Thursday, June 11, 2015

Comic Critique: Thor, The Goddess of Thunder

Marvel Comics have done much to bring a more balanced view of the world in the last several years.  We have had Carol Danvers step up to the mantle of Captain Marvel, becoming the preeminent female superhero of the Marvel Universe. We have had newcomer fangirl Kamala Khan take up her idol’s mantle in kind by becoming the new Ms. Marvel.  Spider-Man spinoff characters Silk and Spider-Gwen have sprang to life, with the latter actually outselling Spider-Man himself multiple times.  Storm, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Black Widow, Squirrel Girl, and others have gotten their own ongoing series.  No longer relegated to limited series or team member status, women are finally getting a spotlight in the center of the Marvel Universe.

She may seem all fun and games, but don't tickle Thor.
Seriously. Don't tickle Thor.
Floating high in space (and sometimes grounded down in the middle of Oklahoma), the shining citadel of Asgard has always represented the pinnacle of power in Marvel.  The Mighty Thor was the hero who seemed to be simply entertained by joining with his friends and their mortal adventures. After all, he is a god and they are just men.  The world of Thor is one of the few in Marvel Comics that allows for a more “pure” fantasy experience.  Where the others are often in New York and occasionally travel to other parts of the world, with the rare few exploring new worlds across the cosmos, Thor with a swing of his hammer and a call out for the Bifrost can be in a lush green forest filled with elves, or an icy mountainous landscape where he must face the Frost Giants, or a dark murky bog with all sorts of mythical beasts.  Thor’s writers are never as constrained by any of the rules that hold back other heroes.  In fact, to me, Thor’s best stories are when he’s just doing his thing in any of the Nine Realms EXCEPT Midgard (Earth to us Muggles… wait, I mean humans). With Mjolnir at his side, he was the only hero who was worthy of this power.

But the Thor we knew and loved became unworthy due to a whisper from Nick Fury.  His hammer dropped in the Blue Area of the Moon and sat there. Thor tried to lift it and failed. Odin tried and failed. But someone lifted it. With the famed inscription upon Mjolnir transforming to add an “S,” it now read “WHOSOEVER HOLDS THIS HAMMER, IF SHE BE WORTHY SHALL HAVE THE POWER OF THOR.”  And in Thor Odinson’s mind, this also meant that she was the only one worthy of the name and title of Thor. He told everyone to call him the Odinson. 

Pictured: Fanboys every Wednesday that had a new issue of Thor

The Thor title with its mysterious female lead has three primary antagonists.  The threat of Darrio Agger, with his mysterious ties to the power of the Minotaur and control over the Roxxon Corporation, the only company more evil than Oscorp, is aimed at making a profit by poisoning the world.  The king of the Dark Elves, Malekith, leads a group of Frost Giants to reclaim the skull of their king, and Loki’s true father, Laufey, while rampaging across Earth and taunting the Odinson. Finally, the citizens of Asgard itself are against her, as the Odinson seeks to discover her identity and reclaim his hammer, Odin is disgusted at a woman taken what he believes to be a man’s right, and Cul piloting the Destroyer armor to forcefully relieve her of Mjolnir. 

Our heroine grabs the hammer at the tail end of the first issue and is transformed.  She seeks to protect the Earth from its threats, but is kept from stopping the threats of neither Agger nor Malekith because of the Odinson attacking her.  As in the original Thor stories, or the first Thor movie, Thor comes to an understanding of humanity. Where he needed humility and to walk as a mortal man to earn the right to be worthy and lift the hammer, now he uses that humility to understand that it is another’s time to wield Mjolnir.  He gracefully supports her, but is still consumed by the weight of Fury’s words as well as a need to know who is the worthy woman.

Heimdall can see anything that moves in the Nine Realms,
but can he see why kids love Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

This leaves Agger and Malekith to come to an agreement with one another and become allies.  The interesting thing is that even though Agger is poisoning the Earth and has his eye on killing and plundering other realms and Malekith is a wicked murderer who delights in suffering, the real despicable character is Odin.  The antiquated views of misogyny he spews are grating, annoying, and frustrating. All the more so when you see such vitriolic vocal minorities speaking against the idea of the female Thor, mimicking Odin's very fatal character flaw. And condescendingly calling her things like Thorina because they didn’t read or refused to understand why she is called Thor. The reason she is called Thor is the same that Eric Masterson was called Thor, and our Odinson renounced his name.  Any argument to the contrary comes off childish when the book is presented in such a straight-forward manner and delivers very good amounts of action along with an intriguing mystery, and my naming of those who complain about our female Thor as vocal minorities is proven by the fact that the book is selling record numbers.  Female Thor outsold the male by a wide margin and the book has been in Marvel’s top 10 selling titles each month it came out.

Freyja is gonna make Odin sleep on the couch for a few millenia
Or whatever ancient Norse gods use for couches.

As for the art, Thor has not looked this beautiful in years.  The brighter colors, the detailed backgrounds, each character having an entire unique look to them. These all work to make this book a must-read title with its gorgeous illustration.  The writing keeping the same author from the Thor: God of Thunder title showed that this new series was a direct continuation. A plan that had been laid out in the previous 24-issue series, not some rushed attempt to simply gender-bend a famous superhero for a sales boost.  The organic build to this storyline, without using the tired premise of Thor having died and needing replaced, is why this was a success.  While issues 2 and 3 were a bit slower and felt somewhat disappointing as standalones, once you have the full run of the 8 issue series leading into Secret Wars, Thor is a well-crafted excellent story.

Unlike Marvel, I won't go and spoil who the new Thor is because that mystery is the crown jewel on this godly title. 

Hey girl, we got your back!

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Look into previous Comic CritiquesAmerican Born Chinese and Marvel's The Black Vortex

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