Thursday, September 30, 2010


Thor #615

So this is the much-lauded first issue of Matt Fraction's much-hyped run on Thor. And I have to say, for one of the most heavily hyped debut issues in recent memory, this is a big ol' eh.

It's become de rigueur for reviewers, when discussing Thor, to state up-front that they don't really like Thor, or at least that they don't know Thor very well. I don't even need to link, because literally every single review of the new Thor I've seen (that wasn't written by Tucker or Chad Nevett) has featured the sentence: "I haven't read Thor since Walter Simonson," or the variant, "before JMS, I hadn't read Thor since Simonson." And then the reviewer says something along the lines that "Simonson casts a long shadow." Simonson's "long shadow" has become axiomatic. Which leads you to wonder, what the hell happened to Thor between 1987 and 2007? Was the character not published? Was he just pulled out of mothballs by JMS after having lain fallow for two decades?

No, there were a lot of Thor comics published in the intervening years, but most people apparently didn't read them. Regardless of the fact that, with the exception of a couple years in the mid-90s during and immediately after Heroes Reborn, Thor was published on a monthly basis for twenty years following the end of Simonson's run and preceding the beginning of JMS, no one seems to remember those comics at all. And I'm not trying to say that there was some kind of hidden Watchmen somewhere in the back 400s of his first volume or anything like that but . . . you know what? I'm that guy who read every Thor comic between Simonson and JMS. I love Thor. I've never, ever understood why Thor never got the respect I felt he was due. For years he was in the same boat as Captain America and Iron Man: languishing in semi-obscurity despite the fact that their books were still being published for decades; one of Marvel's undisputed heavyweights in terms of character prominence but not in terms of actual publishing priority. No one who worked on Thor ever got poached by Image (well, OK, Erik Larsen's first work was a fill-in issue of Thor, but you know what I mean). next to the "happening" books of the early and mid 90s, it was a creative backwater, old fashioned, staid.

After Simonson left the book, Thor eventually settled into the capable hands of Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz. Now, I have never read any articles on the topic, but it's conceivable that DeFalco got the job because no one else wanted it. He was Editor-In-Chief at the time and, given the fact that Simonson's run on the character was so immensely popular, it might have seemed like something of a poisoned chalice. How often does anyone talk about Denny O'Neil's run on Daredevil? But you know what? I loved DeFalco and Frenz's run. It was awesome. Sure, it wasn't SIMONSON, but it wasn't really trying to be. Simonson was all about giving Thor more of a connection to his actual mythic roots; DeFalco was all about pushing Thor back towards his Kirby roots. So yeah, you can definitely say that DeFalco's Thor was a Kirby pastiche - and later on the run, with the increased prominence of Erik Masterson's character, a bit of a Spider-Man pastiche as well - but pointing out that DeFalco does solidly retro-flavored superhero books with a strong Silver Age feel is a bit like pointing out that fish have gills and swim in the water.

But then, you know who else was also awesome on Thor? Roy Thomas! He's hardly fashionable anymore, but Thomas' run on the character, and especially the run of stories leading up to issue #300, was pretty damn cool. Reading those books, in hindsight, it almost seems as if Thomas predicted late-period Grant Morrison - there are so many ideas, such a plot-heavy density of storytelling, that those books are a real feast - three-course meals of stuff happening . Thomas, of course, devoted much of his run to absorbing Kirby's late 70s work - particularly The Eternals - into mainline Marvel continuity. The argument has been made that this was unnecessary, and that Kirby never intended for The Eternals to be anything other than a stand-alone series, but that ship sailed a long time ago. Fact is, Thomas was correct in guessing that the Celestials were perfect antagonists for Thor - insanely powerful Kirby space deities who could squish the most powerful god on Earth into a fine paste, if they could even be bothered to notice him. Thomas' run was one of his best at Marvel, and if you don't believe me just pick up a copy of Thor #300 the next time you see it in a dollar box. Tell me that's not everything you ever wanted in a comic book.

So, no, I'm not being reintroduced to Thor after a long hiatus. I've been around the block with Thor, and I have to say, the first issue of this new era of Asgardian adventure kind of seems - well, it's not bad, but no one should mistake this for anything new, either. The "Asgard is empty, the space has been usurped by dark gods from another pantheon of evil deities" was done back in the first arc of Jurgens and Romitas Jr.'s run in the late nineties.* Pasqual Ferry is a nice draftsman, but his design work is very sterile, and not very inspiring. I know all the double-page spreads and widescreen vistas are supposed to be cool and all, but seriously - how about showing Thor hitting something? You know, fighting some trolls or the Wrecking Crew or - something besides mooning around Asgard with Balder? Anything?

I'm not expecting something novel, but I am expecting something with some life in its bones. It's not hard. But for all his pedigree, much of Fraction's Marvel work has been remarkably staid. I know this is the first issue, he's just setting up dominos for later stories, etc etc. But you know, they said that about his Iron Man work as well, and it took a long time for that to get interesting, and it arguably only got interesting once a crossover intervened and changed Tony Stark's status quo so radically that the book became something else entirely. (And now that Dark Reign is over, Iron Man is settling back into its regularly scheduled naptime.) I'm not hopeful, basically. I just want a good Thor comic, and while this isn't a bad Thor comic, it's nothing new for anyone who's been reading Thor for as long as I have.

* This on the heels of JMS' "the gods are missing, they're hidden on earth in the guise of random mortals" plotline, which was straight out of the late 90s' short-lived Journey Into Mystery revival; plus, that same plotline was lifted by Neil Gaiman for his own Eternals revamp a few years ago. Are they really only so many ideas you can do with Asgardian gods and Eternals?

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