Friday, June 15, 2012

Thor Retrospective Part 10: The Galactus Seed

With the main Thor title reverting to it's original series name "Journey into Mystery" - Marvel relaunched Thor's regular adventures into a new series, dubbed "The Mighty Thor". Matt Fraction is still the series writer. It's really just an attention grabbing tactic (they did the same thing with Invincible Iron Man, also written by Fraction). Plus, the main series long ago had the word "Mighty" in the title. Whatever - it doesn't matter! Splitting apart into two on-going titles actually has made for a winning combination, with Young Loki and others starring in Journey into Mystery, and Thor appears in the lead series title "The Mighty Thor".

When I began reading this series, I was somewhat disappointed with the switch to a new title. I just didn't quite know what to make of it - and, it being one of those times I felt the need to lighten my pull-list, I stopped reading Mighty Thor after issue #2. The story wasn't moving quickly enough for me - and I had yet to appreciate the atmospheric dynamic, of life between man and god, that had been set up by J. Michael Strazynski. I was also disappointed to see Pascal Ferry go away, though he'd come back for the next arc. Oliver Copiel did this story arc, and at the time I felt like a retread of what I had already seen when he drew JMS' issues. I did, however, catch up and read the entire arc in the recently released TPB.

I initially had a lot of problems with this story arc. Fraction's sparse and spacious writing style is on full display - often leaving me questioning what was happening. The story, though, is self contained - and most questions are given a satisfactory enough ending by issue #6. At heart it's a simple story; but like with all of Fraction's writing - there's a wealth of story engineering below the surface. His stories, though, are better when read all at once, like in a TPB.

The diminutive pastor of the local Church in Broxton Oklahoma is giving a sermon to his parishioners. The luminous and ethereal tree Yggdrasil is in the view around Broxton, with a good view of it from their Church. The pastor has concerns about what the Asgardian's presence is doing to his flock. How are they suppose to differentiate these little g "g"ods, with the big G "G"od? The danger the town has attracted is also of grave concern.

Over in the ruins of Asgard, an expedition is being undertaken by Thor and Sif - who dive into the ground where the World Tree is planted, swimming into it's colorful and beautiful eco system. They are attempting to retrieve an object for Odin - though the One Eyed God isn't giving many details about it.

Loki likewise goes into the pool of energy - saying that he had a dream that Thor would be in trouble this day, and would need his help. Sure enough, when Loki gets down further below at the base of the tree, Thor and Sif are contending with luminous-clear bugs, who are trying to defend the World Tree. Thor is struck by one of these creature in the right side of his stomach. Loki's timely intervention into the battle helps Thor and Sif to finish the creatures off.

Loki gets into a bit of trouble with the bugs himself, but is saved by his elder brother Thor. Just like Loki predicted before jumping in, Thor was the one who carried him out to safety.

The prize they fought so hard for? A seed - plucked from Yggdrasil, with all the potential and power the current tree has. At the beginning of time, when he was young, Odin saw a similar seed used to grow Yggdrasil. Odin's reasons for wanting this Seed, though, are unknown. Heimdall, one night finding his King speaking to the seed, says that his all-seeing eyes find danger in that Seed being in Odin's hands - so much so that Heimdall tentatively reaches for his blade. Odin tell Heimdall that he knows what he is doing - that something is coming that only Odin knows about, and the Seed is a source of power that can be used to protect everyone. (It's not explicitly said like this - it's more in veiled threats and conjecture; but I think this was the general reason Odin wanted the Seed; for power and protection from what comes next.) Odin tells Heimdall he needs him, with unquestioning and unwavering loyalty -- so if he's to strike him down, do it now or relent. Heimdall lets go of his sword's hilt, bows down, and promises his service in whatever is to come.

The power of this seed - though - is noticed by someone else, far out in the reaches of space. The Silver Surfer, who has in recent years resumed his duties as a Herald of Galactus, senses the Seed. Unlike before, when he first served his master - The Surfer only leads Galactus to planets without civilizations or people; a much harder chore, but a worthwhile one - if it means directing the Devourer of Worlds to uninhabited planets.

Still - being in service to Galactus is trying mission, even if they are only destroying planets without life. The Seed the Surfer senses, though, might be the answer to everything!

Summoning Galactus towards Earth - the Surfer flies down to the planet first, as emissary and prophet of doom to the people of Broxton. He tells them to go and be with their loved ones - for Galactus is coming.

The Silver Surfer eventually arrives to be greeted by Asgard's protector: Thor. The Surfer's motives are plainly told - the Asgardians have what his master wants - and nothing is going to divert Galactus from this goal. Thor, who as of late has been suffering from the wound he received in the World Tree (which glows like the tree itself), is not in a good mood at all. He tells him if he intends to threaten Asgard, he has no problem killing him here.

The Surfer and Thor clash against each other, until Odin arrives to break up the fight. Odin makes it perfectly clear to the Silver Surfer that his master cannot have the Seed! The stage is set -- with both parties walking away, with them all agreeing that this means war!

A war of another kind is brewing in Broxton, where Pastor Mike confronts Volstagg, who was merrily traveling to town - only to be greeted by a mob of dissatisfied Christians.

