Thursday, June 7, 2012

Comic Review: The Mighty Thor Annual #1

Review by Kandou Erik


In the previous decade, Marvel chose to discontinue Comic Book Annuals. The reasoning was, why publish a larger story, that more often than not can be disconnected from the regular title - and instead just offer up an extra 13th issue instead? The biggest fault of Annuals, and why they where done away with, was that it sometimes couldn't be written by the main series writer, or if they did it distracted from the main title's ongoing plot line. Sometimes Annuals feature self-contained stories, so fitting them in inbetween regular issues somewhere doesn't matter as much; but this runs the risk of the story being inconsequential, and skippable by those even reading the main series. On the flip side of that, Annuals sometimes are used as an integral part of the regular series - as beginning or ending chapters of a big event, or expanding a subplot from the main series. The risk there, of course, is Comic Companies sometimes get WAY too obsessed with trying to connect, and interconnect Annuals with the regular titles -- even to other Annuals!

While you might get a longer story, ultimately Annuals can disappoint you -- as the clashing approaches to it can make it a mired mess, only serving to fill the slot for being that year's annual issue. Don't get me wrong - sometimes annuals are very, very good. The recent Batman #1, featuring an updated Mister Freeze, was phenomenal! I frankly am happy to see Annuals come back -- at least to an extent. Having begun reading Thor again, I was happy to see this Annual issue coming out this week! While it's not a bad story, per say - it hit that all too-often best case scenario for annuals: it was mediocre.

Written by J.M. Dematteis, and drawn by Richard Elson, this issue has Thor facing a cosmic threat, with various cosmic beings fighting amongst each other. This story, chronologically, is noted for taking place before Mighty Thor #1 -- so this is before Galactus visited Asgard, and the Silver Surfer stayed behind to become a sort of supporting character.

Donald Blake is shown in the diner in Broxton - eating with the local veterinarian, Rachel. Something begins to effect Rachel and suddenly she falls on the floor. Before you know it she's exploding with energy, breaking the windows and wall - and then departs, flying up into the sky! Blake transforms into Thor and chases after her. She deflects Thor, as something important is about to happen.

The minds of thousands of other people all across the world likewise turn into energy beings, and fly to Rachel's destination. They all combine together to become the building blocks for some great entity. The pieces, by themselves, also transform into repulsive gray aliens - and some stay unconnected to the main body and swarm over Thor.

The Thunder God is momentarily shaken, while the creatures depart. Following where they fled, Thor finds a huge fortress in space!

Meanwhile, Galactus, along with his herald the Silver Surfer, are met by a mysterious character called Scrier. The Surfer has had unpleasant dealings with this cosmic being before, and warns his master of this. Galactus knows of this entity as well, and likewise does not trust him. They both blink out of existence for a second - apparently Scrier telling Galactus something a mortal mind couldn't comprehend. Galactus tells the Surfer that he is to go with Scrier -- as the fate of all existence depends on it.

Scrier and the Silver Surfer arrive to where Thor is - confronted by the immense structure in space, where the grey creatures pour out of cracks in the castle - swarming their foes! Scrier informs Thor that the enemy they face, that these monsters protect inside the fortress, is loose partly because of him. Apparently the departure of Asgard from where it once was in the heavens, had destabilized the dimensional prison this entity was kept in.

If I'm being vague about this "enemy" - its because I'm actually unsure myself exactly what it is. It's some generic cosmic monstrosity, who wants to destroy the entirety of creation. Apparently the grey aliens where dreamt up people - who where secreted away, living normal lives, to hide this creature's powers in reserve. (Or something like that.). The story is quite frankly confusing mostly because of an omnipresent narrator, a little seen creature called Oblivion, who also desires the end of everything. Yet - he's not actually involved in this story; he's an observer! His dialogue, meant to be informative but coy, becomes unreadable and confusing. If your like me, and don't know who Oblivion or Scrier are - their explained backstory only serves to complicate the narrative further.

To help combat the swarming creatures, Scrier uses the imaginative potential of Thor and the Silver Surfer - to unleash an army and endless variations on the two heroes! This was probably one of the more impressive scenes in the issue. During the fighting the alien Rachel had turned into reverted to her energy form, and joined Thor and the Silver Surfer. The reason? Well, after the four of them gave their all to get inside the fortress, where some multi-eyed dimensional alien was found, and the creature gives up - it's revealed that Rachel isn't actually one of the creature's thralls. She, in fact, had been bait - dreamt up and created by Scrier, to lure Thor here for this occasion. Again, seriously, why?! Well - apparently Scrier expected to win, or at least delay the dimensional creature; they where now agreeing to a truce, a thousand years from now, to again fight against each other for the fate of all existence. To make this truce work, Scrier intended to give the creature Thor - to eat - to appease it for the time being. (??!?!?!?!???!?!??)

Galactus then arrives on the scene, ticked off like nothing else. He stops any deal of Thor giving up his life, decrying Scrier and this other as using Galactus and the universe as it's pawns and play field. Galactus wants this game between them both to end, and is perturbed by Scrier's manipulations. Well - what happens when the creature and Scrier don't want to give up? Galactus gives them the alternative - that if they continue this, they would then face a war against Galactus as well.

So all three of these cosmic muckity-mucks are trying to blast each other into oblivion. Caught in-between Thor, the Silver Surfer, and Rachel try to stop his mess. Joining together, and using Thor's hammer as a lightning rod -- the three of them combine their powers to attack all three of the cosmic forces and make them stop fighting. Realizing that Thor and their respective Heralds are correct - Scrier gives up, and the dimensional creature likewise relents and agrees to the truce without his bedtime Thor snack.

Now that the dust has settled, and the cosmic whateveritwas goes away, Scrier and Galactus begin to depart. Rachel asks Scier what about her, now that she's served her purpose? Scrier says she was nothing but a thought given form - and doesn't care what happens to her. So she says goodbye to Thor and flies of to where ever. Memory of her even disappears from the minds of the people in Broxton - only Thor and Blake remember her.

At the end Oblivion makes some cryptic threats -- that perhaps it was really him who had been manipulating things all along.

This story really made no sense. It served no purpose other than to throw Thor and Silver Surfer into some self-contained conflict. I'm guessing the use of Galactus and the Silver Surfer had been suggested (mandated?), so maybe thats to blame for the seemingly sloppy story. The eating Thor plot point especially made no sense! I don't mean to imply that J.M. DeMatteis is a bad writer - I'm more placing the blame on the poor preparation and expected pitfalls of an Annual issue.

The art was good, and a few moments really looked incredible; Elson's style is somewhat uneven in lots of places, but given the number of pages he had to do for this single issue, I think he did a pretty good job. It certainly made the story more palatable than it actually was. He's also particularly good at drawing Galactus - which looked nicely detailed and imposing on every page.

While I have a lot of bad things to say about this issue, it still worked for me; just not as much as I would have liked. There was a good amount of new content (which is rare, when sometimes its easier for companies to do a smaller story, and fill up the rest with reprints), but this issue might not be best for new or casual Thor fans. The issue does come with a code for a free digital version, which is always nice. For what it was, the issue at least served its purpose for me of giving me another new Thor issue to get.

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