Saturday, July 04, 2015

Review: Thor Vol. 1: The Goddess of Thunder

I liked this run of comic books an awful lot, and found it to be a very well-made, very fun story set in the traditional milieu of Marvel's Thor comics, but finding something new and exciting to do within that milieu.

That said, I'm fairly certain the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did had to do with the fact that I'm reading it now (just last night, in fact), collected into a five-issue trade long after the individual issues were originally published. The true identity of the new Thor has already been revealed, so before even reading the first panel of this collection I knew the actually secret secret identity of the woman in the mask on the front cover. So I didn't concentrate on the mystery aspects of the comic while I was reading, an aspect that is a large part of what seems to have been driving the Jason Aaron-written, Russell Dauterman-drawn Thor series.

Had I been reading this series serially, I'd be pretty damn outraged that Marvel was selling the story as the shocking replacement of Thor by a female character (which was apparently garbled here and there, as I recall it being reported that Thor himself was actually being turned into a woman, rather than a woman was getting Thor's hammer and thus his powers and title), and then keeping that character's identity out of the first issue. And the second. And third, fourth and fifth. I haven't really been keeping up with it, but I believe it might have been a full eight issues until the identity of the new Thor was revealed (it's not done so in this collection), and by that point a reader has spent the better part of a year and over $30 on the story.

It is a good story, but it must have been frustrating as hell to show up month and after month to spend $3.99 on a "Who Is Thor?" story...and never get an answer, or even much of a clue.

See, as far as mysteries go, there are actually two of them in Thor, one of which leads to the other. At the climax of Marvel's Original Sin event story (also written by Aaron), Nick Fury whispers something in Thor's ear, which causes the Odinson to drop his hammer and from then on be unable to lift it. Whatever Fury whispered to Thor, the hearing of it somehow rendered Thor unworthy.

How would that work, exactly? What kind of secret knowledge instantly nullifies one's worth, upon being made aware of it? I don't know. That mystery doesn't get solved here either. Thor spends the majority of the first issues on the moon (where the hammer fell) trying in vain to lift it, and talking to it while ignoring his parents and the other Asgardians trying to talk to him. Later, upon getting very drunk in a tavern, he talks about the whisper, but is too drunk or too unwilling to elaborate on it when his friends ask.

So that's why there's a new Thor. Unable to lift Mjolnir, Thor's still Thor, but he's not as Thor as he is with it, you know? At the end of that issue, a woman off-panel walks up to the hammer, says "There must always be a Thor," and then reaches for the handle. An "S" appears before the "he" part of "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of...Thor," and we gt a splash page revealing the new, female Thor.
I won't even pretend to know how Thor's powers "work." Originally (like, in the '60s), it was a lame doctor named Donald Blake who, upon lifting the hammer, became the Asgardian god Thor in a classic superhero transformation, but that was decades ago. I didn't understand that exactly, in terms of whether Thor and Blake were two completely different people, and what happened to the other when one was on-panel, so I certainly haven't been keeping up with the rules of Thor's transformations over the years.

With Blake, he changed appearances fairly completely, but in the other examples I've seen of people being able to lift Mjolnir, they can simply lift it, they don't transform into Thor, or buffer, blonder versions of themselves. So I won't get into whether this woman should become a man when lifting the hammer or anything.

I do wonder why she has a mask; she says she needs it, but there's no evidence of why she might within this volume. If Mjolnir changes the person holding it so completely–and she does get rather radically physically altered when she transforms–she really shouldn't need a mask. It's just there to give He-Thor something to wonder about, I guess; Dauterman is a fine artist, but all of his female's faces look enough alike that if She-Thor weren't wearing a mask, it's not like one would recognize her anyway

(Additionally, the lady who is really Thor doesn't have, like, an eye-patch or jagged scar or anything that would distinguish her from Generic Looking Comic Book Lady; every Marvel artist draws every Marvel woman their own way, and most of them seem to draw them all alike, so there's nothing by which to distinguish, say, Sue Storm from Emma Frost from Magik save their costumes.)

He-Thor doesn't seem to get too serious about sussing out the identity of She-Thor until the fifth issue, when he pulls an adorable scroll full of suspects out of his belt and crosses off a name with a quill pen.
As a mystery, Aaron's Thor is a bum one. There's only one woman (i.e. suspect) in the first issue, prior to She-Thor becoming She-Thor, and that's He-Thor's mom, Freyja. Later, She-Thor kisses He-Thor in a very un-motherly way, thus convincng the Odinson that it wasn't his mom who took his hammer.

The only other suspect in these five issues is Sif, who denies having the hammer, but wouldn't be above kissing He-Thor like that, even if she does seem pretty unhappy with him during their scene together (the climax of which is in the above panels).

Now, mystery aspects aside, like I said, I enjoyed this a lot, and found it to be a very well-made comic.

The power struggle between the two Thors mirrors that of Odin and Freyja. The All-Father left Asgard, now a floating city called Asgardia, for, um, reasons, and he left Freyja in charge as The All-Mother. Upon his return, he wants to be the boss again, which doesn't sit too terribly well with Freyja. Aaron's Odin is a wonderfully one-note character, all anger and bluster and more anger; he's even made amends with his long-lost brother, the bad guy from Fear Itself (Aaron's Odin is, essentially, the J. Jonah Jameson of Thor now).

While the Asgardians bicker, an army of frost giants marches on an undersea facility belonging to Roxxon, and while He-Thor can't get his magic hammer up, he eventually gets his shit together enough to grab his magic axe, mount one of his giant flying goats, and go to the bottom of the ocean to kill giants.
They have an unexpected ally in dark elf Malekith, who chops off Thor's arm and leaves him for dead.

