Thursday, January 25, 2024

Lessons in Humility: Ages of Thunder (Thor: Ages of Thunder #1, Thor: Reign of Blood #1, Thor: Man of War #1, and Thor God-Size Special #1)

It’s hard to write about Matt Fraction’s Thor. It looms oddly large in my life. His run was going to be big. It was going to be amazing. It was going to be fantastic. It was going to be one of those legendary runs that people talk about with a bit of awe and love in their voice for decades. The build up was huge, the wait was long. Firstly, for J. Michael Straczynski to wrap up his run, then for Kieron Gillen to tie off loose ends and, then, vamp for time. But, Fraction was coming! That was the promise! And, then, he came and... well, expectations are a right bitch. And living up to them just isn’t in the cards sometimes. If you weren’t there, it must all seem so silly. I feel silly when I write about it. I feel mean and unfair, and I don’t intend to be, but maybe I’m still hurt, unjustifiably I’d concede. The comics weren’t as bad as they seemed and the demand to be not just good but Great was unfair, even if it came from a place of love and excitement. And it did, I swear. None of us were sitting there building Fraction up, hoping that he would fail. I don’t think I’ve been quite as excited for a writer to take over a work-for-hire book, before or since. It was a specific sort of excitement and anticipation, because it started well before the gig was announced. I don’t know if it was always part of the plan or if it was because we demanded it. The fervor for Fraction writing Thor started over two and a half years before his first issue came out, which is an absurdly long time. So absurd as to be presumptuous on fans’ parts. Jeez, it was unfair, wasn’t it. How do you live up to two and a half years of waiting? I guess you don’t.

But, to be unfair one more time: it was kinda his fault for writing Thor: Ages of Thunder.

The first of three one-shots released in 2008, Ages of Thunder was a decidedly post-Ragnarok (the Michael Avon Oeming- and Daniel Berman-penned story) comic felt so fresh and new, so bold and confident. It began with the caption “IT IS THE ERA OF THE THIRD RAGNAROK,” while the second story (each one-shot had two stories) began “IT IS THE ERA OF THE ELEVENTH RAGNAROK.” That alone set it apart, leaning into the cyclical nature of the Asgardians, of their continued existence that ends with the gods dying and beginning anew. This wasn’t a superhero comic; this was a comic about Thor the myth. The Thor of stories. In that first one-shot, word balloons were rare as Fraction relied mostly on narrative captions to tell the story alongside the art, a complete break from a decade of dialogue-driven writing with few captions save ones that indicated a location. Ages of Thunder was so different from the monthly Thor comic – and everything else Marvel and DC were putting out.

Even the idea of telling stories of Thor’s past, of leaning into the mythology Viking god side of the character was something new at the time. Others had told stories of Thor in the past, interacting with Vikings or other people of Earth. Not many had done so with such brutality and ugliness. Of leaning into the idea that the gods were once everything that humans are, only bigger and more dramatic. Their highs are higher, their lows lower. It very much seemed like Fraction was coming at Thor and his world from a perspective we’d never seen before and that was exciting. We wanted more – and we got it two months later with another one-shot that continued the loose larger story that would connect all three issues. The third one-shot took several months and was followed quickly by a fourth, unrelated one that would actually be more of an indication at where Fraction was coming from. It’s a little surprising that the second two one-shots didn’t temper expectations and the demand for Fraction on the monthly book. The God-Size Special, in particular, seemed like a disappointment at the time. It’s not a bad issue by any means. It’s a loving tribute to one of the memorable moments of Walt Simonson’s run, the last stand of Skurge the Executioner (a moment so memorable and cool that it made it into a movie) that also ties up a dangling thread, of sorts, from the Tom DeFalco/Ron Frenz run. If you take the issue as it comes, it’s an entertaining read and has some great art by Dan Brereton (recreating the Simonson story) and Michael Allred (such a goofy chapter) amongst others. It also reprinted the original Simonson issue, Thor #362, so... how could you complain? When I read it now, I tend to look upon it pretty favourably. It’s the finale of the Ages of Thunder trilogy, Man of War, that gives me much more of a pause.

We return to expectations and reality, once more. In this case, it’s the expectations created by the story and the reality of how it plays out. The broader story of the Ages of Thunder one-shots is that the Asgardians are thoughtless and frivolous people. They are gods in their glory, making rash, short-sighted decisions that require them to find a rapid solution to the problems of their own making. Odin is arrogant and selfish, quick to blame others and to demand that he get what he wants. And, usually, what he wants is for Thor to fix things. And Thor does it. In that first issue, he saves Asgard from itself by killing Frost Giants at his father’s behest – but he also clearly understands that the reason why he’s needed is his own people’s foolishness, particularly that of his father. So, he’s resentful and usually not in much of a mood to celebrate saving his people. In Reign of Blood, Odin’s selfish lust puts both Asgard and Earth in peril, prompting Thor to act – only to be betrayed by the people he’s trying to save. The thrust of these two issues is that, yes, Thor grows cold and cruel, but it seems somewhat justified given that the problems he’s solving with his hammer are created by the people he’s saving. Who wouldn’t, after a while, grow tired of saving everyone from themselves? Particularly when the main cause of these issues is his own father, Odin?

From the end of the first issue, it’s clear that a confrontation between Thor and Odin is coming when Odin invites Thor to celebrate the return of Idun and her ability to cultivate the golden apples that grant the Aesir immortality, and Thor rejects the offer, saying “SOME OF US HAVE BEEN KILLING GIANTS TODAY AND AREN’T IN THE MOOD TO HAVE A TEA PARTY.” Artist Khari Evans gives Thor such a wonderful sneer as he says this, solidifying just how little Thor thinks of his father and the rest of Asgard in that moment. What are they celebrating? What did they do? What did Odin do, except beg his son to solve his problem? The issue ends with the following captions, which point to the eventual confrontation:




Reign of Blood only increased the conflict between father and son with two stories where Odin’s selfish lust nearly brings ruin down on Asgard. In the first, Thor is mostly a bystander, albeit one who makes it clear that he knows that Odin and Loki need to find a way to clean up their own messes; in the second, Thor goes to Earth to defeat an army of the undead. It requires creating a Blood Colossus, this monstrous creation of dirt and metal and lightning with Thor at its heart. It takes forty days and forty nights for Thor to defeat this army of the undead and, before he goes into the Blood Colossus, he tells the people of the village he’s helping to save, that he needs his horses to win. That, though they will die, if the people drag their bodies onto a fire and burn them, they will be reborn the next day. No matter how hungry they are, they must resist eating the horses. It’s the one thing Thor asks. Loki, of course, convinces them to eat the horses and, upon saving the village and discovering that they had eaten his horses, coupled with the long and weary battle he’d undergone, he, ah, gets a bit angry, brings down rain and floods, creates a new horse, and vows to bring down a rage on humanity unlike any before. This is where things begin to turn with the third issue, Man of War, having Odin send his Valkyries to stop Thor (until they unite against a common enemy) and, then, suiting up in the Destroyer armour to fight his son directly.