Pastor Mike tries to tell Volstagg of the good word! Volstagg doesn't understand. Pastor Mike tries to make it clearer - he's talking about the Good News of Christ. That Christ has risen. Volstagg cluelessly says "Really? Good for him!", and then says he looks forward to meeting the man.

Pastor Mike's point isn't getting across - and the real aim of this conversation is going nowhere. So he becomes direct - that he and the people of Broxton (at least his parishioners) want the Asgardians gone! Volstagg is very saddened by this. Turning around down the road back to Asgard, Volstagg loudly yells "War! War comes for Asgard!" In the most delightful moment, Volstagg continues to cry out "Death to the tiny men of Broxton!", referring to Pastor Mike's hight. He calls everyone to arms - for the Tiny Men of Broxton come for them all!

While Thor and everyone else prepare for battle in space, suiting up with armor made for the void, Loki has been very busy engaging in a sort of scavenger hunt. He had previously collected a lock of Sif's hair, which Loki nearly lost his head over. He gives the objects he's retrieved to these three Women of the Desert, who call themselves the Weird Sisters.

Two old crones, outsiders to everyone, and possessing powerful magics, are willing to help Loki in saving his elder brother Thor. I believe this is where Loki found out his brother's life was in danger, and the Weird Sisters are promising to help Loki save his brother.

The one member of the Weird Sisters that is the most concerning is that of Kelda - the once bright and shining goddess, who has seemingly gone mad. Her fellow sisters where the ones who summoned her to them, after the battle with the World Eaters, and she stays with them hoping to be able to reunite herself with her lost love, Bill Jr.

Flying up into the atmosphere, Thor, Odin, Sif, Fandral and Hogan approach the now present Devower of Worlds. The Silver Surfer attacks, as Galactus unleashes swarms of energy to attack everyone else. Galactus' main opponent is Odin; Sif asks Thor what kind of battle can there be against two omnipotent beings? Thor says it is a battle beyond their comprehension.

Odin and Galactus meet minds with each other - both trying to invade the psyche of the other. This at first seems like a simply psychic war - but Fraction's use of sparse writing pays dividends in these scenes, where both Galactus and Odin experience nightmares, creeping into their pasts. Galactus remembers his former days as a mortal, before the collapse of his universe and his transformation into his current state - with all his friends and family noticeably wearing eye patches.

The attack on Odin's psyche, though, is much darker - and actually frightened me! Again, the sparse style of storytelling allows the reader to fill-in how parts of the story feel. The first vision Odin has is him as a young boy, at the dawn of creation, with his father Bor - and an unidentified child alongside the First All-Father. Young Odin calls his father's attention to the fields, where purple insects are devouring the crops.

Bor and other boy are talking in the Old-Toung, which makes Odin realize that this is the past - and that he also has two eyes. The young boy alongside Bor is particularly distressing. Odin tells them winter is coming. Without the crops, what will they eat. Coming to his side, the mysterious young boy draws close to Odin's ear "We can always eat our dead"

Another vision assaulting Odin is when he is older, and screams in horror at the sight of purple wolves, devouring their live stock! First their crops, now this? How will they survive? They'll all starve. Odin wanders in the wintery woods, saying that he is so hungry.

All of this, of course, is a reflection of the hunger Galactus never ceases to endure. These are short and simple scenes - but they really came off as effective for me, as the realization of the simple subtext imparted in these visions, makes it all the more haunting and scary - as it's to the point, and direct with the message being given. (Being hungry, of course, is something we can all empathize with -- and starving to death, we can all agree would be a horrible way to die.)

While this is going on, the Silver Surfer tries to reason with Thor. With the power of that Seed, Galactus' endless hunger could be sated forever! The countless lives that would be saved are beyond measure - and the Surfer intends to tear through all of Asgard to get the Seed. The battle between he and Thor becomes particularly vicious! Crashing down onto the surface of Mars, Thor calls back to his earlier threat, but with a different location. He has no problem killing the Surfer on Mars.

Down on Earth a group of cars drives towards Asgard, with Pastor Mike using a bullhorn - telling the Asgardians that they are no longer welcome here. Volstagg had gathered together a pathetic group of volunteer soldiers, guarding Asgard from the Tiny Men of Broxton. He stands and protects Asgard, and begins arguing with Pastor Mike.

On Mars, the Silver Surfer unleashes all of his fury on Thor! His anger suddenly stops, when his latest blast has revealed the wound Thor bears on his side. The two continue to fight, but the Surfer is now trying to disengage from combat. Soon Sif arrives, and says they have a problem.

Up above the atmosphere, Odin unleashes his powers and grows to equal statue with Galactus, head-butting the Space demi-god, cracking parts of his helmet and sending him crashing down towards Earth. The blow equally knocks out Odin, and also falls into the atmosphere. Thor, Sif, and the Silver Surfer together race to help.

Loki, meanwhile, has been very busy - finally obtaining the items the Weird Sisters said he would need, to accomplish the deed he needs to do. With a cloak making him invisible, Loki creeps into Odin's chambers - and into his weapons vault. There the armored Destroyer rests, and holds safe the Seed. Using magical gloves allowing his hands to pass through the Destroyer's shielding, Loki removes the Seed and takes it to the hole where the root of the World Tree rests. Using a string to enable his return to the surface, Loki jumps down into the glowing watery energy, with the Seed in tow.

