or more, whereas in the Dark World, there’s really only so much time, and so many characters the story can focus on.

MILES: In the comics, Kurse is a soldier of Malekith’s named Algrim the Strong who Malekith sacrifices in an attempt to kill Thor. Algrim dies and is resurrected by the Beyonder (long story) and is forever animated by both hatred for the beings who killed him – Malekith and Thor – and regret for the life he’ll never live again. There’s a lot of pathos there, and the movie didn’t go for it or any of the backstory it’d require. I guess you can only cram so much into a couple of hours.

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You describe Simonson’s Thor as being on league with other character-redefining runs like Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Obviously, with multiple podcast episodes, there’s lot to this question, but what’s a brief thesis for how Walt redefined the title?

MILES: What Simonson brought to the table was a knowledge and genuine love of Norse myth. The comic had certainly touched on frost giants, Surtur, and the like before, but Simonson’s plotlines – and sometimes his overwriting of past stories – hewed much closer to the tales found in the Norse Eddas.

ELISABETH: To me, Simonson’s Thor is a three-dimensional evolution of the character created by Lee and Kirby. My initial foray into Thor was the original Avengers comics, which I read to my son before bed. There, Thor was a fairly simple-yet-bombastic character: dignified, arrogant, and occasionally tricked by the Enchantress into being her boyfriend!

I think one of the most important things Simonson did was end the Donald Blake enchantment. That’s because his Thor had matured into a wiser and more compassionate man – which made him more relatable to me.

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You two encountered Simonson’s Thor occurred at different points in your lives. As you’ve gone through every issue on the podcast, have you found that the same Thor comics can look very different depending on when you’re reading them first?

ELISABETH: When we first started this podcast, I was a little intimidated by Miles’ deep love and affection for—and knowledge of—Thor! It felt like he had a lot more to say than I did, simply because he’s been marinating in it for so long, and I’m really reading it in depth for the first time. But I feel like because I have a little more distance, sometimes I can point out overarching themes, or I have a different interpretation of a moment, that makes for some really interesting conversations.

MILES: It’s funny. Even though I grew up with Simonson’s Thor and Elisabeth is new to it, we seem to find ourselves zeroing in on many of the same amazing elements. Simonson is amazing at bringing his audience along for the emotional journey he intends.

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Speaking of the X-Men, your “secret origin” here spins out of Miles’ other comics podcast, Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men. How did you two first link up? 

MILES: I’m a lifelong comics fan, but my career adjacent to the industry started a little over ten years ago when I got a job in Dark Horse Comics’ IT department. I wasn’t creating comics, but I was fixing the computers of some of the folks that did, and that was still a dream come true. That’s where I met Elisabeth.

ELISABETH: For years I worked in marketing for Things From Another World, a comic book retailer and the sister company of Dark Horse, which is where Miles works in MIS! So whenever I had a problem with my computer, Miles would come by to fix it and we would end up talking about X-Men, Excalibur, Alpha Flight, and whatever we were obsessed with at the moment.

MILES: Whenever Jay was out of town and I was on my own with Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men, I found myself turning to Elisabeth as a co-host. She turned out to be a great podcaster. Smart. Engaging. Funny. The whole package.

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Where did the idea of co-hosting the Lightning and the Storm first spring?

MILES: Jay and I were planning to put Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men on hiatus while Jay moved cross-country in May, and I figured that’d be the perfect window in which to do something I’ve been thinking about for years: an enthusiastic and loving short-run take on my favorite run of comics ever.

ELISABETH: Miles floated the idea past me when I was doing a guest stint at X-Plain the X-Men, and I was kind of like, “Is he asking me…?” Then he e-mailed a month later and I wrote back, “I’ve been waiting!

Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men is more expansive, reviewing numerous creators’ runs. The notion of “runs,” though, is a bit unique to superhero comics – even in contrast to superhero shows.  A title’s cast, plots, and even genre can vary considerably depending on the creative team. Is there a downside to this? Can heroes wind up too different from what they were created to be?

ELISABETH: I ain’t gonna lie – there have been books I’ve dropped because a new creative team changed “my stories” too much. It’s a tricky balance. Of course, different creators want to push the envelope and do something new with titles and books. But if you’re going to drastically change a character, you’ve got to show the evolution – make it believable.

MILES: As long as a creator recognizes the core of a character – Superman tries to be the best person he can be, Wolverine struggles to balance his violent and hopeful sides, Hellboy’s just a regular Joe at heart no matter how much supernatural stuff comes his way – the rest is mutable. That’s not to say you can’t have storylines where those core qualities change, but you need a good reason for doing so, whether that reason is plot-based or comes from an earned evolution of the character.

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Obviously, Simonson’s run shows the upside of a creator pushing artistic license. Are there other Thor runs you’ve enjoyed, though? Is there a unique appeal to contrasting radically different eras of the same title?

ELISABETH: I think different “runs” are necessary to keep things fresh. For example, with Uncanny X-Men, of course they had Chris Claremont as the writer for 20+ years. But the eras of different artists – Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, et cetera – each had their own unique feeling.

MILES: Simonson’s run on Thor may be my favorite, but part of what I like is just how different it is from Lee and Kirby’s cosmic glories, J. Michael Straczynski’s Asgard-meets-Oklahoma contrasts, or Jason Aaron’s World-Tree-spanning long game and amazing new female wielder of Mjolnir. Each set of creators shows us different sides of a character and their world.

Each time, that character and that world become more fully realized and more believable. We know Marvel’s Asgard so much better now than we did in Simonson’s era or Lee and Kirby’s. What came later added to that world without taking anything away.

A hearty thanks to Miles and Elisabeth for answering our questions! Be sure to listen to the Lightning and the Storm for more insights on this classic comics saga.

Featured Image Credit: The Lightning and the Storm

Image Credits: Marvel

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