The thrust of the story up until the end of the second issue is one where Thor’s diminishing patience for those around them seems justified. We see Odin and Loki make choices that are poor and require Thor to act to right matters. Odin’s choices come from arrogance and selfishness; Loki’s from envy and maliciousness. The result is that Thor is beyond his breaking point and the third issue’s resolution is to cast Thor as little more than a child throwing a temper tantrum in sore need of a lesson in humility. It may be that Fraction’s perspective is not that of Odin, but it is the dominant (and victorious) perspective in the comic. There’s a coupling of ‘humility’ with ‘cheerful obedience’ that’s difficult to accept.

Perhaps, that discomfort is where this comic needs to live. There’s a genuine sense that Thor is treated unfairly by his father who decries his son’s lack of humility while displaying only arrogance and selfishness. The issue ends with Odin besting Thor in battle and, then, stripping him of his godhood and sending him to Earth in the body of a human who tends to the sick while suffering from a weak and handicapped body: Arkin Torsen. In the end, we see that Odin sending Thor to Earth to learn humility is just another element of the cycle. It’s a cruel sort of ending that never sits right with me, particularly the final captions: “IN SHORT, THE MAN KNOWN AS ARKIN TORSEN WAS KNOWN FOR HIS HUMANITY. / IT WAS A START.” I hesitate to call that a ‘happy ending,’ yet it’s clearly portrayed as a positive ending. One where justice has been served on a brash, young god who should have just shut up and did what he was told with good humour. It’s a disconcerting sort of ending, because Thor’s rage at the end of the second issue and beginning of the third is excessive and needing someone to curb it. Yet, it was the choices and actions of Odin and Loki that brought him to that point, and they suffer not even no consequences, but no recriminations. Taken on its own, you would think that Thor’s anger was rooted solely in the arrogance of a young god who has overreacted to a minor slight.

The stories told in these issues are not fair or nice ones. People suffer unjustly. The Frost Giant that Thor kills at the end of the first issue is tricked by Loki’s schemes just as much as Thor is in the second issue, for example. And he dies anyway. That Thor suffers an unjust fate with no regard for what caused his rage is not necessarily out of place with the overall tone of the issues. There is little fair or just in these pages. All there is, truly, is the idea that the strength and will of the mighty dominates that of the weaker. And that’s what happens, in the end. Odin is more powerful than Thor and that might is the true decider of who is arrogant and in need of a lesson, and who is justified in their actions. It’s as much a part of that ‘bold, new approach’ to the character that I mentioned above as anything.

That the different stories all take place across different eras of Ragnarok firmly places these stories within the idea that Thor and the Asgardians are inextricably tied to cycles. These stories form one larger one spread out across different cycles of existence, suggesting that these events repeated themselves again and again, confirmed by the final pages of Man of War where Thor becomes a man clearly meant to allude to Donald Blake, hundreds of years before Blake existed. These are recurring mythical stories where the events are somewhat divorced from typical motivations as we know them. These characters are less characters than roles that they inhabit by decree of fate. Odin is the arrogant patriarch; Loki the trickster that no one trusts yet everyone tolerates; Thor, the brash young god. It doesn’t matter why they do the things that they do, they just do them and events play out as they will. Fraction revisits this idea, in a subtle manner, in his Thor run when Thor resurrects both Odin and Loki, seemingly for no reason other than he misses them and wants them back. You could place that in Fraction’s recurring theme of family, or that, even though Thor has broken the cycles of Ragnaroks, there is some generational memory that he can’t escape. He can’t help but recreate these familiar roles and situations as displayed here. How many times must Loki betray them? How many times must Odin rage at Thor’s arrogance while displaying his own? How many times must Thor get over himself and do what’s ‘good for Asgard?’

Despite the frustrating third issue, Ages of Thunder remains a startling work, one that clearly influenced the Thor comics that came after Fraction. You don’t get much of the Viking metal elements of Jason Aaron’s run with these comics. Nor even the bleak Thor of Donny Cates. Look closely enough and much of what Fraction did as the writer of the ongoing monthly book is foreshadowed here. But, these comics exist outside of continuity. When was the era of the third Ragnarok exactly? Or the eleventh? Or the twenty-third? I know when Fear Itself takes place, though. Ages of Thunder raises expectations and promised a bold, new perspective for Thor, even if it’s one that isn’t compatible with mainstream corporate superhero comics. Sometimes, in hindsight, you can see everything that led to a specific place and, still, someone has to get punished, has to fall, has to get a lesson in humility.

Sorry, Matt. I’m trying.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Because: Roy the Boy in 94/95 (Thor #472-489, annual #19, and Avengers annual #23)

The ultimate test in the limits of nostalgia is facing a formative work in your life after years of distance and seeing that is an absolute piece of shit. This was the first full Thor run that I read month in, month out, and it’s terrible on nearly every level. Every creative element shows brutally basic flaws throughout. It is directionless, meandering, contradictory, riddled with basic technical errors, and could easily be held up as everything wrong with Marvel Comics in the mid-‘90s. I remain baffled not that it’s a run of a year-and-a-half (containing two anniversary issues and two annuals, making it feel ever-so-much longer) but that it happened at all. Looking at the run, I can’t quite understand the confluence of events that would lead to a monthly Thor comic written by Roy Thomas and drawn by MC Wyman. With all of the creative options available... this?

The beginning (and end, to an extent) of what makes a great Thor run rests on the title character. As much as Thor is sometimes about the world around him, it is still his comic and everything is grounded in him. From the first issue of the run, it’s apparent that Thomas has no strong vision of the character, of what motivates him, and where that might lead. Beyond some of the vague pieces that make up the character or inform him, like butting heads with Odin, Thor flits through this entire run from one moment to the next, either reacting to events or making choices devoid of any reason. Why he does anything is a mystery. In the opening issue, he awakes from a deep weeks-long sleep, recovering from his mental break, dreaming of Ragnarok, and promptly declares that he’s headed for Earth with a pissed off “HANG MY DUTY -- AND HANG ALL ASGARD!” Ostensibly, this results from chaffing under Odin’s authority and his meddling, the very reasons given for the emergence of Valkyrie and the entire previous year of Thor comics. This issue literally could have been Thor #460. Perhaps, that was the goal: post-Tom DeFalco/Ron Frenz Take 2. Pretend that Ron Marz and Jim Starlin never happened. But, at least they had a plan. At least there was logic.

