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!


  1. Clearly that's what I call a terrific blog article! Do you run this blog for your personal goals solely or you still have it as a source of income?

    1. Personal goals, really. If I ever wanted to generate revenue, it would have to be later. I just enjoy putting up stuff that I like.

  2. Thank you for the great summary! Before starting the last issue, I was bit lost and you made things easier!