– This post was originally published on my now-defunct site, New to Comics. –
New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic-books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
As we continue to look at the mythological figures that proliferate comic-books, this week, we’re back to Marvel for, what is essentially Thor: Rebirth. That’s right, it’s the return to form of everyone’s favourite God of Thunder (Sorry Zeus, you’ve had your time to shine) written by a writer whose run on The Amazing Spider-Man was one of my favourite early reads; J. Michael Straczynski!
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Art by: Olivier Coipel
Real Name: Thor Odinson
Affiliation: The Avengers
First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery #83 (August 1962)
Before Captain America, Spider-Man, or the Fantastic Four – the world had a different type of hero, the mighty Thor! Son of the almighty All-Father Odin and sworn enemy of his own half-brother, Loki, Thor – the Norse ‘God of Thunder’ – hailed from the Golden City of Asgard, and would often come to Earth seeking adventure and glorious combat. But when his arrogance proved too much, Thor was stripped of his power and his enchanted Uru hammer Mjölnir and cast down to Earth under the mortal guise of the handicapped doctor, Donald Blake. There, he was forced to learn humility, which he did so with the help of his love Jane Foster, and in turn, reclaimed his Godhood and thunder-casting weapon, becoming one of the greatest and most powerful heroes in the universe.
WHAT’s THE STORY?
The events that lead into this story, while not a necessary read, are quite vast and interesting in their own right (but maybe I’m biased, because Thor is one of my favourite characters).
In the early 2000s, the character of Odin was killed off, and consequently, Thor became the King of Asgard. Under his reign, Marvel Comics upped Thor’s already considerable power levels and treated us to stories where Thor’s role as a hero was called into question as he used his powers to mould the world in his image. Later, during the Avengers Disassembled crossover, that saw the Avengers torn apart by one of their own, so that the series could be reinvigorated with characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine, Thor’s comics followed the character and his allies through the events of Ragnarok, a mythical cycle of death and rebirth that plagued the Norse Gods for millennia. In this story, Thor broke the cycle, so that he and his kin could finally rest in peace.
While Thor was ‘dead’, the Avengers fractured again in ‘Civil War‘, leading characters like Iron Man to do questionable things such as create a robotic and slightly psychotic clone of Thor so he could continue to hunt down unregistered superheroes and lock them in another dimension. Yeah, Iron Man became a real dick during around this time. And he was rewarded for it by being given the role of Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (don’t worry, this is all relevant). Meanwhile, Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, had crashed to Earth waiting for someone worthy to come and pick it up.
Anyway, it was eventually decided by Marvel, after all these events, that it was time to bring Thor back, and who better for the job than J. Michael Staczynski; a man who had a penchant for exploring the mythology of characters and assessing their place in the world.
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
After Thor is awakened from his ‘death’ by his former alter-ego Donald Blake, who has been given his own form, Thor and Don once again begin sharing a body* and settle in Broxton, Oklahoma, where Thor hopes that he can use his powers to restore both Asgard and his fellow Asgardians to life and glory.
However, the world has changed significantly since Thor’s passing, and his quest to restore his kin is interrupted by Iron Man and his rules of registration, Don’s new job with the ‘Doctors without borders’, the manipulations of an unseen outside force and the horrible revelation that in his absence, disasters which he could have averted, such as Hurricane Katrina, have caused untold death and devastation.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
For the most part, yes.
While it does help to know the story behind-the-scenes, laid out above, this comic is basically a new starting point. The broad strokes of Thor’s life are laid out at the start, and once the character has been resurrected, the majority of the story is less focused on the current state of the Marvel Universe (with the exception of one issue, which in itself is very enjoyable even without context – but I’ll get to that later) and more focused on Thor’s quest to restore his peoples.
And while, yes, it may be useful to know who some of the Asgardians that are being revived are, but you can pick most of it up from context, or, conversely, if you’ve seen the movie Thor (also partially written by Straczynski, incidentally) or Thor: The Dark World, then the major players in this comic are all seen here. And any that aren’t featured in the film, but do feature in this comic, are mostly new creations. Essentially, as long as you know that Heimdall is a sentry who can see pretty much everything, Sif is a fierce warrior and love interest for Thor and that the Warriors Three consists of the dashing, swashbuckling Fandral, the tough, gloomy Hogun and the ever-hungry Volstagg, then you’re pretty much set.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
While there are a few small obstacles standing in the way of you fully understanding everything that’s going on with minimal knowledge, if you’re interested in comic-books, superheroes or Gods (and I assume you must be interested in at least one of those things, otherwise, why are you here?) then this is definitely something you should check out.
First off, the God aspect – this comic delves into a lot of the amazing mythology that surrounds Thor, but never in a way it seems overwhelming. His demonstration of power is always an awesome spectacle, and while it means there are rarely any real threats to Thor’s person, that is compensated for in other ways. Furthermore, in terms of super-hero stories, one particular highlight of this comic is the clash between Thor and Iron Man. I remember when I was in my final year of Secondary School/Sixth Form, and I was arguing who would win in a fight between the two characters with a classmate (the trailer for the first Avengers film was out at this point and we were both very excited). Having read this comic, I was confident that Thor would wipe the floor with Iron Man.
Because here, he takes Tony Stark apart (not literally) in, like, three hits. And it’s awesome. That’s how Thor should be; able to take out a large chunk of Earth’s costumed community if he feels like it. But he’s a good guy, so he doesn’t.
But perhaps you’re thinking, ‘well if he can just take down Iron Man with minimal effort, why would this be an interesting read?’, and that’s a fair question. Thor fights numerous people in this comic, none of whom are a match for him. But that’s not why the fights are interesting – they’re interesting because of what he’s fighting
Thor for. He’s fighting for family, for friends, to avenge the innocent, to enact justice. At the core of each of these battles, there’s real heart, and that’s why it’s worth getting invested.
Furthering that, the way this comic takes Thor to new and interesting places that aren’t just Asgard or New York is also a welcome treat. Basing Thor in Broxton allows for some fun little interactions with your everyday, small-town Americans (the dialogue alone is a real delight) and the contrast that comes from the culture clash between the Asgardians and the Oklahomans (?) shows Straczynski’s skill at witty writing.
Alongside that wit, there are also a lot of well-thought-out sombre moments, such as Thor reflecting on the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina or how one man can solve the war in Africa, God or not. While it may not be as bombastic or exciting as seeing him punch Loki or Malekith in the face, this is infinitely more interesting, and one of the reasons that comics about characters with incredible power levels (like Superman) can work, as long as they have the right writer.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that art is also a delight. Oliver Coipel brings so much juicy detail to his drawings and really does convey the power and Godly nature of Thor and his brethren to a fantastic degree.
All around, this is just a great comic-book. Definitely one of my personal all-time favourites.
*Basically like this:
But if Thor was a different person before he smashed his umbrella into the ground.