Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review: Thor Vol. 2: Who Holds The Hammer?

(I wrote about a single aspect of Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman's Thor series for Comics Alliance this week; if that sounds like something you'd like to read, you can find the piece here)

This second and final volume of Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman's short-lived, eight-issue Thor series completes their story arc, finally answering the question of the sub-title...in the very last panel of their storyline, frustratingly enough (So I guess they really did make readers of the serially-published comic book series spend eight months and about $32 before telling them who the new Thor was, then).

Don't worry though, this isn't the end of the creators' run or their excellent new version of Thor. Marvel simply "cancelled" the book while taking a good chunk of 2015 off of their regular publishing schedule to make room for Secret Wars and its dozens of tie-in miniseries. Aaron, Dauterman and the new Thor will return in The Mighty Thor #1 next month.

Yeah, that's right, they're relaunching the book with a new number one and a new title, despite retaining the same creators, character and direction, for maximum confusification (So if you start reading the saga of the new, female Thor in trade in the future, you'll be reading Thor Vol. 1, Thor Vol. 2, The Mighty Thor Vol. 1 and so on; make sure you get the right Thor Vol. 1 and the right The Mighty Thor Vol. 1, though, as there are a bunch of collections with those titles! But let's not get into all that again so soon after last night).

This collection includes the final three issues of the Thor series and, because that's not enough to fill a $25 hardcover collection, there's some filler material, with varying degrees of relevance to the preceding story. The first is Thor Annual #1, featuring three short stories by an all-star creative line-up, and an issue of What If? from the year I was born, which actually spoils the identity of the new Thor, so if you've managed to not find out who it is by this point–hey, congratulations!–you might want to stop reading now, as I am going to discuss the reveal in a bit.

As for the climax of the story arc, it is every bit as solid as the issues that preceded it, although in keeping with the fact that Aaron has been writing a great superhero/Norse myth mash-up comic but a lousy mystery, there's a rather desperate, last-minute attempt to make it seem as if SHIELD Agent Roz Solomon were really the new Thor–even going so far as to rearrange the timeline so that she's staring at the hammer and thinking about how great it would be if she were Thor–shortly before Thor appears at a place Solomon was headed, Thorring it up.

We learn Roxxon CEO Dario Agger's origin story as he and Malekith do a deal that is amusingly one-part comic book super-villain, one-part real-world corporate raider ("Roxxon will receive the mineral rights to all realms you conquer, from now until the end of time").
Odin unleashes The Destroyer (like in the movie!), controlled by his brother, upon the new Thor, in an attempt to bring her down and take Mjolnir back from her and the Old Thor finishes up his investigation, finally deciding that it must be Agent Solomon on the other end of his magic hammer (but it's not!).

In the penultimate issue, he rounds up his almost his entire suspect list and leads them to Thor's side, finally overwhelming The Destroyer and making Odin realize the war against his own wife isn't on he can win.
As far as resolutions go, it's a rather weak one. Old Thor never does learn who holds the hammer, as New Thor is about to tell him her identity when they are interrupted, but we do. It is, of course, Jane Foster.
This is a pretty intriguing choice because while she's disappeared from the ongoing mega-story for years upon years at a time, she was a part of it from the very beginning, and is in that respect the most likely candidate, even if she's also in many other ways the least likely candidate. For one thing, she's currently dying of cancer and refusing all Asgardian super-science or magic medicinal aid, and using Mjolnir is somehow only accelerating the sickness.

The other intriguing reasons have less to do with this comic and more to do with Marvel Studios' movies. Jane Foster is a bigger presence in the Thor movies than she has been in the Thor comics for years, and hey, if this leads to Natalie Portman playing Thor in a future movie, I'm all for that; it's a role that would seem to suit her far better than the living maguffin she played in Dark World.

And so the series ends about halfway through the second trade, complete with a little "There is Only Secret Wars" tag in the last panel, as you can see above.

The annual features a story of King Thor at the end of time, by Jason Aaron and Timothy Truman (!!!), another of the current Thor by Noelle Steenson (!!!) and Marguerite Sauvage (!!!) and, finally, a flashback to "Young Thor" by CM Punk and Rob Guillory.

The Aaron/Truman story, set "Untold Eons From Now" has the now-ancient Thor's scantily-clad granddaughters Frigg, Atli and Ellisiv ("The Girls of Thunder") trying to come up with the perfect birthday gift for the old man. They finally do so, and it's a a very fitting one that turns into a sort of creation story, appearing where such a story might be least expected–in a sense, it echoes the concept of Ragnarok as a sort of cyclical event, an un-creating and re-creating of the world. It's only 10 pages, but that's 10-pages worth of glorious Tim Truman art.

It's followed by a ten-pager by the dream team of Noelle Stevenson and Marguerite Sauvate, the former writing and latter drawing and coloring. In this story, the new, female Thor meets the old, male Thor's best bros, The Warriors Three. After a bonding bar-fight, the Warriors take this Thor out to "test" her, which turns out to be little more than a night of shenanigans, culminating in a one-page montage.
It's basically just Thor making friends and having fun with Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg...and readers get to tag along. No surprise that Sauvage's art is great, but I was a little surprised at what a fine job she does on the Warriors, as I'm so used to seeing her draw female rather than male characters. In a perfect world, Stevenson and Sauvage would be doing a Thor and The Warriors Three ongoing series, with Stevenson filling in on art occasionally, but ours is not a perfect world (besides, Sauvage is already pretty busy drawing the hell out of DC Bombshells.)

The final section of the annual is written by professional wrestler CM Punk (one of his earliest, if not first, comics scripts) and drawn by Rob Guillory of Chew. A comedic piece, it is set in Thor's old, pre-Mjolnir days as an arrogant carouser. He's attempting to prove his worth, and doing so by out-drinking everyone in the realms. A time-traveling Mephisto shows up, and Loki ropes him into going toe-to-toe...er, mug-to-mug with the Odinson.

It's mostly just drinking humor, but I snickered at The Odin's Beard...
...and the last panel is a pretty amusing way to end the story.

Sure, it's silly, and somewhat sophomoric in its humor–particularly compared to that of the preceding stories–but it's not bad or anything (especially considering its writer is new to the medium) and it presents a nice opportunity to see a handful of Marvel characters filtered through Guillory's distinct style.
The final 35 pages of the collection are filled by 1977's What If? #10, which tells the story of What If Jane Foster Had Found The Hammer of Thor?

It's sort of unfortunate that this is here at all, because, if it wasn't, I sure as hell wouldn't have known it even existed. Now that I do know it exists, I can't help but wonder if or to what degree it might have inspired Marvel and/or Aaron to pursue their current storyline.

On the other hand, the story, by writer Don Glut, pencil artist Rick Hoberg and inker Dave Hunt, does show how far the publisher has come in terms of treating female characters as, you know, characters in the past 38 years. From a strictly compare and contrast angle, it's a fascinating read...although I think I would have preferred one very big, eight-issue (plus the annual) collection of Thor, rather than having the single story arc split into two collection, with Marvel relying heavily on this old reprint to make the second collection seem like less of a rip-off.

Like most of the old What If? comics, this one begins with The Watcher asking the reader an inane question, and then looking into one of the infinite parallel realities to find a world which will answer his question. It begins with Thor's original origin recapped across a two-page spread, and then we plunge back into his origin, now tweaked to include Jane...and to have her find the hammer and become Thor instead of Donald Blake...who I guess was Thor, but in disguise...?

I don't really understand how this works at all, to tell the truth.

Anyway, when Jane gets her hands on Mjolnir, she transforms, getting bigger and blonder. Thor's costume gets sexier for her, like a "naughty Thor" Halloween costume for a college girl, and so rather than having leggings, her legs are bare. Also, those weird dots on Thor's tunic? Two of them become big, metal bullets that encase her breasts. Since Thor is a boy's name, she decides to call herself "Thordis." Why? "I remember from nursing school a NOrwegian girl named Thordis; that has a nice sound to it!"

The remainder of the story is over-wordy in the way of the comics of the day, as Glut needs to rush through pretty much the entire history of Thor up until that point, before settling on a rather unsettling ending.

My favorite part may be when Thordis first journeys to Asgard and meets The Warriors Three; it's a pretty different meeting than in the Stevenson/Sauvage story, as they all just hit on her. Here she deals with Fandral The Dashing, by dashing him against the ground:
Whatever you do, don't look too closely at Hogun's expression in the first panel.
I sure hope she grabbed him by the goatee when she judo tossed him over her shoulder.

Eventually, Odin takes the hammer from Thordis and awards it to Don Blake, who becomes the male Thor for the first time in the story. To make it up to her, Odin grants Jane immortality, making her a goddess. She's pretty bummed though, since that only means she'll have to live forever knowing the man she loved–Don Blake–doesn't love her, but is instead into Sif.

Odin has another, grosser idea for Jane, though:
Having just realized that the love of her life is lost to her forever, Jane decides to marry his hairy old dad instead.

They all live happily ever after...although one has to imagine Odin lives a lot more happily ever after than poor Jane does.

1 comment:

SallyP said...

Egad... I have that particular issue of "What If" squirreled away somewhere. And yes, the ending was a little on the weird side.