Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ultimate Thor (comics)

Writer: Johnathan Hickman
Artist: Carlos Pacheco
Collects: Ultimate Thor #1-4

After they finished publishing Ultimatum - widely acknowledged as the worst comic event ever put to paper - Marvel had the problem of trying to salvage the Ultimate line. Intended to clear the deck, it ultimately did even more harm to what was once one of Marvels crown jewels. Their solution was to slim it down to four books - a couple ongoings and successive miniseries - and relaunch it.

Ultimate Thor was one of the books that ultimately resulted from that, penned by Johnathan Hickman - a guy quickly proving to be one of Marvels best - and the always stellar Carlos Pacheco.

Hickman is not a guy known for penning straightforward comics. He has a habit of drafting labyrinth ongoing plots and telling stories in a way that's a bit less than direct. Here, he focuses on three different time periods - Eons Ago, 1939 and Now - and shifts between them throughout the course of this four issue miniseries. It tells the tale of the Ultimate Universes version of Ragnarok, leading up to the rebirth of Thor and his decision to join the Ultimates.

So, basically, it kind of positions itself as a prequel; and that's not necessarily the best choice.

His shifting focus on the different time periods works very well, moving each along without the later ones ever spoiling the events of the prior. Of the three, however, only two really go anywhere. The Present Day third of the book ends up positioning itself as a prelude to The Ultimates. I honestly think any connection to The Ultimates should have been left out. Obviously, we're dealing with the past of the same character, but the direct tie encourages reading it prior to the Ultimates. That's not really a smart plan; one of the long running questions of The Ultimates was whether the man who called himself Thor really was the Norse God of old, a question that wasn't answered until late in the second series.

This miniseries throws such ambiguity out the window and as a consequence is best read after The Ultimates, despite being played as a prologue. This could have been an easy fix, really. Playing up whether the man we see in the present is really the same man we see in the past could have preserved the twist.

It doesn't necessarily break a lot of new ground, either, or change anything. The traitor that brings about Ragnarok is the same person it always is, for instance; I kept waiting for a twist or for it to be someone else, but no dice. I think that may be the biggest disappointment with this series; the Ultimate universe has positioned itself as a place where anything can happen and beloved characters are changed in different ways, but as it turns out Thors backstory is pretty much the same.

So, all that said, is it worth reading? It's tough to say; it doesn't tell you anything you didn't already know if you are familiar with Marvels Thor even in passing. It leaves the book feeling fairly irrelevant, trying to tell its own story while leading into another, yet failing at both. These failures clash with the fact that it's perfectly entertaining and a fine read regardless of its failings. But in a world where The Trials of Loki already told this same basic story in a manner close to perfect, is "entertaining" or "a fine read regardless" enough?

I can't say that it is, even if Hickman and Pacheco try their damnedest.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

This book, despite its flaws, is still good. But it lives in the shadow of "Trials of Loki". If you're interested in the minor tweaks for Ultimate Thor or this sounds more your bag, by all means go for it. But this book has already been done better, so unless you haven't read Trials or just don't care to, it's hard to recommend it.

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