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Sunday Slugfest: Thor #1

Posted: Sunday, July 1, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

J. Michael Straczynski
Olivier Coipel (p), Mark Morales (i), Laura Martin (colors)
Marvel Comics
Editor’s Note: The first issue of Thor arrives in stores this Thursday, July 5.

Kelvin Green:
Luke Handley:
Shawn Hill:
Dave Wallace:
Thom Young:

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews discuss plot developments of the issue.






Kelvin Green

Right. First of all, a word about the armour. Thor’s a nigh-indestructible entity. He’s survived the literal end of his reality. What does he need chainmail for? When Walt Simonson put Thor in a suit of armour, there was a good reason; Straczynski has yet to provide a reason at all. To be fair, we don’t get through much material in this issue, so there’s still room for JMS to explain it. I’m not confident, mind.

And it doesn’t look too good either. Olivier Coipel’s a very strong artist, but I don’t know what he was thinking when he designed Thor’s glitzy disco suit. The criss-cross pattern has no texture to it and looks more like the result of an artist being lazy. It doesn’t even look like armour, more like a NASCAR jumpsuit. If NASCAR drivers were cabaret dancers on the side. Blech.

Ridiculous costume design aside, Coipel does a good job here. His Thor is an interesting deviation from previous depictions, shedding the pretty-boy looks for a more brawny and almost Neanderthal appearance, which is probably more appropriate now that I think of it. Coipel’s storytelling is strong, and while his Don Blake looks a bit young (and a lot younger than the fellow we saw in those diabolically awful Fantastic Four issues all that time ago), he does a great job with characterisation. We don’t get to see much action in this issue, but there’s a bit of a fight with some dream/afterlife things, and it’s solid work, so that bodes well, as this comic needs an artist who’s good at drawing Thor hitting oogly beasties very hard with Mjolnir.

As for the writing, well, it’s not the triumphant return I was hoping for. It’s just sort of there, and if I’m honest, it doesn’t hang together very well. There’s a great big slab of mystical mumbo jumbo which does a fair job of providing a reason for Thor’s return, but it’s far too ponderous and wordy, and while JMS has Loki Thor’s mystical guide go to great lengths to point out that it’s not a case of the cosmic reset switch being pushed, it certainly feels like it. There’s also a slight suggestion that Straczynski is rehashing his early Spider-Man issues here, with more talk of destiny and a slightly similar “invert the basic mythology” moment, although I may be looking too hard for flaws there. And then we have odd moments like the big lightning bolt signifying a dramatic change but then the plot not really going anywhere, or the “cliffhanger” in which Blake retires to a hotel room and turns into Thor. I’m not sure how a reader new to the character sees this, but to me it feels oddly disjointed and disconnected, and I feel as if I’ve missed out on something. I get the feeling that it’s supposed to be a dramatic climax, but I don’t know why it’s dramatic. We already know Thor’s back, JMS establishes that much earlier in the issue, so where’s the excitement? This comic feels obscure and incomplete where it should be exciting and epic.

This certainly isn’t a bad comic. It looks good, and there is an intriguing sense of mystery surrounding the direction of the title (although what JMS does reveal seems a tad similar to Gaiman’s Eternals), but Marvel have maintained for years that no one knew what to do with Thor, so they were going to rest the concept until someone came up with a thrilling new approach. If Straczynski has hit upon that great new idea, it certainly doesn’t show in this bitty and unconvincing issue.




Luke Handley:

Dr. Donald Blake is back in the Marvel Universe and the Norse God of Thunder isn’t far behind. After a prolonged absence, Thor is set to return. This has been foreshadowed for a while now, with Mjolnir’s planet-fall more than a year ago in the pages of Fantastic Four. That arc was advertised as part of “The Road to Civil War,” strongly hinting that the Thunder God would make his triumphant return during that event. Instead, we got some knock-off clone that blew a big hole in a big guy’s chest and was then literally ripped apart by a raging demi-god. This time though, it’s the real deal.

The idea behind this issue is not wholly original but is one that I’ve always liked: Gods don’t decide whether man exists, man decides whether Gods exist. Or, to put it another way, if enough people believe in someone or something then it finds itself brought into existence. Though the Odinson, the Norse Gods and Asgard all perished during Ragnarok, the need for a Norse Pantheon to satisfy the general populace’s beliefs is enough to drag Thor back from the void to which he has been confined since his “death.” Many fans complain about how characters don’t stay dead and that writers always find a back door to bring characters back when they want to write them. Given the number of high profile resurrections over the last couple of years from the Big Two, I can understand why some people would start to feel rather jaded by all this. However, the return of Thor in these pages does not come across as a cheap escape from Death’s domain but rather the inevitable return to the mortal realm of a timeless and immortal entity.