All Thomas offers up are the High Evolutionary, his Godlings, and references to older, better stories. But, to an extent, that’s what Thomas has spent a career churning out: references to older, better stories. Why should this, his final run in the Marvel Universe be any different?

If you’ve never heard of the Godlings, renamed the Godpack partway through the run, it’s because they never appeared again after this run. In fact, save one guest appearance in a Thomas-penned issue of Fantastic Four Unlimited, their only appearances are in these issues. Yet another High Evolutionary experiment, they rehash the beings from the DeFalco/Frenz run where the scientist used gods as his templates. Patterned after different Asgardians, the High Evolutionary uses the corpses from a prison bus crash to create his new pantheon, supplanting his latest versions of human/animal hybrids. Thor comes across the two groups in a survival of the fittest brawl set up by the High Evolutionary. And the Thunder God decides to tag along, because... Ah... because. Get used to that word showing up. It is the only reason you’ll ever get for any and all choices made by pretty much every character – and even the writer. Because. Full stop.

From there, Thor comes and goes from the High Evolutionary and Godpack. Flitting between them and whatever randomness grabs his attention. In many other instances, Thor in a separate location would transform the comic into an ensemble piece, splitting time between Thor and the Godpack, almost acting as a ‘backdoor pilot,’ of sorts into their own series. That doesn’t happen here. Beyond Blitzanna, the yellow lightning Godling patterned after Thor, none of the group are given much of a personality and hers barely expands past ‘combative.’ She resents Thor and the way that he overshadows them, her in particular, along with her lack of memories of her previous life. That’s the sum total of her character and she’s, by far, the most developed of the bunch. Deeper into the run, after they’ve already defeated an Ani-Mutants (new term for the New Men) led by a returning Man-Beast (now called Karnivore) and have moved onto their predecessors in space, one of the Godpack betrays the group and it means nothing. There’s no reason to care, because the betrayer never had a chance to connect with readers, making his betrayal affect them in any way. Moreover, it’s inconsequential aside from adding another story beat to the conflict. It recalls Count Tagar’s previous betrayal as the entire story recalls earlier, better stories. The last time that Thor went into space with the High Evolutionary and his god-like creations, it was at least to help his friend, Hercules 60-ish issue previous. Here, after much cajoling to get an explanation, it’s a vague threat to Earth, maybe.

That conflict plays out in the anniversary issue 482, marking the 400th issue of a Thor comic (treating Journey into Mystery #83 as if it were issue 1), and it begins with the ultimate in meaningless references: an attack by the Kronans, or, as Thor explains, “THE ALIEN RACE WHOM I ONCE KNEW AS THE STONE MEN OF SATURN!” Apparently under the thumb of the New Immortals, their attack is quickly defended and their use in the issue is only to cause us to go “Oh, just like in Journey into Mystery #83! The first appearance of Thor! I get that reference!” Were it the only such instance, it might be a bit of fun; instead, it’s a run made up of such instances to one degree or another. The third issue is a sequel to the story of Mogul of the Mystic Mountain from the Kirby/Lee run that ran as a backup, told in flashback, because. Jane Foster returns, becoming the tutor once again of the High Evolutionary’s animal creations, because. Odin uses Red Norvell as a stand-in for his son in the advent of Ragnarok, because. The origin of Thor and his relationship to Donald Blake is revisited and revised, because. Blake is discarded as a bit of magic when convenient, because.

The Donald Blake retcon is the most egregious and unnecessary one in the run. During the battle at Wundagore with the Ani-Mutants and Karnivore, Thor comes across a cavern that looks identical the one where Blake found the stick that transformed him into Thor – and there is a man who looks like Donald Blake frozen, about to strike a stick against a boulder just as happened in Journey into Mystery #83. It turns out, this is Donald Blake. The real Donald Blake. That whole story about Odin creating a human guise out of nothing, patterned on Keith Kincaid, was a lie. The whole story about Odin sending Thor to Earth to teach him humility was a lie. Instead, in what can only be called the only consistent through line in this run, it stemmed from his fear of Ragnarok and Thor dying before that event finally befell the gods. After Thor’s death was prophesised, Odin sent his spirit to dwell within Donald Blake until the time of his supposed death passed and, then, Odin arranged for the events of Journey into Mystery #83 to transpire. At the moment when Blake struck the boulder, Odin set Thor free, and moved Blake to that cave in Mount Wundagore, forever to be frozen. The kicker? This is partly an explanation for why, over time, Blake was drawn less lean and more muscular. It’s a retcon to explain artists drawing the human alter ego of Thor with too many muscles.

It is that revelation where it’s obvious that there’s nothing here. If ever you needed proof that there is no line between ‘fan fiction’ and official, in continuity, published by the real deal works, it’s this fucking run of Thor comics. Roy the Fanboy brings back Donald Blake, once again revising the origin of Thor, so he can justify, in continuity, the way that superhero comic artists tend to draw people more muscular than they should be. What are we even doing here, people? This is the peak moment of a career devoted to bullshit like this, forever trapped in the past and finding new ways to take those things that he’s obsessed over and use them again and again and again. And why? What did this add to Thor? How did this make him better? It’s so completely ignored that I would be shocked if you were aware of this retcon unless you read these comics – and, honestly, even then, leaning that you had no memory beyond a vague sense of ‘awful’ wouldn’t surprise me. Even within the run, it becomes meaningless after seven or eight issues when Blake magically absorbs Thor, is destroyed when Thor is let loose, and, then, revealed to be a magical construct created by Loki’s wife after she accidentally killed the real Blake after Odin put him in Wundagore. Of course. A retcon so pointless and devoid of meaning that even Roy Thomas retcons it half a year later. Except not entirely. His little spin on Thor’s origin still remains. Even ignored by every single writer that followed him on Thor, it’s still there. His little doodle in the corner of a panel from the Kirby and Lee run that you can’t erase without making a bigger mess of things.

