Saturday, July 10, 2010

Chronic Review: Thor - The Mighty Avenger # 1!

Thor: The Mighty Avenger # 1
Marvel Comics

Script: Roger Langridge
Pencils: Chris Samnee
22 pages for $2.99

This hit the stands on Wednesday and I was instantly attracted to it and irritated by it. The art is sort of odd and sort of cool at the same time. There's a little Scott McDaniel to it, certainly on the boots. What's fascinating about it to me (the art, that is) is how much it evokes in its simplicity. My eye sort of creates more depth than what the lines actually address. That's a talent, I would think. Good on Chris Samnee for that!

This comic also pisses me off, because I didn't know how to file it in my head. I'm actually more interested in it as an artifact than a text, if that makes any sense. Probably not. It would have scored me points during my days at the Ivory Towers, for sure. What I mean is that this comic is more interesting to me as a difficult to classify retail object than as a story.

Anywho. Let's start with the story, though, shall we?

Thor: The Mighty Avenger acts like kind of re-booty jumping on point. You point of view character is Jane Foster, who works at a museum in Oklahoma. She just got promoted to Head of Nordic Stuff. Thor bursts into the museum trying to get at an urn in a locked case. It looks like a Donald Blakey type stick, (one of several nods to previous Thor canon) but it's pretty clear that this is not Donald Blake. There is just Thor.

The guards shuffle him out after Jane Foster pulls a Dian Fossey and tames the savage bastard. One look at purdy Jane and Thor is all smiles, although he's not much of a talker at this point.

Fast forward a couple of nights and Jane and her ex-boyfriend Jim are almost struck by Thor as he's pummelled out of a local tavern. Mr. Hyde is making unwanted advances at a young maiden, and Thor stepped in to defend her honor. First he got taken down by a few rent-a-cops, now Mr. Hyde is wiping the floor with him.

Hyde's formula wears off, so he gets scarce after shouting some obligatory warning about future repercussions. Jane wants to take Thor to the hospital, but he wants to go back to the museum and that urn. Against her better judgement, Ms. Foster unlocks the urn for Thor, who promptly smashes it on the ground and recovers Mjolnir. A previously weak-ass Thor now seems ready for some serious kicking of bum. And that's where the issue ends.

As a story, this is not half bad. The players are established clearly and with a little flair. Jane is competent but slightly vulnerable, Jim is a douche, but the kind of douche who will double back and help a friend, even if she is acting a little irrationally. Thor is noble with a just a hint of goofiness. It reads with a 1970s tone, slightly contemporized.

This comic is pretty clearly establishing its own status quo, and starting from scratch with Thor crashing to earth on a rainbow bridge. You're getting this Thor story from the ground floor, no continuity baggage. The character is still recognizable if you've read previous material. They kept the "only Thor can lift Mjolnir" thing, and Oklahoma is obviously a nod to Straczynski, even if there is no Asgard floating around.

When Jane first meets Thor, he has no English skills at all. When she bumps into him two days later, he's pretty much got it down cold. But Thor claims he's been learning English for a week, not two days. Time travel or whatever, he's still a pretty smart cookie to crack any language in a week.

There are a few issues. One of the nods to prior canon is that Jane can't move the urn, because it contains Mjolnir. Only Thor can lift that bad boy. But that being the case, how was it ever transported to the museum then? Nit-picky, I know. Not a big deal.

I think the only thing that really "bothered" me inside the text was Mr. Hyde pimp slapping Jane outside the bar. OK, far more tame than what Kyle Raynor keeps finding in his household appliances. But this is supposedly an "all ages" title, (more on that later) and this is the kind of crap that would send Valerie D'Orazio running for her keyboard with emotional scarring. What's a kid supposed to make of this?

And I guess this is as good a time as any to segue into the artifact part of my spiel. It's just very difficult to just look at this comic and know what to make of it, how to place it, who to sell it to, where it fits in continuity if it does at all.

I believe after reading it that this is an "all ages" book in the vein of Marvel Adventures, only it isn't labeled as such. It just has a logo at the top saying "Thor - The Mighty Avenger". Except in this storyline, he's certainly not a member of the Avengers, nor is there even a trace of the Avengers in the comic.

Why isn't this Marvel Adventures Thor? Is it false advertising to use "Avengers" in the title just to try and cash in that team's current cache? I think so. Is it a hybrid book? The back page includes adverts for Pet Avengers, Super Heroes, and Spider-Man. (the former Marvel Adventures books) Right next to it is an ad for a mechanical Iron Man toothbrush, which is certainly for kids. But a few pages back is an ad for Hickman's Secret Warriors, which is a T+ book, not an all ages book.

