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Why Thor the movie is better than Thor the comic

Updated: Though many of the comments about this article (below and elsewhere) indicate that people read the entire thing and understood my point, enough didn’t that I now realize that the tile of this post is unintentionally misleading. This is not a post about how the story presented in the movie is better than the best stories presented in the comics. It’s about how Marvel’s trade program is impenetrable enough and how the quality of stories over a series’ 50-year history varies enough that people who enjoy Marvel movies and would enjoy reading some similar comics often end up just throwing their hands in the air and deciding to watch the movie again instead. Sincere apologies to those for whom this was not clear.

In his response to the news that Marvel’s putting a lot of their cartoons on Netflix, Tom Spurgeon noted that “the Marvel cartoons are probably a bigger factor than we realize in building a core audience for many of their properties, but I haven’t seen anyone seriously engage that subject since the first X-Men movie came out.”

I don’t expect that this article constitutes “serious engagement,” but Spurgeon did remind me of my own reaction to last weekend’s Thor movie. My dominant thought as I watched it (and one that lingered into the parking lot and beyond) was that I enjoyed it more than I’ve enjoyed a Thor comic in a long, long time. Since I was a kid really. The same is true of the Iron Man films – even the second one – only replace “in a long, long time” with “ever.”

Take into consideration that I’ve yet to read Walt Simonson’s Thor or any of Matt Fraction’s stuff with either character, so I realize that my viewpoint is extremely limited. But that’s not the point. I’m not trying to claim that the story presented in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is objectively better than every comic ever written about the same character. I do suspect however that the experience of watching it is – for most people – a more satisfying thing than the experience of trying to read the books on which it’s based. As a life-long comics fan, my surprise is that I’m not only sympathetic to that perspective, but have adopted it myself.

The discussion about whether or not movies lead people to comics is an old one. I prefer to let Mike Sterling have the last word on it, because a) he’s a retailer and most people who argue about this aren’t, and b) it makes sense. According to Sterling, “movie-related comics tend to peak in sales just before the movie’s release, before dropping down to pre-movie hype sales (or even lower) upon or shortly after the film’s debut.” I’m pretty sure I recall another caveat to that rule too: that it primarily applies to collected volumes or graphic novels that are easily identifiable as the clear inspiration for the film. In other words, Sin City and Watchmen sales temporarily benefit from an upcoming movie, but people generally don’t go see X-Men and then decide to start following the serialized periodicals. I found this to be true among my friends when Spider-Man came out. They loved the movie and would reminisce with me about all the Spider-Man comics they loved as a kid, but I couldn’t drag them into a comic book store. They just weren’t interested. Nor do people who don’t read comics all of a sudden start buying Batman monthlies because they really like Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

I finally understand this because as much as I loved the Thor movie, I’ve got zero desire to start digging into Thor comics. A large part of the reason is because Marvel – in making sure that there’s puh-lenty of Thor comics available for movie fans – has completely overwhelmed and confused me about where I might want to dive in. There’s a buttload of Thor series out right now; all with generic-sounding names that fail to make me think they might replicate some of what I liked about the movie.

None of which contradicts what Spurgeon said about “building a core audience for many of [Marvel’s] properties.” Having seen the Thor movie, I’m a bigger fan of Marvel’s version of the character than I’ve ever been. I’m just a fan of Chris Hemsworth as that character and not so interested in trying to maneuver through the comics.

One of the things that the movie got exactly right that the comics usually fail to do is the balance between Asgard and Midgard. As a kid, my favorite Thor stories were the superhero ones where he was on earth, fighting Absorbing Man or whomever, preferably with the Avengers so that his godliness stood out in stark contrast to the comparatively frail humanity of guys like Captain America and Iron Man. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized some folks actually prefer the Asgardian fantasy stories. I’d always seen those as things to be patiently endured until Thor could get back to Earth where the real action was.

One of the reasons I’m anxious to read Walt Simonson’s Thor is that he’s said to be one of the few people to get that Asgard-Midgard balance just right so that fans of both settings are equally pleased. I want to see how he does that. The film does a fantastic job by creating a story in which events occur simultaneously in both realms so that what happens in one directly affects the other. The movie’s constant shifting between the two ensures that there’s no time to get bored with either.

But it takes a specific kind of story to be able to do that and I’m not sure how filmmakers are going to repeat it in sequels. I believe that they can, but only in a limited way before the formula becomes tiresome. Fortunately, there are other limits to the longevity of these films as well: actors’ contracts, audience interest, etc. Even if the quality of the sequels measures up to this first one, we’ll only get five or six Thor movies tops before the series either fizzles out or needs to be rebooted with a fresh cast. Giving the hypothetical writers of the sequels the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that they can keep the Asgard-Midgard balance interesting for six films. With a strong team of writers, that’s possible. Doing it over 50 years of serialized comics: not so much.

And that’s where I’m getting at with this whole thing. Though the weight of history indicates that Thor 3 will have more in common with Superman III, Batman Forever, and Spider-Man 3 than everyone’s expectations for The Dark Knight Rises, it’s at least conceivable that someone could tell six good Thor stories on film. And even if they can’t, film doesn’t work the same way as comics. At least, not the same way that we’re told comics work.

Even if this first Thor movie is the only good one, it’s enough. It stands on its own and if you never watch another one, watching this one has been a satisfying experience. It’s not even important whether or not you buy the DVD or whatever. You get to choose your level of involvement. Periodical superhero comics, on the other hand, ask you to make a commitment that may or may not pay off in good stories. In fact, the more committed you are – the longer you keep reading – the more likely you are to be disappointed. As good as Simonson or Fraction or [name your favorite Thor creator] may be, you have to prune away an awful lot of less-worthy stuff to get to what you like. Movies (and TV shows) take a lot less work to find the good stuff and so are a lot less frustrating. That makes them much more satisfying for most people.

The question is: how could Marvel (or DC, for that matter) change what they’re doing to create more interest in the comics versions for people who like their superhero films?

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67 Comments

That Asgard-Midgard balance was present through the runs of both Simonson and JMS. I suspect you’ll enjoy it. If you like a vibe similar to the movie, the Rodi/Ribic Loki mini-series from a while back (2005 or so?) has that going for it.

I just read and enjoyed the Langridge/Samnee run too, but it’s almost entirely on Earth. Still, it’s fun and quite charming.

Interesting article. You make really good points, which I don’t feel myself, but are quite compelling nonetheless. In regards to your last question, I don’t think they have any interest in changing what they’re doing in comics to sell more funnybooks to filmgoers. Like you said, they can sell a few more movie-themed ancillary tie-ins when the movie comes out, they make a nice profit there, then that’s done. The fanbase is diehard enough to continue making consistent sales from them, and the real profits come from the movie, games, toys, etc anyway. The comics really exist only as a means for DC/Marvel to continue holding the copyright to continue producing merchandise in other forms of media. I love comics, and I’d love to be wrong about this one.

Yeah, you kinda need to read the Simonson run.

I wait for trades and the omnibuses particularly are a pain to buy or should I say “collect.” Normal people with typical incomes need these things to stay in the market longer than a handful years in order to have a chance at owning them. Also if consumers aren’t careful they may duplicate purchase, buy a trade they already own in another format if they don’t take the time to figure things out, which people shouldn’t have to do, it should be intuitive.

Also marvel doesn’t do enough to advertise outside the comic industry. I have to go to amazon and type in “Marvel Omnibus” or “Marvel Deluxe” just to see what’s coming out. If I don’t know and I casually read comics and stop by CBR, then someone new to comics would be screwed. After Iron Man I became interested in the character as I had never read him before. The research it took to figure out the publication history was not something most people would do. Marvel needs to keep update listings of trade chronologies in print AND directly advertise a SMALL collection of relevant trades (The X-Men line has too much coming out too soon all of a sudden) and omnibuses to each movie and bring it our more before the films. Their scheduling is funky sometimes. X-Men Prelude to Age of Apoc, X-Tinction, Fall of Mutants Omnibus, X-Men Vol 2, The Jim Lee Omnibus…is a lot for a new reader to figure out.

Trade Reading Order.com has been a godsend but it lists trades that are out of print which can cause a lot of weeding. However, as I get back into reading comics, particularly picking at the X-Men line, it’s been a great help.

But Marvel and DC needs to explore a print-on-demand models and specialized online stores with easy interface and advertise products it at the beginning of the movie. If non-comic readers could just go to marvel.com/Thor and see a nice break down of the literature available with brief synposis of its pub history that would go a long way. Print on demand may require a longer shipping period but as long as it’s not too long ppl will wait for quality, which marvel HCs are.

Comic readers have become so conditioned from years of reading comics that they no longer think like the typical consumer, everything needs to be streamlined. Just to illustrate: When Kelly Thompson had her friends read comments, they all noted the art of the cover was not as appealing as the interior art. I agreed with them. Coming back to comics from hiatus, I was jarred by this as well. But comic readers were quick to tell me “the why’s” and tell me to just accept it. That’s kind of pretentious. The normal consumer isn’t just going to necessarily accept why and go with it. It’s perfectly normal to assume the art on the outside is like an ad for the art on the inside. The idea of mismatching art and “Variants” are not intuitive.

For Thor, Marvel should’ve done a full one volume collection of The Mighty Thor and advertised it, along with Simonson omnibus, in the beginning and end of the movie and maybe have small pamphlets handed out. Also incorporate the ads in movie’s trailers. Marvel may not want to pimp out things like Stan Lee omnibuses. The movies are modern and Marvel should focus on the material that’s accessible. Focus on one item that’s more affordable and one that’s more expensive. If people love Mighty Thor they’ll buy the omnibus. Also with those two Thor picks should be smart picks for further reading. When The Mighty Thor comes in the mail I should have a small pamphlet introducing me to Stracynzki (sorry about spelling) omnibus and Matt Fraction’s collection of stories about the early year’s of Thor. Don’t overwhelm people with too many choices and make sure the price points are varied and the focus is more on self-contained stories with some contuity stuff put in to hook them.

This is an odd viewpoint, considering, as you have stated in the article, you have a limited experience with the comics.

I was never a big Thor fan growing up, but I think the last decade or so of Thor comics has been pretty amazing.

The Jurgens run on the book, beginning with the Death of Odin is an all-time classic. Then JMS. Now Fraction.

And through those three runs, I became hooked into looking into the older stuff like Walt Simonson’s run. Which is, by the way, one of the all-time best Marvel runs on any character.

Of course there will be fluctuations of quality on any character/book throughout the years. But every run I named just now fits perfectly with what you seem to be looking for in your critique of the books.. that’s about a decade of recent quality stuff right there, plus more if you go back to Simonson.

I think you ought to go and actually read some of the books before saying “the thor movie is better than the thor comics… that I haven’t read”

I will say this, the costume they use right now is dreadfully boring. There’s not flash to it at all. I don’t see what chainmail and hubcaps have to do with an Asgardian god.

“Yeah, you kinda need to read the Simonson run.”

I was going to say the same thing about the Fraction Iron Man stuff.

@KSChris — so he has to have read 50 years of comics before being able to have an opinion?

The point here isn’t whether or not he enjoyed the movie, it’s that people who see movies don’t buy comics, which is understandable, given that a movie is finite.

Which, I think, is part of the problem: you can’t expect people who are interested in a two hour movie to be interested in buying a comic book every month for the rest of their lives.

I’m fine with Marvel putting out more Thor books to make extra money off the movies, but no one should think that movies are going to help the long term health of the industry — they won’t.

I’m getting ready to correct my inexperience with Simonson. Picked up the Omnibus last weekend.

I also bought the Marvel Backlist Reading Chronology a couple of weeks ago, so hopefully that’ll help me dig into Fraction’s Iron Man. But it’s the very fact that I NEED a Reading Chronology that’s so frustrating.

Again, people who HAVE read all of these books aren’t the issue; most people are going to be like Michael (heck, most people will actually have even less knowledge of the character’s stories), so if the comics don’t appeal to a guy like him after he saw the movie, why would we think they’d appeal to others?

And thanks to those who are recommending Thor stuff. As Kyle said, my point wasn’t that I think that a bunch of books I haven’t read suck. Of course that would be ridiculous.

To answer your question (“How could Marvel (or DC, for that matter) change what they’re doing to create more interest in the comics versions for people who like their superhero films?”), this is my answer (or answers):
1. Reduce the amount of spinoffs for every character they have. At best, it’s my belief that a character should have at least only ONE ongoing series (the exceptions are Superman and Batman because of Action, Adventure, and Detective Comics, along with the Superboy, Supergirl, Red Robin, Batgirl, and Batwoman series). This would give people the chance to dive into a series without mistaking another series for all the main stories.
2. For DC, they lag behind Marvel in one little detail: recap pages. It keeps readers up-to-date on the previous events.
3. Before the movie starts (right after the last trailer shown), put up a small disclaimer saying something like “To learn more about the characters in this film, visit your local comic book store or go on to www.(insert DC or Marvel).com”.
4. Encourage people to buy those “Reading Chronology” things they put out (like Son of Marvel Reading Chronology) or Saga one-shots (like War of Kings Saga) to get to know their character’s history.
5. Put comic back on the general newsstands (except for the more graphic stuff, which can stay in the comic shops).

That’s all.

First of all, forget the universes. There’s no reason Batman writers need to worry about what Flash writers are doing. Wolverine and Deadpool just don’t need to be able to be in every Marvel comic. There can be crossovers, and such, because they’re fun. But the characters and the teams have their own worlds, they’re insulated. Titles like the JLA and Avengers can still work, but that’s also it’s own world. This leads to the second point…

To hell with continuity. Let the writers and artists create and manipulate the histories for each individual character/title while they’re working on it. Each time a new writer or artist (or writer/artist, whoever the talent who’s “vision” is being seen) takes over, they can use old characters and themes and such, but they get to put their own unique spin on it, without worrying about what’s come before or where it might be going. The basic components can’t change (Bruce Wayne always becomes Batman by witnessing his parents’ murder), it’s just that each creator gets to start from square one.

This is what the Ultimate line should have been. It’s good that there are the never ending universes because they have their fans, but most people aren’t prone to read comics, or anything but the news (and clearly not even that), that way. A lot of comic fans aren’t, either. Or, many of them grow out of it. That’s why trades are so hot right now, and will continue to be so for decades (along with the coming digital revolution). So, have two lines. One that caters to the traditional “fanboy” and one that caters to casual fans, people who discover the characters via other media. The number of different characters with their own titles will probably have to constrict for a few years, in order to be cost effective, but I think eventually sales will be consistently good enough to sustain growth in each. All that will matter then is the distribution.

Karel Boissinot

May 11, 2011 at 7:02 pm

I perfectly understand the point made by Michael May. I consider myself a comic book geek, but had never read a Thor comic book before this week. I also had to check where to start, I even tried googling something along the line: where to start on Thor comic book, thinking there’d be a website that had an article to help the curious moviegoes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as that, but I did find that Simonson’s and JMS’ runs seemed to be recommended often. Went to the comic book shop, they had nothing on Simonson and they had one copy of vol 1 and 3 from JMS, They knew they weren’t going to see much of an increase in sale.

I really liked JMS’ Thor though, and now I can’t wait to find vol.2

One book that’s worth picking up if yolu’re trying to decide which runs of Thor you might want to sample is Thor: Official Index to the Marvel Universe trade paperback, which covers nearly every Thor solo story ever published (only missing the most recent few months) complete with character listings, story summaries, and meta notes such as discrepancies and homages. Looking at the summaries should indicate which runs and individual stories seem the most appealing. Oh, and when I say nearly every Thor solo story, that even includes the Hostess ads!

You know, I’ve never really read any Shakespeare, but I know that Strange Brew is a better viewing experience than watching or reading Hamlet. I’ve never read The Golden Compass, but that film was clearly a better experience than the book. I never cared to check out Dune, but the film is obviously a more nuanced and satisfying experience. You know, speaking as a real fan of the genre.

I’ve also never read a comic with Steel as a main character, but boy, that film was fun, wasn’t it? Shaq’s pathos was heartbreaking. And while I’ve never had an interest in reading classic runs of Daredevil or Ghost Rider, I sure thought the films were a hoot. Much more engaging than the comics. The ones whose covers I’ve seen but never bothered reading.

That new Conan movie looks awesome doesn’t it? I’m glad I don’t care much about reading the REH stories that inspired it. They surely can’t hold a candle to the awesome CGI and amazing acting of the upcoming film.

I’m not saying the source materials aren’t any good. I’ve just not bothered to experience them and so wrote a bunch of comments that surely have some value. Right, guys?

“Take into consideration that I’ve yet to read Walt Simonson’s Thor” – yeah you really need to rectify that. Having read Simonson’s run, the greatest Thor run, it only enhanced the movie for me. The movie was awesome, but I was reminded of so many great Simonson touches while watching it.

One thing you’re missing, Michael, is that comics and movies are different MEDIUMS from each other. Steven Grant in his CBR column and Will Eisner before him have said that these mediums comunicate differently with us.

Marvel would benefit from having fewer Thor titles in bookstores, and this is where indie creators benefit when the movie based on their work hits the theaters – but a clever retailer or reader friend can lead you to the way.

The thing for me is simpler: it’s much easier to sit through a 2h movie than to sit for more to read a TPB. even half a TPB. So maybe you got a bit lazy, sir. Go after Simonson’s trade. but also go after Kirby stuff – it’s cosmic craziness has much more to do with the movie than a simple mixture or Norse myth Fantasy + Realism. it’s both.

That’s the main problem with DC and Marvel, they have too much continuity to brush up on and its off putting to new readers plus whatver you accept or like of marvel is considered canon.
@RobP
i think your ideas would work better for adapting source materials rather than sorting out the mess of established continuity and i’m thinking its too late. besides they do what your saying anyway since everybody is creating and people are using that as the easy way out rather than looking at a old character or outlandish concept and making it work.

The idea that you have to “start somewhere” with a character’s publication history is fine for hardcore True Believers like us, but is off-putting to new readers. Not only that, but completely unneccesary.

Where to start reading Thor (or any other character)? With the issue on the rack in front of you that looks the most interesting. I’m pretty sure that’s how most of us got started reading superheroes in the first place, and the attitude that today’s new readers need to seek out a good “starting point” has always struck me as a little ridiculous. When I started reading comics Spider-Man’s costume was black, the Hulk was gray, She-Hulk was in the Fantastic Four, and Magneto was an X-man. Guess what? Grade-school Rory figured it out, and so can today’s new readers. Reading chronologies are fine, but to say you can’t get into a new character without them is silly.

And the argument that superhero movies don’t bring people into their LCS is short-sighted as well. I was away from the hobby for over a decade, and what reeled me back in? The Spider-Man movie. And I can’t be the only one. Just because we didn’t come (aren’t coming) back in droves doesn’t mean we aren’t there at all. And where did I start when I came back? The then-current issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Something about homeless kids, and Aunt May now knowing about Peter’s secret identity. Was I up to speed on current Spider-Events? No, but I figured it out. No “Spider-Man Saga” or Official Index necessary.

Oh, and I HAVE seen kids come into a shop and ask for Batman: Brave and the Bold after enjoying the TV show. So there. (Granted, they were Deidrich Bader’s kids, but still…)

Now stop scaring off new readers, everyone! Not to mention scaring yourself away with the Continuity Bogeyman. Just read. It won’t hurt, I promise…

Imagine if a movie reviewer talking about Harry Potter started with a statement as stupid as, “…I’ve only read one of the books, but let me tell you why the movies are better.”

If you haven’t read Simonson or Fraction, then you haven’t read Thor. And you also haven’t done your research as a writer. You are thus ill informed and look a bit absurd writing something like this.

This is a shocking new low for a blog that I once considered to be pretty good.

Do your research in the future, or don’t bother to post.

I’m not sure there HAS to be a spillover of movie fans to comics. If someone likes comics and there are comics that tie in to a movie they just discovered, then that will be their next step. For others it will be video games, novels, collector plates, what have you. A good licensed property offers many entry points to the story.

As for whether or not the available tie-in comics are doing the job for new readers already predisposed to comics, I don’t see why not. All one has to do is ask a store clerk for a suggestion, they’ll point you to a Simonson trade, and you’re off and running.

Movie better than the comic? Sounds like someone who’s never picked up an issue during the Simonson run.

Good points Michael and at least you are being honest if not everyone agrees with you.
Looking fwd to your thoughts on simonson thor

To go along with what Acer said, I’d say flash a blurb like “Free Thor coupons enter promo code BLAHBLAH at Marvel.com” before AND after the movie. Once they enter the promo code, let them download coupons for their local comic book store and online store. They may also be able to print them on the ticket stub or just add it to the slide show before the previews.

Actually, if I ran a comic store I’d run a promotion to bring in your movie ticket stub- one per customer etc- for a discount or something on a new comic based on the character or 2-for-1 back issues or something. Comic book stores can also- and probably do- use their awesome geek knowledge to recommend similar books to new readers. They could also do things like packaging the individual comics of a miniseries together in one pack; I thought that was genius when I saw dealers doing that at cons.

Noah and X are spot on with their comments. Can’t take seriously anyone who has an opinion on Thor who hasn’t read Simonson’s run. That’s like writing an article on football and you’ve never seen Brazil play the game. Actually, you probably aren’t qualified to talk about Marvel Comics if you haven’t read them.

The film is very good fun and I enjoyed it but it’s a poor, poor relation to the Simonson run.

I was glad to see the Jurgens run get mentioned… I really really liked that story he was telling…

Would a novelization in comics form of the movie work? Perhaps as an OGN?
I wouldn’t want to get involved with all the back story and be committed to 6 months (minimum) of buying comics just b/c I liked a movie. But if there was a self-contained single book I could pick up, then I think that would make me much more likely to care. Provided, of course, that the comic version really did flesh out more of the storylines in the movie as novels usually do.

At least the comics are free of needless ugly nerd assistant comedy relief.

Reiterating what Noah said, honestly, this post was as worthless to me as Graeme McMillan’s “Hey, I’ve never even seen a Top Cow book in 15 years, but I’m going to tell you all about the uninformed assumptions I have about them!” post from a few weeks back. If you haven’t read enough of a subject to have an informed opinion about that subject, don’t write a post telling us how uninformed you are and then follow up with a “Well, I caught up and now I think X” — JUST write that second post. The Robot 6 crew is so good at writing insightful posts about comics subjects that it’s a waste of your time to write posts like this, and a waste of my time to read something that says “I know next to nothing about this but am going to tell you what I think anyway, but then fill it with a bunch of caveats so I don’t make the people who know way more about the subject made or feel bad.”

And Michael, I don’t mean to be overly harsh, but as I said, coming so soon after Graeme’s egregiously pointless Top Cow post, I’d hate to see these articles become a habit.

Er, that should be “mad,” not “made.”

@michael:

Are you talking about Kat Dennings? This Kat Dennings?

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2009708800/nm0993507

How is she ugly?

I guess I need to restate my point again. It’s not that I think the story presented in the movie is better than the best of the comics stories. I don’t. As you guys have pointed out, I’m not even qualified to make that kind of statement, so it’s disappointing that that’s what some folks are taking away from the article.

My point is that Marvel has made it incredibly difficult to follow up an enjoyable movie experience with comparable comics. Not because the comics don’t exist, but because of the glut and lack of organization around what does exist. As someone who likes Thor and would like to read comics about him – but can’t afford to buy everything Marvel’s currently publishing just to learn which are worth the investment – I’m absolutely qualified to talk about that.

Michael, that’s fair, but if you didn’t want people to think you were making value judgments about Thor comics, you probably shouldn’t have called the article “Why Thor the movie is better than Thor the comic.”

Also, honestly, the more I think about it, the less I think your hypothesis is true. Thor’s never been a favorite of mine, but he’s a character that I pop in on every once in a while when a creative team grabs my attention. And yeah, to know everything there is to know about Thor and navigate every one of hte billions of different eras of Thor comics, you’d need a reading chronology to navigate. But to answer the question “I liked Thor the movie. What comic book do I buy?” is beyond easy:

Just buy one with a “Vol. 1″ on the cover.

Seriously. That’s how easy it is. You want the old stuff? Buy “Thor: Marvel Masterworks Vol. 1.” You want one of the acclaimed runs by a name creator? Pick up “Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson Vol. 1″ or “Thor by Dan Jurgens & John Romita Jr. Vol. 1.” (Even if you don’t have a degree in comicology, you can tell they’re name creators because they actually get their names in the titles of the books.) Want the easiest jumping on point for the modern Thor? Pick up the JMS’s obviously titled “Thor Vol. 1.”

And better yet, even if you don’t know anything at all about comics creators or the different eras of comics and just know “I like Thor and want to read more”? Just leaf through any of those volume 1s and pick the one with the most appealing art. I mean, c’mon: Kirby, Simonson, Romita Jr., Coipel? Anyone’s bound to love one of those guys, and every single one of those offers both an easy jumping on point (as in “I get everything I need to know in this very first issuee) and a multi-volume series to follow if you like it enough to buy more. And once you run out of volumes in the series you picked, you can pick a different one, OR then, after you’ve been indoctrinated, you can grab one of those reading chronologies.

But finding a jumping on point for Thor? It really is as easy as grabbing the “Vol. 1″ with the most appealing artwork and going from there.

Here’s a way Marvel/DC could cash in on the popularity of their movies. Learn a lesson from the movie. The movies can’t pander to the 40K fan boys that read the comic when they make the movie. They need to make them palatable to a mass market. Something Marvel and DC abandoned years ago. Artists with clear accessible styles. A story that is leaden with 60 years of ret-ret-ret-conned continuity. The characters have to be the recognizable versions of themselves. NOT the 38th redesign of the costume. Not the version where some other guy takes over the role of the lead character.

Let’s say someone sees Captain America in a couple of months and they pick up the comic. It’s Bucky Barnes, former Russian assassin with a disco Cap suit in the lead role. OK..LOST! Never buying another one of those.

Noah, exactly.

Pointless article.

I think the “serial” nature is used incorrectly in comics today. “Serial” doesn’t mean it has to come out every week or month, just that it needs to keep going. I think comics will eventually ditch most monthly comics and move to almost solely graphic novels. DC started with its Earth-One line, but that needs to cross over into their main universe, same with Marvel. Bring in some “What if…” and “Elseworlds” stories, which commonly sell better than the main-continuity stories, and I think you can revitalize the industry. The key is to do it before the companies are forced to.

Some people would say that it’s a slap in the face to tradition, or some nonsense about “the old ways,” but as long as the creators are telling quality stories, why does that matter? Now, combine that RobP said about giving creators a bit more wiggle room for their stories , and I think you can give most fans what they want from their favorite characters, without tying them up in often 70 years of continuity. If the companies want to maintain the “shared universe” feel, they can just release a huge “History of” GN that details certain events in the past that are relatively set in stone.

Jason, I appreciate your point. When I’m already in the comic store (especially mine that has a great, well-organized section for collected volumes), it’s not that hard to browse and find something I’d like to read. The trick though is getting me to ignore all the other, more easily accessible comics in the store that are competing for that browse time. Or – if I’m not a comics fan already – getting me to the store in the first place since there’s not one, clear volume that Marvel’s been promoting in mainstream media.

Jason Green’s response was perfect.

If I could though, I’d like to add that the problem people are having with the article is the use of the word “better.” It’s stated in the title that the movie superior to the comics without a clear indication of how. Michael’s point seems to be the movie is better in terms of availability and low cost of entry (in regards to knowledge and time) but he veers into saying the movie is also better in terms of content and craft which he then admits he can’t justify. If there hadn’t been a discussion of Earth/Asgard stories or saying the movie was “more satisfying” than any of the books the conversation probably would have gone according to his plan.

To answer his question though, there is a definite difference between a straight adaptation between a book to a movie (300, Watchmen, or any movie based on a prose book) and a movie that needs to distill decades of stories into a defining experience. You can’t control what people go to before or after the adaptation when there are thousands of existing comics with Thor in them.

So instead the companies try to churn out many cash-in books to clog the shelves in time for the movie (Marvel has done it in recent years since learning their lessons from X-Men and Spider-Man but Dynamite tried it with Green Hornet) so that at least there will be some recent things people might see that they’ve recently made. I think this is actually part of the problem and that stores would be better off stacking the things they can get behind and honestly promote. I’ve heard that places stacking the Simonson omnibus are doing great business with it.

But I think the real promotion should be done in the theater with copies of free comic book day comics and directions to local shops.

El Santo said:

Are you talking about Kat Dennings? This Kat Dennings?

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2009708800/nm0993507

How is she ugly?

I was wondering the same thing. To each his own, I guess.

Adam, that’s an insightful look at how I could have explained myself better. Thanks.

For anyone who’s interested: Chris Sims has a cool post on Comics Alliance that recommends specific comics storylines for people who like the movie. Some of them were already on my list of things to try, but there are some new recommendations too. http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/05/12/thor-comics/

For me, the primary appeal of the cartoons and films is that you get to experience and discover these characters (along with the world(s) they exist in) as though they were new. By focusing on introduction, discovery, and world building rather than redefinition, reinterpretation, or some form of deconstruction/reconstruction the tie-in media maintains a freshness that the on-going soap opera loses just by the nature of it’s age and self-referential history. Mind you, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with liking the latter, or that it doesn’t have it’s own appeal (it does, I like quite a bit of that material myself), it just doesn’t have the SAME appeal. Basically, one says “Hey! Look at this!” to the viewer and the other tends to say “Hey, remember this?”.

In a lot of cases, the only place you can really capture that same feeling with the comics is in the initial material, or rather the masterwork/chronicle/showcase/essential volumes that reprint it. I like Thor, I’ve enjoyed several different creators’ runs on Thor, but none have really had the same entertaining thrill of discovery that the first material has. Essential Volumes 1 and 2 covers character intros, the themes of being torn between two worlds, and the first telling Thor & Jane Foster love story, which is still (more or less) the defining story of Marvel’s version of the character.

Mark Kardwell

May 13, 2011 at 1:08 am

As soon as I got to the “I’ve yet to read Walt Simonson’s…” bit I switched off, thinking, some stones on this Michael May guy for coming at this story with the title “Why Thor the movie is better than Thor the comic” without having read the comic very much at all.

