Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thor (comics)

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Collects: Thor #1-6

I've gotta say, mythology in comics usually doesn't do it for me. It's part of the reason you don't see many comics reviewed here that dabble in it; it's not the reason I haven't touched Hercules yet, - I actually like Greek mythology a lot - but it is part of why I haven't bothered with Marvels Thor. Something about it when translated into a comic medium just seemed off to me, so I've long avoided many comics that deal with it.

However, sometimes a comic will get so much praise that I end up ignoring my personal preferences and give something a shot I might not otherwise. Thor by JMS is one of those times. JMS is a rather controversial writer - especially since he went to DC - but his Thor run garnered acclaim and I'd wanted to give Thor a fair shot, so the first trade of his latest ongoing seemed as good a place as any.

The story starts from the ground up. Ragnarok has come and gone; the cycle finally broken by Thor himself. After his victory, he went missing; left to sleep in an endless void. But now, he has returned. The cycle of Ragnarok behind them, he brings Asgard back, settling it in Oklahoma. Now he must find the rest of the Asgardians hidden away in humans scattered all over. But the world has changed in his absence and it may not be ready for the gods to live among them.

These days, new ongoings have a habit of being inpenetrable just as often as they make themselves accessible to newbies. There's been several occasions where a new number one continues a story from someplace else, which really defeats the purpose of a number one issue. If you're not getting in on the ground floor and learning everything you need, then what's the point? The new Thor series doesn't have this problem, thankfully. I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to Thor and his mythos at Marvel, but by the end of the first issue, I felt like I knew what I needed to. This is pretty important to me; as cynical as comic readers generally are with their "oh there's no such thing as a new reader" business, there are people who would like to read new things or read comics. But comics have a reputation for being impenetrable for newbies, one it's probably earned; I've heard some say "you know, I wish comics weren't so hard to get into so I could read some [insert chracter here]", which leads me to think there really ought to be more effort into making them easy to get into. As a newbie to Thor, I appreciated feeling as though I had been brought up to speed despite not knowing a lick of the lore prior. Comics need more of this sort of thing.

This volume's starts off slow, but each issue seems to ratchet the momentum up a bit. First, Thor is back, then in the second issue Asgard returns, in the third Thor finds his first hidden Asgardian and so on. It feels like you're along for the ride as the Thor mythos are rebuilt from the ground up and for a reader new to Thor, that's a rewarding feeling.

Most of the book is well written. There are some particularly nice moments as we watch the Asgardians interact with their neighbors in the town near Asgard. Actually, the residents of the nearby town are probably what surprised me the most; I wasn't quite expecting to like them as much as I did, but lo and behold, I did. They also bring about some genuinely funny moments in their interactions with the Asgardians, which is welcome.

Unfortunately, it's not all roses. If there was a rough issue out of the six collected here, it was definitely the third one. In it, Iron Man guest stars as Thor finds himself in a Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Just by that previous sentence you can probably see where it went wrong. JMS has brought in real world events before - see the 9/11 issue of Amazing Spider-Man he did - and it's exactly the sort of thing I hate in comics. Not only did this come years after the disaster in question had come and gone, JMS used it to get a bit preachy. One of the citizens is pissed at Thor because he didn't do anything - despite the fact that, you know, the dude was dead when it happened - and irrationally blames the heroes despite Thor explaining that there was no way he could help. Then Thor feels bad because he could have stopped it. Only, you know, he couldn't, because this is a real world disaster we're talking about here; if Hurricane Katrina never happened this issue wouldn't have existed, which makes this whole exercise feel pointless and stupid. At least Thor didn't respond by taking a walk around America.

Worse still is the appearance by Iron Man, as this book takes place back during the time Iron Man was the Director of SHIELD. After Civil War manhandled the character, it became hip to have Iron Man show up in a book so that the title character could tear him apart. Not only is this annoying for fans of the character who already didn't care for how Civil War twisted him, but it happened so often that it quickly became tedious. Even if, by chance, you DID want to see it happen, it's kind of hard to pump your fist and say "yeah, give that mustachioed prick what he deserves" after the twentieth time a book had their main character tear open the armor like a can opener and beat the stuffing out of him.

Still, it's not enough to drag down the trade as a whole; the fourth issue gets a little preachy, but it's otherwise not as bad as I'd feared.

Oliver Coipel's work here also cannot be understated. He draws Thors head a bit blockier than I'd expect, but he otherwise draws the hell out of this book. He seems right at home with the granduer of the material, drawing splash page after gorgeous splash page of the mammoth floating Asgard. His fight scenes are also rather striking. I was pretty impressed. I hope JMS gives him even more to work with in future volumes.

The Score: 8 out of 10

In all, I enjoyed this book. I'm not sure I can call myself a Thor fan just yet, but this book went a pretty long way in making me a convert. It's a bit of a slow start, but it's accessible to a newbie and if things keep up in the next volume I'm hoping things will pick up even further. Still, what's here is pretty compelling and I'm intrigued enough to come back for more. Recommended.

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