The fact that you can’t judge a book by its cover means that there are spoilers ahead for…
“I do hope you didn’t kill the Dwarves. I’m running low on hammers.”
I hadn’t wanted to tackle another issue of Thor so soon, given how frequently the Spotlight shines on it – if I’m honest, I didn’t really want to tackle anything today, but here we are – and while there were some other good choices, such as an issue of the new Criminal series from Brubaker and Phillips that involves the comics industry, and the second new Conan comic from Marvel, this issue is the one that stood out the most.
It’s interesting that one of the other books I considered looking at – Criminal – features work by a father and a son (Jacob Phillips, son of Sean, performs coloring duties), as the book I did choose focuses so heavily on father/son relationships. (Which also figured prominently into the story contained in the last issue of Criminal, and does in this issue as well, albeit with more of a focus on a father figure.)
The first such relationship examined is the one between Loki and Laufey, and it’s exactly as bad as one might expect, with Laufey disappointed that while you can take the Frost Giant out of Asgard, you can’t take the Asgard out of a Frost Giant. How you gonna keep ’em down in the ice cave after they’ve seen the Realm Eternal and all that. While Laufey sees Loki as being useful in the War of the Realms, it’s clear – after Loki turns a Frost Giant who mocked him into a frog rather than slaying him with his bare hands – that Loki will never be the son that Laufey would wish for.
Malekith, meanwhile, recognizes, as anyone sensible would, that Loki is not to be trusted, and forms plans to deal with the God of Mischief once his usefulness is at an end.
The main event, however, is the relationship between Odin Borson and Thor Odinson, which is, in its own way, just as dysfunctional as that between Laufey and Loki.
Despite what the cover shows, there is no reconciliation or mending of fences – or Rainbow Bridges, for that matter – between father and son. Mostly the story focuses on the two of them beating the shit out of each other.
Part of the examination of the relationships between fathers and sons that Aaron undertakes here focuses squarely on the problem of toxic masculinity, which is, I suppose, a theme that runs through all of the books I considered talking about this week, though it’s much more explicitly centered here.
I know many bristle at the mention of toxic masculinity. “Oh, so you’re saying that masculinity is inherently toxic?”
Uh, no. If that were what being said there would be no need to add “toxic” to it as a qualifier. Masculinity isn’t toxic, but, well, toxic masculinity is toxic.
What is toxic masculinity? Well, we get some very good examples of it from Odin, right from the start of the issue, as we find him, drunker and surlier than usual, brooding in what’s left of his great hall in the ruins of Asgard, which is currently home only to himself, Heimdall – who was blinded by the Mangog – and some Dwarves who are whiling away the hours making hammers for Thor.
It’s also home to Cul Borson, the God of Fear, and the once-banished older brother of Odin. As he reflects on the mistakes he’s made in his long life, mistakes that have brought him to this point, Odin assigns a mission to his brother, sending him to Svartalfheim to gather intelligence that can be used in the War of the Realms that is soon – in two months, as the cover tells us – going to come to a head.
Cul agrees, but asserts that once it’s all over, he will be the one wearing the crown. For his part, Odin isn’t so sure that would be so bad, all things considered.
Odin is brooding not only on the ways in which he’s failed as the All-Father, but the ways in which he failed as a father, thinking about all the things he should have said to Thor throughout the years, and all of the tings that he did – unfortunately – say. He realizes that he is as bad at being a father as his own father had been.
After a recent adventure with another of Odin’s damaged children – his long-lost sister Angela – Thor returns in search of more hammers, as he’s been going through hammers at a breakneck – in some cases literally – speed, only to find a very drunk Odin and a bunch of passed-out Dwarves.
At the sight of his beloved son, Odin thinks about all of the things that he should say. How he should tell him about Cul’s mission, about all of the millions of things that a father ought to say to his son, but, of course, he doesn’t, and…well, like I said, beating the shit out of each other.
The timely intervention of one of his other sons – Balder – saves Odin from getting what he thinks he wants, and Thor flies away.
As anyone who has gone through recovery can tell you, the first step is admitting that you have a problem. When your son has almost beaten you to death, at your prompting, that…that seems like a good time to admit that you have a problem. It’s also a good time to reach out to someone and ask for help, someone who might have some idea what you’re going through.