What’s funny is that there’s a sense that Thomas knows that these are bad comics as he’s working on them. The main threat of the New Immortals is the ‘evolved’ Analyzer (formerly the Recorder) that calls itself Deus Ex Machina. There are frequent self-deprecating bits in the dialogue (he, like most of us, did not seem to be a fan of Thor’s new costume that debuted in issue 475) of various plot points and characters. A recurring idea in the latter part of the run is spirits influencing the actions of characters or possessing/controlling them outright, causing them to do things completely out of character, and, if that is not the perfect metaphor for this run, I don’t know what is. All I can think is that he got the gig and kept hoping that a real idea for what to do would occur to him and, until it did, he’d play off old stories and hope that it wasn’t too bad.

Were Thomas’s failings all that marred these comics, the run would be salvageable. Instead, most of the run is drawn by the art team of MC Wyman, Mike DeCarlo, and Ovi Hondru in a bastardised attempt at something approximating the work of the Image founders. In some places, I see Liefeld, in others Lee... but lacking their flair for dramatic, eye-grabbing layouts and storytelling. Too often, the storytelling is muddled and difficult to parse with Thor reaching Hulk-like proportions. The colouring work of Hondru (credited usually simply as ‘Ovi’) does few favours, often getting details like hair or costume colour schemes wrong, confusing one character for another when the line work is fairly clear. It’s almost as if the art is as directionless as the writing, unsure of what it’s trying to accomplish on the most basic of levels. There’s a lack of quality control that shows in every issue, which is, ultimately, the fault of editors Ralph Macchio and Mike Rockwitz.

The one aspect of the run that works is Odin’s obsession with Ragnarok. This is enough of a recurring element of the character that it never seems like a forced allusion to the past. Odin’s actions being dictated by the eventual Twilight of the Gods ebbs and flows, and that facing an insane Thor that he nearly had to kill might bring about a new bout of Ragnarok obsession makes sense. For a moment in that first issue, it seemed almost like Thomas was going to have Thor join him. After all, the run begins with Thor dreaming of Ragnarok and his eventual fight with the Midgard Serpent. Right up until he declares his intention to go to Earth, there’s a sense that the dream and his experiences with Valkyrie would cause a renewed fealty to Odin and Asgard. Instead, his departure causes Odin to prepare in new ways, like bringing back Red Norvell as the new Thor – and treating him as his son, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that there is any other Thor (despite Beta Ray Bill pledging himself to Asgard). Even the Donald Blake retcon is rooted in his Ragnarok obsession. While I find this version of Odin a little tiresome, it’s a portrayal that makes sense and is the sole bit of consistency in the run.

The final two pages of issue 489 are so baffling as to amuse in how quickly Thomas returns things to something approaching a status quo. Sif returns to Asgard just as randomly as she left it to be at her love’s side, while Thor also quits the Godpack with as much reason that he gave for joining. It’s a rare feat to give off the impression that you had more to say on a title while saying so little of substance over the course of a year and a half. The point that I keep returning to is that Thomas references the works of others frequently and the paradox of that is the affection he clearly has for the work of Kirby, Lee, and Simonson, while not necessarily having much of an opinion on Thor. By the end of the run, it’s apparent that Thomas never had anything worthwhile to say about the character aside from “I’ve read a bunch of Thor comics that I sure did like!” As much as superhero comics fandom seems to think of one of their own taking over the creative direction of a book as a requirement for it to stay true to what it really is, while a writer who says that they’ve never been a fan of the character is the sign of a mercenary just as likely to deviate from what you love about the character as not, there’s something worse in delivering a creatively vacuous run under the auspices of being a loving fan. It’s ugly and cynical and sad.

This was the first full run of Thor comics that I read and owned. I read and reread these comics and, eventually, when I was moving, I tossed them. Eventually, memories faded and they were reprinted across two Epic Collections that, as the writer of Thorsday Thoughts, I had to have. To be a completist. To be a fan. Because. Fuck me.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Embracing the Past: Thor: Godstorm #1-3

Published in the tail end of 2001, this three-issue prestige format (32 pages each with no ads and a cardstock cover) is by Kurt Busiek, Steve Rude, Mike Royer, Greg Wright, John Costanza, and JG of Comicraft and takes place in three different time periods with a framing story. Before reading it, part of me was somewhat shocked that it wasn’t part of that wave of Thor reprints that happened around the release of Ragnarok. Busiek and Rude with Royer on inks seems like the sort of thing that a lot of folks would be interested in. I’ve never actually heard much about Godstorm. I’ve always been awake it existed and was on the look out to pick it up, but that’s about it. Having read it now, I kind of get it. I’m forced to damn it with the worst praise you can give something:

It’s fine.

Parts of it are better than others. On the whole, it’s a perfectly solid Thor comic and that’s a little disappointing. I think it’s a matter of expectations. You see those three names on the cover and you’re expecting something really special. The sort of book where you’re confused about the lack of recognition for it. It’s very much a love letter to the character and the Kirby beginnings of it. The conceit of the story, which follows the returning menace of a rogue storm that was turned against Thor by Loki once upon a time, is a solid one and suited to a three-issue story like this. From the beginning, the pacing seemed off in that the three time periods aren’t divided evenly, but spaced somewhat randomly with the first one taking up half of the first issue, the second one taking up the second half of the first issue and three quarters of the second, and the third one taking up the final quarter of the second issue and the entire third with some of the framing story elements interspersed around and in all three time periods. That roughly spaces out the final two time periods taking equal space with the earliest roughly two-fifths that size. To an extent, that makes sense given that the earliest story is akin to a “Tales of Asgard” backup almost compared to two full-size adventures. Conceptually, I understand it; reading the comics, it doesn’t feel right.

The choices of time periods is part of the problem. From the Rude-painted covers to his luxuriating in Kirby-ness interiors with Royer, an artist whose name conjures his work as Kirby’s primary inker in the 1970s, the third time period, taking place during the Dan Jurgens Thor run, seems out of step with the other two. Rude and Royer doing a “Tales of Asgard” style story and, then, a large story during the early days of the Avengers (ask Busiek and he’d probably tell you exactly where in Thor and Avengers continuity that part takes place) is pure Kirby-in-the-Marvel-Age stuff. It looks and feels like it’s trying to live in that period to a large extent and to have that feeling continue on to a period marked by modern art styles (Thor #41 came out the same month as Godstorm #1 and featured Stuart Immonen as the penciller) without any change or adaptation, while giving the book a sense of visual cohesion, also gives it an inauthentic feeling. I don’t mean for Rude to change his style as, despite my saying that he and Royer are in ‘Kirby mode’ here, Rude’s style is Rude’s style. A hybrid of Kirby, Alex Toth, Paul Smith, and others, Rude looks like Rude. No, I’m talking about the approach to the page in layout.

