Posted by: Amalia The Savage on Jan 30, 2010
I'm a sucker for comic books.
I love the art. I love the story telling. I love the combination of art and story telling. I love that they use art to tell a story just as much as they use dialogue and narration. And I love bulked up superheroes, flawed and perfect. I love that we've taken the richness of classical myth, and recreated it for our modern world in a way that people who would never otherwise pick up a book on the topic can find meaning. The reinvention of myth and even the reinvention of what it means to be a hero. I love it all.
Lately, I've been taken in by the relaunch of Marvel's Thor title. It started innocently enough. I've always been fascinated by mythology, pantheons, and the cultures that worshipped them were always my favorite part of history classes. I took a class on Norse Mythology in college, in fact. It's impossible to ignore the influence of the Scandinavian people, and their heritage when you live in North Dakota for any extended period of time-- but I'm pretty sure my love for Norse Myths, and Thor in particular, came before I fell into that Midwestern (and I say it lovingly) black hole.
The Thor title in its previous incarnations (588 issues? really?) never attracted my attention, though. For one thing, it wasn't until my teens that I cultivated any real independent taste for comic books that wasn't influenced by my older brother, and for another, it's a little bit hard to jump into those titles when they're on issue 500 and counting, and you have no idea what the heck is going on. In my opinion, this is the number one problem with the big titles, today. Superman, Spiderman, X-men, Avengers-- you almost have to know the entire history, as well as read every other title in the universe to have a context for the story in the issue you picked up off the rack, but that's another post altogether.
But I was totally blown away by Ultimate Thor-- that is, Thor as he appeared within the Ultimates 1 & 2 titles (3 was a catastrophe that I've been trying to repress). The idea of turning Thor into a hippy conservationist using his powers to try to save the planet, ecologically, while boozing it up with his fellow activists was so alarmingly different, so incredibly unique a take, that I couldn't resist. Who can say no to a thundergod smiting a whaling ship with a bolt of lightning? Not only that, but this incarnation of Thor didn't feel at all compelled to speak awkwardly in the third person with outdated language! I was hooked!
So naturally, in my casual stroll through the graphic novels section of the bookstore, when I happened across volume one of this new title in trade paperback form back in August of '08, I had to pick it up. Why not, I thought? I had a long train ride ahead of me to go visit my sister, and some reading material was in order. But once I read the first couple of pages, that was it. Marvel had me. Again. Just when I had given up on them because of that horrible Ultimates 3 fiasco. Here was a Thor I could respect! And more importantly, a story that treated him as more than a musclebound oaf.
Now, Norse Mythology itself paints Thor as something much less than the brightest crayon in the box, but let's face it-- the Norse Myths don't really give any of their gods a lot of depth. These are one dimensional characters. Whether that's because we don't have all the stories, or because the people who worshiped these gods didn't need anything more than that, I don't know. Maybe the other aspects of these deities were so well known they didn't need to be included in the stories. Either way, creative writers shouldn't feel caged by these defining attributes. Taking apart and putting back together mythology in new ways is exactly what Marvel and DC peddle. And they do it, for the most part, incredibly well. Liberties should be taken, especially if the character is meant to stand alone, as the protagonist in a story, rather than a member of the supporting cast.
So, I read on. Volume One is hands down one of the most thought provoking and theologically engaging graphic novels I've read in years. From page ONE, the book asks big questions about faith and what it means to be a god or a hero, and I ate it right up. It's a must read, and if you don't own it, go buy it right now from Amazon. Not only did it make me think, but the storytelling was brilliant. Placing Asgard in the middle of Oklahoma allowed us to see the Asgardians in new ways as they struggled to find a place in the world they'd only watched over. Forced to actually ENGAGE and participate with humanity. J. Michael Straczynski humanizes these heroes and gods. And he does it well.
Volume One impressed me so much, I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on volume two. I actually pre-ordered the hardcover. And I waited. and I waited. One issue a month, 6 issues to a respectable sized trade edition, taking into account the fact that no comic book company is capable of delivering issues on time, especially not Marvel, and 10 months later, Volume Two was in my hands.
I wasn't EXACTLY disappointed, but this second volume of Thor is the perfect example of a story that could learn a lesson from the writerly adage drilled into me from the first time I sat down in a creative writing class, and I'm sure you've heard it:
Show, don't tell.
The story is good, don't get me wrong! But after I read it I sat back and sighed. The execution is flawed. As a writer, and a reader, I wanted so much more. And not in the "yes! I want to keep reading!" way, but in the "Wow, why didn't they SHOW me that, instead of just telling me?" way. This book was full of missed opportunities for great moments! Everything was there for the moments to happen-- but then at the last minute, it seemed like the writer decided to take the easy way out. Instead of showing me the gods floundering about awkwardly in this new situation they've found themselves in, I have the characters just telling me. Over and Over again. Instead of letting me deduce the manipulations and mayhem Loki is engaging in, it's all spelled out for me. The reveals are too obvious, and the manipulations less than subtle. They could have done SO MUCH MORE with this story arc, with these issues, but they didn't.
Now, I'm not unsucked in. I'm absolutely on the edge of my seat for Volume 3, but I'm definitely hoping that in the next set of issues I have a little bit less telling going on. Show me the stuff that's happening, and let me draw conclusions myself.
Maybe I'm a little bit too hard on it-- in their defense, when a person has to wait 2 months for the next issue, they probably don't really remember everything in detail from the last one, so maybe they have to be more obvious so that you can follow the arc. But at the same time, I feel like that's a weak excuse, because if you do your job right as a writer, the reader is going to remember! Especially if they're used to the system.
Don't worry, I'll let you know what I think of Volume Three when I get my hands on it.
For now? Thor Vol. 1 gets a a full five Geekas:
and Vol. 2 gets a solid four!
Go Forth and Purchase!
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