The Mighty Thor Vol 1, #337, 1983, Marvel Comics, Cover by Walt Simonson.
"The Mighty Thor #337" cover art by Walt Simonson, with his famous dinosaur signature
The POP Retro Cover Of The Week continues its celebration and examination of iconic comic covers from the 1970s through the 2000s, this week returning to the ‘80s, when most comics cost 60 cents, were beginning to be printed on better paper, and could be found in more and more Local Comics Shops popping up around the country.
One of the superstar writer/artists of the 1980s was Walt Simonson, arguably at the peak of his creative powers and popularity during his very dynamic and exciting run on The Mighty Thor, a book that was desperately in need of a booster shot.
In issue #337, Simonson introduced a new character to the Marvel Universe, an alien with a horse-like face named Beta Ray Bill that gave Thor a run for his money in hand-to-hand combat. During their battle, Beta Ray Bill disarmed Thor. In this era of Thor history, if he was separated from his hammer for more than a few moments, he reverted to his human form of Dr. Donald Blake, and his hammer also reverted to Blake's walking stick. The baffled alien quickly subdued Blake, and picked up the stick. He swung it wildly in disbelief, striking a nearby structure, and triggered a transformation…Beta Ray Bill now held the hammer of Thor, and was wearing an altered version of Thor’s battle uniform. How was this weird new alien able to hold Thor’s hammer? Was he good or evil? Simonson knew how to keep readers in suspense, and readers (like me) were hooked. We would have to find out in the next issue, along with who would no doubt be a very surprised Odin, who had suddenly transported "Thor" home to Asgard.
The cover was an excellent introduction to Beta Ray Bill, even if it gave away his transformation up front. Still, the cover did what great covers do: it made you want to buy the issue to find out HOW. For maximum eye-catching impact, Simonson chose to have the character on a plain white background, staring the reader right in the eyes, and interacting with the trade dress (the comic title logo, the issue number, publisher’s logo, etc.), smashing them all with Mjolnir. Not only did this alien steal Thor’s hammer and battle clothing, but he was destroying his comic too! Talk about adding insult to injury.
The cover was instantly iconic and highly collectible, especially since Marvel hadn’t yet caught on to how popular Simonson’s run on Thor had become, and was still printing a modest number of copies.
Next week: A cover from the 1990s!