The whole thing is confusing, just another in a long line of comics adding to the din of the cacophony. There is nothing in the solicitation copy that would help a reader or a retailer place the book, either:

"Written by ROGER LANGRIDGE Pencils & Cover by CHRIS SAMNEE He's banished, he's mad, and he wants to FIGHT. ROGER LANGRIDGE (Muppet Show, Eisner and Harvey Award nominee) and CHRIS SAMNEE (SIEGE: EMBEDDED, The Mighty) re-imagine the God of Thunder in THOR THE MIGHTY AVENGER! THRILL as he battles robots the size of cities! GASP as he tames the mightiest sea creatures! SWOON as he rescues damsels from the vilest villains! It's Thor as you've NEVER seen him, hammering his way into your hands TWICE this month! 32 PGS. (each)/Rated A ...$2.99 (each)"

OK, great. We know it's an all ages title. Fine. So is Amazing Spider-Man. Let me tell you about Grim Hunt part 3 that hit stands this week as well. It featured a guy in a spider suit tacked to the wall with knives and such to beams in a cross-like pattern. The Kravinoffs were using dark rituals in a blatant desecration of this certain Jewish guy's crucifixion. Plus they're locking up women in dark dungeons while committing a kind of costumed genocide on anybody with a spider in their namesake. The story is also thick with the concepts of suicide, madness, and depression.

Now, just to be clear, I'm fine with all of that. My point is that "A" for "all ages" has a wide jurisdiction. A REALLY wide jurisdiction. This Thor book could be complete fluff, or it could be a drunk dude with a Quixote complex who only thinks he saves these damsels from distress and then goes home to crank off a couple of ounces in front of his computer while watching the Batman XXX trailer, and then beats his wife. If you're a consumer or a retailer, you just don't know.

Is it in continuity or not? Can you tell from the solicitation? The word "re-imagining" seems to say no. But there's nothing in there to sell you on the idea that it's from the former Marvel Adventures line, which doesn't appear to exist any more.

If you're a retailer, how many copies do you order? Is this another Avengers book? There's already been 37, why couldn't this be another? It isn't.

Where do you rack this? There's nothing about the cover to identify it as an all ages book. I can't speak for all retailers, but I can tell you that I bought my copy of Thor the Mighty Avenger at a store that separates the "kids" books at the other end of the store from the regular material. Yet this was sitting in with the regular books. I doubt that they even knew it was an all ages book.

I suppose many people will say that's a good thing. "Good! We shouldn't be type casting and labeling books as children's material, because it's unfair and it basically signs the comic's death warrant, because nobody buys kid's books!"

I can see that argument, and labeling/typecasting sounds pretty heinous. But what about truth in advertising, and what about getting the right book into the right hands? I know for a fact that some people are going to be pissed when they get done with this comic, because it has nothing to do with regular Marvel universe, and they want their continuity. This comic doesn't "matter" in the same way that "Avengers" matters.

There are also going to be people out there specifically looking for comics where they don't want to have to worry about satanic rites being involved, and don't want to learn 70 years of continuity to enjoy their story. They won't be directed to this book, because nobody knows what the FUCK IT IS.

And how could they? Marvel wasn't clear about it, and I believe they were deliberately deceptive about it to try and avoid lowered sales. There's 12 or 17 Avengers books with Thor in it, an ongoing series, and I'm probably missing a couple one-shots as well. Who can possibly know what to pick up to satisfy a particular set of needs.

You know what would be the absolute perfect book to give to somebody after they walk out of that upcoming Hemsworth Thor movie? This comic. Civilians don't want to learn continuity, they want a cool character in stories they can pick up and understand readily. No reason to believe that this couldn't be that book. I only hope that it lives that long, because this is a tough market, the racks are glutted with shit, and this comic isn't being marketed correctly at all.

- Ryan


Chris Samnee said...

Hi Ryan,
Just wanted to point out that A does not actually mean "all-ages". At Marvel, A is the rating above All Ages and below T+. In the Marvel Previews, there is a rating guide which identifies "A" as "appropriate for ages 9 and up". I think the ads in this book reflect that the book can be enjoyed by a wide variety of readers. Thanks for the review.

Chronic Insomnia said...

Thank you for clearing that up, sir! It does make a difference. For one thing, it sorts out the "pimp slap" in my mind, which wasn't overly gratuitous but wasn't cartoony, either. In my world, a 9 year old could be expected to handle that.

I still contend that if Thor: Mighty Avenger & Spider-Man: Grim Hunt can carry the same rating, the rating is awful fuzzy. But that's not your problem, that's a Marvel brass/review board problem!

I agree that Thor: Mighty Avenger can successfully play to a wide audience, and if I had my way there would be stacks of this book in theater lobbies when the film hits. This is a good product, and I wish you the best in finding your audience!

- Ryan