Enough with the excuses!! The Comic industry fails to bring the same level of interest because they are not NEW reader friendly. Its funny that texty books have no problems capitalizing on the success of a movie or TV based on a property. They retain new readers. The cartoons help as well. The problem is the design and attitudes in comic book shops..they have become old boy clubs that intellectually bully new readers or non-frequent customers. The atmosphere screams GET OUT!! YOU NEWBIE!!!

Unlike Barnes and Noble..or other retailers that use the” Every customer is a new customer” Business Plan. And Sadly Comic companies cater to the country club…alienating new readers.

I am a DC guy; probably because those were the first comic books to find their way into my hands as a child. Having said that, I went to buy trades for my good friend who is a life-long Captain America fan to show him what Brubaker was doing with the character. Of course I read them before I gifted them and found myself confused as to how the trades were numbered. By following the 1, 2, 3, 4 logic I am used to I actually had the stories out of their publishing order, I guess because the issues didn’t always pick up on the previous story thread and during their trade compilation this was corrected. I found this to be a very frustrating experience for a Marvel neophyte; not new reader friendly. Of course some might disagree with my sentiment.

Honestly If you haven’t read Walt Simonson’s Thor you aren’t qualified to make a valid opinion about the quality of Thor in comics.

huh?

That column doesnt make any sense.

1) type “Thor comics” into google.
2) get a basic grasp of which storylines are good.
3) purchase.

or how stupid are Thor movie goers?

Plus: Simonson’s Thor was EH. (80ies standard fare comics writting)

The movies did get me back into comics, but I was already hooked when I was a kid watching the Batman and Spider-man cartoons.
Kids are where you’re gonna find new readers from…/

I’d appreciate it if everyone who has commented here so far would list every comic they’ve ever read. That way I’d know if your comments were valid or not.

I think the problem is we think about this issue as hardcore comic book fans and not as a new reader. We think if that if people are not caught up on continuity then they are missing out. Did the movies bring me back to comics? They certainly helped but also hearing that people like Joss Wheadon was writing X-Men got me interested too. I hadn’t read any comics in about 10 years but I started by buying a few monthlies and figuring out what I liked and then go find the stuff that I missed. I would say within a few months I felt pretty caught up without feeling like I had to know EVERYTHING. Writers these days do a good enough job of following off previous events that it doesn’t take that long to get caught up. We make a much bigger monster of continuity then there really exists. I think we feel overwhelmed by all the stories that we have read that we feel there is no way “newbies” could get it but I remember as a new reader 5 years ago it wasn’t that intimidating,I just wanted to read comics again.

I’m trying to imagine myself in the position of the neophyte comic book reader who just saw a film but knows nothing about the book. Several relevant personal experiences may apply.

20+ years ago, when I was stationed in Virginia going through officer training in the Marines, I was swept up in the national craze over the 1989 Batman film. I hadn’t read comics since I was a child. The film WAS my entrance point. So a year later when I was stationed on Okinawa and looking for something with which to occupy my time, I started reading comic books. Keep in mind that this was before the internet or social media even existed, so I didn’t have the luxury of looking up Batman’s wikipedia article or searching in Amazon to find a good “starting point”. And there certainly weren’t any local comic shops on Okinawa for me to tap into. The solution was rather simple, though, the local exchange on my base had several spinner racks devoted to comics. I just grabbed a few books and started reading–Batman and Legends of the Dark Knight (among others … I became a big X-Men fan at the time as well). I was oblivious to continuity (had no idea that Dark Knight Returns or Year One had just come out a few years earlier, for example). But I enjoyed what I read and I read what I enjoyed. It just wasn’t as difficult as you seem to make this out to be, Michael. Finding books to read was as simple as picking them up off the rack (now, having said that, it occurs to me that reinforces one point that is often made … those spinner racks were located in what was, for me, a neighberhood supermarket. It is much harder to find that much inventory in a civilian grocery store).

Here is another personal example. When I came home from Okinawa, for some reason unclear to me now, I gave away all my comic books to my brother-in-law … and stopped reading them for 20+ years. A few Christmases ago, he returned all those books to me. That led me back into the medium again. I have learned as I went. But there was no logical starting point in my journey as a reader. I just read. I don’t think I am that unusual. Now, I have a better understanding of the industry and very definite and well-formed opinions about what I like and don’t like, along with distinct reading and collecting habits. But when I first got back into the medium, I just picked up books that looked interesting. And when I discover an interest in a new character, I just go to Wikipedia and scan the character article. The good ones even list the publication history of a character. 

Now, in the case of Thor, the Wiki article isn’t so good. But how hard is it really to look up the “essentials” volumes, or to search for “Thor” at the Amazon website? New readers fresh out of a movie will relatively easily find a single book to pick up (now, having said that, I haven’t been into a Barnes and Noble recently to see if, for example, there are special THOR tables set up marketing the books to browsing customers). On some level, I think it is insulting to suggest that people don’t have the patience or emotional tolerance to read a short to medium length trade. Seriously. After the first book, I suspect most new readers will either find something else with which to entertain themselves, or their interest will be reinforced and they’ll begin a more comprehensive investigation of the Thor canon.

Here is another example. Even more recently, I was trying to find a good entry point book for my nine year old nephew into the Green Lantern since the movie is coming out soon. On the one hand, it was a bit intimidating because there are so many books. On the other hand, it wasn’t difficult to find just the right trade that would introduce him to modern continuity. It didn’t take me more than a half hour to research and make a decision (anyone ever heard of Google?). That is probably the same amount of time it would take me to buy a plane ticket if I were planning a trip somewhere I think. This is my own personal judgment, but I think someone who complains about the volume of any character’s canon is just being intellectually lazy. Were you never asked to write a major research paper in college? Wading through a wealth of academic literature on any imaginable subject seems to me far more daunting that figuring out which Thor or Green Lantern book might be a good place to start reading. 

It seems to me that we comic book enthusiasts allow ourselves an arrogant pretense when we think about new readers coming into the medium. We tend to assume (1) that reading comics is difficult and requires an esoteric knowledge that newbies don’t possess, and (2) that the sheer volume of content related to any given character is so enormous that new readers will be immediately thrown off the chase. To the first point, I don’t disagree that there is a visual grammar of comics that the new reader might be ignorant of (heck, I’m still ignorant of a lot). Would I experience Watchmen differently today, for example, than I did when I read it three years ago? Probably. But I think I understood the book fairly well then, when I knew less about the medium than I do today. And I also believe that at some level comics train the reader during the process of reading. 

To the second point, others in these comments have suggested two things. First, JUST READ! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to pick a book up off a newsstand. Second, although the publishers may not market well enough outside the retail shop, I do think that most new readers will have little difficulty finding access points. Barnes and Noble, for example, carries rather decent inventory. I have never been to a comic shop where the sales people weren’t able to make intelligent and informed suggestions when I asked a question about a character about which I knew little. And, incidentally, I just checked out the Marvel app to see how well the digital platform is marketing Thor. The presentation is subtle, but Thor, Captain America, and X-Men ALL figure prominently in the featured, new, and popular sections of the app.

So I have to disagree with your central point, Michael. First, I think the publishers do a fair to good job of making their product accessible to mainstream audiences. Could they do better? Absolutely. But I think that filmgoers interested in discovering the character in its written/graphic form wouldn’t experience too much difficulty in terms of accessibility. And in terms of the volume of the canon, I just disagree that potential readers will be intimidated. Average new readers are more capable, in my opinion, than you seem to assume.

Your question “how could Marvel (or DC, for that matter) change what they’re doing to create more interest in the comics versions for people who like their superhero films?” Is wrong. The movies should be creating an interest in the comics by actually reflecting more than just the names and costumes.
Changing entire back stories, origins, even skin color of these characters, in many ways (origins specifically) dumbing them down so those who don’t give a damn about the comics can have a movie version all their own.
I find is disgusting to think we should be forced to change how our characters are because some slob likes the poorly written movie and wants the comics to reflect it. Because of this crap Blade is a vampire and Ghost Rider just plain sucks.

A better solution is to make the movies more like the comics in terms of origins, look and such. You don’t need to shove 50. 60 . 70 years of continuity in a movie, we have things called one shots in comics that tell a stand alone story without screwing up years of history. It works in comics and it can work in movies.

I personally can’t stand the movies. They are 9 times out of 10 stupid.

“Nor do people who don’t read comics all of a sudden start buying Batman monthlies because they really like Batman: The Brave and the Bold.”

I agree that this doesn’t often happen, but this is how I got into comics, except it was reruns of JLU instead of Brave and the Bold.

@Oliver, I hope you are kidding! I will be here for a long time typing all the comics I have ever read. I have read about 400 comics in the last 4 months alone. 1-109 of Hellblazer, Kirby’s New Gods, Forever People, Mister Miracle, on and on and on….

Googam son of Goom

May 14, 2011 at 2:21 pm

“Movies (and TV shows) take a lot less work to find the good stuff and so are a lot less frustrating.”
I don’t know. Sitting through 2 hours of crap movie after crap movie doesn’t seem less frustrating than wasting 5 to 10 minutes on a shoddy comic.

I totally got your point, Michael, even if very few others didn’t (while claiming that they did).

The fact is, the main 2 publishers don’t do nearly as much as they should, to push comics, which are the source material for these movies that we are going to see.

I noticed, at the end of “Thor”, that Marvel thought enough about this movie campaign, and the thought that they put into the movie continuity (which, BTW, I’m all for, and I only wish DC had thought of it sooner), to put “Thor appears next in Avengers” right after the credits of the movie.

Why on earth can’t they put “For more adventures of Thor, visit your local comic book shop”. Last I’d checked, comic retailers need more revenue, than movie theaters.

I think if you have been inspired by a movie to go into a comic shop then you have enough between the ears to ask what’s good.

Them folks that don’t know ain’t as anal as us that does.

This may be a tad controversial but I’d suggest perhaps the answer it to create a big graphic novel, taking the core points of the characters, the best stories and the most significant developments and retell them with a modern artist, editing out the rubbish and the unremarkable and getting to the core of the character.

So for Thor for example you want to retell his origin, you to see Loki develop, you want to have Sif, Odin, Baldur, Heimdall and the Warriors Three fleshed out. You want to see some classic foes appear. You also want to see the appearance of characters likle Beta Ray Bill retold into a more condensed form. You want to see him join the Avengers, and his adventures with them, from his perspective. Perhaps in places, have a one page prose interlude to explain more about thigns that we don’t want to waste story space on – a page on the origins of Ulik, and what else he did of interest but NOT just a list of every appearance and not just a . You want to see Ragnarok and Thor’s rebirth.

All in all, you want a single book that tells you every significant thing you need to know about Thor’s continuity so that you can jump on right now, and know everything.

Yes this means rewriting classic storylines to a degree, but, if you have a single art style throughout it’d make it more cohesive. Where possible, perhaps get the original writers to help do this edited version.

The overall aim is to have someone have a comprehensive knowledge of Thor, from creation to now that’ll let them read anything they like and understand 95% of what’s going on, while making it modern, accessible and most importantly, a quality book in its own right.

A tall order perhaps, but a very useful tool – particularly if you released it to coincide with each charcters film.

Limited…yes,I would say that.If you havent read Simonson;\’a Thor you havent read Thor and you should have read it before you try to review this movie.

Preacher Cain

May 14, 2011 at 7:29 pm

The source comics that tend to do better from their film adaptations tend to be the ones that are self-contained and identifiable as the ‘definitive’ take on the character/series. Watchmen, Scott Pilgrim, V for Vendetta, Dark Knight Returns/Year One, The Walking Dead: these do well because people can go in, pick them up and read them without having to first do a doctorate in continuity. Films such as Spider-Man, Iron Man and X-Men make huge amounts of money in the cinema but it doesn’t carry over into comic sales for this very reason. All their ‘main’ books are mired in continuity and tend to be vastly different than the film version in a lot of ways.

Is there a ‘defininitive’ Iron Man run, like Miller’s Year One/DKR, that Marvel can confidently point to for curious film fans willing to take the leap into comics? Or even Spider-Man!? Not really. With the exception of Daredevil (Miller’s classic run is relatively self-contained, and Bendis/Brubaker’s run would serve as a more modern alternative, if collected in large paperbacks rather than dozens of normal sized trades)

And with most of Marvel/DC’s current output that are also being adapted into films, you’re still going to need that doctorate!

