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Hammers, Chemo and Disapproving Dads: Marvel’s Thor

Saturday, December 24th, 2016 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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Working on novels and such took me away from some of the main Marvel storylines just before Secret Wars until just after Civil War II (so I just missed a lot). I’m in the process of catching up on some Marvel real estate.

Lately I’ve been reading The Mighty Thor (they’re up to issue #13) and The Unworthy Thor (they’re up to issue #2).

For you completists, Thor goes way back to Journey Into Mystery #83, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made up the Asgardian god and made him fight aliens. Thor has been a popular character in Marvel who, along with Hercules, brought the divine to the Marvel Universe.

Asgard and Tales of Asgard brought in a ton of new characters into Thor’s orbit in the 1970s. The 1980s gave Thor a huge boost under creator Walt Simonson who defined the character for many modern readers.

[Click the images for bigger versions.]

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Yes, because making Thor fight aliens made so much sense. #the60s

Thor recently got some big love in the Marvel movies, and in case you’ve completely missed out on pop culture news, you probably know that in the comics, the hammer of Thor is being wielded by Dr. Jane Foster, cancer patient (former girl friend of Thor).

When this female Thor first came on the scene, there were some fan-boy objections, but there was far more speculation on her secret identity (“Who was that masked god?”)

I can understand how some people who are invested in the big blond guy Thor might have not enjoyed his sidelining, but it was a clever, in-continuity sidelining and not a retcon.

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Kicking butt and taking names on the Bifrost

We always knew that only someone worthy could wield Mjolnir. Marvel finally pulled the trigger on that particular Chekov’s Gun sitting quietly on the mantelpiece, and Thor was no longer worthy. Now Jane Foster is. I really like the change.

There are lots of stories Marvel couldn’t tell with Thor Odinson. There was no way he was ever going to be innocent and callow and untested after fifty years. And there was little that could be done with a secret identity anymore.

And there was not much that could be told of the different social and political ideas in Asgard. Thor Odinson is as establishment as George W. or Jeb Bush.

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This new Thor can’t depend on old alliances or loyalties. She’s got to earn everything

So what did Jason Aaron do with his new canvas in The Mighty Thor since the end of Civil War II (aided of course on art by Russell Dauterman/Matthew Wilson and Rafa Garres)?

I think he set up a bunch of interesting problems that are going to make Jane’s life miserable.

Jane Foster has cancer, deep, killing cancer and she’s talking chemo. But it’s not working, because not long after every dose, something forces her to turn into Thor, and Thor’s body doesn’t leave poison laying there for very long.

So every time she turns into Thor, she’s literally stepping one foot closer to the grave. Wicked.

In the Ten Realms, things are bad. The Dark Elves have teamed up with Roxxon (the hyper-rich oil company) to make war on the rest of the realms.

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Every time she becomes Thor, Jane Foster dies a little more

Thor’s ability to help is limited, because there are wanted posters for her all over the place. In fact, Odin is being a giant jerk – he is not willing to accept the new female Thor and Asgard is creeping towards civil war over it. And even more complicating is that people are questioning whether they even need an All-Father as ruler anymore with the womenfolk just sitting at home chilling the mead.

Shades of the real world, anyone?

An interesting observation Jane makes during this run is that Odin isn’t her favorite person. She and Thor almost got together, but Odin found her not worthy to be with his son.

Now, although he doesn’t know it’s Jane behind the mask, he still doesn’t accept her, even though it’s not his son, but Mjolnir itself that has chosen her.

This eventually worsens and worsens and the only way for Thor to protect the realms is to fight a covert war with a few of her favorite allies. Covert War = Very Cool.

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The new Thor using her listening skills on Loki

Aaron also digs into the Thor mythos in the past (with a 2-issue story from the year 896AD) and the past of Mjolnir too (going back into deep time, prior to its forging).

But at the same time, stuff is still going down with Odinson. Lots. I think it was Mark Waid who said that thematically, Thor Odinson is about a father and his two sons. That’s why the best stories have pitted Thor against Loki and Odin. Making Thor unworthy completely upsets what the Thor mythos is thematically about.

There are far more stories to be told when Thor is not the paragon of virtue and shiny-white prince of Asgard. A redemption arc is far more interesting to me than one about a god with daddy issues.

In The Unworthy Thor 5-issue limited series, Odinson starts off receiving the beats from some trolls, while wallowing in all he’s lost – he’s lost Mjolnir and he’s certainly not acting like the Prince of Asgard.

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He doesn’t have all his power, although he can still fly if he calls his magical goats (I’m sure he gets plenty of hectares to the gallon driving those puppies). But Thor gets an important piece of news: there’s another hammer, from one of those other worlds destroyed during Secret Wars, and it’s looking for a Thor. Can he get to it? Will he be worthy? The series is off to a great start, and the Olivier Coipel/Matthew Wilson art doesn’t hurt either.