At the gates of Asgard Pastor Mike and Volstagg argue, but find an actual threat when the bodies of Odin and Galactus crash down in the fields. Volstagg tells him men they must protect Asgard from the new menace, to which Pastor Mike cries in anguish. This is what he has been protesting against - the danger the Asgardians bring to their home! Pastor Mike wants to see an end to the violence. Upon seeing Galactus standing up and regaining his strength, Pastor Mike is in awe of the terror before him. He asks what it is, which Volstagg tells the tiny friend of Jesus. That is a parasite of worlds; unstoppable, insatiable. Mike asks if its a man? Volstagg says he may have once been a man, but he is now more a force of nature; a god of oblivion.

Pastor Mike begins to walk out into the field, to confront Galactus. It's dangerous and crazy, but the Pastor says he's always wanted to meet god.


Approaching the gigantic devourer of worlds, Pastor Mike pleads with him to spare them! To have mercy on their souls. Galactus' answer simply is "No," and prepares a gigantic force of energy, aimed right at Asgard.

Thor, Sif, and the Silver Surfer finally arrive, and tend to the wounded Odin. He is his normal size again, but is injured. Summoning with his mind, Odin calls forth the Destroyer - which flies out of Asgard, and even steals Thor's hammer, to confront Galactus! All the cards are on the table, and then - finally...... everything ceases. Both Galactus and Odin both realize that the Seed is gone - nowhere to be found on this plane.

Finding Loki climbing out of the World Tree, Thor grabs him - and angrily demands an answer, lest he break his trickster's neck! Loki cries, and says he did it to save Thor's life. He hid the Seed in a place even he would never be able to find again - inside the depths of the World Tree. No more Seed, no more war. Thor throws Loki to the ground, and walks away. Loki cries and yells out - telling him that they (the Weird Sisters), said he was going to save Thor's life. In a legitimately emotional moment, Loki yells out that Thor is just like the rest, it doesn't matter what he does.

Later that night, after the war has been averted, the Silver Surfer flies to the Broxton Church, where Pastor Mike sits. Pastor Mike doesn't really know what happened this night. The Surfer says he sees something in common with him, that they are both emissaries. The Surfer speaks of how he was astonished to see the Pastor stand before Galactus, and beg for peace. Before when he was on Mars fighting Thor, the Silver Surfer had realized how much he was changing - that he was willing to kill even one life, in the cause of saving millions more. The Surfer says Pastor Mike's message, calling for peace, was heard clearly. He has a proposition for him.

The next mourning Galactus stands over the ruins of Asgard, with Odin, Thor, the Surfer and everyone else present. An accord has been reached. With the Seed no longer in anyone's possession, or to be found again - Odin tells Galactus that any move made for the Seed again, Asgard will fight back and resume the war. Odin says if Galactus wishes to while away the ages, waiting for their end when they are all gone and dead, then Galactus may have the Seed.

The Silver Surfer agrees to stay in Asgard - wishing to reconnect with his humanity, which he nearly gave up yet again. He will stand over the World Tree and ensure Odin does not retrieve it as well. (It would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack now, anyway.) This, though, leaves Galactus without a Herald. The Surfer tells Pastor Mike, that he can act as Galactus' conscience. He's a man of God, and is now being given the chance to see things he could never imagine! Galactus, though accepting the Surfer's resignation, both gifts and limits him with what he desires -- the Surfer is now allowed to walk in mortal form, but is told the farther he distances himself from Earth, the weaker he will become.

Pastor Mike doesn't understand any of this, but he wants to ensure Broxton's safety. He asks Galactus, that if he agrees to this, that Broxton will forever be safe? Galactus states the truth - not even a god could guarantee that. "Prepare yourself for for revelation"

Later Thor approaches Loki to apologize. He shows Loki the wound he still bears, glowing with the energy of the World Tree. He says that it does not seem to heal, but surely it will not the death of him. He says he knows Loki's heart was in the right place, though he employed the worst of methods. He says that his anger got the best of him, that Loki is his brother, and he loves him. Loki excitedly asks is that means Thor trusts him?! Walking away with Sif, Thor looks back and remarks "Don't be stupid."

The last page shows Pastor Mike, now transformed as gleaming golden Herald, named Praeter, leading Galactus in the search for his next meal. The whole universe is now open to him.

I have to say, this story grows on me more and more. At first the pieces seemed disjointed - but by the end everything is tied up quite nicely. Sometimes comics get far too self involved, unwilling to just tell a simple story, here and now, and not continue it indefinitely - or have countless tie-ins and whatnot. For people who saw the Thor movie, or the recent Avengers film, I hope this serves as a good self-contained introduction to the series and its characters.

I'm not entirely sure whats going to become of Pastor Mike, though? Galactus has gone through quite a number of Heralds over the years -- and Mike definitely feels like a place-saver, so the Surfer can be a supporting character in the Thor book. It seemed a bit unrealistic, to see this old tiny man transformed, and ascended far beyond everything he knows - but that's really my only quibble with the ending.

This new Thor series, beginning anew like this, was somewhat undercut by the big Marvel Summer Event, releasing right alongside these issues. Written by Matt Fraction, Thor's universe takes center stage, as the whole world braces and fights against a simple but very real menace: Fear Itself.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Political Breath of Fresh Air

I'm not exactly a big fan of Morning Joe, with Joe Scarborough. The most I'm familiar with him is from when Jon Stewart, of the Daily Show, made fun of their blatant sponsorship for Starbucks. I was pleased, however, to run into this video - which was singled out on news websites because Joe told GOP Bloggers to shut up. Besides that "shut up" headline, though, I was pleased to finally see some sanity from Republican-Leaning pundits. Jeb Bush has come out against the current GOP Leadership - and I say it's about DAMN time! The saying that nothing ever gets done in Washington has been around for a long while -- but never did it actually mean that things didn't get done. It's because of the Republican Controlled house, who obstruct every piece of moderate legislation, distorting it things as the ultimate in liberal and socialist ideals. I was severely depressed and scared over the debt ceiling disaster, which resulted in America loosing it's Triple-A Credit Rating. This, sadly, is the result of the short-sighted "throw the bums out of office" mentality during the 2010 elections. I understand why it happened, and why Tea Party supported Republicans where swept into office -- but after the fact, I think we can all see the failure of these Freshmen Republicans and their extremist politics. It's not even about cutting money from the government, or having fiscal reform -- those are issues the Democratic side was been more than willing to bend over backwards to make a deal over. Yet that's not good enough for the GOP - it's a Scorched Earth Policy, reasoning that if they don't get everything they want, right now, then they won't agree to anything. Compromise has always been the bedrock of our Government, and it's what we vote our elected officials to do, in an effort to represent our interests. The joke that nothing ever gets done in Washington, simply isn't a joke anymore. It's long since stopped being funny, and I'm very gladdened to see such a prominent member of the GOP stand up and stand against the extremist ideology that has swallowed the Republican Party.

Joe Scarborough praised Jeb Bush, and said that this moderate-direction he's proposing for the Republican Party will be the wave of the future. I hope so. Right now, despite the majority of Americans being somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum, we've nonetheless suffered a debilitating series of economic failures - which has allowed Far, Far Right Wing ideology become mainstream. We are headed in the right direction, which I've seen with my own eyes - as my father was able to find work again, and because of improvement in his job skills and his own innovation, is making a very good living. Things could all change, though, if any number of the GOP Budget Proposals ever actually where implemented. One of the reasons my father is doing so much better is because he was able to file for bankruptcy, which has allowed our family to get back on our feet again. This country, however, is not a household family -- bankruptcy is not an option; yet time and again the GOP have proposed unrealistic, all or nothing ideas.

Since the civil discourse in this country has slid so far to the extreme right, I don't think things will really change until the election - and if the GOP looses. The reason the GOP took to this new Tea Party-centric philosophy is because of their reaction to loosing the election to Barack Obama. That swept them into power again two years later, and the GOP will be unwilling to change if they do not suffer another significant defeat in the election process.

I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka a Mormon), and come from Massachusetts. I actually wouldn't mind Mitt Romney being President - because I saw him as a moderate politician when he was a Governor. A few years ago I learned, from a hardandfast GOP-supporter who was visiting with my mother, that the Healthcare in Massachusetts, remarkably, gives nearly 99% coverage - and this was achieved partly through public sector involvement. (At least that's my understanding.) It's not perfect (nothing is) - but as someone who is disabled, and helped by the Mass Health Care system -- I developed a great respect for what Romney had accomplished here in MA. I doubt that same person, who advocated Romeny's healthcare to me, would have the same opinion these days - as the war on Obama Care became such a derisive issue.

Knowing all this, and being appreciative of Mitt Romney's work in Massachusetts - I still would will not vote for him in this next election. I actually wouldn't mind if he won - but only if he actually serves the office like he did in MA. I don't completely trust him, after the GOP Primaries - which forced Romney into lowest-common denominator opinions and subjects. Since winning the nomination (which was almost solely due to the self-implosion of the other candidates), I have seen some hope of Romney pulling back from the extremist-wing talking points of the GOP. For now, and in this election, I'm voting for Obama -- he's the only one I've seen trying to protect the public from the asinine politics of the GOP, and specifically defending programs I benefit and survive on. He hasn't been perfect -- and, really, no one ever could be, under the worst economic and political climate our country has ever seen. Things aren't over yet -- Europe's economy could collapse, effecting us. I pray things will turn out all right in the end. (It isn't helping my outlook, though, that this tumultuous year just happens to be leading up to the end of Mayan Calender.)

Anyway, here's the video of Morning Joe. I hope we'll see more calls for moderate politics like this.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thor Retrospective Part 9: Matt Fraction

Asgard has fallen! A siege laid waste to the Castle City, demolishing everything the Asgardians had built up on Earth.

Not the best of times to start reading Thor again, huh? I actually was already passing by this new story arc, with Matt Fraction coming onboard as the new writer of the series. I like Fraction's work, and he has written some brilliant stuff - but I've had problems with certain aspects of his writing style. In this new Thor series, especially, Fraction likes to tell stories in a sparse, concise manner - without a great deal of exposition or explanations. I completely understand that perspective - but as a reader trying to rejoin the series, it sometimes could be confusing, even for someone familiar with the series for a long time.

This biggest draw, though, was that of Pascal Ferry's artwork! His drawings are clean and fluid, and with the digital coloring of Matt Hollingsworth, every panel look like it's water-color painting. It just looks gorgeous. Still - what finally tipped me over the edge was a post someone else made, about why they where picking up the latest issue of Thor. They pointed out that letterer John Workman, who was letterer during Walt Simonson's run, was returning to letter the series. Even among avid comic fans, the letterers usually don't command such attention - but their work can often times elevate a story in immeasurable ways. (You need only look at the Sandman series, and the wealth of different text styles and word bubbles created, which where innumerable.) During Simonson's run, Workman utilized text in a bold fashion - working with the panels and drawings to maximum effect. While that style is more common place these days - the recommendation that was given, just for the lettering, was what got me to start reading again.

Fraction's first issue shows a new character, Dr. Eric Solvang - a skinny and weird nerd - who is trying to explain something to an individual off panel. They are in the diner in Broxton Oklahoma - and Solvang is having trouble getting his message across. He's a Quantum Cosmologist, and he is trying to warn the people of Asgard of something being very wrong. In simple terms - he says that, with the displacement of Asgard to Earth - a void has been left in the various dimensions. Nature abhors a vacuum - and Solvang is theorizing that something will undoubtedly come and try to fill the space; something potentially dangerous. (The reasoning of why he's come to these conclusions, beyond just guessing, is never explained. A mention of detecting something wrong in the fabric of the universe, or whatever, was never even offered as pseudo explanation.) Regardless - Solvang is sure something is coming.

The Asgardians, meanwhile, are shifting through the rubble of their once great kingdom. Everything has turned to ruin, and King Balder is especially despondent - saying he will no doubt go down as Asgard's worst King. Thor has to smack some sense into Balder. The destruction of Asgard has made everyone tense, especially Thor. He only seems to be able to relax, thinking back on the good times he had had with his brother, when he was younger;  Loki, as the destroyer of Asgard, no one but Thor particularly shares this view.

At the diner, it's finally revealed at the end of the issue who exactly Eric has been speaking with. None other than Asgard's highest of scientific minds: Volstagg the Voluminous! This really was quite hilarious -- as the entire time Eric has tried to explain things, using glasses, creamers, and anything else available to help illustrate his point. Volstagg suggests they try using pies next.

Eventually Volstagg brings Eric to Thor, telling him that he must hear what this small man, with big thoughts, has to say! Solvang has come at a very inopportune time - and earns the ire of Thor when he accidently sits on something in Odin's treasury. Volstagg, who didn't understand Eric's message to begin with, tells him that he blew it.

Another story begins to take shape - revisiting that of Kelda, the luminous goddess who fell in love with the mortal Bill Junior. She's still despondent over his death - feeling she'll never recover from the pain she's feeling. The people in town who have been watching over her try to comfort her, and tell her Bill wouldn't have wanted her to do this to herself.

Thor, meanwhile, comes to a decision that will effect everyone. I don't know if he does this simply because he's lonely, or if Thor senses his spirit still remaining -- but whatever the reasoning, Thor decides to resurrect Loki. This is a tad contradictory to what JMS had built up, that this new incarnation of Asgard would never suffer the cycle of death and rebirth like before -- but, hey, it's comics! (Marvel especially can't seem to keep anyone six feet under these days.)

Being drawn towards Paris France, Thor finds a young street kid - attempting to hustle people out of their money with a card game. The kid if forced to run when Thor tries to talk to him - but Thor eventually is able to catch up to him in an underground railway. Thor wants to awaken the soul of Loki, supposedly in this young child. Thinking he's a disgruntled former customer, the boy is affirmed by Thor that he does not want money. The boy then realizes there's something strange about how he talks? What language is he speaking - French? Thor say he isn't - and neither is he -- they are speaking with the All-Tongue, which everyone hears in their own native language. Thor tells him that he is in truth Loki, and despite a myriad of sins on his record, Thor wishes to awaken his lost sibling. Using his powers to awaken the slumbering Asgardians - Loki appears! ....Yet, this isn't quite the Loki as you'd expect. It's a younger version of himself. At the time I thought it was simply how Thor wished to revive him, at a more innocent age. Yet before this, as shown in Siege Tie-Ins, Loki made a deal with Hela to have his name stricken from the Book of the Dead. This, specifically, explains why Thor is able to revive Loki - for a second time. As for this new Loki's youth? Who knows! Suffice to say, Loki's grand plan had worked perfectly. He wished to break out of his Trickster's persona, wishing to change - so this young Loki is a complete blank slate. He remembers nothing of his former life.

I really love this new dynamic between Thor and Loki, with Thor being Loki's beloved big brother. Everyone else on Asgard, understandably, thinks Thor has gone insane! Surely this is yet another trick by Loki -- how could Thor do this? Thor places Loki under his personal protection, and that of the begrudgingly willing Warriors Three; but regaining people's trust will be a journey only this new Loki can achieve.

Solvang, meanwhile, runs into Iron Man - who has been rebuilding his business empire in the town of Broxton. Iron Man goes to Thor to more effectively relate what Solvang was trying to tell them. Thor, in an off handed way tells Iron Man that he already knows this. The Asgardians might use swords and magic - but they also understand science. What is coming, though, is unknown.

Detailed every few issues, a menacing force has been raining doom upon the 9 Realms. The Elves, the Dwarves - all manner of races are attacked and slaughtered by a dark and evil army. They are called the Ano-Athox, or simply "The World Eaters". They are traveling from their own dimension, which had just recently given it's last breath. They needed a new home - and the empty space where Asgard use to sit is perfect!

The reasoning behind Thor's next action may have multiple levels. With Asgard destroyed, more than ever, his people are in great danger of loosing hope. There's also an unknown threat, tearing through the 9 Worlds, and coming for them. He may also be doing this, because he wants to reunite his family: Thor uses his powers to bring Odin back from Limbo, where he has been trapped in perpetual battle with Surtur all this time. (The real reason he did this, I think should be obvious: it was probably an editorial mandate, to have the cast of characters be more in line with the movie.) Odin is outraged! Coming back to rule again was simply not what Odin wanted.

Odin's leadership, though, would sorely be needed - as an swelling mass of people travel through the streets of Broxton, heading towards Asgard. Arriving at their doorstep (what's left of it), these various denizens of the 9 realms are seeking sanctuary. They are the survivors of the World Eaters. They are told to look around - Asgard isn't exactly in a position to even help themselves. The creatures argue - saying that the menace that destroyed their realms where coming for them - for isn't Asgard, first and foremost, the protector of the World Tree? The Asgardians finally relent, and say whatever is left they can offer - they are welcome to it.

Surrounded in a campfire outside the crumbled walls, Odin sits and talks with everyone, concerning what is coming. Odin knows of the creatures that are coming, beings who where considered by everyone else to be myths. Odin explains that the light of the World Tree, being so bright in the universe, casts a shadow. That shadow are the Ano-Athox: The World Eaters. Loki speaks up, asking if Asgard is here - and Asgard is destroyed, for that matter - who cares if the World Eaters take the space Asgard once occupied. Odin, enraged, bellows at the young child "HOW DARE YOU!" A traitor, destroyer of Asgard, he yells - Odin sends young Loki running in terror. Thor remarks to himself how horrible and unlovable an old man Odin is.

Away from the campfire, Thor confronts Odin over his outburst, starting a heated argument. Odin told his son he wished to stay in Limbo -- keeping Surtur from escaping being a reason; but the biggest reason is because, even though Thor had it all - his kingdom, the Odin Power - everything, - Thor had won, with No Odin, No Loki - free from eons of struggle and suffering; yet Thor couldn't stand the quiet and had to bring them both back.

Before going off to find Loki, Balder steps in with a proposal. Still in a sad state over how he had failed as Asgard's King, Balder wants to make amends - and travel to confront the World Eaters, to try and slow them down while Asgard prepares. Tyr, the God of War, volunteers to come with him, which Odin agrees with. While this is all noble and everything, I felt like this was more because Marvel wanted to get rid of Balder (who didn't appear in the movie), and Tyr, (who until recently barely appeared in the comics) - to move them out of the way and match the line-up more in tune with the movie. So Balder and Tyr set off on what is sure to be suicide mission.

When Thor finally comes searching and catches up to Loki, he is greeted by the company of Iron Man, Solvang, and Jane Foster. Solvang had meet Jane in town, as she shares a medical practice with Thor's better half, Don Blake. They where coming again about Solvang's concerns - to which Thor replies that they now know everything. He angrily remarks that it appears Odin knows more of the shadowed clockwork of the universe that he ever deemed to share.

So Asgard prepares. Loki has gone with Iron Man, Solvang, and Jane back to Broxton - when the sky begins to rain blood. It's not actually blood, but a side effect of the dimensional walls being torn through. Kelda watches from the window where she stays, as the blood pours upon the windows. She walks outside into the crimson rain, walking off to who knows where.

A massive spell is prepared - probably the most powerful of all Asgardian spells, in which everyone lends their strength together - sinking into the muddy ground, and becoming part of a gigantic shared body: a Blood Colossus! While this was cool and all - there was absolutely NO explanation about it! I was lucky to have read a Thor One-Shot issue, where the Blood Colossus was introduced - and even then I vaguely understood what was happening. This is where Fraction's sparse storytelling really hurts him.

Soon the sky full of pouring blood is besieged by an army of World Eaters! There are only a few Blood Colossuses to defend Asgard - but it seems to be enough, for a time. Odin personally engages in battle with the Ano-Athox leader Uthana Thoth. The battle is savage, and eventually the Blood Colossuses begin to be overwhelmed. The Blood Colossus Thor resides in makes a change of tactics. They are going to loose - as this race, born outside their realm and unbound by their universe's laws, will eventually defeat them. So Thor, using a mighty sword he has been using in the battle, cuts into the fabric of space above the ruins of Asgard. The only way to save what remains of the 9 realms is to slice into Yggdrasil - wounding the etherial tree so severely, that it's immediate biological response would be to delete the impurities within it's universe. The Ano-Athox are now bound by the laws of the Nine Realms - and thus are vulnerable.

Being purged and transported away, Uthana Thoth and his people are shell shocked - and soon find out how vulnerable they really are - as Balder and Tyr - who still yet live, are able to attack and sacrifice their own lives and slaughter what remains of the World Eaters.

When reading this ending, I was very confused. It became very esoteric - and was hampered all the worse by Balder and Tyr's appearance at the end; since it was said they had died a few issues back.

After the dust has settled, and the blood rain begins to dissipate - we see Kelda traveling alone out into the fields, walking like a zombie and speaking to herself. She hears voices that only she can hear - and they promise to be able to reunite her with Bill again.

The wound inflicted upon Yggdrasil has created a fixed position for the luminous tree. It now rests over the ruins of Asgard, and becomes a permanent part of the landscape.

While this was a challenging and sometimes frustrating read, especially near the end - I still liked it. Pascal Ferry's art was simply jaw-dropping throughout every issue - and while I don't understand the meaning of Yggdrasil having a Fixed Position over Asgard - I nonetheless liked the visual and idea of Yggdrasil, depicted as an ethereal and wonderfully colored beacon, now joined in the landscape along with Asgard.

While I had some trouble with Fraction's issues, I really did appreciate this story. After this, the series split apart - with the regular series becoming "Journey Into Mystery", which stars Young Loki and a large cast of other characters. It's actually better than the main series -- with Sandman level-quality, using myths and the characters in such wonderful and cleaver ways.

Starting with a new #1, a new title was launched - that of The Mighty Thor!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Marvel Legends Return! Review for Cap, Iron Man, and Thor

When I was much younger the best thing possible suddenly began pouring onto store shelves - that of Toy Biz's Marvel Legends line of action figures, which boasted incredible articulation and detail of many of our favorite Comic Book characters. I use to collect them all. Every single wave of figures. All other toy company seemed to follow suit with their own action figures, and began improving the quality of figures from just mere play-things for kids, and into legitimate collector items. I really couldn't have been happier about it - I recall, when I was even younger, I had this one Spider-Man action figure that I loved -- it had more articulation in the legs, joints, feet, arms, elbows, and waist, neck and head. In comparison, other figures with minimal articulation, like up and down-only arm and leg movement, where put to shame.

Growing up, the rising price and difficulty of finding figures in stores, eventually made me stop collecting. It was for the best -- too much stuff is packed away in the closet as it is. I make use of those figures, to adorn by book shelf, switching figures in and out, or putting together a theme - which find pretty satisfying. Eventually, though, the Marvel Legends line of figures faltered. Quality began to decrease - with some figures lacking more detailed paint jobs, and the figures simply where nowhere to be found in stores. (Collectors regularly stop at all the Targets and Walmarts, buy up their entire stock, and then resell the figures on eBay for a big profit.) So I wasn't as bothered when the Marvel Legends line of figures where canceled.

DC had begun putting out their own line of figures, in the same vein as the Marvel Legends - backed with the talent of the Four Horsemen sculptors. So that filled the void for a while - but, as the price of oil (needed to create plastics) raised more and more, I began being more selective about what I bought.

I'd hunt down a released figure here and there - of a favorite character I like; but for the most part splurging on action figures fell into the background. I'm still of that mind-set, but I was still trilled to see the Marvel Legends line of figures return to store shelves! I hadn't even heard any news about their return - I just suddenly saw them on the shelves in the comic store one time!

I generally ignored them, though - figuring I didn't need them. I had always wanted a Fantomex figure, but have passed on it on two occasions. Getting back into reading Thor, however, put my eye towards the released Modern Thor figure. Add all the excitement from the Avengers movie, and I decided it was one figure I'd like to get. I eventually added the Extremis Armor Iron Man - to put together with Captain America, to get that Trinity of heroes. I even wound up buying Captain America version of Bucky -- one of the few figures in the line more easily found on store shelves.

It's simply been a great revisit to an old hobby of mine - and I thought I'd share my opinion about the figures. (Also, unlike when I use to be collecting figures, I didn't have such easy access to a camera. This is the first time I've used my iPhone to try and capture any shots like these - so please forgive the quality. I was more often than not trying to go for dynamic poses - or something like that.)

Captain America (Bucky)

First, a little backstory: At the end of Marvel's Super Human Civil War, Captain America found himself on the loosing side against Iron Man, over requiring Super Heroes to register with the government. Captain America was shockingly gunned down on the courthouse steps, on his way to being arraigned. Before that, Ed Brubaker did the impossible: he brought Captain America's long dead kid sidekick, Bucky, back to life -- something that was long considered sacrilege by comic fans. Not only did Brubaker bring Bucky back right, winning over even the biggest naysayers - he also made the character incredibly cool. So much, in fact, that while Steve Rogers was busy taking a dirt nap, Bucky took his place as the new Captain America. Sporting a gun, redesigned armor, and Cap's old shield -- the New Captain America was loved by fans! Plans to bring Steve Rogers back from the dead where even pushed back, because they where getting so much good buzz about the character.

This figure is really phenomenal! The sculpt is detailed, accurate - and features well picked accessories and weapons. Captain America's shield, while having a bit more metallic sheen, more visible on the white parts, is otherwise a great accessory. There is a wrist piece, allowing it to snap easily onto Bucky's arm. This element of the shield also flips over - to a round peg - that can easily fit in the hole on his back; giving an easy way to show the character carrying the shield on his back, like in the comics. The older Captain America figures have always used either cloth or elastic straps - which work to do the same thing, but is harder to use without breaking said straps.