Aside from the Avengers sequence at the end of the first issue, which is almost entirely in the two by two layout, most of Godstorm is in a two by three six-panel layout, or is there as the default layout that Rude plays with by dividing or merging panels. Only a handful of pages break from that basic layout outside of the Avengers sequence. Even though Rude plays with that two panels per tier, three tiers per page layout throughout the series, it’s obviously there and is a key visual marker. Along with the two by two layout that I’ve often spoken of associating with “Tales of Asgard,” it’s a common Kirby default, because it provides a good base for churning out pages. Six panels per page is a good number to give room for solid action beats, a couple of word balloons, and not leaving the reader feeling like they’re flying through the issue. Again, the association with Kirby’s approach to Thor (and other Marvel comics) when drawing stories during/around the first two time periods makes that continued approach in a then-contemporary Thor story feel temporally out of step. While Rude’s style always echoes the past a little, the inventiveness in layouts and panel compositions in a work like Nexus always looks fresh and exciting. The third issue of Godstorm does not. The entire project looks and feels like something out of the past, yet over a third of it takes place in the (then) here and now!

Maybe the problem is, as I said earlier, expectations. Despite runs on Iron Man, Avengers, and Thunderbolts, Busiek’s involvement at Marvel always seemed inseparable from his strong knowledge of continuity, to the point where even present-day runs felt like they had one foot in the past. He’s the Marvels guy. The Untold Tales of Spider-Man guy. That’s unfair and it is what it is to an extent. Add in Rude on art, he was in the middle of a streak of small projects like this for Marvel that either took place in the past or played off past stories in a big way. Out of those projects, this is the only one where Royer inked Rude (aside from a story in Fantastic Four #50 in 2002) and is the most heavily Kirby-based. It’s a project dead set on evoking the past, with the first two issues largely taking place in the past, and this seems like a project rooted in the lost cracks of continuity. And it is. To the point where the final third seems incongruous even though it features numerous elements that fit cohesively with the two first issues. Rude and Royer’s art is incredibly consistent, while Busiek builds up themes and plots that make sense as they follow one another. It’s a disconnect between what makes sense intellectually and what feels off. I hate leaning on words like ‘feels’ and ‘seems,’ yet can’t avoid it because so much of why you like or dislike something comes down to those words. This is an exercise in trying to make sense of it all.

The framing story takes place in the year 912 in a village on the coast of the North Sea. An old, wiry man tells stories of Thor to two young boys (who resemble Thor and Loki somewhat). The first story is from the past and explains how the leader of their village’s family came to possess a piece of Mjolnir that hangs on a necklace, passed down the generations, while the next two have the old man divine the future and tell two more stories based following up on the events of the first one. A storm led astray by Loki is the continuous villain through all of the stories, taking different forms, and acting as an anchor, of sorts. The first story is very much a simple one, laying the foundation with Thor pissing off Loki, Loki taking revenge by turning one of his own storms against him, and Thor being forced to exert his power and imprison the storm deep in the sea. During this story is when a piece of Mjolnir is broken off and Thor gives it to the brave Vikings that assisted him.

The second story is the exact sort of story that you’d expect from this project, taking place sometime during the first year of Avengers with the lineup of Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Giant-Man, and Wasp. Introducing a new villain, the Weather-Maker, it almost comes off like Busiek decided to do a one-off “Untold Tales of Thor” story. Were it only the Avengers taking down a previously unknown villain, it would be an entertaining story; Busiek, though, adds in elements from Thor’s solo adventures when, the object of the villain’s affection (he’s a complete incel) is gravely injured, Thor must use the skills of Dr. Donald Blake to save her life in defiance of Odin’s call for his son to return to Asgard due to a conflict with Trolls. Obviously, Blake saves the woman and Thor incurs his father’s wrath. Meanwhile, in prison, the Weather-Maker uses a hidden piece of his weather technology and accidentally summons a portion of the long-imprisoned storm that merges with him/imbues him with power, creating a new villain, Torrent. The second half of this story has Thor making a deal with Odin to return to Earth to handle Torrent under the condition that he will return in time to parlay with the Trolls or Loki will take his place as Crown Prince of Asgard; of course, Loki has betrayed Asgard, is working with the Trolls, and they attack the Asgardians prior to the parlay, leaving Thor looking like he has failed his home again. Somehow, Thor manages to defeat Torrent in a manner that also defeats the Trolls, and all is well, while the small part of the storm returns to the whole, still deep in the sea.

The third story has Jake Olsen on a cruise to Norway and friendly with a woman on board. She’s visiting home and it met by her brother, an off-shore oil driller who was meant to be a fisherman like his father before him. The choice to be something different has caused a big family rift. The man’s drilling frees the imprisoned storm and Thor must battle it, while saving the lives of the drillers. Loki gets involved and betrays the storm, but all is made right by the end, including the family rift – and we learn that this family are the descendents of the leaders of the village where the framing story takes place. And, then, we learn that the old man telling the stories is, in fact, Odin. Ta-da.

On the whole, it’s a cohesive story with the recurring antagonists of Loki and the storm and, the theme of fathers and sons with different expectations and desires. The middle story is the most successful in its attempt to both tell an entertaining, compelling story and act as a bit of a ‘love letter’ to the Kirby/Lee run. Rude, coupled with Royer, manages to capture the feel of Kirby quite a bit. Although Rude’s line work is a lot softer and rounder than Kirby (few jagged lines from Rude), there are a lot of places where he lives inside Kirby’s style and gives it his own spin. He’s fantastic at those Kirby panels where you get a character’s face that highlights the asymmetry, one side looking somewhat normal, while the other is completely unhinged. Kirby’s Thor also slowly grew over the time, never to the muscular size of subsequent artists and Rude captures that lean power of the early Thor. Additionally, his take on the Trolls is pure ugly Kirby with square/rectangular heads and the closest to hard, sharp line work. Busiek couples that with the recurring ideas and themes of that run, the conflict between Thor and Odin as the son emphasises the importance of his time on Earth (where his father sent him) against the father’s insistence that Asgard should take priority at all times. The weird bargain where Loki would become Crown Prince should Thor not return in time is such a hoot that I’m surprised Lee and Kirby never did it. The middle story very much could have been released as a single one-shot and been incredibly successful in its nostalgic love.