One of the more interesting aspects of comics in recent decades has been taking some of the subtext of long-running books and making them text.
For decades, even if it didn’t reflect authorial intent, it was clear that Odin was a shitty father. But that shittiness was rarely remarked upon, and everyone – readers and characters alike – accepted the illusion of normalcy, pretending that things were fine, everything is fine, in the way that dysfunctional families so often do. We were all one big dysfunctional family, plastering on fake smiles and ignoring the rot behind the facade.
I will go to the cremation furnace believing that the Simonson run on Thor is one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of this medium I love so well. It was fantastic at the time, and all these decades later, it’s still fantastic.
It was part of that facade, propping up the illusion of Odin as the wise and loving – if stern – father, and Thor as the devoted son, who harbored no bitterness towards his abusive ass of a father.
In that regard, what Aaron has done in his run, which will also rank very high in my esteem all the way to the end, is like the scene in Thor: Ragnarok with Hela destroying the veneer that was painted over the real history of Odin and Asgard.
This issue is a powerful exploration of the ways in which we, as men, fail each other, of the traps that we fall into, the way we do the exact opposite of what we know we should do, the way the toxicity seeps into every aspect of our lives, and the way we pass the toxins on.
There is one way the cycle can end – the way that Odin wanted it to end – and that is, too frequently, with too many innocent victims, the way it does end.
But as we see with the step that Odin takes, that doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, the way it ends.
This is exactly the kind of “SJW” comic that the Comicsgate crowd would rail against, but it’s exactly the kind of story that we need. People lost their shit when a razor blade manufacturer humbly suggested that we, as men, need to do better. But the razor blade manufacturer was right.
We need to do better.
If even a one-eyed jackass like Odin can see that, well…
Over the past few days – and this will likely be true no matter when you you read this – we have had multiple instances of mass shootings. As is almost always the case, the shooters had histories of domestic violence.
Having a history of domestic violence is the most reliable predictor of mass shootings.
At the root of all of that is toxic masculinity.
We need to do better. We can’t hope that, as it did for Odin, things will still somehow manage to work out.
We need to get the toxins out. We need to say what we need to say, take the time to listen. Be open. Be honest.
We need to ask for help, and we need to offer help.
As for the rest of this issue, Aaron provides the standard excellent mix of action and humor, and continues to build the momentum for the upcoming crossover event.
I do have a continuity-based quibble, however. I haven’t seen any overt reference to this bit of history being changed, and, in fact, I’ve seen other indicators previously that it has not, but while she raised him and is his mother in every meaningful sense, Freyja did not give birth to Thor, and Thor was not born on Asgard.
Canonically in the comics, his biological mother is Gaea – manifesting at the time as the goddess Jörð – and he was born on Midgard, so it makes no sense for Odin to talk about not being in the hall (or being too drunk to remember being in it) when Thor was born there, because he wasn’t born there.
(Of course, the No-Prize explanation would be that Odin was too drunk to remember the details.)
(And yeah, I know, there are those who would complain that Marvel generally gets the Norse myths wrong in a lot of ways, though I would argue that this presupposes that humans ever got it right in the first place, and I would also point out that we don’t live on Earth 616. )
Anyway, that is a thing that’s been bothering me for a while now, and it really jumped out at me here. If it has changed, well…okay, I guess, but I haven’t seen any indication of it being anything other than forgetfulness or a willful disregard of continuity. I’m not necessarily the biggest stickler for continuity, but I also don’t fall into the “Continuity stifles all creativity!” camp.
I’m guessing it’s the latter option (disregarding for the sake of the story), but there have been other, documented, changes to Thor’s history during Aaron’s run, so I’m mostly just curious.
Really like Del Mundo’s work here. Great storytelling flow and solid line art, and page design. The page shown above with the panels in the hammer was phenomenal.
However, my existing complaint about the colors stands. It’s a good style, but it’s not the right style here. I would love to see Matt Wilson, who was the colorist on the previous series, brought back in. He would complement Del Mundo’s line work perfectly.
Still, it’s a good-looking book, and I’m eagerly-awaiting the arrival of The War of the Realms.