Thor Retrospective Part One: “Thor” by J. Michael Straczynski and “Latverian Prometheus” by Keiron Gillen

I decided to tackle the first title in this series, simply called “Thor” in several parts. It does not make sense to review the book as one 36 issue whole, because it has several distinct arcs. Three writers tackle the series so I have decided on a breakdown roughly following that. I’ve included Gillen’s “Latverian Prometheus” arc along with Stracynski’s because it basically cleans up and caps off the story Stracynski started before the series moves on into the “Siege” event book and accompanying arc in “Thor”.

Where to being? Well, Stracynski’s arc is a “rebirth” of sorts for Thor, and if you want to get technical is the third series with Thor as part of the title. Our titular hero has been out of commission for about three years, dying in Ragnarok at the end of “The Mighty Thor” book that ran between 1998 and 2004. Then, he’s back. No real explanation as to how, because such things are unnecessary. Not only is this comics, it is also myth, and so Thor returns because it is time for him to return.

 

Returning to the story is Thor’s original mortal host Dr. Donald Blake, along with the staff that serves as his foil for Mjolnir. Both staff/hammer and Doctor are deposited upon Earth in the most unlikely of places, the fictional town of Broxton, Oklahoma. Thor then proceeds to raise Asgard above some wide-open spaces near Broxton. This is not an entirely new concept, as I remember for a time in earlier stories Asgard could be found floating above New York City.  What is different about Asgard’s new zip code is that the citizens of Broxton are not exactly used to superheroes and gods residing in their backyard. They aren’t used to their apartments getting blown up by Dr. Doom, or having Spider-Man or the Fantastic Car zipping by during a morning commute. This setting provides soil for some of the more enjoyable and poignant moments of Stracynski’s arc, which I will talk about later.

Much of Stracynski’s work on the book is concerned with reestablishing Thor and the rest of the Asgardians after Ragnarok. Thor discovers that his friends and fellow gods are residing in the bodies of mortals, waiting to be called back. He resurrects Heimdall, the Warriors Three, and Baldur personally, and with much fanfare and danger to himself the rest of his kin. Loki included of course, although he looks a bit different after his rebirth.

Loki

Thor’s wandering of the world in search of his friends also serve to inform the resurrected hero about what has gone on in his absence:  mainly the superhero Civil War, the death of Steve Rogers, and the fact that some of his former friends (Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and Reed Richard) created an abomination from Thor’s DNA known as Ragnarok. When Tony shows up early in Thor’s quest and tells Thor he has to register or else, it doesn’t go well to say the least.

 

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The big take away is that Tony and Thor figure out a way for Thor and thus all of Asgard to avoid being tools for the U.S. government- giving Asgard and all its residents diplomatic immunity. This like many things Straczynski sets up become important later one.

Along with the skill of penciler Oliver Coipel (who really doesn’t get used enough in comics) the first part of this new Thor arc has some absolutely gorgeous action sequences. That isn’t what I enjoy the most about Straczynski’s writing though. Like Gaiman or Morrison, JMS is one of those writers who really understands and puts mythic resonance and cycles to effective use.

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While Loki is clearly the villain of the arc, there is no grandstanding, no ultimate confrontation. The conflict comes from Loki pulling strings, and calling in favors. Putting a word in the right ear, and acting on plans that take millennia to bear fruit.

Loki Time

I won’t reveal what happens just in case you are a decade behind on your Thor reading, but let us just say that much of what happens in this arc is inspiration for the Thor series of films as well, and worth reading if you want a little background. This idea of mythic time and the relationship between man and the gods of Asgard all come to a head after JMS leaves the reigns to Kieron Gillen for the “Latverian Prometheus” arc, so first let’s talk about that relationship.

Most Marvel comic stories seem to take place in New York City/ State. We occasionally see them go to one of their other fictional earthly locals, such as Madripoor, the Savage Land, Wakanda, Latveria, Kun’ Lun… or space. Marvel characters go cosmic a lot. For JMS to place so much of his Thor story in a podunk place like Oklahoma seems strange at first, until you realize what he is doing- laying an oddball backdrop for very regular people to deal with divinity. As the citizens of Broxton will point out time and again, these Asgardians are not the divinity they are used to dealing with either.

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It is an interesting relationship to say the least.

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The glue of the Broxton relationships is between Bill the diner owner, and Kelda, a storm goddess made up for the comics but is an excellent character nonetheless. Bill and Kelda meet on the streets of Broxton and quickly strike up a relationship, one that seems more convincing than any of the page time shared by Thor/Blake and Jane Foster or Sif.

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Bill and Kelda’s relationship also pretty much carries the “Latverian Prometheus” arc. It is only three issues so there is not a whole lot to talk about, but there are some great moments.

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Basically Loki strikes a deal with Doctor Doom (because who did you think would show up in an arc with Latveria in the title?), to allow the Asgardians a more familiar climate for a homeland. Things quickly go pear shaped, as Doom begins experimenting on the new locals to bring to life his own Destroyer Armor and learn the secrets of the Asgardian’s immortality (which I guess if Doom ever read a book he would know but ok). The resulting fight between the forces of Doom and Asgard end just about as quickly as they being, as again we’re just talking three issues. Still, “Latverian Promethues” serves as a decent short arc, with a lot of action that perhaps readers of the JMS run thought was lacking. It also serves as the flashpoint for the following “SIEGE” event. My thoughts on that story as soon as I’ve finished re-reading that arc!

In short, JMS’s “Thor” is very much worth your time. While I think it was likely frustrating to read in a monthly format, if you have the trades or get all the individual issues like I did and just read it in binge mode, it works incredibly well. Despite being forced into that “One More Day” malarkey, JMS can write a great comic. If you want to read some Thor comics to prepare for “Thor: Ragnarok” I highly suggest starting with this one. To detractors, “I SAY THEE NAY!”

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