Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Marvel Age Thor art of Walt Simonson

Marvel Age Annual #1In the mid 1980s, Marvel did the impossible: they published press releases and shipping schedules...and got us to pay for them! Well, it was only two bits (25¢) for the monthly Marvel Age, and to be fair it did publish a lot of interesting and original material: interviews with Marvel creators, histories of the company and its characters, submissions by aspiring artists, a regular two-page cartoon by Fred Hembeck...and lots of lots of Marvel ads and hype. Still, a Marvel fanbull like me ate it up like, chewy, delicious candy—in those pre-internet days, it was the next logical step up from "Bullpen Bulletins" for the Mighty Marvel Marketing Machine, a way to publicize and promote their comics and to feed the fandom of frenzied face-fronters.

Once a year, just like most of the other regular Marvel mags, you could find a double-sized annual on the racks for Marvel Age (double-prized at 50¢, too!) which gave you a breathless peek at the year ahead in Marvel Comics through teasers, interviews with the books' teams, and specially-created promo pages by the regular writer/artist teams of the books. Most of these pages remain lost to time—although several of them told a story of sorts, as promotional pieces they have seldom been reprinted and I'm not certain I've ever seen one show up in a later Marvel trade paperback. So, even if you're a huge fan of 1980s Marvels, you may not have seen these pages at all!

One of the powerhouses of Marvel for that time was Walt Simonson's much acclaimed lengthy run on Thor, which revamped the Thunder God back to his Asgardian basics and brought Simonson's love of Norse mythology into the book. It didn't hurt that Simonson was a great writer and artist, and even after he stopped pencilling the book and Sal Buscema took over, Simonson's power and strength kept the mighty Thor rolling right along. It's still remembered fondly as one of the top runs in Marvel Comics, probably Thor's single most popular and influential run.

Simonson produced two promo pieces for Marvel Age Annual, first this one-page comic in 1985. The ringing telephone is a continuing plot-point from each of the promo pieces in the annual—the Beyonder is ringing up every one of the Marvel superheroes and asking them, I dunno, if they're considered switching their long-distance carrier to Sprint.

EDIT: Kurt Busiek sets me straight in the comments...it was Kurt phoning up all the heroes, not The Beyonder. Thanks for the correction, Mister B! (And say, is Loki's number unlisted or does Stan have him in his Rolodex?)

Just bask in that Simonsony goodness:

Walt Simonson "Thor" promo from "Marvel Age" Annual #1
Promo page from Marvel Age (hey! that rhymes!) Annual #1 (1985), written and drawn by Walt Simonson, lettering by John Workman
Clickety-click to frost giant-size

Marvel Age Annual #2In the following year's 1986 Marvel Age Annual, Unca Walt pulls out all the stops to give us a grand, epic, widescreen thunderous battle between the heroes of Asgard and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, boldly declaring what happened then began a legend that will live as long as stories of valor are told by the human heart. Whoo-whee! Now that's adventure. Sadly...whether or not my little stuffed satin heart is allowed to tell stories of valor...Simonson's long run on Thor ended in 1987, and all we have of this epic battle that would shake the mythological heavens is this two-page spread of What Would Have Been. But by Heimdall, what a two-page spread:
Walt Simonson "Thor" promo from "Marvel Age" Annual #2
Promo spread from Marvel Age Annual #2 (1986), written and drawn by Walt Simonson, lettering by John Workman
Click picture to Odin-size

Y'know, looking at these promo pieces just whets my appetite for the full epic grand opera-on-the-page, so you'll excuse me if I pull my Simonson Thor issues out of the shortbox, crank up the Erik Korngold swashbuckling soundtrack on the BulliPod, and hoist a flagon of mead hot chocolate to the Mighty Thor, and the Mighty Walt: long may their hammers (and pencils) swing straight and true!


Unknown said...

Y'know, I find it hard to believe that Loki, an Asgardian god, would have a phone. Even an ornate one like that.

The Mutt said...

New rule: Fandral must always carry a bazooka.

Bully said...

I find it hard to believe that Loki, an Asgardian god, would have a phone.

How else do you think he calls out for pizza?

rachelle said...

How else do you think he calls out for pizza?


Kurt Busiek said...

That wasn't the Beyonder calling people up. It was me.

The "story" in that MARVEL AGE ANNUAL was that I was calling all the superheroes to ask what was coming up in the next year so I could run the news in MARVEL AGE. So many of the people I called wound up destroying their phones (like that rascal Loki) that the Phone Ranger turned up at the Marvel offices to avenge them, and I think a whole bunch of super-villains attacked to steal my notes.

Ah, good times...!


Bully said...

Ah, my apologies, Mr. B. To me, you'll always be twice as powerful as the Beyonder, and can write a better Avengers saga too. (How's that for sucking up, folks?)

Serious, Kurt, thanks for the correction, and I'll mark it in my post. Thanks for stoppin' by!

Unknown said...

How else do you think he calls out for pizza?

He tricks Thor into getting one for him, of course!

Hmmmm, pizza...

Bill D. said...

I used to look forward all year to those Marvel Age Annuals. Those preview comics were always such fun reading. Even bought a back issue of one out of a quarter bin recently just for the whole Fred Hembeck Show framing sequences for the previews... still great reading all these years later!

Unknown said...

I love the Simonson Thor as much as anyone, but a more popular and influential run than Lee/Kirby?

googum said...

Great stuff! Why is it I remember Marvel Age fondly, yet think there's too much hype and advance info now? The occasional cartoon, maybe?

billjac said...

I'm getting to this well after all your readers have left, but I'll post a note here just for Bully to read. In the two-page spread Volstag's daughter Hildy is fighting alongside Fandrall and Hogun. It makes me wonder, was Simonson planning to kill Volstag during the God-Giant war? I'm going to point this out to Cronin over at Comic Book Legends Revealed; maybe he can get Simonson to reveal his plans.