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Bellarius looks at the return of Marvel’s neighborhood friendly god in Joe Michael Straczynski’s Thor Volume 3 #1, issues #1-6.
“Insanely fun, witty and fast paced; Thor Vol. 3 is everything a monthly ongoing comic should be.” - The Founding Fields
If there was one comic which truly showed how to get a modern day monthly series right in the Marvel universe, it would be this one. While he is better known for an acclaimed but troubled run on Spider-Man, JMS truly struck gold here. There’s a perfect balance of humour and drama, an aversion to the growing nihilism of Marvel and best of all the plot never feels dragged out. It keeps a constant pace, progresses at a speed which allows for new revelations to take place along with minor character moments, and lacks the ultra-decompression and padding many series suffer from. If anything it’s the anti-Age of Ultron comic more than anything else. Something only helped by the fact that, rather than focusing upon loss or the risk of losing something, the first volume is about rebuilding what was lost.
Set in the wake of Civil War, the asgardian race lies seemingly dead following a gambit to escape Ragnarok. Asgard itself is long gone and Thor, the true Thor, has not been seen since entering hibernation. However, things are soon to change. Doctor Donald Blake once again walks the earth, restored thanks to a loophole in the spell Odin cast upon his son to make him believe he was human, and touches the fallen mjolnir. Communicating with the god of thunder’s spirit as it resides in the void of non-existance, he convinces him to take up the hammer once more with a new task: Restore his race and the fallen kingdom.
However, the world is not as he remembers and Thor will find himself opposed by former allies and enemies alike as he tries to complete his task.
The first thing to truly praise is the structure of the story and the overall style of the plot, especially when looking at it in terms of individual issues. Thor’s search for the asguardians and rebuilding Asgard might be an ongoing, overarching plotline but has enough beats to make it feel semi-episodic. With a large enough overall goal as bringing back an entire race, the comic can afford to focus upon one event at a time. Usually with Thor finding and bringing back a handful at once, displaying some degree of progress at every turn rather than achieving everything at the very end.
It’s the difference between feeling like you’re following a series, and watching a film but having to fork out more cash for every new scene. It also works to make things feel bigger as there are more gradual events to keep track of, something which works in its favour even in trade paperback form.
Beyond the structuring of the story is the actual content itself, and it’s clear right from the start JMS knows how to deliver on what an audience wants. Unlike a few who come to mind, he seemed to actually remember “oh yeah, Thor is a god” and made good use of that, treating him in the same sort of manner Grant Morrison does Superman. As a very powerful being who stands well above humanity, but rather than coming off as a Mary Sue displays his powers in genuinely entertaining ways which skirt the line of just showing off. It’s saying something when land disputes prove to be some of the most memorable moments of the comic.
Any humour of Thor using his powers is only enhanced by the local townfolk of Broxton Oklahoma, Asgard’s new location. The ways they react to a group of larger than life viking gods living right next door are some of the funniest yet genuinely human moments i’ve seen in Marvel or DC of late, save possibly for the Power Girl series under Grey and Palmiotti. Biggest among them is a three page build-up to a joke with no dialogue and few actions, the punchline itself involving the image to the right. The scene is even funnier in context and with the final panel.
The unfortunate thing is that the humour does result in a lot of the more serious moments being pushed into the background. Thor brooding upon the conciquences of his actions or task ahead of him, the severity of his actions and involvement in Africa (don’t ask, just read it) are welcome but not as present as they could have been. As much of an effort as there was to strike a balance between seriousness and humour, the comic definitely leans towards the latter.
This also results in the eventual resolution of some of the trade’s problems feeling forced, confined to a much smaller number of pages than a more gradual resolution over a few issues. There are many elements which just come out of nowhere. Not enough to completely wreck the conclusion to the comic, but certainly enough to make a reader raise an eyebrow when several characters are reintroduced out of the blue. This is admittedly overshadowed when reading it the first time by one of the trade’s best battles, when Thor runs into an old foe of his.
Speaking of the fights, there are only a handful of actual battles within the volume. Most only last a few panels and while this means they can be resolved by the issue’s end with pages left to further the plot, they tend to be relatively one sided. Usually in Thor’s favour with the god of thunder being barely slowed down by his foes, relying more upon the flashy effects, destruction and dialogue to keep readers entertained. That and seeing Das Eisenfuhrer being royally smacked about after his role in Civil War. Thankfully whatever their length, the art quality is continually exceptional during these sequences, as it is with the rest of the comic. Managing to contrast the elements of myth with contemporary earth brilliantly in style and colouring.
Ultimately the book has definite shortcomings when it comes to certain aspects, but they’re passable. It’s hard to notice them when reading through the first time and there’s so much fun and positivity being given off it’s hard to really call them anything but necessary sacrifices for the plot. This is definitely a comic recommended to those jaded with Marvel as a result of recent decisions, showing good stories can be made even in the wake of the worst events. Between a suitably epic story-line fitting with the comic’s theme of deities and sagas, well delivered humour and brilliant writing this is definitely one worth picking up and even one worth starting Thor with. Continuity heavy as it might be, nearly everything you need to know is explained within the first few pages. If you have the time and cash, definitely check this one out.