The third story doesn’t just suffer from Rude’s strict adherence to the Kirby style and page composition that doesn’t suggest a change in time, but in that it’s a fairly generic Thor story. Nothing much is at stake for Thor beyond saving innocent people and defeating the out of control storm and Loki. Where the first story is like a “Tales of Asgard” short in its brevity and simplicity, and the second is an “Untold Tales of Thor” in all of the best ways, the third is your ‘random issue of Thor that means nothing at all except for how it reuses some stuff from some old comics and doesn’t actually do much with them.’ If it wasn’t part of this project and was just released on its own, I’d be tempted to call it a bad attempt to do what Kurt Busiek does so well when he pulls in bits of old continuity for modern stories. Aside from the thematic connection with the father/son and wrapping up the storm story, there is no true point to this third part. It so genuinely underwhelming and unnecessary that I do wonder if Godstorm would have been better served by eliminating the third story/issue altogether and finding a way to either be a 64-page one-shot or only two issues. I wonder how much my reaction to Godstorm would be changed if that had been the case.

What I had hoped would be a bit of a lost classic turned out to be a little more complicated. I admire the skill and concept of Godstorm more than I enjoy reading it. If it stuck to the idea of being a lost story from Thor’s past, that’s where the team of Kurt Busiek, Steve Rude, and Mike Royer truly shine. I’m not sure where the idea to tell a portion in then-contemporary continuity stemmed from, but it was a mistake that mars the story. It feels out of place and doesn’t justify itself beyond wrapping up some loose ends that don’t need closure. The final issue comes off as more obligatory than anything. Great looking and competently crafted though it may be. It would be a curious exercise to take out the framing elements, turn the middle story into a comic with the first story as a backup feature and release that as a single comic. That seems like what this project wanted to be before it bloated. If I sound overly critical, it does betray how enjoyable the first two issues are – and, despite my criticisms, the third issue is perfectly entertaining. It’s an incredibly well-drawn Thor adventure that surpasses most random Thor comics.

It’s about expectations and potential. This could have been a great Thor comic, an all-time classic. Instead, it’s fine. Gorgeous throughout, clever at times, and a good way to spend half an hour or so.

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Bits and Pieces: The Ron Marz/Jim Starlin Thor Run (Thor #460-471 and annual #18, Silver Surfer #86-88, Warlock Chronicles #6-8, and Warlock & the Infinity Watch #23-25)

I’ve read this run in different forms over the years. As just the “Blood & Thunder” crossover. Or just the Infinity Crusade tie-ins. Or maybe just a random issue from earlier in the run. Up until this reread, I’m not certain that I’ve ever read it from beginning to end as a single piece. It’s a bit of a forgotten run – or a maligned one when remembered. Neither of those assessments seem fitting to me despite my sharing of them in the past. While this isn’t an all-time great Thor run, it offers enough intrigue and oddities, in both writing and art, to be a worthwhile read. What stands out most of all is how simple a story it is. Despite the various subplots and added characters and crossovers, Thor’s journey from issue 460 to 471 is linear and focused. It’s a run about a specific idea for the character and doesn’t deviate from that idea despite the extra elements built up around it.

Basically, Thor succumbs to Warrior’s Madness, or so it seems. In the wake of his imprisonment within Eric Masterson’s subconscious, he finds it difficult to return to his old life. He spurns Sif’s affections and begins getting in brawls in bars and taverns across Asgard. At Odin’s suggestion, Thor sets sail across the cosmos, seemingly to regain his sense of self and calm in peaceful solitude. Except, a raven-haired Valkyrie is aboard the craft and Thor begins a torrid love affair with her. She encourages and cultivates his sense of discontent, provoking him to begin a war march towards Asgard, to destroy his home and all of his loved ones for perceived slights and betrayals. Before Thor’s sanity is regained, he fights against Beta Ray Bill, gravely wounds Ares, joins the Goddess’s crusade, battles the Silver Surfer, Warlock and the Infinity Watch, gains the Power Gem, and even fights Thanos. Taken as a whole, it’s a singular, focused story not quite like any other for Thor.

This is an odd run in that it’s only a year of Thor comics yet, if you expand it out, it’s 12 issues of Thor plus an annual and, then, another nine issues, one of which is a larger one. Hell, if you decide to go even further and begin bringing in The Infinity Crusade (which Thor #463-467 are listed as tying into), you can easily add six more larger issues of the event series plus another five issues each of Warlock Chronicles and Warlock & the Infinity Watch. And, then, while we’re at it, the tie-in issues of Silver Surfer since Marz writes them as well. It can easily balloon from a single year of Thor to over 40 comics total depending on how thorough you wish to be. I wouldn’t suggest going past the issues I’m discussing here if your interest is in Thor only.

It’s also an unusual run in the way that it’s co-written to a certain extent. Ron Marz is the writer of every issue of Thor (including the annual in its entirety) and Silver Surfer, while Jim Starlin writes the two Warlock series... but also co-writes Thor #460-462 with Marz. It’s very much the product of the two men with what came from which unclear. Within the work of Starlin, it’s a rare co-writing situation. While he had others script some of his early comics as writer/artist, he rarely co-wrote after that easily period, aside from novels with his then-wife, Daina Graziunas. Starlin’s involvement mostly slides under the radar within his body of work, overshadowed by the Infinity events of the period, with even the two Warlock series he wrote being viewed as mere crossover issues servicing Marz’s Thor story rather than Starlin kicking the entire thing off with Marz in the first three issues of the run.

Starlin’s influence is possibly visible in the way that Thor is transformed, in a sense, into the Hulk, Starlin’s favourite Marvel character (aside from his pet stable of cosmic characters, of course). The story of Thor succumbing to a madness that turns him into a violent brute, bent on destroying everything and, eventually, made even more unstoppable thanks to the Power Gem, echoes the Hulk. A rampaging monster, not one confined to Earth, creating a path of destruction across the universe. Given the longstanding question of who would win in a fight, Thor or Hulk, there’s something kind of fun about Starlin and Marz turning Thor into a cosmic Hulk for a year. He’s not quite as mindless as the Hulk often is and the added influence of Valkyrie gives the whole a bit of a different feel. While any sense of the Hulk’s lack of agency is due to a lack of self-control, of another aspect of himself overwhelming him, Thor’s lack of agency is presented as a seduction from outside (despite the final revelations about Valkyrie’s true nature). Thor’s descent into madness and rage is him as a victim of Valkyrie’s manipulations, seemingly beginning before she appears at all. While she’s eventually revealed to be a portion of his psyche, she remains an ‘other,’ an enemy to defeat, one that seeks to dominate and control Thor’s mind rather than a part to come to some sort of stable state with. It’s a bit of a clumsy form of mental illness that veers wildly between schizophrenia and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) without actually reflecting either entirely with a solution that may suit a superhero comic but has less basis in reality.

