In the summer of 2007, Marvel took one of their longstanding characters that I’ve never particularly cared for and handed him over to J. Michael Straczynski, whose work I consistently enjoy. For the first time, I gave “Thor” a shot, based purely on the writer’s reputation. I can try to be coy, and tell you to read below to learn what I thought of it, but you may be able to guess by the simple observation that this is not one of the reviews I’ve been promising; for some reason, it jumped the review queue and got reviewed the day after I read issue 12.
Title: Thor #1-12
Author: J. Michael Straczynski
Regular art team: Olivier Coipel (pencils), Mark Morales (inks), Laura Martin (colours)
Fill in and assistant artists: Paul Mounts (colour assist on issue 5), Marko Djurdjevic (fill-in pencils for issues 7 and 8), Danny Miki (fill-in inks for issues 7 and 8, assist on inks for issue 9), Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic (fill-in colours for issue 7), John Dell (assist on inks for issue 9)
Cover Date: September 2007 – January 2009
Volume 2 is listed on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca, but it was solicited as issues 7-14. There won’t be issues 13 or 14; the next issue is due January 28, and reverts to the old numbering, so it’s issue 600. I’m betting (but haven’t yet confirmed) that issue 600 will include the content originally intended for issues 13 and 14, as Marvel’s website describes issue 601 as the perfect jumping on point for new readers, and it no longer lists the Thor Vol. 2 release in January, February or March. I’m betting on an April resolicitation, but that’s not yet confirmed. It certainly won’t be out on the January 14 listed release date, and may eventually be cancelled if you order it. Still, however and whenever you track it down, track it down.
The last time we saw Thor, Ragnarok had come to pass, and the Asgardians were gone. The Avengers were being disassembled, the Superhuman Registration Act wasn’t prominent enough to warrant discussion, and the Skrull plot had begun unnoticed. A clone of Thor cropped up during the Civil War, but the genuine article had been missing for some time. Mjolnir and Donald Blake had returned briefly during the Civil War and J. Michael Straczynski’s run on “Fantastic Four,” but the Thunder got himself had gone unseen for some time. Now he’s back, building a new and different Asgard in the heart of Oklahoma, restoring most Asgardians to their former place. Some have not returned to the flesh at all, while others have come back very differently.
Issue 12, for reasons that I should not divulge at this point for fear of spoilers. Instead, I will use an analogy to make the point.
My first serious exposure to “Babylon 5” was on DVD. I picked up season one based on reputation, and it took considerable time to work through the first few episodes. Then I hit “Signs and Portents,” episode 14 out of 23 (including “The Gathering”) and I was hooked. Suddenly the little moments that I’d been seeing for weeks were revealed to be much more important than I thought they were, and the level of planning was self-evident and irresistably alluring. The little moments and offhand comments were carefully chosen and positioned, and indicated significant events coming to a boil beneath the visible surface of the world Straczynski had created.
This early period of “Babylon 5” is much like these first 12 issues of “Thor.” Throughout the first 11 issues, the world is being built. Thor is returned, and then he brings Asgard. As he starts restoring other Asgardians, he faces Iron Man in the wake of the Civil War. Thor’s encounter with Stark seems to serve two purposes: first, it sets up Thor’s attitude towards the events which transpired in his absence, and second, seemingly allowing Straczynski to tell the reader “yes, Marvel runs a shared Universe, but for the next little while, Thor is staying in this corner and I’m telling his story on my terms.” Having seen what Straczynski can do with a large, mythological tapestry when left to his own devices, I kept reading each month (or so) as the pieces were positioned on the board, waiting for the major events to start. The issue 12 hit this week, and I had the same reaction as I had to “Signs and Portents.” Significant events are in motion, and have been for some time. The nature of Loki’s new form was easily predictable from issue 8 on, but there are at least two other revelations here that cast previous events in an entirely new light. The great thing is that I didn’t have a hint that there was more to those scenes than what I was looking at, having viewed the early issues as a series of character threads being laid adjacent to each other, running their own directions, and balancing their own agendas. As the events along each thread were important to that thread, I had to reason to believe otherwise. With issue 12, Straczynski gently tugs on a couple of those threads, revealing these seemingly parallel but independant threads to be a part of a much larger, sweeping, and (most importantly) singular tapestry.
I won’t say what those threads are, or when they were laid down. Just know that it’s all there, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t give it a chance.
As you can see by the cover dates, the title has been running late. I could deal with that up to this point, but now that I’ve read issue 12, I don’t want to wait anymore. I don’t even want to wait until January 28 for the next issue! I really hope the schedule can be maintained from now on.
This feels like the start of a very original and lengthy run. Fresh elements are present, but their full implications have not yet been revealed. Still, in my admittedly limited exposure to the character, I haven’t seen the character handled in this fashion. I give it 5 out of 6.
The artwork is solid. The fill in artists are generally working in styles very similar to the regular team, so the look and feel remain quite consistent. Action is clear, and characters are emotive. I give it 5 out of 6.
The story is what I’ve already started raving about, and I don’t plan to stop at this point. From the first issue, the story was interesting, but I didn’t yet find it compelling. There were hints at a larger plan, but they all related to the same aspect (Loki’s transformation) while several other aspects of the plan were quietly coming into place and positioning themselves for the future. I challenge anyone to read these first 12 issues and then walk away from the series without continuing. Go ahead and try. I give it 6 out of 6.
The characterization is solid, and adeptly and clearly handled for the major players, including Thor, Balder, Loki, Donald Blake and Jane Foster, as well as the peripheral characters, including Fandrall, Volstagg, Hogun, Sif, Odin, Bor, and the citizens of Broxton. All are treated with the honour and respect they deserve. The dialogue, speech patterns and expressions are all bang on, particularly where Loki is concerned. I give it 6 out of 6.
The emotional response is substantial now that I’ve read issue 12. Up until this point, I’ve been reading the issues as they come, without greatly anticipating them. I’ve never been a huge fan of the character, so I left it at that. Heck, that’s why I didn’t read the issue I bought on Wednesday until Saturday. Once I read issue 12 last night, I needed to tell someone about it, I needed to reread the series starting from issue 1, I enjoyed every page even more the second time through, and I needed to tell someone about it the instant I had finished the second read. If that’s not a fantastic emotional response, I don’t know what is. I give it 6 out of 6.
The flow is there, smooth and consistent. What at first appeared to be a slow build helped this category, even though it was later revealed to be a complex machinery with parts moving at a constant and subtle pace. I give it 5 out of 6.
Overall, this is a title I’d recommend to fans of Straczynski, serialed writing, Thor, comics, Babylon 5, surprises, mythology, or solid characterization. (Don’t worry if you’re only a fan of one item on that list; there’s enough of all of them to keep you happy.) In addition to those people, I also recommend it to anyone capable of reading the English language. If you read it in its collected form, don’t stop after volume 1; you’ve seen a lot more going on than you might realize. I give it 6 out of 6.
In total, Thor #1-12 receive 39 out of 42.