Monday, November 22, 2004

Best. Week. Evar.

So. Started new job. It’s pretty tiring. I’m not one to get too excited about jobs one way or another – it’s a job. I’ll do my work until I don’t have to, and then I get to go home. Hopefully it won’t last too long.

But there were other things this week besides lots of boring meetings with Human Resources people and safety training. Such as:

  • The Honda corporation deciding, in their magnanimity, to do about $2,000 worth of repair work on our CRV – for free – even though the vehicle was about 30,000 miles past warranty. Put a brand new head on the engine block because of defective valves.
  • Getting that new Nirvana box set in the mail for free to review. I’m not even that big of a Nirvana fan, but its cool to get $60 box sets in the mail.
  • Signing a lease for a new house that has heat, insulation, and a bathroom - which is three things more than we have now.
  • My wife’s strange but persistent goal of becoming a reality TV star has come one step closer to fruition. She doesn’t even like reality TV, but for some reason she wants to be on a show . . .
  • I dreamt I met Steve Ditko, which was very cool.

As the old saying goes, “when it rains it snows”. Doesn’t it just?

Still waiting on The Wife to sort through the contest entries. It’s been a rough week – be patient.

New remix up: this week we take a look at DC’s new Space Ghost #1, only presented in magnificent Coast To Coast-vision.

The Mighty Thor #80-85

There’s been a lot of talk recently in certain circles on the concept of narrative stasis as it applies to superhero comics: i.e., the ongoing, never-ending cycle of soap-operatic melodrama that fuels most modern mainstream titles. Some critics see this as a function of the genre’s inherent virtues, whereas others see this is a definite – and defining – limitation. I was very pleasantly surprised, as I sat down to read this recent, “final” Thor storyline, to find that a relatively straightforward engagement of these ideas was also wrapped tightly into the thematic core of what could easily have been an egregiously inauspicious Avengers Dissassembled crossover.

Most superhero concepts are predictably open-ended. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and all of their ilk can, in theory, keep on going until doomsday (as long as they are periodically updated). Marvel’s Thor is the notable exception. Because of the fact that Thor is at least somewhat accurately based on actual Norse myths, he also comes with a built-in expiration date, the fabled Ragnarok, twilight of the gods. I don’t have to tell you, however, that as grand as all this is in the mythological literature, it has become exceedingly mundane in the world of the Marvel Universe, where Ragnarok seems to occur with the frequency of every editorial change. Very rarely has a new creative team ever come to the book without having their very own Ragnarok – or near Ragnarok - story to tell.

This, as you can imagine, got pretty old a long time ago. You know that Marvel has no intention of permanently offing one of their most well-established (if least successful) perennial characters, so the threat of absolute cosmic devastation every few dozen issues is just laughable. How many times has Asgard been repaired by almighty Odin with just a wave of his royal scepter? I lost count a long time ago.

The difference here is that this story actually reads like an ending. Of course, I am not stupid: I know full well that Thor will be back in just a few months whenever they can figure out a satisfactory way to bring the character back. But that’s the thing: after this, they are actually going to have to work pretty hard in order to do that. Whomever is charged with bringing the character back this time might actually have to – gasp – do something a bit different. Considering how consistently unpopular Thor has been the past few decades, allowing only for moderate periodic spikes, tearing everything down to the ground might be the only way to ensure the character a viable future.

Thor is probably the hardest character out of the classic Marvel pantheon to do well. Just look at how many mediocre-to-bad Thor comics have been published in the many decades since Kirby left Marvel. Walt Simonson’s run is almost twenty years old. I am happy to report that Michael Avon Oeming and Andrea DiVito have produced the best Thor story since Simonson left the book all those years ago.

The key to their success has been a whole-hearted embrace of the icky mythological elements that compose the character’s backbone. Instead of playing up the superhero aspect, they chose to accentuate the character’s cosmic fantasy elements. That, as much as anything, grants the character a semblance of dignity that many of his peers could never hope to evoke. Sure, most of the fantasy elements in Thor are silly on the face of them, just as with the superhero elements – but when done well, they carry the imprimatur of Kirby’s indefinable cosmic grandeur as well as the source myths’ historical pedigree. Tellingly, this story stays closer to the actual myths than most Marvel interpretations of myth, including some of the gruesome depictions of Odin’s trials and death.

And there’s a lot of death here. This is pretty much the final ending, the last Ragnarok. Everybody, even Thor, dies in the end (I’m not giving anything away by saying that – the how if it is much more important than the what). This story actually tackles the recurring nature of Ragnarok, attempting to explain why their apocalypse kept happening, and why every time the Asgardian building blocks were put back together the results were always just slightly less convincing than before. You can only survive the end of the world so many times before people start to get suspicious.

In a very real way, this story is definitely evocative of Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomoorrow?, albeit with a starkly different tone. Every element of Thor’s forty-year history is systematically deconstructed, from his relationship with the Avengers to Beta Ray Bill to Warren Ellis’ brief tenure. But, if this makes any sense, despite the fact that everything is being taken apart and smashed into pieces, their intent is not to demean but to ennoble the character.

Thor has been taken apart and put back together so many times throughout the years, in the interest of keeping him relevant and attempting to gain traction in an increasingly hostile market, that the character was damn near broken. Sometimes the only way to save something is to allow it to die with dignity. Although, I must stress, this is undoubtedly not the last Thor story, it would be a very satisfying ending if in fact it was the character’s true swan-song.

There’s a danger for Marvel in writing such a good ending to a signature character. There is a dignity to endings that serial fiction characters can only experience vicariously: perhaps it would be nice if someone decided to actually let a character sleep the sleep of the just for a change.

Rejected Breakfast Cereal Mascots
(Number 10 in an ongoing Series)

Alma Redemptoris Mater, quae pervia caeli, Porta manes, et stella maris, succurre cadenti, Surgere qui curat, populo: tu quae genuisti, Natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore Sumens illud Ave, peccatorum miserere.

Arthur the Antidisestablishmentarian Armadillo

“The keys of the One True Church were given to Peter by the Lord, and it is not the prerogative of Man to abridge this Holy Covenant with Divinity . . . but it is the prerogative of man to eat Wonder Whoopie Crispers in a bowl of creamy milk. So let it be written, so let it be done!”

There was some confusion among tots about whether or not Wonder Whoopie Crispers were properly transubstantiated.

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