Editor's Note: Thor: Defining Moments Giant-Sized #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, November 25.
J. Michael Straczynski's career at Marvel has followed an interesting trajectory. Drafted in to revitalise the then-ailing Amazing Spider-Man title, he has since handled many of the company's most popular and iconic characters, such as Thor, the Silver Surfer, and the Fantastic Four. In addition to this, he's tried his hand at imbuing older, less well-known characters with fresh life in such series as Supreme Power and The Twelve (and DC seem to have recently taken notice of this talent, putting him to work in a similar capacity on their own older and more obscure characters in the Red Circle and Brave and the Bold series).
JMS's most successful works at Marvel have arguably been those that have suffered from the least editorial interference. His early Amazing Spider-Man issues with John Romita Jr., his underrated Silver Surfer: Requiem miniseries, his original Supreme Power "MAX" series and the first dozen or so issues of Thor all saw JMS produce some of his best work for the company. In contrast, his least enjoyable work has been that which seems to have been heavily influenced by editorial concerns. His run on Fantastic Four, his later Amazing Spider-Man stories (including "Sins Past", "Back in Black" and "One More Day") and the relaunched Squadron Supreme title all showed certain signs of promise, but were ultimately subjected to a substantial amount of editorial interference and forced crossover elements that detracted from their more positive qualities.
This interference often resulted in wholesale changes to plotlines (replacing Peter Parker with Norman Osborn as the father of Gwen Stacy's child; abandoning a causal approach to Mephisto's rewriting of reality in favour of a pick-and-choose mentality that allowed Marvel to revise Spider-Man continuity however they liked, internal logic be damned), and frequently demanded that JMS include fixed aspects of crossover stories that the writer clearly found just as ridiculous as his readers. One need only look to the absurdly fascistic Tony Stark or the woefully misguided Reed Richards in the Amazing Spider-Man/Civil War tie-in story for evidence of JMS' contempt for the outside elements that he was forced to incorporate into his work.
Straczynski has never been anything less than professional in his public relationship with Marvel--but he hasn't stayed silent on such matters, either. He has spoken more than once about how his visions have been compromised by the designs of his editors, with his storylines subjected to major changes at the request of those who oversee his work. Whilst this is part and parcel of a work-for-hire relationship for Marvel, it has always been clear that JMS prefers to work with as little editorial influence as possible, ploughing his own furrow and working with his own ideas: which is perhaps why Marvel decided to give him his own corner of the Marvel Universe to play with in the form of their relaunch of Thor.
After a considerable amount of time spent laying the foundations of an Asgardian epic with as little outside intrusion as possible (save for a gratuitous guest-appearance from Iron Man in issue #3--well, everyone was doing it at the time), outside elements gradually began to creep into the book, with "Dark Reign" tie-ins including a sudden relocation of Asgard from Oklahoma to Latveria, frequent appearances from Doctor Doom, and a guest-appearance from Norman Osborn and his "Dark Avengers" in the anniversary issue #600. And it's not over yet: the world of Thor looks to be the central location for Marvel's forthcoming Siege event, another crossover epic that we are promised will change things forever and break the internet in half.
Small wonder, then, that JMS has decided to pack up and leave Thor altogether (and possibly end his relationship with Marvel too, depending on whether he still has any scripts for The Twelve to complete for them), saying farewell to the title with this special finale issue.
If you've made it through that extended preamble, you'll probably be eager to learn whether JMS' big farewell to Thor is actually worth reading. Unfortunately, this issue feels like a disappointing send-off for a run that showed a lot of initial promise before being pushed off-course by Marvel's editorial machinations.
The story of the issue sees Balder uncover Loki's sinister plans for the Asgardians, at the same time as the God of Mischief conspires with Victor Von Doom to send killer robots after Thor and his friends. A brief fight scene ensues in which Donald Blake suffers a minor setback, and the stage begins to be set for the forthcoming Siege event.
There are a couple of enjoyable moments: the rage of Volstagg is simultaneously invigorating and hilarious; the final fate of Bill is poignant; and there's an amusing moment at the very end of the issue that, in conjunction with the title of the story, suggests that JMS might be making a sly dig at the inevitability of major characters like Thor drifting back to a fixed status quo, giving the lie to the "illusion of change" that's provided by Marvel's big crossover events.
There are also some great visuals from Marko Djurdjevic, whose artwork over the course of JMS's run has equalled the quality of Olivier Coipel's (and that's no mean feat).
However, considering the fact that this is JMS's final issue of Thor, there's a real lack of conclusiveness to the story. Numerous plot threads are left dangling, and there isn't any sense that Straczynski has been able to give his story a strong finish, instead letting the title amble forwards into whatever plotline Marvel has planned for it next.
What’s more, the main story of this "giant-sized" finale issue is only 22 pages long: the same as that of a regular issue. Yes, there's an increased page count (the back half of the issue consists of a preview of the next issue of Thor and a recoloured retro reprint), but if you're paying the full cover price of $4.99 for this special issue, I think that you'll probably be disappointed when you discover that Marvel are charging you extra for the pleasure of reading material that you could probably take or leave.
As Straczynski's swansong for Thor (and, for the moment, Marvel Comics), this is a disappointment, but as a highly-priced "special" issue it borders on insulting. It's a great shame that JMS's Asgardian epic had to end like this. Let's just hope that Siege is worth such upheaval.
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