There should be more best of / greatest hits type books. DC used to do it with their major characters (maybe thebooks are still in print, I don’t know)… and they had a Spirit trade (just before the movie, natch) that served as a great introduction to both the character and Eisner. Or “Thor: an Introduction” or what have you. Thor 101 would be much better than Thor 615.1. A collection with some Kirby/Lee stories, some Roy Thomas, Simonson, JMS, etc, along with a little historical context (and of course a sample of the current team(s)). A few issues of the major runs. It’s hard to do with the modern decompressed storytelling but I think you could throw together 300 pages of great Thor comics pretty easily. Throw in some ads “if you liked this try Thor by JMS vol 1″ or maybe even an index of what’s available and what era it represents. Even better, keep it cheap and work to get Barnes & Noble (Target, Wal-Mart, etc) to endcap it.
The glut of trades and hardcovers that accompanies a movie really is bad for the casual consumer. As an example I recently bought the “Thor: Worldengine” hardcover because I like Warren Ellis and I’d never read those books. But it would be an unqualified disaster if that was picked up by someone that liked the movie, it was so different in tone and so full of what made mainstream comics suck in the 90s. It would be more helpful I think (although it will never happen) if the chain stores could have a limited selection of “starter” volumes and let the specialty stores have the deep catalog trades.
Obviously a good comic store with a staff that cares to help is the best option, but that’s not always going to happen. Marvel should try to reward casual interest, don’t make these casual consumers go too far out of their comfort zone (new stores) right away… because often they won’t.

It seems like a lot of posters are looking at this from their own point of view as someone experienced in reading comics, as opposed to trying to see the point of someone who doesn’t have that much experience or knowledge of the character.

Michael didn’t write a movie review, he wrote about an observation. The sarcastic comments are inaccurate, overly defensive and rude.

Everyone is different so there’s no one solution to getting more movie fans into comics. Mixed methods should be tried. The marketing major in me is thinking:
– focus on a single tie in graphic novel with multiple stories with different feels all in one volume (like how “Halo Graphic Novel” was done) as opposed to any specific trade
– maybe a secondary “beginnings” graphic novel
– market gift sets with a Marvel animated movie, motion comic and comic book
– giveaway free comics for opening weekend (I worked at a theater when this was done for X-Men)
– setup a web link to view a free web comic and advertise to movie goers, then make sure that comic is easy to follow for someone with no comic knowledge

None of these may work. But that comes down to the individual person. But the average non-comic reader probably won’t just go pick up Simonson or read a reading chronology which is not easy enough. Make it easy for them by providing them with easy to get material.

Great article,

As a comic book store in Louisville, KY, I was talking with staff about which trades to carry to prepare for a Thor rush after the movie, after a short discussion, we all just through our hands in the air. Straz was a nice run, but totally incomplete. We went with SIEGE, and stocked up on Simonson back issues.

My credentials: In my early 40’s, collector/reader since mid-70’s. Could never stand Thor outside of his membership in the Avengers, but absolutely loved the Simonson run. Full agreement there. However, after that, and not just for Thor, but just about every mainstream superhero comic, I got utterly bored with it and pretty much dropped them all (circa 1990). I was especially DONE with the X-Men.

But then in the late 90’s, the current batch of Marvel’s movies started coming out, and I found myself excited about the X-Men, and then Spider-man (who I was only lukewarm towards at best during my younger days). I absolutely LOVED the movies’ representations of the characters. I picked up a few comics, especially some from the Ultimate line, but… it wasn’t the movie characters. It was the same old convoluted comics and universes as before.

I love the Nolan Batman. I love the Downey Jr. Iron Man. I love the current movie Thor, and I’m anxiously awaiting Captain America.

But with all of those, I know that my enjoyment of those characters will end with the movies (or until the next movies come out, and even then, only if they’ve learned their lesson from Iron Man 2).

It’s not about the CHARACTER itself. I don’t have to go buy the latest Thor trade paperback or pick up an issue to know it won’t be ANYthing like the movie. Captain America comics won’t continue the movie story in ANY way. The comics continue the Captain America comics we’ve had for decades.

There will NEVER been any significant carryover from movies to comics because unless there is a movie-specific comics universe (what’s the status of that? I read they were going to do that, but I haven’t seen any obvious examples of that happening yet), I know I’m not going to pick up a Thor comic, and I know that there will be only the tiniest fragment of the movie audience that will ever pick up a Thor comic, much less a SECOND Thor comic.

As a lapsed mainstream comic reader, I want the MOVIE version of the characters that I now like, not the old versions. And I could CARE LESS about how great certain runs of the comic are. It’s not the movie version, so my interest DIES right there, and I never sample another one.

MILLIONS of people see the movies. Only THOUSANDS of people read the comics. As unfair as it may seem, if you want to sell more comics, you need to create stories that speak directly to the MILLIONS of people, not the thousands.

In the three-month period before each film comes out, release a trade paperback with
a) the stories whose concepts/plots are utilized in the movie.
b) add commentary/text between stories to “fill in” the gaps…but keep it SIMPLE! Most people buying the book are interested in the movie and have little knowledge of the comic. Consider this a “primer”, a gentle “push” into Marvel or DC or whoever!
c) a feature article detailing the transition from comic to movie.
d) the last few pages should be something along the line of “If you’re interested, there’s a WHOLE UNIVERSE of this stuff out there! Here’s where you go to find it..” List urls of bookstore chains, comicshoplocator.com , and the website for the comics company itself.
When the movie opens, sell the trade pb at the theatres’ concession stands (they used to do it with movie souvenir books.)!

Don´t forget the John Buscema run, it´s also amazing, very classic, beautiful imagery. You can almost hear the “ride of the valkyries” while reading them.

Ah, there´s 5-issue comic book limited series published by MAX Comic called “Thor: Vikings”, written by
Garth Ennis. It’s unmissable.

This entire article could be edited down to “Law of Diminishing Returns” in bold 48 point font.

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