The Mighty Thor #3 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.
Two surprising things came out of the Iron Man film. The first, of course, was that the film itself was actually quite good. The second was that the concomitant overflow of new Iron Man comic product led to writer Matt Fraction crafting a new “Golden Age” for the Armored Avenger. And in the wake of the success of the Thor film (though no one’s going to argue it’s as good as Iron Man), Fraction has done it again. Beginning with a series of impressive one-shots, he’s shown a great understanding of the importance of balancing the character between Earth and Asgard, and since taking over Blondie’s ongoing adventures, he’s made the character more of a mainstay of the Marvel U than at any time since the early days of The Avengers (not a dis on the brilliant efforts of guys like Simonson, but they tended to be at their best when they pulled Thor out of the regular Marvel mainstream). What’s doubly impressive is that, unlike the case with Iron Man, Fraction’s not inheriting a character during a fallow period: J. Michael Straczynski’s revamped version of Thor was easily his most impressive comics work in many years, and set the bar pretty high for Fraction and artist Olivier Coipel. And month after month, they manage to clear it with ease.
This issue is, frankly, a setup for what’s to come, but Fraction packs it with detail and incident: the good citizens of Braxton have had enough of the dangers of Asgardian proximity, and as luck would have it, it’s the sanguine Volstagg who happens along to receive their ultimatum. Meanwhile, an ultimatum of a different sort is being delivered by the Silver Surfer: Odin must hand over an Asgardian artifact that has the power to quench Galactus’ hunger forever; obviously a great boon to the universe IF it’s true. And while Odin would seem to have good reason for rejecting the demand, Fraction leaves it open as to which of these cosmic titans is playing it straight (if indeed, either one is). Naturally, this kind of encounter in superhero comics results in fisticuffs, and the art team of Coipel, inker Mark Morales, and colorist Laura Martin brings us a Thor-Surfer fight scene full of (literally) awesome power, but with punches and headbutts that feel bone-and-muscle real.
I love Fraction’s take on the Surfer as something reminiscent of the apocalyptic herald of the Lee-Kirby days, as he sneers at Thor: “Your little hammer and temper tantrums will not save you from the hunger that does not cease. I will show you bad days and blacker nights where no light shines, little Asgardian. Your imagination will shatter when cast into the churning sorrows of his wake.” Over-the-top old school; gotta love it.
Beyond that, the subplots are entertaining, as they sow seeds for what’s to come. While Volstagg’s confrontation with the Bible-thumpers may feel a bit one-sided (Fraction skirts close to disapproving the notion of faith, not just of fanaticism), he does get off some great lines (some of which feel like juicy superhero comic metatext: “Rising from the dead is more common than you’d think“). The reimagining of Loki as a “boy adventurer” version of his trickster self continues to work better than I’d expected; there’s a nice callback in this issue to the original Norse myth of Loki stealing the golden hair of the goddess Freya, in a scene where Sif gets to be both stunningly sexy and dryly funny.
And I can’t say enough about the art team of Coipel, Morales, and Martin: no one since John Buscema has rendered that blend of godly gleam and mortal grit as well as they have (and considering that the original Silver Surfer series might have been Buscema’s greatest work, they’re an ideal fit for this story).
Of course, I have to dock this one a notch for the fact that what we really want is coming next issue: Asgard assembled versus the Power Cosmic. But as a leadup to what might be the superpower throwdown of the year, it’ll more than do.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Thunderbolts #159 (Marvel, $4.99)
By Jeb D.
There’s something winningly Silver Age about superhero anthologies: they’re usually a diversion from the locked-in ongoing plot lines, and, when handled well, the “short-story” form has its virtues in any medium. And given the size of the cast involved here (i.e., the entire supervillain population of The Raft), the assortment of perspectives and art styles keeps things interesting.
The basic storyline is simple: the Fear Itself Juggernaut Hammer Thingy has devastated The Raft, and pockets of survivors need to find a way out, while deciding just how much “every man/woman for themselves” they can handle. It’s a nice summation of the overall Marvel story engine of balancing power and responsibility, and regular series writer Jeff Parker and his fellow writers work a nice series of variations on the theme.
The lead story, by Parker and regular T-Bolts artist Declan Shavely, features the “Underbolts” making their way through the wreckage to an unexpected destination, and salting away a bit of insurance against the day when they find a chance to rmake a break back to their life of super-crime; I particularly like Parker’s deft handling of Mr. Hyde, who manages to undercut every moment of light humor with deadpan menace.
After that, we have Moonstone attempting to rescue the survivors of the Raft’s female wing, only to have them overpower and capture her, on their way to a melee that, thanks to artist Valentine De Landro, has a toughness we don’t associate with female-character superfights, and in the end, writer Joe Carmanga pulls a plausible alliance out of the turmoil.
Next, Ghost and John Walker attempt to rescue the inmates of the prison’s “gaseous wing” (cue laughter), and while the story doesn’t have a lot of surprises, it has nice characterization from Jen Van Meter, and the angular art of Eric Canete really captures the claustrophobic action.
Finally, Frank Tieri digs a bit at the reader’s comfort level as the neo-Nazi Crossbones is being confronted by a gang of black inmates–how are we to feel when the unfairly outnumbered character is the loathsome one?–and artist Matthew Southworth does an above-average job of facially distinguishing the various African-American characters (something that many comic artists seem to find difficult).
As you’d expect, this one’s mostly for confirmed Thunderbolts fans, since it’s the character interaction, not anything to do with the actual storylines, that brings the most rewards. But at that, it’s a satisfying read, and I give it an extra half-star for providing almost 100% more comic (40 pages) for the extra buck.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars