On Things I’ve Been Reading

I have a long-standing habit, I call it the “binge read.” In college, I went on binge reads of Philip K. Dick and Larry Niven and Orson Scott Card and Ernest Hemingway, where I would gather as much of an author’s body of work as I could, and then I would read all of it as rapidly as I could. In the case of Card, I burned out. In the case of Niven, I became a lifelong fan. In the case of Dick, it warped my mind (not that that took a lot of effort). In the case of Hemingway, I picked up a fondness for bullfighting.

Lately, I’ve been on a binge — Marvel Comics’ Thor. Thor, I decided, was the kind of thing I should like, what with Vikings and mythology and all. So I’ve picked up some collections, and in the past month I picked up my first-ever Thor comic book. In light of the news that Thor spin-off character Thunderstrike is returning, I thought this round-up of comics musings would focus entirely on some of my recent Thor reading.

Thor: The Mighty Avenger #1
Marvel Comics
Written by Roger Langridge
Art by Chris Samnee

When I heard that The Muppet Show‘s Roger Langridge was going to be writing an All-Ages Thor comic, my interest was instantly piqued. And when I learned that it was going to be its own thing, outside of regular Marvel continuity, I was even more interested — aside from my complete unfamiliarity with Marvel continuity, the Marvel books that I have enjoyed the most in recent years have been, like Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, outside of the 616 continuity. So, Roger Langridge and a refreshing lack of continuity? Count me in!

The cover to the first issue is all cosmic — the Bifrost Bridge, Loki, Thor wielding Mjolnir, Asgard in the distance, Odin lording over it all. The story behind the cover, however, is not cosmic at all. In a small town in Oklahoma Jane Foster is a curator of a Norse history exhibit in the local museum. She has an on-again/off-again boyfriend named Jim. She sees a rainbow overhead on a clear night, and shortly thereafter a large, non-verbal blond man attempts to smash an exhibit in the museum. He’s restrained, and then, on a date with Jim, she encounters the strange blond man as he’s thrown out of the town bar. The man plunges back inside, and then an even larger man is thrown out through the glass front. When this larger man attempts to attack Jane, the blond man, wearing mail and a red cape, saves Jane and the large man runs off. Jane, taken for reasons she can’t quite articulate, befriends the strange blond man, and he convinces her to take him to the museum. There, she shows him the exhibit he had attempted to destroy a few days earlier, and the man takes a heavy jar from the display, smashes it to Jane’s horror, takes the object that was within — a hammer — and strikes it to the ground. Lightning follows, and the Mighty Thor stands revealed.

Based on The Muppet Show, I expected something humorous, and Thor: The Mighty Avenger is not humorous. It’s not quite serious, it occasionally hits amusing, and if I had to describe my feeling in a single word, I would call the debut issue “sweet.” It was fun and somewhat dense; I didn’t blow through the issue in five minutes. Langridge handles the characters well, and Chris Samnee’s artwork was pleasant and interesting, falling as it does somewhere between Steve Ditko and Mike Mignola.

I don’t know where the series will go, if it’s going to stay in Oklahoma or if it will head off into the mythological territory the cover suggests. For someone new to comics, looking for an entry point into the adventures of Thor, this would be a good choice. I liked it. :)

Thor by Dan Jurgens and John Romita, Jr. Volume 1
Marvel Comics
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by John Romita, Jr.

I’m taking the Thor backlist in a rather haphazard fashion. I read the first volume of Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson (1984-ish), then followed that with Thor Visionaries: Mike Deodato, Jr. (1995), then started on the second volume of Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson (1985-ish), and then the unwieldy-titled Thor by Dan Jurgens and John Romita, Jr. (1998). (Marvel, unhelpfully, has not reprinted any of the late-80s to mid-90s Thor — the Tom DeFalco era — that was the entirety of the book between Simonson’s departure and Warren Ellis’ retooling reprinted in the Deodato volume.)