I’m sticking with these series for a while. I’m loving the worlds and characters Aaron is exploring with his (essentially) two new Thors.


Derek Künsken writes science fiction, fantasy and horror in Gatineau, Québec. He tweets from @derekkunsken. His most recent story, “Flight From the Ages,” from the April/May issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction will be appearing in Gardner Dozois’ Best Science Fiction of the Year, Volume 34.

5 Comments »

  1. Over the past year or so I’ve been going through a “modern” ‘Marvel reading order. I’m not too far away from starting this series and I am so pumped about it.

    Thor is one of my favorites so far and this series looks amazing. Of all the different changing of the guard that’s been going on at marvel this one makes the most sense.

    Comment by Glenn - December 25, 2016 12:23 am

  2. Marvel has successfully marketed me out from reading their comics. I had been a steady reader since I was ten and continued well into my forties. It would be difficult to choose which comic stunk up the brand the most. Thor could easily top the list though.

    The TV series and movies have proven to be better and more enjoyable. The Hollywood writers understand story and the characters far better than their paper counterparts. Perhaps that is why the comic industry barely has a pulse at the same time the biggest blockbusters are the superhero movies. For me this is proof that Marvel writers have lost their way. They have destroyed their own legacy when they should be back in a new golden age.

    Derek, I hate to send you this on Christmas. I love your posts and look forward to them this year. I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas or whatever you celebrate. I look forward to the good times ahead.

    Comment by Wild Ape - December 25, 2016 7:00 am

  3. I dropped Thor after The God Killer arc. So, I can’t say much about the current Thor run except to say I’m not fond of Jason Aaron’s writing. But, if written well, Jane Foster as Thor does have the potential to be epic. Maybe even tragically epic.
    Wild Ape, Marvel and DC are caught between Skylla, Kharybdis, and poor management steaming from the 1990s. Comic book readership is aging and dwindling. New old school comic book fans are gravitating to other forms of entertainment, leaving comic book publishers to cultivate new readers from ignored reader constituencies. Unfortunately, many if not most of these readers prefer to trade wait, which seriously damages single issue sales.
    In the end, I’m not sure what the Big Two can do to improve sales, quality, etc. without pissing off/ driving off one reader constituency or another.

    Comment by sftheory1 - December 26, 2016 2:37 pm

  4. Wild Ape and sftheory uncannily echo the comments I shared with my comic book seller today! One I would add: the Big Two seem he’ll-bent on growing new (young?) readership through endless reboots, origin stories, and teenage characters. I say, “Give it up! How do you expect to compete with video games and YouTube or even sell it? Focus on your actually audience, who cannot be much younger than 40, as writers like Brian K. Vaughan do.”

    I too had an antipathy for Aaron as a writer, after he fumbled his short run on The Incredible Hulk (I suspect Marvel was using him as a placeholder on that book). Over the years, I checked into his Thor work on two occasions, and wasn’t completely irritated. Kunsken, you put me in mind of Thor again, and I just now devoured the first five issues of the latest story. I have to say I’m into it, with quibbles. But, seriously, Roxxon? And an oil economy? Is that the best evil alliance Aaron can manage? Why is Roxxon interested in fairy oil when–I don’t know–it could capitalize on magic or Asgardian post-nuclear space technology!

    Comment by Gabe Dybing - December 29, 2016 1:46 am

  5. Glenn: Well worth it! If you’re in catch-up mode, if you haven’t caught up on Inhumans, there’s a lot going on there, so much so that it’s difficult to know where to start. But another place to look!

    WildApe: Thank you! Merry Christmas! I know you and I have different views on comic books and what they’re trying to do. But I think the offerings are varied enough that with a bit of advice from the comic book shop people, there’s often a title or two worth following for each person :)

    SFTHeory1/Gabe: That’s an interesting point. Maybe I should do a post sometime in the new year on the economics of the comics field. I could talk to my LCS guy – I used to follow the diamond’s top 400 sales list each month when I was reviewing for WeeklyComicBookReview.com, but haven’t recently in a while. It would take some research, but could be really interesting! Marvel seems happy enough with the new books it’s making and DC Rebirthed to become a little more diverse because Marvel was eating their lunch sales-wise. I’ll see when there’s a quiet period in 2017 and maybe look at numbers. On Aaron, I had first read him way back on his Wolverine and Ghost Rider work, and felt he fit really well with those gritty titles. So, I was surprised when I’d seen him assigned to Thor (and even moreso Dr. Strange – I didn’t enjoy the new tone Aaron brought there), but he’s done 50+ issues of Thor and seems pretty widely acclaimed by critics. And sales are there because they haven’t cancelled the books or switched out for a new writer.

    Thanks for commenting guys! And happy new year! See you on the 7th with a new post!

    Derek

    Comment by Derek Kunsken - December 29, 2016 8:45 am


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