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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Comic thoughts for the week of 4/10/13

This will be a slightly shorter column this week due to various time constraints I'm working within and the sheer volume of reviews I'm expecting to hit before Monday comes around. As it stands, more Marvel for me this week than DC, a nice change of pace.

Featured Comic of the Week
Thor: God of Thunder
w - Jason Aaron, a - Esad Ribic

I hated the Thor movie. I thought it was a poorly written slop of a film that was clearly slapped together by committee. The parts in Asgard were a greenscreened nightmare, with somewhat bizarrely mixed motivations for its key villain and Anthony Hopkins basically phoning it in as Odin. And to be honest, that was the section(s) of the film that I liked best. Everything that took place on Earth was a mess, from the town that looked like a cheap Gunsmoke set, a horrid performance by Natalie Portman (talk about phoning it in), and a third act that reminiscent of Masters of the Universe. The one great thing about Thor, was the casting of its title character in Chris Hemsworth. I can't read Thor in a comic now without hearing his voice, he just so utterly nailed that performance that anything I had previously presumed about how the character would act or sound has been eliminated. I just wish he had been surrounded by a good story. The Avengers, despite my lukewarm feelings about it, certainly was a better start.

It was on the strength of Hemsworth's work that I became a bit more interested in the mythology of Thor (as it relates to Marvel, less so the actual Nordic historical beliefs), but everytime I tried to pick up the character, there was some crossover occurring that pulled me out of the story almost immediately. In the Marvel Universe, when you have a floating god city and all hell breaks loose, chances are the floating god city will get involved. There was a nice run by JMS in the early 2000's that I started to sink my teeth into, but it got completely cut out at the knees when the writer walked off the title to avoid having to deal with another Marvel Comics crossover. Writers like Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction took over from there, and they certainly didn't put together bad work (most would consider well written) I found myself underwhelmed. Gillen particularly was striving for something akin to Neil Gaiman's work in Sandman with his Journey into Mystery title, focusing on a recently turned pre-teen incarnation of Loki. But again, Gillen's work, despite a nice sense of whimsy and really creative flourishes was incomprehensible due to its foundational ties to on-going Marvel concerns (The Fear Itself crossover, crossing over with New Mutants, crossing over with Thor at the end of its run), I ended up throwing my hands up in disgust with it.

By the Marvel Now launch, Jason Aaron took over Thor and his concept of covering three different aspects of Thor's life (young, brash Thor, Avengers Thor, and old one-eyed King of Asgard Thor) pulled me right back in after the disappointing Gillen run. Aaron's take is basically continuity free, all you really need to know is that Thor is a Norse God and a super-hero, basically whatever you got out of the movie. Aaron, who is a writer I haven't really enjoyed until this title, portrays Thor less as super-hero or more as blonde haired Conan the Barbarian. As I understand Aaron is a huge fan of that character, this take works very well, not dissimilar from how Brian Azzarello portrays Wonder Woman in a very "Thor as Greek" fashion. Aaron has taken a character and more or less repurposed it telling a story he actually wanted to tell vs. one that was assigned to him. That sort of passion is what I'm basically look for when I'm willing to take a chance on a new title, much like how Graham's Prophet or Snyder's Batman generally hit that same spot; a perfect blend of writer and property.

Issue 7 is the on-going story of Gorr the God Butcher, a villain definitely in the shadowy Conan mold and less so the pseudo Kirby stuff of the post-Walt Simonson era. In this issue, we finally start to get a glimpse of just what Gorr's overall plans are with the gods he's decided to not kill off, as well as finally getting some interactions between the incarnations of Thor, with present day Thor meeting his future counterpart. There's a nice sense of humor in their discussions, particularly regarding their on-going distaste of all things related to time travel. Also, Future Thor's provisions for preparation that he offers to Present Day Thor was a wonderful little scene that elicited a chuckle from me, I mean, what could one drink really hurt given the circumstances?

The other major event of the issue related to Young Thor being brought into the future by a much stronger Gorr than he had faced, and thought killed, previously. Young Thor being completely overwhelmed and placed into the service of Gorr is now causing me to wonder if I had missed something in previous issues or if perhaps there are some coming ramifications for the other two versions of the character due to this enslavement. If I had been made a slave of a ruthless killer, I think I would have recalled that at some point. This may be cause for a re-read, not exactly a bad problem to have. I also, was a bit confused at first as to what was occurring toward the end of the issue, but once the reveal hit about Gorr's master plan, it suddenly all came into place. I'm not sure if Thor is the best current Marvel comic, but if it's not, it's just barely behind Waid's Daredevil and Fraction's Hawkeye and FF. This is exactly the kind of cool, multi-layered narrative I'd been looking for that doesn't sacrifice the human element (like say a Morrison or Hickman might at times). I'm loving it it pieces and can't wait to go through it all again when it's finally all said and done, which I hope is not anytime soon.

I give this issue an A-

One Sentence (or slightly more) reviews

Avengers #9 - A fine issue, with a nice enough pseudo-conclusion to the Starbrand arc. I found myself getting lost in the final action pages in a not good way, and may be starting to suffer from "Hickman burnout". B-

Batman #19 - A nice tribute to Batman the Animated Series, that on its own would earn at least a B+, but I had to deduct points for DC's continuing to foist James Tynion backups upon us, that just keep getting worse and worse. B-

Batman and Robin #19 - Kind of a weird science story for Batman, but I'm interested in this on-going arc that was beautifully begun in the silent issue last month; plus, it had Frankenstein! B+

Hawkeye #9 - A slightly less exciting issue than last month's or just about any of the month's previous. I'm glad Fraction is revisiting the Clint's wives aside, but it didn't turn out as interesting as I'd hoped, though next issue looks like the arc is back up and running. B
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