My interest in this particular volume was Dan Jurgens. I discovered Dan Jurgens during his long run on the Superman books, first as writer/artist, then as writer for a succession of artists (among them, former Thor artist Ron Frenz). I always enjoyed Jurgens’ work on the Man of Steel; he was able to balance the god-like powers of Superman with the very human stories of life in Metropolis. When I was researching Thor, to decide what I wanted to read, some reviews online suggested that Jurgens’ lengthy tenure on Thor was one of the definitive runs on the character. (It was also, from what I’ve read, one of the most revolutionary, but Romita was long gone from the book by then, and I’m not sure if Marvel will continue collecting this particular run out to Jurgens’ endpoint, though I’m certainly hoping so.)

This was an enjoyable collection. Jurgens reintroduces Thor to the Marvel Universe after the Heroes Reborn debacle (basically, Marvel farmed out some of their characters to Image to boost sales), and he has Thor interact with, over the course of the nine issues collected here, the Avengers, Namor, Hercules, and Spider-Man, to the point where you start to wonder just who Thor is going to hang out with next. Jurgens also introduces a new supporting cast, from Thor’s new civilian identity — EMT Jake Olsen — to Olsen’s fiancee and coworkers. Jurgens shows himself as adept at handling both sides of Thor/Jake’s life as he did with Superman/Clark Kent for the Distinguished Competition, and some elements of Thor’s past — like Jane Foster — have some role in Thor’s new status quo. The grounding on Earth with Jake’s life contrasts with a series of cosmic threats — Asgard destroyed, the Asgardians missing, a strange cosmic being named Marnot manipulating his life. It’s not a groundbreaking collection, though. This feels like a lot of groundwork, to put Thor back on his feet and establish his place in the Marvel Universe.

And it definitely feels like Dan Jurgens’ work. The scene transitions, for instance, are the style he used in Superman. And the battle between Thor and the Destroyer feels in many respects like a reprise of Superman and Doomsday. And Romita’s work was quite nice.

Secret Invasion: Thor
Marvel Comics
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Doug Braithwaite

I did not read Secret Invasion — Skrulls invade the Earth in force, and they’ve secretly been replacing Earth’s heroes over the years — because 1) it was mired in a continuity that I had no familiarity with and 2) I genuinely didn’t care.

So, why did I read Secret Invasion: Thor? Well, it was cheap. I got the trade paperback for less than four dollars. Can you say “deal”? :cheers:

I was twicely doomed on this. First, the story takes place at some point during the J. Michael Straczynski run on Thor, where Asgard sits somewhere over Oklahoma. And second, it’s a freakin’ Secret Invasion tie-in.

But!

Matt Fraction, the upcoming writer on Thor (beginning with Thor #615), wrote this, so perhaps this would give me a taste of what to expect, as I plan on starting with the regular series with that issue.

And…

The Skrulls captured Beta Ray Bill (an alien equine-oid with the powers of Thor and the mystical hammer Stormbreaker), tortured him, and sent him crashing to Asgard as a warning — the Skrulls are coming.

Meanwhile, in the small town in Oklahoma, a young woman is about to give birth, and Dr. Donald Blake (Thor’s civilian identity) must help her through labor.

Asgard prepares for war. Thor comes up with a ruse — tornadoes — to keep the humans away from the battle between Skrulls and Asgardians. The Skrulls arrive, and the Super-Skrull has a mission — kill Thor.

It was nice enough, I suppose. It felt… slight. Except, I don’t know what more you can do to a story of Thor and Beta Ray Bill laying down the smack on a Super-Skrull. Fraction used a lot of narrative captions. Braithwaite’s artwork had a rough, pencilled look and non-traditional paneling. I thought it could have been tightened up. Walt Simonson would have done this story twenty-five years ago in 22 pages. Decompressed storytelling is not a good thing thing.

This didn’t make me feel bad for missing out on Secret Invasion, and eventually I’ll read the JMS run on Thor, so I’ll know where and how this story fits into the abandoned JMS master-plan.

Hopefully, Fraction’s run on Thor won’t feel as slight as this. Hopefully. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *