Welcome to the first-ever Spotlight Sunday, in which I focus on one comic from my Wednesday purchases! In theory, the comic in the Spotlight is selected by you, the theoretical reader, based on a listing of the week’s purchases that I provide in the Weigh In Wednesday post.
I can’t say it’s entirely unexpected, but there wasn’t a whole lot of voting going on this week: one official vote in the comments on the Weigh In Wednesday post, and one on my personal Facebook page.
Given that they were votes for two different comics, it falls on me to be the tie-breaker.
(I will note that neither one was what I would have chosen to write about.)
Ultimately, I have to give it to The Mighty Thor #22 as that one was an actual official vote (Sorry, Teen Titans: Earth One Volume Two).
The Mighty Thor #22
A Fistful of Brimstone
JASON AARON (W) • VALERIO SCHITI & RUSSELL DAUTERMAN (A)
Cover by RUSSELL DAUTERMAN
This issue isn’t exactly an ideal jumping on point for the comic, as it’s the second part of a new story arc, and it follows on the heels of several years’ worth of development, both in this comic – don’t let the low issue number fool you; Marvel has a tendency to frequently reset the numbering, periodically opting to relaunch a series with a new #1 – and in others, some of which I haven’t read myself.
If you only know Thor from the movies, or haven’t picked up an issue of the comic in the past few years, and haven’t paid attention to comic book news, you’re likely to find yourself very confused by this issue.
And so, let’s catch up at least a little.
Some time ago, Thor, God of Thunder, Son of Odin, and worthy wielder of the mystic hammer Mjolnir, found that he wasn’t.
Worthy, that is. His hammer fell from his hand, and he was no longer able to lift it. For the Odinson, the loss of the hammer that had, in large part, defined who he was for centuries was akin to losing his arm. (Which is a thing that also happened; he now has a magic left arm made from a metal similar to that from which Mjolnir was forged.)
Shortly thereafter, a mysterious woman picked up the hammer, and proving worthy, she gained the power – and the name – of Thor.
(The words engraved on the hammer setting the terms of gaining Thor’s power rewrote themselves to read, “Whosever holds this hammer, if SHE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”)
In time, this mysterious woman is revealed to be Jane Foster, a woman who had known the Odinson during the time in which he was living a dual life as the God of Thunder and a mortal doctor known as Donald Blake.
Once a nurse, and later a doctor, and then a Senator, representing Midgard (Earth) in The Congress of Worlds, a representative body for the Ten Realms (up from Nine), Jane is dying from cancer, and refusing to allow herself to be treated with Asgardian magic. To make matters worse, making the transformation into the Goddess of Thunder is undoing the more conventional treatment that she is receiving. Her divine form drives the “poison” from chemotherapy out of her system, but, as the cancer is part of her, it can’t remove that, and so, every time she picks up the hammer, she brings herself that much closer to death.
Given that there is a war going on across the Ten Realms, led by the evil Malekith and his compatriot Loki – brother to the Odinson – Jane finds herself lifting the hammer more and more.
And it’s the war that brings us to where we are in this issue. While on a humanitarian mission to Nidavellir, the Realm of the Dwarves, to aid refugees from Alfheim, Realm of the Light Elves, a delegation from the Congress of Worlds bore witness to a devastating attack launched from Muspelheim, the always-burning Realm of Fire.
During that attack, Volstagg, the Senator from Asgardia, and a god whose heart is nearly as big as his appetite – and there’s pretty much nothing in all of the Realms as big as Volstagg’s appetite – finds himself protecting a group of Alfheim children, children who, tragically, are ultimately claimed by the fire raining down on Nidavellir.
The trauma leaves Volstagg broken, and he begins to wither away, oblivious to those around him, his unfocused eyes seeing nothing other than those children burning before him, and hearing nothing but their cries.
Well, almost nothing. There is something calling out to him, something that responds to his desire for vengeance, and offers him the opportunity to claim it. There is another Mjolnir, one of the last remaining artifacts of a dead universe. It is a Mjolnir without a Thor, waiting for someone to wield it, waiting for its own opportunity to claim vengeance.
With hammer in hand, the once-jovial Volstagg is now the War Thor, a grim and driven god of storm and fury. After extinguishing the fires in Nidavellir, the War Thor makes his way to Muspelheim with the intent of drowning those fires and ending the life of Sindr, daughter of Surtur, the first of the Fire Giants, who is also known as the Queen of Cinders.
