The history of romance comics is a fairly predictable one, at least visually. One thinks of a teary-eyed woman in the cover’s foreground, a choked and forlorn sentiment in her dialogue balloon, and a crest fallen gentlemen either walking into or out of the doorway behind her, possibly holding a bouquet of flowers. It’s odd, then, that the cover of the most genuine and sentimental romance comic I’ve read maybe ever features Thor about to slug Fin Fang Foom with a hammer on the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard.
Much has been made in recent weeks about exactly why “Thor The Mighty Avenger” is being canceled. Sales have been blamed. Companies have been blamed. The book’s inability to be easily classified has been blamed. Even you or I, even if we’ve been talking non-stop about how great the book is everywhere we can think of, has been blamed. (Can you imagine?) But when you actually read an issue of Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee’s remarkable book (and clearly, not enough people are), who’s to blame isn’t really that important. It’s a comic that is so effortlessly successful as entertainment, that it’s more fitting to ask, how did this comic come to exist in the first place?
It is clearly a labor of love from its two creators, both of whom are incredibly well-suited to each other but also both kind of a surprise. How did Langridge, a gifted cartoonist, get a gig writing Thor comics? And where exactly did Chris Samnee come from and why isn’t he busy drawing whatever the highest profile biggest selling comic any publisher has? Whatever the answers are, we’re certainly lucky their paths have crossed, even for the small number issues we have been given.
Even though each issue of the book has focused on a new and delightful conflict for Thor to deal with, the book’s heart has always been his relationship with Jane Foster. Unsurprisingly, comics have never been great at relationships. Catering mostly to stunted manchildren, they tend to focus on impossibly proportioned and irrepressibly clever women and the rugged and tortured men who love them. If it’s ever complicated, it’s usually because one of them has been cloned, or shot, or whipped off a bridge. Comics don’t really do subtlety when it comes to love.
In this single issue, however, Langridge and Samnee have told a compelling and legitimately tender romance story. It’s the kind of thing you could have, say, a human girl read and not be bitterly ashamed. Story-wise, Langridge provides a simple construct for the narrative. Thor finds a way home but has to make a tough decision about what he’s willing to do to get there. While it helps to have five issues of strong characterization behind his thought process, even in the confines of these twenty-odd pages, he shows enough of Thor that his ultimate decision carries an enormous amount of weight.
Helping deliver that weight is Langridge’s gifted collaborator, artist Chris Samnee. A draftsman of incredible versatility, he does fantastic work portraying Heimdall and the cosmos surrounding the Rainbow Bridge (including an uncredited guest appearance by Fin Fang Foom). But one of the reasons this story resonates is how good Samnee is at building a human and believable character out of Jane Foster. In the closing pages, as a perennially bemused Jane makes her way through Thor’s valiant attempts at romantic overtures, both simple and wildly complicated, one never loses a sense of her internal life. In a medium that is so relentlessly obsessed with the outer — laser projectiles, mechanical fortresses, etc. — Samnee’s skill in this regard is a rare gift indeed.
So, here we have a comic whose noose has been fitted, whose stories have gone mostly unread. Sure we could try and figure out who to blame, whose desks to inundate with rainbows (someone should probably actually get on that), or we could point fingers at the readers of the book themselves (yeah that one didn’t make sense to me either). But while you’re doing that, be sure to take the time out to actually buy and read a copy of one of the genuinely sweetest comics that’s ever been published.
Heck, buy two.