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.

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