Since Bucky is more of a mercenary than a rough-and-tumbler like Steve Rogers, he carries a gun with him. When my sister saw this, she said he suddenly didn't seem like Captain America! The gun has an easy holster on the belt, which you can place the gun in - and perfectly fits his hand with a trigger finger ready to shoot.

He also comes with a knife, which I really like - I'd try to get him to hold it like Solid Snake, from Metal Gear Solid. The knife fits fine in it's sheath - but can't remain in Bucky's hand without balancing it really carefully -- the knife simply wasn't coordinated with the people who sculpted the hand.

It's a really great figure - all the articulation you'd expect - and with a bold and sort of luminous look to the blue part of his armor (which bounces off excellently with the red, white and black elements of his costume.

Iron Man (Extremis Armor)

Iron Man updates his suit every so often, so trying to get a "modern" version of his figure proves challenging. I thought I had that with the last "modern" Armor - which he was sporting for quite long while in the comics. Don't let the bad pose of that image fool you - I really loved this version of the armor.

As you can see, the next iteration, appearing in Warren Ellis' Iron Man revamp story arc "Extremis", isn't a complete departure from what the last version of the armor was sporting: it's simply sleeker. This new figure is vast improvement in both looks and design from the older version, which I'm pretty pleased about. Iron Man comes with an outstretched hand - for firing repulser blasts, and a fisted hand for, well, punching people. His arms are able to lift up entirely - but not without a bit of forcing, at first -- because the armor pieces on his shoulders block it a little bit.

There are two disk elements on both sides of the hips - which look like they could come off over the course of time, if the figure isn't taken care of.

Articulation in the legs is good, but not at the feet. You can't point them all the way down, for a flying pose. I also found a problem with his right leg - the piece was molded a little too wide, making it a little loose. It stays on and everything - but it worries me it might break. I've seen this on other figures before, and usually they turn out fine. Plus I just don't want to deal with sending it back and trying to get a replacement, or any similar aggravating issues. He still stands - and it doesn't impact the look of the figure. This default, however, probably isn't that common in the line - so wouldn't worry about it if you buy one yourselves.

Articulation in the waist in excellent - allowing you to lean Iron Man's chest back, for flying poses. His head, also, bends back all the way - which enhances the flying pose.

The paint job, and the sculpting, is excellent. This isn't a knock against it - but its worth nothing that this is (at least for me) one of the first Iron Man figures I've seen released without a removable faceplate. It was probably wise not to go with that, as such a feature can often inhibit the sleekness of a figures design.

Thor (Modern Day Costume)

This is the figure that started this hunt, and it was definitely the most challenging of all the figures to get. I tried finding it in stores - but was sold out everywhere, with no possibility of stores ordering them again. I believe cases only came with one Thor figure - so he was limited to begin with. He also seems to be one of the most popular figures in the line - as lots of fans have wanted a figure with his modern day costume. This has all, predictably, made the price to buy it online go sky-high! Usually around $40, sellers where ransoming the figure for an arm and a leg. Stores usually sell these figures for $20 -- I think their suggested retail price is suppose to be $15 to $16. So selling the rare and hard to find Thor, at a reasonable price, has become impossible. I've even seen prices on eBay go as high as $60!

I was lucky, though, to find an auction with a Buy it Now price of $25. The shipping, though, really hurt. There was no other option for shipping, just the $10 express shipping. I would have rather paid less and waited longer - but on the bright side it arrived on my door step within 3 days. I suppose it turned out ok - I ultimately paid around $35 - what other people where charging - but without shipping costs added to $35.

The figure, quite frankly, was worth it! It's a huge figure! The sculpt is detailed and well designed - and looks stunningly accurate to the way Oliver Copiel draws him. (You can see examples of that in this post here.)

The articulation is excellent - with wide movements for his arms - and joints on his wrists - which is excellent for posing him with his hammer outstretched into the air. His chest allows him to bend forward and far upright as well. His head can really only move left and right, as the mold of his hair prevents any extreme positions - but is otherwise good enough. The only thing to really criticize is you can't bend his legs forward into a sitting or kneeling position. The mold of his shirt below his belt prevents that.

The cape is molded and detailed. It doesn't move - but sometimes that's for the best - as a molded cape can give figures a consistent style and look no matter what. I do have a fear about the wings on his helmet breaking off at some point - so I'm going to put him in a box reserved for more fragile figures. (A box I don't rummage around in as much.)

There is a strap on Thor's belt which you can pop out and be put back in -- the reason for which, you can loop Thor's hammer onto the belt, like it does in the comics.

All in all this is an awesome figure! I only wish Hasbro had released more of it - lest that price on eBay continues soar higher and higher.

More Images

Thor versus the Silver Surfer!

I found that, with the way Thor's left hand is molded, it would be perfect for choking other figures; and perfect for pitting Iron Man against Thor, like in JMS' Thor #3. This is what Tony gets for defiling Thor and cloning a god.

Captain America died at the end of the Civil War. Tony kept his shield, for being all mournful and stuff.

Here's Tony if he had won the Civil War!

Eh, what the heck. Let's throw Bucky on that corpse pile too! (Now Iron Man gets two shields)