Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Thor: Reign of Blood

Thor: Reign of Blood
by Matt Fraction, Khari Evans, Victor Olazaba, and Patrick Zircher
Marvel Comics, 2008.

Hillary Brown: Okay, so this is literally the first Thor comic book I've ever read, and I'm coming at this from the perspective of being both at least somewhat a Matt Fraction fan (I recognize that he's got some limitations) and confirmedly an appreciator of Norse mythology dating back to D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths. What I hope is that this is a lot suckier than Thor usually is. Right? It has to be. Fraction's out of his depth with trying for a more complex and authentic picture of Norse mythology, and either he doesn't know what he's doing on a really basic level, or he and the artist never communicated. I mean, Odin has one eye. That's just the way it is. Showing him with two is like forgetting that Spider-man can stick to walls. The moments when Fraction slips back into his contemporary idiom--as when humanity admits having eaten Thor's horses in apologetic, hemming and hawing fashion--are incongruous and yet they're also the best bits. That's not a good sign in my book. Also, and bear with me if this is a dumb question, but where the fuck is Thor for most of the book? I think Alan Moore does a much, much better job with this kind of material in Top Ten, where one of the cases the cops have to deal with is the murder of Baldur, which they don't realize happens pretty much continually. Ugh.

Garrett Martin: You'll have to take the eye issue up with Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Marvel's Odin has almost always had two eyes. So you shouldn't be looking for perfect transliterations of the myths in Thor comics; that's never been what the book's about. The comics hint at the old stories and preserve a bit of that atmosphere, but the classic Thor from the '60's (which are about the only classic Thor comics, save Walter Simonson's run in the '80's) were focused more on refitting that grandeur into a fairly traditional superhero framework. But mostly they were about whatever awesome, crazy shit Jack Kirby felt like drawing that month. Fraction heads in the Edith Hamilton direction a bit in Reign of Blood and his previous Thor one-shot, but both are less about the actual mythology than about being kick-ass supernatural barbarian stories, pretty much. They should probably star Conan instead of Thor, but Marvel let that license go years ago. And I agree that the contemporary humor sticks out tonally, but the primary problem with Thor has always been retaining that air of otherworldly nobility while writing for a modern pop-culture audience. Fraction isn't the best at walking that tight-rope since Lee and Kirby, but he's far from the worst.

So do you think this a legitimately bad comic, or just the victim of your expectations?

HB: I think it might be a legitimately bad comic, much as I like Fraction. I mean, I don't have a problem with ridiculous, but the combination of vengeance and ass (carefully veiled and yet no classier for it) plus a really awful plot made me anxious to get through it. I frowned a lot, basically. When you get down to it, almost nothing happens, despite the fact that there are two stories contained in the book. It's cold and then there's a little bit of explanation and some vengeance and then the dead walk the earth and there's smiting and then more vengeance. And yet it feels like nothing but a talk fest interrupted by occasional poorly rendered fight scenes. Snooze. Maybe my expectations were too high, and I get where Fraction is trying to go (what happens when one of the most high-minded heroes gets pissed off and forsakes his duty?, i.e., Spider-Man 2 sort of), but it sounds like the raison d'etre for the original was great art, and this sure doesn't have it. It's not the worst art out there right now, and even the coloring is passable, but it can't help reminding me (gulp) a little bit of Tarot.

GM: The Frost Giantess T'n'A and Enchantress bits made me cringe a little, too, but they're a far cry from Tarot (why didn't we review that one again, by the way?). I agree the first story is bad, both boring and not entirely faithful to the established Marvel characterization of some of these characters. Fraction's faux-Shakespearian dialogue (a Thor staple) lacks the freewheeling verve of Stan Lee's, and this Loki is pretty dissimilar from the one that's been kicking around Marvel since '63 or so (also, since when has the Enchantress been Idunn? They don't mention that in this issue, but it's stated Fraction's previous Thor issue) The dialogue problems also plague the second tale somewhat, but Fraction more than makes up for it with the unadulterated awesomeness of the Blood Colossus. I pretty much enjoyed all aspects of the second story a good bit, even though it feels less like a Thor comic than, like I said, an old Conan the Barbarian with weird supernatural shit thrown in. The blood storm / skeleton army thing is a fine bit of comic book ridiculousness, and Patrick Zircher's black metal album cover artwork fits the story perfectly. And although it is weird to have that contemporary humor, like we mentioned, it does help to clue the reader in that Fraction et. al. realize exactly how ridiculous and over-the-top this stuff is. I don't know if I can recommend a four-dollar comic that's only half-good, but Fraction's take on Thor is certainly a hell of a lot more fun than what J. Michael Straczynski is doing over in the monthly title.

HB: And also, I think I really do like the contemporary humor here and there. It's kind of a shame that it doesn't show up until the very end, by which point I was already annoyed and bored. If there were a bit of that at the beginning, I might have been better prepared and in a more cheerful mood. You know? Put your camel punching up front. That said, I'm also not a massive Conan fan. It's a little too simplistic for me, although, yes, I understand that that's kind of the point.

I'm pretty sure we didn't review Tarot because it's the worst comic we've ever read. It is an embarrassment to the human species that it exists and, while saying that anything made you throw up a little in your mouth is grounds for being kicked off the internet at this point, it at least turned my stomach a little with its incredible awfulness.

GM: And that's exactly why we should have reviewed Tarot.


Rich said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich said...

Although this is a "one-shot," note that it's #2 of 3 in Fraction's Thor series.

I enjoyed this much more than Hillary, and I can excuse the characterization being a bit off in places. After all, this is supposed to take place before Thor ever went to Midgard in the first place. It would have been nice to get a better look at the Blood Colossus, but I can live with what we got. I'll agree the sexual stuff was a but icky, but I usually think it's a bit out of place in comics. A four-way with three dwarfs is just an odd mental image anyway.

Garrett's point about Marvel's Thor only riffing on Norse mythology is dead on. Much as the Marvel U is not the real world, their Asgard, Olympus, Hell, and whatnot are different from ours (and all interact). It's fun when they play up that side of things in Incredible Herc, Thor, etc., but don't expect *too* much loyalty to existing mythology.

Anyway, I liked this book and I am looking forward to the next one.

hillary said...

So, you know, why even give Thor a hammer then? I really don't expect incredible fidelity, but I thought there would be a little more than there was. I'll get over it, though.

Rich said...

Because a hammer is a convenient tool to beat up bad guys?

Also note that Loki is, at the moment, a woman while Phobos is a grade schooler working for Nick Fury. Crazy!

darkness said...

wait, what's this about Loki being a woman?

man, JMS's Thor sucks.

smoggo said...

its been a while since i skimmed a thor comic...since walt's day (can you believe i used to draw thor with a mask?!?), but this sounds really boring...for my money, hellboy is the only comic to handle mythology is an exciting manner.

will you guys be seeing ole'hellboy 2?