When I first started collecting comics of my own, rather than reading random selections from my dad's library, I followed Sensational Spider-Man. It was shiny and new at just the right time, so even though Spider-Man wasn't my favorite, I went with the convenient starting point. Problem was, it was hard to keep up with Spider-Man on my extremely limited little kid budget. There were like five or six Spider-titles at least, and storylines pretty much always crossed over, so that to get all of any story you pretty much had to read everything. I could only afford to regularly get one title, so I was stuck with a lot of unfinished stories, often reading only chapter 2 of 4 or something similarly ridiculous. I still liked the art and the action and the melodrama, but I wasn't getting closure. At some point I got sick of that and decided to try something new. I looked over the available Marvel subscriptions, and Thor stood out as starring a character I loved whose name only appeared in a single title. I was sold.
I jumped onto Thor not at the beginning but very early in the Dark Gods story arc that marked the relaunch of the title. I believe my first issue was something in the neighborhood of #4. I don't remember all the details, but the gist of that story was that a group of evil gods who'd been trapped by Odin for a long time bust out and overrun Asgard, killing lots of Thor's allies in the process. The bad guys basically win and are all set to destroy the universe or something similarly devastating, when Thor gets in touch with secret uber-gods, gods to the gods (they have a name but I forget it), who explain to him that there's a cycle of apocalypse events that they preside over. Basically everything Thor has been going through has happened infinite times before and will again, claim these double-gods, but then Thor figures out some way around it, I think...he uses what they tell him to win somehow. I seriously don't remember the specifics, and have never been able to find any of these issues in storage anywhere to reread them. Someday I'll track down back issues or, if it exists, a trade collection and get all nostalgic with it. For now, exactly what happens doesn't matter. What matters is how fucking huge the stakes were, and how powerful all the players.
Thor was a god, whatever that means in the Marvel Universe, and that meant his villains had to be of an appropriate power level. They had to believably challenge a god. They had to represent dangers worthy of divine intervention. Yeah, Thor had a soft spot for Earth/Midgard, but his narratives weren't ever going to be about busting drug dealers or bank robbers or anything so mundane. He was fighting for all of mankind, to defend a kingdom of gods, and/or to keep the very cosmos intact. It was a level of spectacle I was unaccustomed to and immediately adored.
I had read some Thor material before, and I've read a fair amount since, good, bad, and everything in between. Classic Simonson stuff, even classic-er Lee/Kirby stories, a handful of "Avengers: Disassembled" issues, an Omnibus of some kind in high school, the current Jason Aaron run, Kieron Gillen's Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter which probably doesn't count, and other stray arcs and issues in between. Some of it left a more powerful impression than the Dark Gods run, but nothing ever recaptured the magic of my first exposure to the potential might and grandeur of Thor. It's what I look for in all my Thor stories now, and at some level, I think it's what I want from all my superhero comics, no matter who's in them. Big stakes, incredible power, seemingly unstoppable villains. I mean, I like variety, of course, but those epic blockbuster tales, when done well, are still my favorite kind of superhero narratives. They get bungled a lot, and for all I know Dan Jurgens and John Romita, Jr. did a crap job with the Dark Gods and I was just too young to see it. Even if they did, though, they stunned me with the scope of their concepts alone, regardless of their execution.
Tomorrow: How two comics that influence everyone influenced me.