A few weeks ago, I decided to make myself a Thor reader for the simple reason that I should be a Thor fan, so I started reading Walt Simonson’s run on the title, collected handily in five Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson volumes.
But having only the first, and the second not arriving until next week, I needed more Thor, and when the opportunity presented itself to get Thor Visionaries: Mike Deodato, Jr. really really cheap (since it’s out-of-print), I said, “Oh, why not?”
In the mid-90s, shortly before Marvel decided to partially reboot their universe in the Heroes Reborn event, they shook up a couple of their books with new creative teams. Mark Waid and Ron Garney took over Captain America and made that book a must-read. Thor got a makeover thanks to Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato, Jr. Ellis was the madman on Excalibur (and Transmetropolitan would have been a few years in his future, I think), and Deodato had come to prominence on Wonder Woman a few years earlier. Thor Visionaries: Mike Deodato, Jr. reprints their collabaration, the four-part story arc “Worldengine,” and a later three-part storyline written by William Messner-Loebs.
My interest here was not in Deodato’s artwork, which I admire but don’t particularly like, but rather in Ellis’ story because, well, it’s Warren Ellis.
I’m not familiar with all the background (though this review of the story gives pertinent details), but apparently, at the time, Thor, as a title, was pretty lame. Ellis’ brief was, likely, to make Thor a little less lame.
Thor has been banished from Asgard and disowned by his father. On Earth, he discovers he is dying, and as he dies he is attacked by half-human/half-tree homonculi. Dispatching them, he follows one that escaped back to its lair beneath the city, where he has a vision of Yggdrasil, the World-Tree, being tortured. Then Thor is kidnapped at the behest of his old enemy, the Enchantress, another exile from Asgard. Her spells are keeping him alive, shielded from whatever mystical energy threatens him (and all Asgard, actually), and in post-coital bliss they decide to team up and take down the villain.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in New York, Detective-Inspector Curzon, on assignment from London, investigates a series of weird happenings that leads him to conclude that a) Thor is dead, and b) Ragnarok may already have happened. Curzon decides that he has to track down what became of Thor because the Earth is in terrible, terrible danger.
The first three parts of “Worldengine” build up an interesting starting point for Thor, and you can almost see what Ellis’ new status quo would be — the world believes Thor is dead, Thor and Amora (the Enchantress) work in the shadows to combat supernatural and mythological threats (think of Dr. Strange, but with more hammer-smash action), and Detective-Inspector Curzon works sources, tracks leads, and acquires his evidence that Thor is actually alive, until eventually the two stories converge, and…
Well… I’m convinced that Curzon was to become the new Donald Blake, Thor’s human aspect. Two reasons. The first is the name, which makes me instantly think of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s Curzon Dax. The second is that Curzon looks a lot like Thor, except not as muscled. Curzon would have been a skeptical, unwilling host to Thor, and that could generate stories.
Of course, it doesn’t work out that way. The fourth part of “Worldengine” is also Ellis’ last Thor story, and Curzon gets vaporized by Amora for no real reason. For the rest of the story… the World-Ash Yggdrasil was being tortured by an insane old man who wanted to usher in the next stage of human evolution, so he built a machine to convince the World-Ash that Ragnarok had already happened so that post-apocalypse humanity could emerge. The evolved humans cannot survive in our non-post-apocalypse environment, and Thor smashes the machine. And, naturally, Curzon gets vaporized when he crosses paths with the Enchantress.
“Worldengine” isn’t a terrible story by any stretch. The middle chapters are interesting, especially Curzon’s researches into Norse mythology and the nature of the Asgardians. (They’re aliens, apparently.) Curzon’s intro in the second part drags on too long, though (he comes across as a less-interesting John onstantine), and his death is completely random — unless it was to show the reader that the Enchantress was not to be trusted and suggest that Thor was thinking with his penis, which he was.
After “Worldengine,” Thor had some fill-in artists for an Avengers crossover, so Ellis’ apparent direction — that Thor is thought to be dead — goes instantly out the window, and Thor Visionaries: Mike Deodato, Jr. doesn’t reprint those issues. We pick up in this volume four issues later, and by this time Thor and Amora have started a kind of supernatural bodyguard service. The three-part storyline that follows isn’t devoid of interest — Thor is asked to protect a businessman’s daughter and wife, and this leads to an encounter with an amnesiac Odin, now a homeless man on the streets of New York. Loki has a sword of Odin’s, and when Odin touches it, several people are transported to a Mirror Universe-like Asgard, a twisted version of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. There, Thor must fight his doppelganger, and once the mirror-Thor is defeated the real Asgard resolves itself, and it is under attack by Trolls and Frost Giants! And, somehow, Dr. Strange is there, enslaved!
The second storyline in the book was fun, but not particularly revelatory. The best part was probably the second chapter (Thor #499) with the twisted Wagner. In the third part, Amora turns on Thor, though Thor doesn’t know this, which suggests that she’s been playing him all along. Two issues after this, Thor would come to an end in Onslaught and the Heroes Reborn experiment would begin. I wonder if the knowledge that Heroes Reborn was coming was what prevented Ellis’ direction from taking root; why set up a new status quo and story arcs that will resolve themselves over the next year to eighteen months when something else is going to come along and wipe it all away?
Overall, it was a fun volume and a quick read; none of the writing, not even Ellis’, is as dense as Walt Simonson’s. The artwork I tolerated, but not much more than that. My main interest was in Warren Ellis’ story.
And next week, I’ll have the second volume of Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson. :party: