Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thor Retrospective Part 4: Lord of Asgard

Odin is dead, and Thor is taking his place as the new and rightful Lord of Asgard. This was Dan Jurgens big and sweeping epic - which elevated the title from a mere superhero series to an intelligent and well examined look at the way gods interact with man, and vise-versa.

In the last post, we left off where Thor is struggling to settle into his new role as Lord, with Thor Girl taking his place as Midgard's protector.

Out in the far reaches of the cosmos, Desak the God Destroyer is visited by someone from the future. Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man, was again interfering with the past to try and prevent his present future. Desak hunted and killed unfair and evil gods, but stayed his wrath against Thor and the pantheon of Earth, after Thor convinced him that there where still good gods in the universe. Upon hearing Zarrko's words, Desak immediately traveled to Earth - with the intent on killing Thor!

On Asgard Thor is still getting use to ruling the kingdom. Thor now has a new entourage - a god with super-human speed, named Thialfi, who becomes his advisor - and also Amora the Enchantress, who is slowly becoming a confidant and eventual lover to Thor.

At the time, I thought this was a very natural outgrowth for Amora. I knew she was a villain - but I then thought perhaps she was finally settling down. The Enchantress' companionship to Thor spoke more of how he was changing, rather than her turning over a new leaf.

Restless, Thor tries to go on another adventure against Frost Giants. The reasoning behind it, though, puts Thor's friends in jeopardy - as they where fighting a pointless conflict just for the sake of fighting. Thor's attention would soon divert him to Midgard, though - as Desak had arrived on Earth.

Thor Girl unfortunately became Desak's first target upon his arrival. Thor eventually arrives and fights the God Slayer in an incredibly epic battle, with wonderful art by Tom Raney. (Joe Bennett was doing art for other issues inbetween. They seemed to trade off every so often.) Thor now wielded the battle ax of the executioner - and was able to use the deadly weapon and drive it into Desak's chest - killing him! Desak's patron goddess, who had given him his powers and mission - was saddened to see Desak loose, and was determined to revive him. Whisking his body away, the goddess brought Desak to a place for him to heal - but such a restoration would take a very long time.

During Thor's battle with Desak, Thor witnessed something that disturbed him. Its noted, by the Goddess, that if Thor had not witnesses this single scene, things might had turned out differently. What Thor saw, among the rubble and ruin of the streets of New York, where not citizens going to help one another - but rather taking advantage of the chaos so they could loot stores.

Thor was greatly worried about Midgard - but dividing his attention between two realms was not feasible in his new position in life. Consulting with Zeus, of the Greek Pantheon, Thor is given a gift. Zeus had prepared this gauntlet, to help his own son Hercules - to bridge the gap between their own realm and that of the planet Earth. Thor used the gauntlet to do an amazing thing: Asgard was transported to Earth, hovering above NYC. Thor wished to help the humans in a more profound way than he had ever been able to do before. The relationship between man and god (even demigods) was going to change dramatically.

So - how does Asgard, floating above NYC work? While other Marvel titles usually didn't address it, I always just figured it was off-panel. The rock-face that Asgard sits upon isn't all-encompassing, so that's what I figured. Through different artists depicted the floating island differently, sometimes having it stretch almost all across the city skyline.

Spider-Man, though, was the first to interact with Thor in this new status-quo - as the wall-crawler went up to Asgard, curious about - really - the insane and unimaginable appearance of Asgard over NYC! Tensions immediately escalate when an American jet is destroyed, in the government's first response to Asgard's appearance. Representatives and news media try to figure out what is going on, while Spider-Man tries to convince Thor that he can't do this, being here on Earth. That point is made glaringly clear to everyone, all except Thor -- when nuclear missiles are launched. You might ask - Thor is a hero - why the rapid escalation? They where treating Asgard's appearance as an invasion, of sorts; time would only confirm that reality. For now, though, Thor was able to use the Odin force to easily destroy the missiles. While Earth was making itself clear that they didn't want Asgard here, there simply was nothing they could do to stop him.

At first the Asgardian's interaction with mortal seemed benign. They gave food to the hungry, healing to the sick - and brought an end to violence where they could. Jake Olsen, who had been shunted to the side-lines, could only watch in fear - knowing how wrong all of this was. People began worshiping the Asgardians. People demanded that Thursday, named after Thor, be made a religious holiday. Political tensions grew by leaps and bounds - as the Asgardians became more and more involved in mortal affairs.

At one point Loki and the Enchantress have a conversation. He asks how she is enjoying it all, having obtained everything she had always wished for - winning Thor's heart. Amora asks Loki when he would be up to his usual tricks. Loki proclaims that he doesn't intend at all to topple Thor. He enjoys the new status Asgard has taken - guiding the mortals, like he always thought the gods should do.

Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man, having failed twice with Gladiator and Desak, finally travels to the past himself to try and stop Thor. He is welcomed by the government, who secretly want his help. Zarrko scheme fails - and Thor captures and imprisons Zarrko in the Asgardian dungeons. Zarrko may now be robbed of his futuristic technology - but he knows everything that happens. He knows how much worse things will become.

One issue did something very special - as it showed the newly made myths being created around Thor. Like a story book, a tall-tale is told in the tradition of the original Viking Myths -- but with Thor laying ground for his own legendary actions. An alien menace arrives on Asgard, and Thor battles him. Its all told very mythically, with many different artist joining in for each page of the issue. Just as Odin had done with Surtur, imprisoning him in the Earth - Thor used the power of the Odin force to break apart the Moon, and put it back together - sealing the alien away inside of it. Wether this was an accurate tale, or exaggerated doesn't matter a bit; like the real Viking Myths - it's the telling of the tale that really matters. (I think so, at least.)