It is then up to the new Thor, She-Thor, to try and save the day. Malekith (who both looks and acts infinitely cooler than the completely generic, personality-free villain he was in Thor: The Dark World) and the giants march on a flying Roxxon base, intent on getting a maguffin from Roxxon CEO (and shape-changing magic minotaur) Dario Agger. They've taken out The Avengers off-panel, leaving it to the new Thor to save the day.

She's almost there when the old Thor shows up, now outfitted with a dwarven-forged Uru robot arm, to fight the new Thor for his hammer. In classic Marvel style, the pair fight and then team up to defeat their common foes.

That is, in essence, the events of the first four issues, a fine introduction to a fine new direction. Aaron and Dauterman both excel at not only depicting the super-gods of the Marvel Universe in a way that makes them seem alien (from one angle) or mythic (from another), but also matter-of-fact. The delivery is deadpan, but that doesn't make it seem any less funny, or any less natural; a war-like society of space-gods on a flying city orbiting the moon is just the way things are, you know? Just as a private school for mutants run by superheroes is just the way things were in Aaron's Wolverine and The X-Men.

I really liked the new Thor almost immediately. Aaron writes her as almost two people in one. She talks in Thor-font, and with a heroic certainty, but thought clouds generally appear between her dialogue bubbles, questioning how she knows something or other, or why she said what she just said, or if superheroes should act in a particular way or another. It fits in nicely with the character, but, again, if I didn't know who the new Thor was, I imagine this would just read as a little weird (It does seem to eliminate Freyja and Sif though, who are perfectly comfortable in the world of Thor, and signal that whoever the new Thor may be, she's a normal woman from Earth, and not another superhero like, I don't know, Valkyrie, or is Thor Girl from The Initiative still alive?).

I also liked her desgin, and the way Dauterman draws her. The costume is even more "realistic" than that of previous Mjolnir-wielders, with only the red cape looking particularly superheroic. The mask, as odd as it seems that Thor would wear a mask, actually looks pretty cool, and immediately distinguishes the character from other Thors–because it's part of a helmet, and one with the upswept wings of the original Thor helm, it looks functional rather than a disguise.
I also like how relatively slim and little Dauterman draws the new Thor. She's not musclebound like the male Thor (and why would she be? Her super-strength comes from magic, not her muscles), nor is she a buxom default superheroine. Rather, she has to tilt her head to look up at Thor, she's got toned but slim arms, small breasts and generally looks too small to be doing many of the things she's doing–which makes for a particularly good contrast for her foes, actual giants, and, for a few pages, the old Thor himself, and makes it all the more visually dramatic when she wins those fights

(The variant cover artists don't stick to Dauterman's design. Sara Pichelli, Fiona Staples, Esad Ribic, Phil Noto and Arthur Adams all draw a very big and very buxom female Thor. In Adams' case, it was certainly to be expected, but dam it looks weird that they're encased in metal but are so...breast-y. The worst of all is probably Andrew Robinson's. And by "worst" I simply mean "at keeping true to the design of the character in the book. See below.)
The fifth issue in the collection features a guest-artist (at least, I hope it's just a guest artist; I really like Dauterman's work here) in Jorge Molina (He drew the panels with Sif and the scroll earlier in the post). The issue reads like an epilogue to the arc that fills up most of the collection, by the end of which He-Thor tells She-Thor that not only is she worthy of the hammer, but she should also use the name "Thor," so now I will quit calling them He-Thor and She-Thor, and resigns to go by "Odinson" himself.

On Earth, er, Midgard, Thor fights The Absorbing Man and Titania in Times Square, while in Asgardia Odin and his evil bro plot to find out who this new Thor is, and the Odinson very clumsily plays detective, but man, I love his scroll of suspects.

If the lady who is now Thor is going to keep being Thor for a while (and the post-Secret Wars Avengers line-up seems to indicate that she is), then I hope The Odinson moves to Midgard, rents an office and starts working as a private investigator.


Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

I heard about this storyline and thought it was strange because I always thought that "Thor" was the proper name of an individual, not a code name. So having someone else become the "New Thor," would be like saying that Jason Todd is the "New Dick Grayson," or that Miles Morales is the "New Peter Parker."

SallyP said...

This HAS been an awfully good book. The whole name thing is a little odd, but the way that I interpret it, is that the original Thor...and yes, that is his given name, is feeling too depressed by being found unworthy to wield Mjollnir, so he's just going by Odinson now. It's a bit overly dramatic, but is Thor.

I also think that they seem to be using Malekith as the go-to baddie now, instead of Loki, who is actually trying to be a good guy.

All in all, it's been pretty darned interesting.

Brian said...

The naming issue here is how we should approach corporate/celebrity succession in real life.

"If Tim Cook be worthy, he shall wield the power of Steve Jobs!"

"Wait, but if Steve Ballmer is now the new Bill Gates, what do we call the old de-powered Gates wandering around fighting polio with that magic axe?"

It would make things a lot interesting and be the natural next step in our brand-centric modern age...

Robert Jazo said...

The Thor transformation thing has always been a bit dodgy. Beta Ray Bill and Eric Masterson (aka Thunderstrike) both transformed into a more Thor-like form when using the hammer. However, Captain America didn't become 'Cap-Thor' when he lifted it, he was just able to use it to smash baddies. Neither did Superman in JLA/Avengers. Maybe it checks to see if you already have a superhero identity first?

Shriner said...

Out of curiosity (as I don't read the series) -- have they revealed what Nick Fury whispered to Thor in Original Sin that started this whole thing?