Between J. M. Straczynski’s “Thor” ongoing and the recent one-shots written by Matt Fraction, the Thor franchise has been reinvigorated by emphasizing the grandeur and otherworldliness of the Norse gods. Such an emphasis is aided by the change in setting, with Asgard now a floating city in the American Midwest, allowing the contrast between the gods and average humans to become a central concern of Thor’s world, in a way that it hasn’t been for a long, long time.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I like the way Thor’s been handled recently, and I think the re-emergence of Donald Blake is an important addition. And as tired as I’ve become of the seemingly endless Super-Skrull assaults throughout the “Secret Invasion” event, I am not so weary of the whole thing that I can’t appreciate a well-told story, and that’s absolutely what we get here.
I thought “Secret Invasion: Thor” #1 was a decent start, but this second issue takes what Matt Fraction and Doug Braithwaite established in the first chapter and accelerates the pace. Fraction cross-cuts between Donald Blake’s delivery of a child with the raging Skrull battle in Asgard. It’s an effective technique, because not only does it contrast the vulnerable and the human with the nearly inconceivable war of the gods, but it also provides dramatic tension as Blake longs to join his brethren at arms but knows that bringing a single human life into the world is his more immediate concern.
Plus, it keeps Thor out of the action, which might be a strange choice for a book called “Secret Invasion: Thor,” but it’s really not. It allows the newly-returned Beta Ray Bill to get his share of the spotlight for the issue, and when Thor does join the fray — as it seems he will very soon — the moment will be all the more dramatic.
Unfortunately, Fraction’s story is not accompanied by Doug Braithwaite’s best work. Or, rather, not the best reproduction of Braithwaite’s work. Braithwaite is a perfectly competent artist — more than that, really, as he’s shown drastic improvements in quality in recent years — but the decision to color directly over his pencils renders the whole book murky and vague. The sketchiness could have, in theory, added an ethereal quality to the Asgardian scenes, or increased the tension in the hospital scenes. But it doesn’t work that way. Instead, everything looks as if it’s in soft focus, diminishing the power of the battle scenes and undercutting the human drama with a Vaseline-smeared lens.
“Secret Invasion: Thor” #2 is little more than an extended fight scene, but it has enough humanity to add a meaningful subtext to the bombast. It’s a “Secret Invasion” story, but it’s a good one, continuing the noble rebirth of Marvel’s favorite hammer-wielding god.