The greater part of the issue is set in the void, where Donald Blake found himself banished after Odin took away Thor’s original mortal alter ego. The explanation for his return to Earth left me somewhat puzzled; Donald Blake was a human whose body was taken over by Thor and whose consciousness was displaced by Odin. I confess to not knowing all that much about the history of the Thunder God’s relationship with the good doctor, but when Odin released Thor from his mortal bondage, shouldn’t Blake’s consciousness have returned anyway, long before the death of Odin? Blake’s narration successfully introduces the reader to Thor and provides a brief glimpse of his Asgardian allies. The idea that all the Gods could potentially return in the same manner as Thor and that Asgard might very well reappear on Earth if that is where Thor chooses to dwell is enough to leave me eagerly awaiting more.

I’ve always been a big fan of Olivier Coipel’s work. Despite its faults, I still found myself enjoying House of M, mostly due to his outstanding contribution. His art in these pages is equally impressive, as he gets to produce several beautiful splash pages throughout and he draws a mean Thor, even when he’s only wearing a nightshirt. I know that the new costume is not to the taste of all, but I like it. Having a God of Thunder running around with his underwear on the outside in the late nineties always seemed wrong. This new design retains the core features that make the character immediately identifiable whilst updating it for a modern readership.

Unfortunately, even if the new setup is promising and the art a joy to behold, for a debut issue this somewhat lacks substance. The excessive use of splash pages and drawn out narrative means the issue is over almost before it’s really begun. First issues are meant to set the scene, but this one doesn’t offer much more beyond that. However, this would work really well as the opening 24 pages of a trade paperback.

A good first issue that sets up an interesting premise and I can’t wait for the return of more of the Norse Pantheon and Asgard. Hopefully, future issues will deliver more fully on this title’s potential.




Shawn Hill

Comments: Thor’s back, but why, and what now?

This new debut looks great, but the most significant thing about the writing is that Donald Blake sounds for some reason a lot like the Architect from the Matrix movies. Like that droning bore, he’s got a one-track mind. Here his role is to be a chiding super-ego to the more emotional shade of Thor, whom he is calling back from oblivion, despite the finality of Ragnarok and Thor’s own enervation.

Has Donald Blake ever had much of a personality? Having other hosts or vessels for the spirit of Thor might have been the way to go, but this so far isn’t a very innovative reboot for the character. The biggest insight Blake has seems to be that it doesn’t matter that the gods think they’re dead if there are still humans who believe in them. Not a very original idea for pantheonic superheroes, but one that does succeed in highlighting the spiritual side of the Asgardians (who as often in the past have been treated like exceptionally powerful aliens rather than actual reflections and divine embodiments of human beliefs and cultures).

So Blake (rather homeless and friendless by the end of the issue, taking up residence in a small town of strangers, a drifter settling down for an indeterminate time) becomes the everyman who channels a powerful creature inside, only rather than an angry Hulk we get a golden-locked god with benevolent wishes. Thor’s idealistically simple and pure point of view is probably going to be at odds with the clay-footed humans he encounters.

The stately pace is in harmony with the handsome, sturdy art by Coipel, who has a powerful new vision of Thor (somewhat updated from the classic look) and who provides the slim excitements of the issue with glimpses of the Warriors Three, the Lady Sif, Beta Ray Bill and Valkyrie among others. Strangely, in this tale of return from the lands of the dead, there’s no glimpse of Hela – I suppose even that most fatale of femmes passed into nothingness after the final battle, but the implication is that all of Asgard awaits only a spark of faith to be re-ignited.

That can’t happen soon enough, because Thor and Donald Blake are too bland to continue without a colorful supporting cast and some enemies other than demons and Loki. Though it is a solidly constructed comic, this new number one doesn’t seem to have a fresh vision of the character. It’s yet another example of a recent trend to start new stories slowly. I actually miss the formula of dropping us into the center of the action and catching us up on the run, which seems to stem from olden days. Without an exciting plot, this return seems perfunctory.




Dave Wallace:

Thor has been out of the limelight for a long time in the Marvel Universe, so this first issue of his new series has a lot of work to do on two counts. The first is that it has to re-establish the character for readers who are new to comics and aren’t familiar with him; the second is to make all of us – new and old readers alike – care about his return enough to invest in a new ongoing book. On both counts, the issue just barely succeeds – but it isn’t quite the triumphant return you might expect for one of Marvel’s A-list superheroes. Much of the issue is dedicated to a conversation between Thor and Donald Blake, recapping the hero’s history and discussing his existence despite Ragnarok and the destruction of Asgard in the previous Thor series. Although JMS makes room for a little bit of action, with Thor fighting a group of evil meanies in limbo, this first issue is mostly concerned with the idea of Thor continuing to exist despite his death, and setting up the “new” status quo of his dual identity as Donald Blake. However, considering the amount of talk that we get, we’re given only the slightest of hints as to how Thor and Asgard are going to function in the modern-day Marvel Universe, and Straczynski struggles to give us any real insight into the character either. As such, new readers may find themselves bored by such an uneventful first issue, and it definitely doesn’t have the immediacy which is necessary to grab a new audience.

However, the book is redeemed to a certain extent by the visuals, as one major asset for this new series was always going to be the artwork of Olivier Coipel. Coipel’s pencils seem smoother here than they were in House Of M, and his storytelling clearer, with some delicate colours from Laura Martin which complement his linework well. There are some stunning moments in the opening montage of Thor’s past life – especially the opening starfield, and the epic scenes of Ragnarok – and the action that we do get treated to bodes well for future issues of the book (which will hopefully be less talky than this one). I also don’t have a problem with the updated character design for Thor - chain mail and all - as it functions as a decent update of a visual concept that looks a bit outdated now, without going to Ultimates-esque modern extremes.

This is a first chapter which doesn’t give much away about the direction that the book will take, but ushers Thor back into the Marvel Universe in an understated manner. JMS seems more preoccupied with the ideas of rebirth and godhood than he does with the actual personality of the character himself – and that doesn’t help this new title to get a grip on him, especially considering how detached and removed a “God” character has the potential to seem. That said, the artwork is solid, and Straczynski seems to be taking his time to lay a lot of groundwork for the character’s new status quo. I just get the feeling that the book hasn’t been quick enough out of the gates to make people care yet.




Thom Young:

Spoiler Alert! I am going to summarize the entire issue of Thor #1 in three sentences (albeit long sentences).

Ready? Here goes:
  1. For six pages, Thor and Dr. Donald Blake have a clichéd conversation in “the void” about the possibility of their renewed existence—with Blake eventually getting around to using the old cliché about how if Thor and the other gods still live in the hearts, minds, and souls of mortals, then they only need to be awakened.

  2. Thor then engages in a generic battle against generic demons (beautifully rendered by Coipel, but generic nonetheless) because “rebirth must be as painful as death” (it’s not clear what his battle with demons has to do with living “in the hearts, minds, and souls of mortals”).

  3. The issue ends with Blake walking silently down a rural Oklahoma highway, checking into a rural Oklahoma motel, and then pounding his stick on the floor—you know, so he can transform into Thor in a rural Oklahoma motel room.
Those three sentences are not just the framework around which is hung a story of great depth and complexity. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much more to this issue than what I’ve outlined.

Oh, okay. There was a fourth part that I didn’t outline. Before Thor and Dr. Blake have their cliché-ridden conversation, the issue opens with Thor narrating about how he was a man dreaming he was a god, and he was a god dreaming he was a man. He also tells us:
He has known passion.

He has known loss.

He has known the stars.

He has known pain.

He has known war.

He has known the end of all things.

And then he . . .

And then he . . .

And then they (Thor and Blake) . . . went to sleep.

And went away.

And were no more.

And then . . .

And then . . .

And . . .

Then. . . .

Someone picks up Mjolnir from the center of an impact crater and there is a flashing blast of light.
We get seven pages of that type of anaphoric narration—all illustrated beautifully by Olivier Coipel in large horizontal panels and splash pages.

What trite tripe.

I’ve mentioned in past reviews that my favorite movie is My Dinner with Andre—a film that is basically about two men having a conversation while they eat dinner in a Manhattan restaurant. In other words, I’m not opposed to a story in which nothing much happens in terms of action. However, there has to be something happening in terms of ideas.

In My Dinner with Andre, the dinner conversation is a nice blend of mundane chitchat that eventually leads to explorations of profound concepts. On the other hand, in Thor #1, we have a story in which nothing much happens in terms of action blended with trite narration and dialog in which clichéd concepts are discussed.

The only thing that saves this issue from a one-bullet rating is Coipel’s work. His illustrations are beautiful, and he demonstrates in a few of the panels that he’s capable of capturing the sublime epiphanic moments in which Thor’s divinity is manifested in the mundane world.

Unfortunately, Straczynski should have made the mundane moments in this story more original. If he had, this issue might have attained a sense of profundity like that which Alan Moore and Grant Morrison have each attained with similar material in Marvelman and All-Star Superman (respectively).

Instead, Straczynski seems to want us to be so dazzled by Coipel’s beautiful and sublime pictures that we will ignore his hackneyed text.



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