I love the language of Thor. Sometimes, I even love more of what Thor says in comics than I remember what he's actually done. Even the font in his word bubbles has always been a little fancy, a little script-like, just right for the Son of Asgard who speaks so boldly. His phrases are packed with story and character: “Ultron … We would have words with thee.” "I say thee NAY!" I'm sure, Dear Reader, you have your own awesome Thor quote tucked away just in case. Mine's "'Tis I, Alchemist, I will pilot your Blood Colossus," and you'd be surprised how often I get to use it. A new Thorism I'll add to my repertoire is from this week's issue:
"Bring me my Doom Ring."
The Mighty Thor #22 is Matt Fraction's last, a final Marvel THEN! before Marvel NOW! brings in Jason Aaron to rock us like a metal album cover. It's missing that letter in the back to fans that other last issues are posting to take us through a whole issue with one last concept to ponder over, a long reflection for storytelling, the medium and tropes of comics and what essentially Thor means. In this, Fraction pretty much brings us full circle all the way back to the ideas behind Thor: Ages of Thunder, then breaks that circle into pieces.
Let's talk more about The Mighty Thor #22 after the break!
WARNING: Yes, the most recent Thor issue, so spoilers ahoy! Please take a moment to read the issue, see what you learn from Thor's trials and then grab that copy and read along!
OK, the Doom Ring. I don't know what it is, but from the moment Thor demands it returned, I know it's something important. Mr. Fraction says it came to him in a dream and then found record of it in an old Norse text, so now it sounds even more cool. As the story progresses, we learn it's a punishment from an old age and Thor has just resigned himself to getting his father's belt, if his father's belt were a giant Norse stone. It's whuppin' time.
Odin, self-exiled in Fear Itself and tricked into returning in Everything Burns, is disappointed that his son would resort to trickery. Dad went on a long nap and you went and made him get up out of his favorite chair. Sure, the trick was to save the Nine Realms and in the end Odin saves the day, so he's kind of a hero, but this is Odin, the cranky dad. Freya, part of the All-Mother, tells him he's overreacting and they compromise on a trial. They will watch from a distance as not to interfere and Asgard will be left to decide, not just Thor's fate, but whether we need a Thor in the first place.
Keep in mind, without that Doom Ring, Odin would have simply banished his son or stripped him of his powers, leaving Thor to earn back his father's respect, be placed in high regard only to make another mistake that would make Odin angry enough to banish him, etc. This is the great cycle, this big, heavy wheel that's strapped to the back of the Asgardian mythology where they know their parts and play them until the end of the world. To challenge the idea of needing a Thor is to challenge that cycle itself. Maybe by taking Thor out of the equation, a new story will write itself. Maybe there will be new roles to play, better ones where people don't consider you an evil Enchantress. Amora takes up the prosecution and points out all the reasons having Thor around makes life difficult. Thor isn't the wisest man and has made plenty of mistakes and rash decisions that lead to great peril and double splash pages. He's acted dishonorably enough to trick his old man into getting out of bed. He's brought countless Midgardian problems to the shores of Asgard and driven them all out to battle for the rest of the Nine Realms. Thor is a menace for not just his fellow Asgardians but to the people of Broxton, Oklahoma, and across the universe.
For the defense, Hreidmar counters that Thor is Asgard's greatest champion and that he solves more problems than he creates. He has been valorous in action to make things right for the greater good. His heroic deeds speak for themselves.
If we step back from the argument for a moment, this is a very good question: Do heroic deeds speak for themselves? It's easy to forget what happens to their surroundings while gods do battle, and Broxton has suffered the brunt of it. The now-infamous tale of Bill the Short Order Cook is told in the halls of Valhalla, but what about his parents here on Earth? What about the normal folks who find this floating god-city to be a Sword of Damocles over their heads, although I'm sure they wouldn't care for Greek or Roman myths either? Does what Thor does make up for all of the hardship his supporting cast goes through?
Thank heavens Balder the Brave shows up to set everybody straight. He returns from a Limbo, where his vengeful spirit resides along with Tyr and the World-Eaters. You see, Balder had not been doing very well through J. Michael Stracynski's run; he was crowned iing of Asgard after Thor brought his friends back from Ragnarok and Balder wasn't the king he wanted to be. Tricked by Loki and imprisoned by Dr. Doom, Balder learned that bravery comes best to him with a sword in his hand and not a crown on his head. That action, good or ill, changes the world and no amount of safety can truly right a wrong. Adversity brings either destruction or heroism, as conflict and strife are needed to forge our better actions into valor and courage.
Balder returns to tell those assembled at the trial that Thor is, above all else, the warrior's spirit personified, and that if a bunch of Norse warriors don't want to hang around with a true warrior's spirit then they can come stab Thor to do away with this menace. Unsurprisingly, none of them do, and in a great moment of symbolism, Thor shatters the Doom Ring on his back once and for all.
Playing a little armchair comic-book writing, I think a great honor for anyone asked to take on these characters that have existed now for generations is to find a way to add to their story. Respect what has come before, but to add something, so when people talk about the characters you've written, they come to talk about you as well. As much as the public may jones for the return of a favorite character or a new chapter of a story they've heard before, I think readers really know when a creative team has shown up to your heroes and brought new life to what was already there. Matt Fraction has really made me look at Thor, as a son, a brother, a hero and a man. His adventures have been epic, but it's who Thor is that is mightier than his deeds. He has been shown Fear Itself, he has beaten a space whale, he has loved his frustratingly mischievous brother, he has looked upon Asgard itself and wanted more for his people, his family and friends. He has been a god and a man under Fraction's pen, and Copiel's and others' skilled artwork, and for that, I would like to take a moment to thank them all.
I am Carla Hoffman, and I am proud to stand by your work, from now until the end of days!