When the War Thor arrives, Sindr is meeting with her allies, Malekith and Loki, who are taking her to task for failing to deliver what they wanted: a burning Nidavellir. Sindr doubts the veracity of their claim that Nidavellir no longer burns, but begins to believe as rain starts to fall on Muspelheim.
The obvious trope, echoed in the story’s title that conjures images of the standard haunted gunfighter of Spaghetti Westerns, holds true for the War Thor’s quest for vengeance; his attack, in the name of the innocent victims of war, is creating nothing but more victims. But the single-minded War Thor is heedless to this, and it falls on Thor, who arrived in the War Thor’s wake, to save the lives of Muspelheim’s children, children who, while already burning, due to their nature, are just as innocent as the children who burned before Volstagg’s eyes.
(As something of an aside, it’s worth noting that Aaron makes frequent allusions to Westerns and their tropes throughout his run. It makes for an interesting mix with the allusions he brings in from established continuity and mythology.)
Transporting herself and the War Thor to a location where he can do no more harm, Thor tries to reason with the former Voluminous one.
That…that doesn’t exactly work out.
This issue served primarily to set up the conflict between Thor and the War Thor, so while it had some strong action sequences, there really wasn’t much to the story. War Thor shows up and attacks, ends up on the ropes, but refuses to quit. Thor gets him out of there.
However, there was further insight into what’s happening in the broken mind of Volstagg, and it raises questions as to how much of what he’s doing is actually a decision he’s made, based on the guilt and trauma, and how much of it is Mjolnir itself simply using that guilt and trauma to drive Volstagg to achieve its own ends.
We’ve seen similar questions raised about what motivates Jane to put her life at risk to fill the role of Thor, as it’s clear that her Mjolnir has its own agenda as well, so it seems to be something of a thematic element that will be explored in-depth as we progress.
It’s amusing that the primary artist – while Dauterman provided the cover and the first page, he’s absent for the remainder of the issue – is named Schitti, as the art is decidedly not that. The fiery Realm of Muspelheim and its burning inhabitants call for some interesting and dynamic design work, and Schitti delivers on that front. The one area of weakness, though, is in the storytelling. That is, the flow of the images from one to the next to drive the narrative. The panel composition, consisting largely of overlapping panels rather than something more traditionally grid-like, particularly in the action sequences, does not have the best flow, and is sometimes unclear what happens when.
Still, those complaint aside, the issue does what it needed to do, and I eagerly anticipate the Thor vs. Thor battle that is to come.
After all, Thor isn’t a title, it’s a name. Specifically, the name of the Odinson.
This isn’t something that’s been ignored in the actual comic – or in fandom; while there were far too many people who objected to an icky girl having the hammer, most fans had confidence in Jason Aaaron’s writing and objected only to the use of the name – and it has been addressed, both directly and indirectly.
From Jane’s perspective, she’s wielding the hammer, she’s the Goddess of Thunder, defender of Midgard, Asgardia, and all the other Realms. What else would she call herself?
Beyond that, as the Odinson himself recognized, while Thor is the name he was given, throughout his life it has come to be something more, and from his perspective, a Thor without a hammer is not a Thor.
The idea of treating the name like a title isn’t exactly without precedent. When he briefly wielded Mjolnir, Beta Ray Bill was sometimes referred to as Beta Ray Thor.
And while their story is incredibly convoluted, because comics, a mortal man named Eric Masterson, who later went on to be known as Thunderstrike, wielded Mjolnir and called himself Thor.
There was also Roger “Red” Norvell, who, in yet another convoluted “because comics” story, took on the role and name of Thor.
Finally, when he was first introduced, Thor himself wasn’t really Thor. The physical transformation that Donald Blake underwent was not initially a restoration of his true form; he was simply a mortal who had gained the power of Thor, and took on the name. That changed, of course, and quickly, but, again, the transfer of the name itself as if it were a title is not exactly something new.
Your mileage will vary, but there is at least a rationale, and one that I, personally, find reasonable.
Want more Thor? Here are some suggestions
Thor by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman – Collecting the issues that mark the beginning of Jane’s career as the Goddess of Thunder.
Thor by Walter Simonson, Volume 1 – Collecting the start of the legendary Walt Simonson run on Thor, the gold standard against which all Thor comics are judged.
Ragnarok Volume 1: Last God Standing – A very different take on a very different Thor by the aforementioned Walt Simonson.
Thanks for (theoretically) reading, and be sure to check back on the next Weigh In Wednesday!
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