WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok, in theaters now.
A staggering amount of early Thor stories in the pages of Journey Into Mystery and Thor (when Journey Into Mystery officially became Thor's solo series) had solutions that really were as simple as "Odin shows up and fixes everything." Take this bit from Journey Into Mystery #104 (by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Chic Stone) where Surtur and a giant named Skagg have destroyed most of the Earth. Odin just turns back time and fixes everything in, like, a panel or two...
Odin's very existence became the biggest case of training wheels that you could imagine. There was no threat too big that Odin couldn't seemingly solve it in a panel or two. This is why Kirby and Lee then introduced the concept of "Odinsleep," where Odin would have to sleep undisturbed for a day each year to replenish his powers. This idea was introduced so that Kirby and Lee could introduce threats that Thor and the others couldn't simply rely on Odin to solve, since he was out of the picture temporarily. However, even there, many of these stories (like the first appearance of the evil Mangog) ended with Thor and his allies trying to save the day while Odin was asleep but failing and needing to be rescued at the last minute by a just-awoken Odin. Such a character, though, sucks a lot of the drama out of events, so it is only natural that writers have often tried to write Odin out of stories by killing him, something that the latest Thor film, Thor: Ragnarok, also followed. Here, then, we will look at the four biggest deaths that Odin has suffered in the comic books over the years (do note that we're not talking about stories where all the Asgardians die).
As noted earlier, one of the many times where Odin showed up to save the day at the last minute was when Thor and his fellow Asgardians had to take on the villainous monster known as Mangog, who fed off of people's hatred. In Thor #198 (by Gerry Conway, John Buscema and Vince Colletta), Odin's powers were depleted, but he still had to step up and halt the Mangog's rampage after the hideous creature returned to Asgard. Odin cast a spell that would disconnect Mangog from the hatred that fueled him. However, Odin was so weak that casting such a powerful spell wiped him out and left him vulnerable to a fatal attack.
Luckily, Thor then froze time and space around Odin. Thor then traveled to Hel to rescue Odin's soul. He then got caught up in a war between Hela and Pluto for the soul of Odin. Hela ended up teaming up with Thor against the interloping Pluto and thus the two Asgardians succeeded in protecting Odin's soul and repelling Pluto's attempt to raid Hel. In exchange, Hela helped Thor bring Odin back to life.
It would be almost precisely a hundred issues later when Odin next perished. The issues leading up to Thor #300 were very tricky, as writer Roy Thomas had a long epic story set up involving the Celestials, as well as tying Thor into the events of Richard Wagner's Ring trilogy of operas. However, Thomas left Marvel for DC (after a dispute with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter over Thomas' ability to edit the titles that he was also writing, something that he had been allowed to keep doing even after Shooter had canceled the practice for anyone else, a move that similarly drove Marv Wolfman to DC, as well). Therefore, Mark Gruenwald had to finish out Thomas' plots and then, for Thor #300, Gruenwald and his co-writer, Ralph Macchio, no longer had Thomas' plots to work with, so they had to end Thomas' epic storyline on their own.
They first finished the "Ring" story by showing how Odin had manipulated Thor and Valkyrie (who had no memories of being lovers Siegfried and Brunnhilda from the "Ring" operas) and showing how despondent Odin was over his actions. However, then the Celestials showed up, prepared to possibly destroy Earth itself and Odin decided to take them on himself by transferring his consciousness to the Destroyer armor! It did not work...
The Celestials, though, decided to spare Earth in the end. Thor then went to the other gods in the council of gods that Gruenwald had just introduced in this storyline and Thor gained enough power from the other gods to help resurrect Odin.
Next up, when Walter Simonson took over writing and art duties on Thor, he began a slow-simmering plot where a mysterious demonic being was plotting an attack on Asgard (all we saw at first was the sound effect, "Doom!"). This demon turned out to be Surtur and in Thor #353, all of Asgard had to come together to fight against Surtur, even when Odin and Thor's interests conflicted with Loki's interests (which were mainly just self-preservation)...
In the end, Odin seemingly sacrificed himself to take Surtur down, leading to an iconic full page splash by Simonson at the end of the issue..
As it turned out, Odin was actually taken prisoner at that moment by Seth, who was a different take on the Egyptian god of death. Odin was "only" gone about thirty issues before returning to the title in the leadup to Thor #400.
The most recent Thor storyline involving Odin's death occurred in the relaunched Thor series following Heroes Return (Marvel's Fantastic Four and Avengers-related titles had ended and been rebooted as Heroes Reborn. When that ended, the heroes came back to Earth and Marvel relaunched all of their titles with new #1s).
In Thor #40 (by Dan Jurgens, Stuart Immonen and Scott Koblish), Odin shows up to save the day once more in a battle against Surtur, but this time, in defeating Surtur, he actually is killed....
Thor ended up ascending to the throne and that began a long storyline involving the downward spiral that began when Thor became King. It will be interesting to see if the film series takes any cues from the Jurgens' post-Odin storylines.
It will also be interesting if Odin manages to make it out of the current "Death of Thor" storyline alive. We just hit Thor #700 and, as we have shown, issues surrounding anniversary issues are often quite deadly to Odin.