Thor opened in theaters this last month, and while the general census on it was positive, it was mixed nonetheless. I ended up seeing it twice. I was on the fence about it the first time around, but really enjoyed it the second. It's a fun movie, exceptionally well-cast, and only dragged down by being heavier on the drama than you'd like it to be. The one thing everyone seems to be able to agree on is that this movie could have easily been alot worse. That seems appropriate, as the same is true for the god of thunder in comics.
Thor is a difficult character. All throughout the character's history you'll find some forgettable, cheesey, akward, and downright bad stories. It seems that most writers who tackle Thor don't entirely know what to do with the sheer amount of stuff that comes along with him. The world of Asgard, the entire lineup of Norse gods, Earth, and Thor's role in the rest of the Marvel universe is a fair amount to juggle. Not all of that really works together. Yet when a writer gets a hold of Thor and figures out how all those parts can operate together, some damn good reading can come out of it. Even Stan Lee and Jack Kirby struggled with Thor for quite some time, but starting somewhere around Journey Into Mystery #111, they really hit their stride with Thor, and until they left the book they continued to crank out some of the best work they'd ever done together. Given what else they accomplished together, I don't drop praise like that lightly.
The undisputed high point for Thor is Walt Simonson's legendary run from the early-mid 80's. I'm still pouring through it at the moment, so I can't comment on it as a whole, but I can already say that its reputation is well earned. Beside having a great, epic story, the marriage between Simonson's art and words is, at times, like seeing good special effects in a film. I'm sure that by the time I'm done, it will be my favorite Thor story, but if you're looking to get into Thor for the first time, I still think there's a better starting point.
Thor was killed off durring the Avengers Disassembled event, and I'm convinced it was because someone at Marvel found him to be outdated and felt that he didn't fit with the rest of the universe anymore (much like what happened with Silver Surfer for a little while). J. Michael Stracynski brought Thor back to life, and not only did he modernize the character and make him work in the current Marvel lineup, bit he also made juggling all those pieces that come along with Thor that much easier. How he comes back to life isn't important, nor can it easily be explained. Thor comes back to life to find that Agard has been destoryed, and all the other gods are either dead or in hiding. This is where Stracynski works his genius. Thor builds Asgard right here on Earth, floating above the American heartland. The two worlds no longer feel separate, and that jarring feeling of two separate parts getting in the way of each other that plagued Thor comics for so long, and even the movie, is gone. Towards the later issues of the run, things become less about Thor and more about the other Asgardians. The fact that the book is still enjoyable is a testament to why those other characters that Thor has in tow matter and are worth trying to find a place for. That's not to say that Thor doesn't have his moments. There a fight between Thor and Borr, Odin's father, that I'm willing place in the Top 5 Greatest Comic Book Fights of All Time.
J. Michael Stracynski's Thor (available in three trades or the more expensive-yet-swanky Ominbus edition) will go down as a classic period in the character's history, I have no doubt about that. It's a terrific story, a flawlessly done re-entry into the Marvel lineup, and a great jumping on point to the current Thor comics, which is still going very strong in the hands of Matt Fraction. Thor may seem a silly character, and at times has been, but he is essential to what makes the Marvel universe what it is. These books are proof.
I now leave you with Jane Foster daydreaming about polishing Thor's hammer.