Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thor 2 & 3: KRA-KA-WHISPER

Thor 2 & 3 (JMS & Coipel).

JMS' Thor is allegedly slow moving.

I hear this complaint all over the place in regards to the title but I don't buy it. Could the stories move faster? Sure, but to claim (as some have) that "nothing happens" seems a bit absurd to me. In the first issue, Thor returns. In the second issue, Thor brings Asgard to Oklahoma. In the third issue, Tony Stark arrives and there's "finally" some action as Thor and Iron Man have a bit of a throwdown.

Could all of this have been accomplished in the first issue? Yeah, sure, but JMS' take seems to be that the return is as much the story as whatever it is that comes next. I'm finding it a solid strategy that plays to JMS' writing strengths and I'm just flat-out enjoying each issue. The art by Coipel, Morales, and Martin makes this one of the most gorgeous looking books on the shelves and provide a perfect visual component to JMS' stories.

JMS' approach in the first three issues is to take the signature story moment (the return, Asgard coming to Oklahoma, Stark) and build a single-issue story around it. In doing this JMS is keeping the book new-reader friendly and developing long-term sub-plots for the long-term readers. In issue 2, for instance, the signature moment is Asgard's arrival in Oklahoma. JMS' Thor is solemn and serious, so he builds in the response of the locals to provide some levity and contextualization. JMS is taking a comic-realist approach to Thor, having the local population react to the arrival of Asgard into their midst - the cops don't like it, the population doesn't quite know what to make of it, and the owner of the land wants to be compensated. We see the "real" commenting on the "fantastic."

Issue 3 inverts this idea, where the "fantastic" comments on the "real." Thor's quest to find the missing Asgardians - whose souls have been trapped in the souls of mortals - begins in New Orleans and allows JMS to use Thor to comment on the real-world devastation of the city, first by Hurricane Katrina and secondly by the United States government's (and by extension the superhero community's) failure to provide help for the people of New Orleans. A mortal man (who turns out to have Heimdall's soul trapped inside of him) rips on Thor for not helping during the storm or in the repairs, accusing him of bringing a false hope to the people of the city. It's a powerful moment when the man tells Thor he won't allow him to use the city as a "some kinda movie set," but it's not a bombastic moment.

That comes next as Iron Man arrives to have a chat with Thor. Whatever one thinks of Tony Stark's behavior from the beginning of the Registration Act, through the Civil War, and into the Director of SHIELD present, I don't think any writer has been harder on Stark than JMS. Where Bendis attempts to give a more well-rounded view of Stark, and the Knaufs deal with the burden being placed on him, JMS treats Stark as an outright bad guy. In Thor 3, JMS doesn't give us a Stark that's controlling everything, but one that is a government lackey. The dialogue is filled with accusations of Tony being a stooge for the political leaders behind the Registration Act.

What's discouraging is that JMS puts these accusations not just in Thor's mouth but in Tony's. It's one thing to have Thor drop phrases to Tony like, "As for your masters," but another to have Tony plead with Thor for a resolution by arguing for a compromise between the government and Thor by saying, "An approach along those lines would make sure my superiors don't lose face." It makes Stark seem weak and sniveling, not as a guy looking to do the right (albeit misguided) thing. For a book that's so smart, it's a childish shot by JMS and it makes him come off as a guy who just wants to take shots at Civil War and not as someone interested in doing anything with it. His decision to have Thor simply check out of the conflict is a better development because it's built not only on Thor's sense of god-driven superiority but on his mission to return all his fellow Asgardians to life.

You would think, however, that JMS has to have Thor address Captain America's death at some point. That Thor doesn't even acknowledge Cap's death to Stark sits like a gap in the story and feels like an unresolved issue until it is addressed.

JMS might take his sweet time in putting everything back the way it was (whatever that means) but I, for one, am enjoying the heck out of the ride.


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