The cause of Thor’s instability and the genesis of Valkyrie is a soft retcon, of sorts. While many writers have emphasised Odin’s paranoia about Ragnarok and Thor’s role as defender of Asgard, causing him to ‘bank’ Thor backups, this behaviour is treated as a source of trauma for Thor. Additionally, the ‘humility lesson’ of Donald Blake is also a contributory event, related to the idea that, as Odin continually messed with Thor’s sense of self, he lost more of it. He was, as he repeats throughout the run, “reduced to bits and pieces.” That the events that caused this ‘madness’ and allowed Valkyrie to grow within his mind happened so recently and were external events (rather than infancy/childhood trauma or genetic/chemical) also makes the whole thing stand out as a fictional mental illness. You might as well chalk it up to ‘Warrior’s Madness’ for all its root in reality.

That Odin is, in part of whole, responsible for Thor’s mental state is an interesting idea. The climax of the story, where Odin realises that it’s his fault and he must journey into Thor’s mind to help free his son of Valkyrie doesn’t quite land as strong as you’d like. It’s thematically sound as Thor is still positioned as a victim, someone to be rescued, even if he shows some agency in casting off his mental chains and fighting by his father’s side. Yet, it points to one of the biggest flaws of the run: Thor lacks control throughout the entire thing. He’s not the protagonist or the antagonist. He’s a sort of character-like object pushed and pulled in various directions. Fretted over and discussed and treated as something for others to act upon. For the Valkyrie, he’s a weapon of rage – and, eventually, a servant when the possibility of her being a corporeal being occurs. For the Goddess, a follower. For Warlock, a means to gain another favour for future use. Even for more caring actors like Sif and Beta Ray Bill, there’s a sense of controlling and shielding Thor, treating him like someone with no ability to determine his own course of actions. Before learning of the root of his issues, they automatically assume that something must be wrong with him, that something like Warrior’s Madness must be afflicting him, as there is no way that he could come to the conclusion that he doesn’t love Sif or views Beta Ray Bill as a mocking thief of his identity or that Odin has continually used him as a pawn for his own schemes. I admit that maybe the Beta Ray Bill fight seems out of character (although repeated at other times, before and after, so...) but the others have a solid foundation in the character.

Perhaps that’s why the victim role for Thor seems so grating. It makes sense that, after his imprisonment in Masterson’s subconscious, Thor would be off. That’s a traumatic experience and living through another taking on his identity would call into question his sense of self and identity. Thinking through his life, it’s pretty easy to see why he might come to the conclusion that Odin has treated him poorly, while Asgard as a whole has gone along with every one of those schemes, seeing Thor as a hammer-wielding warrior protector with little care about who is actually wielding the hammer. From a certain point of view, growing bitter and angry at these conclusions is logical. While Odin’s manipulations is the stated cause, it’s also hand-waved away at the end, all of the actual harm blamed on Valkyrie. It seems to be a pattern in Thor comics to come to the conclusion that Odin is just about the worst father in the universe and, then, not be able to actually do anything about that given the nature of superhero comics. The best stories to grapple with this idea usually come to a final place where it’s recognised that he was terrible, but he was also Thor’s father and separating those two things is impossible and messy and complicated. No such complexity exists here.

It’s hard not to wonder if part of that simplicity, particularly in the wrap up of the story, comes from a change in plans regarding the longterm direction of the title. Was Marz always meant to depart Thor at the end of “Blood & Thunder” or was the switch to Roy Thomas as writer made well into the run? One clue towards a change in plans is that Thor annual #18 introduces a new Thor antagonist, the Flame, and seems to set him up as an ally of Loki for a future story. There was no room for the Flame (or Loki) in the Thor/Valkyrie/“Blood & Thunder” year-long story, but issue 471 ends with a hint towards a future threat from Loki and it seems like the Flame and Loki taking on Thor in a short story culminating with issue 475 could have been in the cards. As it stands, the Flame would, instead, return in Thor annual 19, written by Thomas. However, this was around the time that Marz began working for DC, particularly on Green Lantern. He stayed on Silver Surfer for nearly two more years, but this was a time of transition in his career away from Marvel and toward DC. Marz has stated that he walked away from the title due to disagreements with editorial and also hinted at dissatisfaction with the art. He quickly touched on the run in a career-spanning interview in 20202 withNewsarama where he revealed that he was originally instructed to find an artist for the run and had Cully Hamner lined up before editorial hired Bruce Zick (who gave way to MC Wyman at the end of the run). It seemed like, aside from working closely with Starlin, the run was a bit of a regret for Marz – like a missed opportunity that didn’t work out like he had hoped.

For the longest time, I could relate to that feeling, particularly when it came to the art on this run. Bruce Zick drew the first nine issues, 460-468, and his style is so peculiar for a Marvel superhero book. He looks like he should be writing and drawing a self-published fantasy comic that appeals to stoner college kids, if that makes any sense. Incredibly detailed with stiff figure work, it really had that late ‘70s/early ‘80s Dungeons & Dragons sort of feel. With every reread, it grows on me a little more. It’s twisted and strange and reflects the altered mental state of Thor. It’s like we’ve stepped into the version of Asgard and the universe as he sees it. You’re probably not too familiar with Zick’s name or work as he didn’t do many mainstream comics, this nine-issue run on Thor being his longest and most high profile assignment in the ‘90s. Without seeing the scripts, it’s hard to tell how much of the pacing and layouts came from Zick, but he seems to really work within the mould of Starlin as an artist. Lots of repeated panel layouts with gradual changes as Starlin is fond of using. Some figure choices that seem more symbolic than literal. His cover for Thor #462 is complete gonzo metal fantasy: a corner box featuring an energetic/crazy Thor wielding Mjolnir with the main image being Pluto and Ares caught up in strands of Thor’s hair as his giant, raging face floats above them. His eyes red and pupils split by lightning, he looks completely unhinged. The caption (accurately) reads “WITNESS THE TERROR OF A THUNDER GOD GONE MAD!” It’s one of the greatest covers this series has ever had. Yet, I understand if it takes some time for Zick’s work to grow on you; it certainly did for me.

Beyond Zick, the run, on the whole, has solid to great art. Early Tom Raney on Warlock Chronicles is a bit hit and miss, while Andy Smith’s Silver Surfer is over the top fun. The less said about MC Wyman’s art the better (and will come soon enough when I get to the Roy Thomas-penned run that followed in a couple of weeks...), particularly when compared to Zick’s. Angel Medina popping in for the anniversary Warlock & the Infinity Watch #25 is a real treat as he’s so good at big action. Starlin actually gets out of the way quite a bit in that issue, letting pages go by with no words, allowing Medina’s stunning fight scenes to carry things... which is unusual. He doesn’t usually refrain from captions and dialogue with his own art let alone others, a testament to Medina’s skill. But, the real standout (aside from Zick) is Tom Grindberg, who draws the main story and a backup in the Thor annual along with issues 23 and 24 of Warlock & the Infinity Watch. Issue 24 is probably the best single issue of “Blood & Thunder,” a fun side adventure with Trolls as Adam Warlock battles Ulik’s brother. Grindberg worked in a very similar style to Mike Mignola with heavy blacks and rigid, blocky art. Along with Zick, he’s an artist that I didn’t appreciate when I was younger, but I love more each time I come across it. In fact, as much as I’m critical of the larger use of Thor in this run and the way that he’s pushed to the side as a character, the art of the comics in this larger run is one of the reasons why I enjoyed the reread so much.

This may sound a little suspect coming from me: the association with Starlin’s work hurts it in places, particularly the tie-in issues to the Infinity Crusade, at least as presented without at least one additional Starlin-written issue. Conceptually, until Valkyrie’s true nature is revealed, the idea that Thor would fall under the influence of another is ripe for exploration. That doesn’t happen in those issues. Instead, Marz winds up writing around the first five issues of the event, telling a disjointed story that tries to engage with the idea that Thor is not in complete control of his mind and prone to explosive violence. Thor in this state never feels like a true fit for the Goddess’s crusade. You can see why they would take a mythological character and have him sympathetic to the influence of a being preying on people’s inner faiths. Dig a little deeper and I’m convinced that the opposite would be true. Thor is an object of worship – a creature on the other side of the concept of faith. People believe in him, not the other way around. His entire familiarity with these ideas come at it from the opposite side of things and him becoming a follower of the Goddess only makes sense given his weakened mental resolve and Marvel’s need to shore up her side of the conflict. Except, as I said, those two motivations are somewhat at odds. The true through line of those issues is Pluto’s scheme to have Zeus attack Thor, while Sif seeks to expose it. The final two tie-in issues are even more divorced from the event with Thor #466 being a different version of the Thor/Drax fight from Warlock & the Infinity Watch #21 (that began at the tail end of The Infinity Crusade #4). Written by Starlin with art by Grindberg, it’s probably the issue not collected as part of this run that I would add to it. Given his close working with Marz on the larger story, he manages to really hone in on Thor’s character at the time, including defying orders from the Goddess to stop fighting Drax, refusing to be anyone’s thrall anymore. It’s a crucial moment that actually brings the issues tying into this event into focus. Up until this point, we had thought that Thor was under the control of Valkyrie, but see that he also chaffs under the direction of anyone.

Taken together, Thor #466 and Warlock & the Infinity Watch #21 make for a really strong character piece. While the Infinity Watch issue details the Thor/Drax fight with all of the dialogue and motives, the Thor issue presents splash images of that fight throughout, contrasted with a story about Thor’s younger days told by Odin at a feast. It’s a story about Thor encountering a belligerent Troll that does everything to provoke him to violence, and Thor’s continual refusal to do so. While we think of Thor as a warrior, he is the best sort: one that knows that violence is awful and something to be used when every other attempt at a solution has failed. Page after page of this Troll insulting Thor and provoking him, while Thor tries to reason with him. It’s only when the insults grow too much that Odin affirms that violence occurred – he’s clear to explicitly state that Thor didn’t kill the Troll or hurt him beyond what was necessary. Set against pages of him fighting Drax and knowing that, in the Infinity Watch issue, he was told to stop the pointless fight but chose to continue on, we’re shown how far he’s fallen from his true self. The following issue of Thor sets up “Blood & Thunder,” putting Thor back under Valkyrie’s influence. Instead of the demanding obedience of the Goddess, she follows a path more like the one Thor took with the Troll: reason. She walks him through all of the ways he’s been manipulated and betrayed by Odin and everyone else. She presents the evidence in a such a way that he will come to the conclusion that she wants, but it is his conclusion. It’s his choice to join her on a path of destruction, presented as him following her down a spiral staircase into the dark.

“Blood & Thunder” is the weakest stretch of the run if you’re focused on Thor. It’s less a Thor story than one that’s about Warlock, the Infinity Watch, the Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Thanos, and Asgard all trying to manage the Thor problem. It’s him in full Hulk mode, running through opponents like they’re nothing and, at one point, taking the Power Gem from Drax, augmenting his strength. It’s only the power of Thanos and his technology that can even contain him, for a time. After the eight issues of set up, there isn’t much more to add to Thor in this state. Marz and Starlin let him go with things like the Power Gem or the Valkyrie gaining corporeal form being the only real additions to what came before.

The concluding issue of the run and “Blood & Thunder,” #471, is actually the first issue of my collecting Thor comics. I received it for my 11th birthday amongst other gifts (including my first short box) along with my dad telling me that he wasn’t interested in buying Thor for himself anymore. He would, however, keep buying it for me if I wanted, something that was kept up through the end of “The Lost Gods” in Journey into Mystery. (He returned to buying it for himself with Jurgens/Romita and I read his copies...) As a conclusion, it leaves me fairly unimpressed. As I said, too much hinges on Odin’s presence and not enough on Thor’s agency and ability to break Valkyrie’s control. It’s only when Odin breaks Thor’s chains that he finally stands up for himself. Valkyrie also never gets a thorough enough explanation. Her role throughout the run is too ambiguous and shifting when convenient. The idea that she was always there and it was only the experience with Eric Masterson that gave her enough strength to assert herself is a bit cheesy. As with much of this run, there’s a germ of a great idea that never reaches its full potential.

One of the more telling aspects of this run is that Thor’s mental instability is not revisited in later stories. While not the complete measure of a run’s quality (I say as I note how much the Tom DeFalco/Ron Frenz run has been ignored...), there have been several instances where the idea could have logically returned and did not. The idea that Thor once suffered from ‘Warrior’s Madness’ (or schizophrenia or DID or... whatever this is) is largely confined to that corner of continuity that no one visits. I maintain that, even for its faults, this run is far too interesting, both in writing and art, to be left forgotten. It scratches one of my weak spots of interest: the ambitious failure. It genuinely seems like Marz and Starlin were trying to do something different with the character and editorial’s one bit addition was giving them a wild artist like Zick. It’s truly unlike any other Thor run. Ironically, I would be tempted to cut it down a bit and trim the fat a bit. Refocus it and really home in on the best, more interesting parts. Reduce it to bits and pieces, as it were.