Thor – A Review

Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Art by: Olivier Coipel
Published by: Marvel Comics

How many times—Marvel Comics can you hear me?—how many times are we going to keep re-launching Thor? Seriously, you are screwing up my comic book collection with all of these updates and start overs. I get that you want to jettison some of the continuity issues that come with a title whose number should be around 600, but at some point, you ought to just switch writers and move on rather than start over at number one.

It’s pointless denying that I have a pro-J. Michael Straczynski bias (Book of Lost Souls, Squadron Supreme, Silver Surfer: Requiem). Still, other than Neil Gaiman, I can’t think of too many writers better suited to writing the return of Thor. Thor, continuity issues aside, is a character with a rich and deep mythos to draw from, which places him right in the wheelhouse of certain writers.

Thor has been off the scene for about three years, missing many critical Marvel Universe turning points, like The House of M and Civil War. Momentum has built for his return and issue one brings back not just Thor, but his main alter ego, Donald Blake. Some might complain about the book’s slow start, as Thor has to essentially question where he is and, more importantly, who he is. It’s an “all talk” issue and Straczynski’s character tend to speak with an exaggerated gravitas (which actually works better with a character like Thor). The set up is necessary as the reader, as well as Thor himself, is re-introduced to the character.

“We stand in the presence of a profound truth.” –Donald Blake

The thing that impresses me most about Straczynski’s take on Thor is that he remembers that Thor is a god. Kind of like when Peter David and Christopher Priest realized that Aquaman and the Black Panther, respectively, were monarchs. There is an arrogance, an air of superiority, that should be a part of their characterizations.

Thor as god-man intrigues because the incarnation is a profound truth and mystery. This is reminiscent of what is called Jesus Christ’s condescension in Philippians 2:5-11, the idea that God would take His essence, wrap Himself in human likeness, and humble Himself by coming from heaven to be like one of us on earth. To know passion, loss, pain, love. To know what it means to die. And just as Thor breaks the Ragnorak cycle, Christ broke the death cycle, of our going our own way, left to our own devices, with fear, doubt, and insecurity, trapped in a cycle of spiritual death.

“That kind of alone must be the hardest thing in the whole world.” –neighbor

Issue two of the series follows Thor’s attempts to rebuild and recreate Asgard. In other words, it is Thor’s search for his community. Perichoresis is one of those big theological words used to describe the concept of God as the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). It has the same root from which we also get the idea of choreography; except here it is used to describe the Trinity as a divine dance since each of the persons of the Trinity is always in movement together. Think of God as being complete unto Himself, the Trinity in eternal community–creating from an overflow of that dynamic love. He then created us to participate in this dance, to move in our lives in movement with His rhythm.

Thor is a series of small moments, characterization and plot in haiku, almost. Straczynski reduces the convoluted history of Thor to a few panels and brings him back clean. It’s such a low-key return of an iconic character, it may leave one a little befuddled. For example, I don’t quite know how I feel about the art of Olivier Coipel. It certainly has a cinematic feel and the Spartan story line thus far leaves plenty of room to show off his art work. The art is deceptively simple, effortlessly getting to the emotion of a scene without being bogged down in minutiae. The story is at once emotional, lyrical, mythic and delicate. That’s quite the balancing act for a character who basically does a “Hulk smash” routine while spouting Shakesparean-lite dialogue.

Rage Against Thor*

Yes, I know that I don’t believe in you, yet that won’t stop me from occasionally ranting about you. I can still blame you for everything that’s gone wrong in my life, for not being real to me like you are to other people. I can rage against my wanting to believe and my frustration at not being able to, and the futility (and facile nature) of faith. I have a problem with some of your followers, the institutions built up around you and some of the things done in your name. So despite my non-belief in you in the first place, I’m going to dedicate a good chunk of my thought life to you.

You have to realize some folks have to dedicate themselves to pointing out the faults of whatever it is we disagree with passionately. That’s what makes partisan politics such a special delight. Where would we be without the Rush Limbaughs, Ann Coulters, Michael Moores, and Al Frankens of the world?

Now some might say:

To love others means to characterize them; to caricaturize them (except when appropriate) is not to love our neighbor as ourselves. One of the first levels of critical thinking schools — and here I trade in being a teacher who has been asked to do far too much investigation of educational outcomes — is to learn to describe another person’s thoughts and beliefs (1) in their terms and (2) without evaluation. In other words, until a person can “characterize” properly, that person is not yet a critical thinker. If our attempts at characterizing end up in caricaturizing, we need to back off until our head cools.

I say, in grand retort, whatever.

It’s much easier to caricaturize a person, institution, or group rather than engage them. We all know that no person is much more than a collection of their faults, Thor, and someone has to keep reporting the weaknesses of the ideas people have built up about you and the litany of faults of the people who follow you. Otherwise, they might forget.

Thank Thor for people like us.

*Apologies to my friends who do worship Thor. This ain’t about you.

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