On Things I’ve Been Reading

It’s been a fair few months since I did one of these comic book reviews…

Thunderstrike #2
Marvel Comics
Written by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz
Art by Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema

Six months ago I wrote that Marvel Comics was bringing back Thunderstrike. A spin-off of Thor in the mid-90s, Thunderstrike was about a man, Eric Masterson, who was, for a time, Thor, and who later gained his own enchanted weapon, the mace Thunderstrike, and had his own heroic career. Thunderstrike‘s solo series ran twenty-odd issues, and it chronicled Eric’s dual roles as a super-hero and as a single father. The series ended with Eric’s death.

In the mid-90s I didn’t read much in the way of Marvel’s comics. Honestly, I still don’t. I’m trying to make myself into a Thor fan, because Thor is the kind of thing I should like, with all the Norse mythology and stuff, but I’m finding Matt Fraction’s current run on Thor to be a bit underwhelming. Still, I thought I would give Thunderstrike a try.

A few years after Eric’s death (comic book time being somewhat elastic), his son Kevin is a bit of a hooligan. He beats up a classmate, gets bailed out by his sports hero step-father, and it’s clear that Kevin has a chip on his shoulder. He knows his father was a super-hero, but this doesn’t fill him with any sort of pride; he actually resents that his father was a super-hero, he blames the other heroes of the world, like the Avengers, for his father’s death. One thing leads to another, Kevin is brought to the SHIELD helicarrier and is given the Thunderstrike mace because it belonged to his father and because it appears to be completely inert, but when the Rhino runs lose through downtown Manhattan, Kevin accidentally taps the mace to the ground and it transforms him into the spitting image of his deceased father as the super-hero Thunderstrike. And the activation of the mace has not gone unnoticed…

That’s the first issue.

It’s an interesting spin on the character, which was a Thor knock-off — a little bit legacy hero, a little bit Captain Marvel. (The real Captain Marvel, that is. The World’s Mightiest Mortal.) Kevin Masterson is a punk-ass jerk, but there’s a reason for that, and as the story has progressed across the two issues thus far he’s had to learn how to be something more than a punk-ass jerk.
Spider-Man’s motto, “With great power comes great responsibility,” fits Kevin’s story fairly well; now that he’s been given power, what will he do with it?

The second issue? Kevin decides he doesn’t want to play the hero game. Kevin’s step-father decides that this is a situation he can take advantage of. Dark forces are gathering that want to get their hands on the mace. And someone arrives to teach Kevin how to wield the power of the Thunderstrike, a redhead with a sword named Grunnhilde.

As mentioned, I’ve found the current Matt Fraction/Pasquel Ferry run on Thor disappointing; each issue feels like reheated leftovers of stories that Walt Simonson or Dan Jurgens did, and each issue feels like something Simonson or Jurgens would have managed to do in no more than four pages — or that Roy Thomas would have done in two. I think I’m probably going to bail on Thor when the current story arc concludes.

Thunderstrike, by contrast, feels dense. I’ve never been a particular fan of Frenz’s artwork (I thought he was a poor fit for Superman) — or of the Kirby-styled look in general — and I’m not sure that Thunderstrike will make me change my mind, but I have to admit that Frenz brings a certain flair to his artwork that gives it a dynamic style. The story has a good flow, and DeFalco’s dialogue makes the characters sound distinctive.

Though Thunderstrike is nothing revelatory, it is pleasantly enjoyable. The story beats feel a little obvious at times, and even though I don’t know who the dark forces arrayed against young Thunderstrike are, I feel fairly confident that when the final issue closes, Kevin will have developed a new appreciation for his father, resolved some of his personal issues, accepted his destiny as the bearer of the Thunderstrike, and begun to forge his own heroic identity. I’m not sorry I picked Thunderstrike up, and while it’s not the best Thor comic on the stands today (that would be the soon-to-conclude Thor: The Mighty Avenger), it’s certainly better than average.

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