There are three big summer blockbusters coming out this year featuring mainstream superheroes, THOR, coming May 6, GREEN LANTERN, coming June 17 and THE FIRST AVENGER: CAPTAIN AMERICA, coming on July 7.  With these three super dudes heading to the silver screen, you might want to take a crash course on their backgrounds.  That way you can pretend to be hip and cool and in the know, like one of those studly comic-book-geeks.

Here’s a guide to some graphic novel collections that will get you up to speed on the first two of these mystery men. Next week we’ll dovote the whole column to Captain America.


The Mighty Thor debuted in Marvel Comic’s “Journey Into Mystery” in 1962 as a bit of a mash-up of Norse mythology and the classic “Captain Marvel” comic book.  In this incarnation, the Norse God, Thor, is banished to Earth by his father, Odin, for arrogance. A hobbled doctor, Donal Blake, hosted the wayward god, and had no memory of his mighty powers. An alien threat caused the Thunder God to awaken, and the rest is superhero history. Thor wields his hammer, Mjolnir, and if he’s separated from it for more than 60 seconds, he turns back into Donald Blake.

Thor was the creation of JackKirby and Stan Lee, and if you want to go back to the primal core of the character, you should pick up “The Mighty Thor, Vol. 1 (Marvel Masterworks).”  This softcover volume collects the first 18 adventures of Thor from “Journey Into Mystery” and will give you the original take on the character that you’ll see in theaters in May.

After Lee and Kirby left the book, other creators took over.  The most memorable run on THE MIGHTY THOR was written and drawn by Walt Simonson.  This series of stories from the 1980s took Thor into outer space, where he encountered Beta Ray Bill, an alien who was also able to wield the might of Mjolnir when he could get his hands on it.

Simonson’s run on THOR has been collected in a series of trade paperbacks, and later this month a hardcover Ominbus edition, with almost 1,200 pages of Simonson’s Thor, will be released.  It’s really good stuff with clever writing and fantastic art.

More recently, J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5) wrote a revamped series based on Thor, and his highly-regarded run has been collected in several volumes of inexpensive trade paperbacks.

These books feature artwork by Oliver Coipel and others, and it’s this look that the movie version of Thor most resembles, visually.

There are also Omnibus editions of the original series and J. Michael Straczynski’s run as writer of the book.

Personally, I find the Omnibus editions a little hard to handle.  They’re the size of a gigantic dictonary, which sort of hampers reading in the toilet.


DC Comic’s Emerald Warrior first appeared in 1959. A Golden Age character with the same name was a mainstay of DC/All American Comics in the 1940s, but the Silver Age revival of Green Lantern, following the lead of DC’s successful reboot of The Flash, introduced a whole new character, with a new costume and secret identity.

This time around, The Green Lantern is a member of an intergalactic police force, equipped with a ring which runs on will power, only strong-willed individuals can be chosen to wear the ring, which must be charged every 24 hours.  The ring can create weapons out of thin air, or create tools and weapons that do The Green Lantern’s bidding.

The origin story tells of an alien Green Lantern who crashes his spaceship on Earth, and dying, sends the ring to find a worthy successor.  The ring choses a test pilot, Hal Jordan, and he becomes the new Green Lantern.

The classic 1950s Green Lantern revival, by writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane, can be found in color in The Green Lantern Chronicles and in black-and-white in several volumes of Green Lantern Showcase Editions.  These are solid, imaginative science fiction adventures with many memorable characters introduced into the mythology.

With sales dropping in 1970, a new approach was tried.  Writer Denny O’Niell and artist Neal Adams were brought in, and together they crafted a brief, but very influential, series of stories that brought “relevance” into mainstream comics.

Teamed with Earthbound hero, Green Arrow, Hal Jordan finds himself confronted with real problems of the day, racism, environmentalism, over population, drug use, feminism and other hot-button issues from the end of the Age of Aquarius.

The O’Neill/Adams stories are not currently in print in color, but they can be found in volume five of the Green Lantern Showcase collection, which is due to be released in May.

More recently, writer Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis have revived the Hal Jordan incarnation of Green Lantern (several other characters have held the ring and name after an ill-advised villainous turn by Jordan in the 1990s).  Johns and Reis’ take on the character has propelled Green Lantern to one of the top-sellers for DC, and there are several collections of their work, and of several spin-off series like “Green Lantern Corps” and “Blackest Night.”

That just scratches the surface.  There are tons of paperback and hardback collections featuring these characters.  The above picks will guide you where you need to be to catch up on who’s who before the movies come out.

Most of the above books can be ordered from Taylor Books and Lost Legion Comics and Games. You could also go to Amazon, but that would be taking the easy way out.

Next week we’ll get a history lesson on Captain America.