Thor's worshipers multiply around the world. This becomes a problem when nations disagree with the Asgardian worship - and arrest, brutalize, and kill citizens who participate in it. In one such foreign country, Thor becomes aware of what is happening to his followers. While Thor hasn't set out to be worshiped, and not directly encouraging it, it has been happening anyway.

An American response is called in, as a war brews between Doctor Doom's Latveria and his neighboring states. Iron Man comes in first to try and stop Thor. The political situation is volatile, at best. Thor's intrusion will only make matters worse. Thor, however, will not abide and do nothing while people are harmed for their worship of him. Iron Man eventually uses a Destroyer-style armor to fight against Thor. It ultimately fails - as with the Odin force at his command, Thor can defeat nearly anyone.

The American military is going to intervene next, but Captain America is intent on dealing with Thor himself, before all out war begins. Using only his courage and conviction, Captain America is able to convince the American soldiers to go against orders, stand their ground, and not attack.

Thor doesn't understand why Iron Man and Captain America oppose him. He unleashes his full fury on Captain America - his amazing shield the only thing keeping him alive as Thor hammers away on it. In the course of his declarations and anger Thor attacks Captain America with a final blow - powerful enough to dent even Captain America's indestructible shield. To Thor's shock, when he had attacked like that, he had let slip that he is protecting these people, who believe in him and seek his protection, and do whatever is needed "For I am their GOD!" This outburst surprises even Thor - who suddenly realizes how far off track he's become. The war is averted, and Thor even repairs Captain America's shield. This three-part crossover was the first big acknowledgment of Thor's actions in the wider Marvel Universe. His ties to Captain American and Iron Man have, however, been broken.

Later, things came to a head for Jake Olsen, when his ambulance responds to a tragic car accident. A young boy had his leg pinned under the wreckage -- and there was no way to move him without causing more damage. Time was of the essence as well - as without immediate treatment this young boy would die. A decision had to be made - Jake determined he would need to amputate the leg. The mother of the child is on scene, and she won't give permission for Olsen to amputate the leg. This mother is a worshiper of Thor, and believes with all her heart that he would come and save his son. Jake knows Thor can't be everywhere - and can't sit by and let this woman's faith kill her young boy. Against her wishes Jake goes ahead with the amputation. This act is made all the worse when Sif flies down on a winged horse to help. She says they can save the boy, and reattach his leg. Jake, who was only trying to do what he thought was best, is lucky to get off with only being suspended from work.

Thor, meanwhile, is being haunted by perplexing visions. His father appears to him, warning him of the error his path is taking him. He explains that, while he possesses the Odin-force, Thor is only able to perceive the world in black and white -- when he should be able to see it in color. This voice talking to him isn't actually Odin - but the Odin force itself, objecting to the way it is being used.

The real reason Thor is so blinded by his actions is because of the loss of the human perspective his father had tried to instill in him. When Thor was separated from Jake Olsen - the human part of Thor's soul was lost. This is the prime reason Thor is going down such a horrible path.

Thor's wrong-headed view of the world is made all the more clear when the Council of Earth Pantheons gather together, to test Thor and possibly accept him into their ranks. They are all very worried - Zeus is the only one who doesn't think Thor needs to be tested. The other gods disagree. Thor passes the first part of their test - but fails in the next. It's very simple: when faced with starving people - how does Thor respond to this? The people are willing to sacrifice and spill blood to gain Thor's favor. Thor tells them to stop - and gives them unlimited food. They are joyously happy, gaining favor from Thor - so much so that they declare that the blood will flood the streets in Thor's name. Thor decries this - shocked by all of this. He has failed the Council's test, which he angrily departs from - not knowing what he had done wrong.

Spiritual leaders begin to denounce Thor, as they begin to loose followers to Thor's religion. A priest, in aid to a secret organization, agrees to help stop Thor. This priest had previously debated, to no avail, against Thor's actions. Thor is lured to an abandoned rock in the middle of the ocean - supposedly to speak again to this priest. They argue and debate, but finally the true purpose of asking Thor here is revealed: a nuclear bomb is detonated - destroying the island, the priest -- all in hopes of killing Thor.

At the exact same time, an army of private soldiers launch an all-out attack on Asgard. Zarrko is able to escape from his cell, and tries to retrieve his confiscated technology, a time travel pocket navigator -- but Thialfi is quick enough to take the device away from Zarrko. What Thialfi isn't able to stop, though, are the bombs that the soldiers had managed to have secreted across Asgard. They all detonated at once - and Asgard begins to break apart, crashing down on New York City. The carnage in unbelievable. Thialfi finds himself falling of the crumbling floating island, while the pocket navigator he held is accidently activated. Thialfi falls through a portal into time.

In the aftermath of the destruction, Thor finally arrives, unharmed, and more angry than ever before. Jake Olsen, determined to do something, finds Thor and is able to grab his hammer away from him. Olsen smashes Thor over and over with the hammer, regretting he hadn't been able to stop him before now. Thor has had enough, and kills Jake. When Thor then proceeds to pick up the hammer, he finds he can not longer lift it. "Whosoever holds this Hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of... Thor." Jake Olsen, the good and human side of Thor's soul, had been able to lift it. After killing Jake, Thor is no longer worthy. A terrible storm consumes everything, as the scene fades out upon Thor, his fury unleashed.

I didn't think this would go on for another post, but here I am don't just that. Next up, The Reigning!

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