Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Thor Retrospective Part 12: Tanarus

When I began this retrospective, of the Thor stories I've read over the years, I didn't imagine it would balloon to 12-full posts. There where simply a lot of aspects to many stories that I wanted to examine and share my thoughts on. I hope some of you have enjoyed it , as I finish this retrospective - pretty much catching up to Thor comics of today.

As I pointed out before, I at first didn't appreciate that Fraction was killing off Thor during Fear Itself -- but that decision made more sense once I realized the death was being derived and inspired by the original Norse Mythology. "Nine paces fares the son of Odin." Fjorgyn (Thor's Mom) was replaced with Odin's name, in the Marvel Universe version of the poem. Now, Marvel immediately had plans to resurrect Thor after Fear Itself - which really flies in contradiction to EVERYTHING J Michael Straczynski has established when he revived the Thor franchise. The gods where no longer suppose to be caught in an endless cycle of death and rebirth. Loki, of course, was the first to break that rule - but was justified with the revelation that Loki specifically got his name stricken from the Book of Death, allowing him to be reincarnated as Young Loki. Ultimately I'm ok with these character returning from the dead, on occasion - and even the status quo JMS put in place wouldn't last forever. However, it was a particularly irksome to see a reversal of another writer's work so soon.

Issue #7, of Mighty Thor, served as an origin tale for the Serpent, and how Odin usurped his brother's throne as Lord of Asgard. The introduction of Cul, as the Serpent and forgotten brother to Odin, was not bothersome to me in the least. It was a retcon of the previously established continuity - but it wasn't anything hard to interject into what had already been established.

That is, however, until the first line, spoken by a young Cul, was said "Bor is dead." Cul and Odin stood over their father's deceased body, which immediately contradicts and retcons JMS' storyline, which clearly showed Bor dying, being turned to snow, by a time traveling Loki. Again, different writers, with different goals, come in all the time - either building on, or supplanting previously established continuity. Yet Straczynski's run was only a few years before this!! I was actually quite upset, as for fans - this type of flagrant continuity-retconing, and so soon, makes it feel like there is a lack of respect for stories we enjoyed beforehand.

Nonetheless, let's continue; Bor is dead, and now the mantle of All-Father falls to Cul - as he is the oldest of Bor's sons. It is soon that the young Odin recognizes the danger of Cul being ruler - as he derives power from fear and chaos. Going to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, Odin gives voice to his protests, seeking answers - both knowledge and wisdom - to be able to stop his elder brother. To achieve this, Odin gives a sacrifice - cutting out his right eye - which the tree accepts, and reaches out with its branches and drags Odin into the tree. When Odin emerges from the tree, he came out with the knowledge he needed; specifically a prophecy, telling about the death of Thor - a son Odin didn't even have, but one day would.

Several years later, when both the sons of Bor are older, Odin wages a war against Cul on the surface of Aesheim - which is Earth, before the dawn of history - and where the gods live. Knowing his elder brother derives power from the fear of others, there is one way to defeat him - horrible, monstrous, and cruel though it may be: kill everyone on the planet. With his other siblings, Vili and Vi, by his side - Odin begins the charge on what remains of Cul's forces.

Inside his fortress, Cul speaks to his warriors - the Worthy. I don't know if this is a mistake by Pascal Ferry, or if Fraction wrote it this way - but each of the Worthy are depicted as negative-copies of the heroes and villains that where possessed during Fear Itself. This was either a mistake, or an attempt to show them as shades to what they will become; it's yet another confounding wrench thrown into the works.

Odin's plan of  murdering nearly everyone on the planet - which weakens Cul - makes the evil All-Father prepare for the future. Realizing he may be defeated, Cul sends his Worthy away - to call on the powers of their hammers at a later time; as the game he and Odin play goes on for a very, very long time.

Odin finally arrives, facing the All-Father Cul. Now calling himself the Serpent, Cul warns Odin that his infection envelops the entire planet, that his power runs deep in the souls of his people; does Odin really think he can kill them all? Answering in the affirmative, Odin attacks. Because they are bound by blood, Odin cannot kill Cul - so instead Odin casts the serpent deep into the ocean, buried down below - sealed away forever.

Odin remains true to his word - Cul's infection of fear is obliterated, as every person on the planet are killed. After this sorry necessity, as Odin saw it, the ground was razed and salted. The planet was renamed Midgard - as the Gods would never live there again. Odin knows he has done a horrible thing, and determines to rule wisely and justly in this elder brother's place. Odin became the All-Father -- Asgard was rose under his rule -- and Odin eventually had a son, Thor.

For those who don't know, back in the day Marvel had a thing going on called a "No Prize" - for fans who wrote in, and offered explanations for continuity errors. Marvel literally sent people letters, dubbed No Prizes. (And yes, people wrote back, asking where was their prize?) Anyway, to earn myself a No Prize, here's my explanation for the vastly different continuities between JMS' Thor and Fraction's Thor. It pretty much revolves around Bor, and when he died. Clearly, in Fraction's story, Bor died right away - precluding the time traveling Loki from turning Bor to snow, and then reviving him in the present day - and arranged things to the point where Thor would be forced to kill Bor. Yet, J. Micahael Straczynski's version precludes the events of Fear Itself, as Odin directly became the next All-Father after Bor was turned to snow. How do we reconcile these two continuities? It suddenly dawned on me - an elegant and simple solution: Odin erased all knowledge of Cul ever existing, when he sealed him away. I contend that by doing this Odin created two continuities; the real one, where he usurped Cul's rule, and replaced with the events from JMS. Cul suddenly doesn't exist, and events proceeded differently. When Cul was broken free of his prison, the continuity forged by Odin remains - but the secret real history between Odin and Cul remains underneath. So - what do you think of that explanation? Essentially, in erasing all knowledge of Cul, Odin created two time-lines; simple, right? Do you think I earned a "No Prize"?

In a special issue, Fear Itself 7.2, we are given an epilogue to Thor's death. A funeral is prepared, taking place in the rubble of ruined Asgard, with the Asgardians and the Avengers all attending. Odin, before he takes his planned self-imposed exile, prepares his son's body. Visitors arrive to greet Odin - a trio of women in armor; they have been away for a long while. These three, collectively, are the All-Mother. This is a new twist and alteration by Fraction - but one that doesn't necessarily fly in the face of what has come before. The three include the Compassionate Gaea, "The Mother". She is the one who gave birth to Thor. Imperial Freyja, the Queen, is Odin's wife. (YESYESYES - Odin is a dirty old man! Mythological gods of all cultures are notorious for having sex with different partners.) Youthful Idunn, the Maiden, rounds out the trio - as she is in charge of the golden apples which give the gods their eternal youth.

Odin is deeply grieved, and is comforted by the All-Mother - who Odin tells of his plans to make amends. He will abdicate the throne, and the All-Mother will rule in his stead. Odin departs with Cul's body, to the Asgardian War World, to watch over and be his brother's keeper.

Everyone is grieved by the loss. Loki, particularly, is grieved. I found out, in the Journey into Mystery TPB "Fear Itself Fallout" - Loki played his part in defeating the serpent as well - be managing to give Cul a weakness, written into Cul's own history (gods don't have histories, they have stories), enabling Thor to do as he must, and kill the Serpent. Loki, in effect, helped kill Thor -- or more accurately, allowed him to die like he was suppose to. He tells Sif he is sorry, and Sif replies that there is no reason to say he is sorry. (The characterization, between young Loki in Mighty Thor, and Loki in Journey into Mystery, is quite striking - as here he is portrayed as child-like and innocent, while in the other title he is thoughtful and mischievous. Not completely incompatible, but its still annoying, that the writers of both books can't coordinate a little better.

The funeral pyre for Thor is lit, casting his body ablaze. Something strange begins to happen, though - and in a flash everything changes! Out of the pyre the Mighty Tanarus emerges, rejoicing in their victory over the Serpent! The All-Mother, knowing their son so well, hide their shame, remarking that their son is an ass. A jubilant party is had, with everyone rejoicing!

All except young Loki. What exactly is going on?! It is never explained in the story, but Tanarus is based on another god of Thunder, the Celtic god Tanarus. I doubt there is any similarity beyond that, and there doesn't have to be. For - do we not all know who Tanarus is? It's always been Tanarus! Founding the Avengers, serving as Midgard's protector; it has always been Tanarus.

The next arc shows a grand reconstruction of the ruined Asgard. Tony Stark is lending his knowledge and technology, to stand side-by-side with the ancient castle grounds, which are sorely in need of repair. The allegiance of the various races, still living in the ruins of Asgard, is also in need of repair. The All-Mothers tenure on the throne is something everyone will need to get use to - with all the races having a voice in this new community. A congress of the worlds will be established, with representatives from each of the realms to act on behalf of their race. Not everyone is happy with these changes, as Heimdall senses there is a plot to assassinate the All-Mother.

Loki, meanwhile, is trying to convince people that something is very wrong. He goes before Tanarus and Sif, telling Tanarus the he is not his brother! Tanarus agrees; though they are of the same blood, Tanarus asserts that they where raised together. Tanarus has always been Loki's brother. Who else would he be? Loki doesn't know - but he knows well enough that its not Tanarus.

Loki goes to Kelda, who is preparing a spell in the desert, in her continuing attempt to reunite with her love Bill William. Loki accidently crosses into the spell's circle, and is jolted and cast back. It, however, jogged something in Loki's memory!

Loki next goes to Dr. Don Blake - who shares a doctor's office with Jane Foster. Blake doesn't know what Loki is talking about either - but Loki knows there is some connection with Blake and his brother. On impulse Loki grabs Blake's walking stick - feeling that there is something to this item.

Tanarus, meanwhile, is enjoying himself - serving as an Avenger, slaying monsters - being a hero! Suddenly the veil all falls away, when a spell transports Tanarus to a secret location. He is brought before the ruler of the Trolls, King Geirrodur. Alongside Geirrodur is the Norn Queen. Geirrodur wishes to reinforce Tanarus' mission - as he has been enjoying his powers and status of god-hood a little too much. Dissolving the glamor surrounding him, the illusion of Tanarus fades away, revealing Ulik.

When they first announced that Tanarus would take Thor's place in the series, on top of killing Thor, I though it was another crass and manipulative move by Marvel, similar the Hunan Torch and Ultimate Spider-Man's death. Once I found out that Tanarus was really Ulik - suddenly this story arc became quite engaging! The knowledge that Tanarus, indeed, wasn't going to be replacing Thor for long was comforting - but it also seems like a very mythic story to tell, as when he looses the glamor, Ulik is ashamed and saddened - wanting his beauty and powers restored. I don't think Ulik ever before had a problem with his own looks (he is a Troll, after all) - but enjoying and reveling in a station far above what Trolls are ever allowed makes a lot of sense.

Ulik's spell is restored - but he is told that their plans to assassinate the All-Mother need to move forward.  Tanarus is returned to Asgard - but soon finds himself under suspicion from Heimdall. The All-Seeing Heimdall has finally realized that he cannot see Tanarus - that there is some concealment going on here. Tanarus assaults Heimdall, and manages to elude any further questions.

While the Norm Queen was speaking to Geirrodur - something was revealed, far out in the desert, where Kelda is returning to the weird sister's cave, and sees the fat old woman conversing through a spell, and discussing their plans.

Before this, though, Loki seeks the help of the Silver Surfer in finding out what secrets the cane he stole hold. The Surfer senses there is something to this cane, and proceeds to tap it on the ground. It a massive flash of light and smoke, where once a walking stick lay, a hammer stands in its place. The Silver Surfer reads the inscription, and still don't know who this "Thor" is suppose to be. The Surfer tries to lift the hammer, but cannot.

Loki tries to tell the Surfer about his brother, but Norrin Radd still does not recall this person. Hopping onto the Surfer's board, Loki suggests that maybe the weird sisters could help them further.

Kelda, who has now stumbled upon the Norn Queen's scheme, is horrified to see that she was lied to. Kelda is horrified the that this woman betrayed her! The Norn Queen apparently needed three sorceresses to make the spell for Tanarus work. The fat old crone strikes out violently - killing Kelda. The other old woman, who apparently was an innocent, walks in on this, and is likewise attacked. Loki and the Silver Surfer, though, arrive in time to save her. Bursting out of the fleshy form she concealed herself in, the Norn Queen emerges from the body of the fat old woman. She uses her magics to teleport her away - as the plan she had helped with will soon begin.

Tony Stark meets with the All-Mother, and is proud to reveal the full scope of what he has done to help reconstruct Asgard. Now home to so many other races - a new name is chosen. Asgardia! The land again floats above the ground, and has technology and magics built into the entire place - all with the luminescent Yggdrasil in the center.

Congratulations for a job well done is interrupted - as Heimdall has caught back up with Tanarus, fighting him and being able to break the spell which concealed Ulik. Their fighting is only a prelude to the vast army of Trolls descending on Asgardia.

A lot of stuff is happening all at once, huh? Thats why I chose not to bring this up until now; what has Thor been up to, while being dead? Thor found himself trapped on a vessel with other deities who have died. The legendary devourer of gods, Demogorge, awaits them - as the boat they are on,out in space, is headed right into the monster's maw. Thor had to struggle to remember who he was, as no one on board could clearly recall their old lives. Thor, though, wasn't about to go quietly into the night. Freeing himself and the other deities with him - Thor leads a charge into the bowls of Demogorge, determined to act like the gods they are - and fight valiantly to live! Reaching the heart of the monster, Thor strikes its heart and utterly destroys the creature!

The battle of Asgardia has begun! The Warriors Three, Sif, the Silver Surfer and everyone else wade into the battle against the army of trolls. The Norn Queen joins the fray as well. Heimdall continues his struggle against Ulik. For characters who, for years, have always been yelling "For Asgard!", as a rallying cry - the change to "For Asgardia!" is pretty immediate.

Arriving from the heavens, Thor returns to the land of the living - being the maker of his own return to life. Yes, it's sort of a lame and quick way to return him to life; supposedly Fraction was exploring the nature of the cycle of death and rebirth for heros. Whatever - Thor's back - everyone is happy! More importantly, everyone now remembers Thor - and the fraud Tanarus really was. With Thor's help, and the All-Mother jumping into the fray as well,  the tide of the battle is turned. Ulik makes one last effort to attack the All-Mother, but struck down by Thor, who smashes his hammer into Ulik's head like nothing else! The battle is won and the Troll invasion is thwarted. Geirrodur and the Norn Queen are captured, and Ulik is dead - his skull is all that remains - which is used as a befitting place to imprison Geirrodur and the Norn Queen.

The story ends with Loki telling a group of children the exciting tale of the events that day. After hearing everything, a young girl remarks how unfair it was for Kelda - to have died like that, even though all she wanted was to find her lost love. Loki responds, asking if she knows of Valhalla? You see, everything turned out for the best - as Kelda found herself receiving the eternal reward, right alongside with Bill - also honored among the ranks of Valhalla. (I have to question, though, why she got into Valhalla? She didn't exactly die in glorious battle - she was murdered. I suppose, though, her struggle to reunite with Bill was a battle, or sorts. Or something like that.)

This story was good, despite its flaws. Pascal Ferry dropped off of doing art mid-way, which was disappointing. The new artist seemed to do an adequate job of filling their place, though. I was disappointed to see Ulik killed like that. I dislike even more how permissive Thor has been to killing his foes, under Fraction's tenure. That's the thing about Matt Fraction's writing - its all good, sometimes excellent - but he misses the marks on certain aspects that weaken the entire structure. Over all his run on the series has been good, and Thor has enjoyed a lot of success in this new series. Things, though, are going to change soon - as Marvel's response to DC's the New 52, dubbed "Marvel NOW", will see the Avengers and all associated titles undergo changes and revamps. (But not reboots! They are quite explicit about that, differing from what DC did.) Right now Fraction seems to be finishing up his run, having a nice fun story involving the origin of Nightmares - with Thor and others trapped in a dream-scape. The Enchantress makes a big return to the series, this time dealing with Don Blake - who apparently isn't pleased about no longer being a god. I don't know why Blake became separated from Thor when he died - or why they where not restored. (Without Blake, that tad-bit more violent Thor is explained, without his human half to influence him.) There is a really, really weird twist to it all - as the Enchantress helps Blake in becoming a god again - by chopping off his head (he''s still talking) and creating a new beast from plant-like goop expelling from Blake's discarded body. Supposedly, whatever this creature is, is suppose to be a god -- just like Blake asked for. (Yeah, if he used a monkey's paw and wished for it.) I believe, though, the Enchantress is using Blake's lapse in judgement to create and return her old love, the Executioner, to life again. (Thats just my theory. The plant-god-body... whatever sort of looks like the Executioner - plus Amora is making out with the goop-god-plant... whatever. The Enchantress has deeply missed the Executioner for many years now since his death. Still - even if my theory is correct, this sub-plot is both strange and disgusting!)

After that, a cross-over between Mighty Thor and Journey into Mystery will happen - with some war against Surtur, which I think will put both series on a course for cancelation, and preparation to return with new #1 issues. I'm not sure wether Loki is going to be restored to adulthood or not. Journey into Mystery has been one of Marvel's best titles - but having Thor's ultimate enemy be his enemy again might be a priority, with a sequel to the movie Thor arriving soon.

I hope I did a good enough job, recounting the Thor stories I've read. He's really been a fantastic character to follow. I only hope, whatever Marvel does with him as part of "Marvel Now" works out ok. Fingers crossed.


  1. I think I read a different explanation about the discrepancy concerning Bor. I think it may have come from Matt Fraction. Cul comes from an more ancient Asgard before the current Odin. Despite that Odin is depicted as a younger version of the current Odin (artistic license), this would seem to make sense. Odin remembers Cul when the first Hammer transforms Sin and only then remembers his role in the prophecy. Before this the Midgard Serpent has supplanted him in the myths explaining Odin's machinations to stave off Ragnarok in Thor 274-278. Since Asgard has seemingly been freed from the endless cycle the current prophecy ends with only Thor's and the Serpent's deaths. I only wish Fraction had been more precise about how long ago this all took place and perhaps referenced some other events in Marvel's past to show where it fit in the timeline. Maybe it's best he didn't tie it down too much. This gives him and other writers some wiggle room. One final thought: I HATED that the Worthy so closely resembled their current incarnations !

  2. Nice summary! A few things to add: I don't necessarily think Fraction was trying to undue JMS's work with exploring the death-rebirth cycle from a Ragnarok perspective, and he actually tied-into JMS's writing with Thor's return (after dying from the Serpent battle). (However, I don't understand the whole Blake separation and where this happened and what the consequences are - this may have undone several years of work by Jurgens, where Thor and Olson were separated and rejoined). Okay, first off I think Fraction just wanted to tell the story of the Serpent where Thor had to die, and they needed a way of bringing him back (I guess the rebirth thing was just implicit, and is somewhat a big theme in Norse mythology). Anyways, here's the thing - the way to bring him back was actually introduced by JMS in issue #602. After killing Bor, Mjolnir was broken a bit, and in #602 Thor took Mjolnir and broken pieces to Dr. Strange. It was repaired whole again but Thor and "the hammer (are) bound together as never before" as Strange said. Then, you can see Thor's reflection/visage in the hammer after it was fixed. So, I believe they are now connected in crazy way that allowed him to come back like he did after the Serpent/Fear Itself saga (and again in the future?). So not a Ragnarok rebirth per se. I can also see another example of this when after Siege, Thor shattered Odin's casket and returned Odin. But Odin was pretty much the only Asgardian not yet returned by Thor in the JMS re-launch, so I guess we knew this was coming. So nothing indicates that Ragnarok is still an issue - he undid it and now everyone is back; and the way he came back after the Serpect battle was different.

  3. And that second thing - the whole point of the Death of Odin and Reigned etc. giant story-arc by Jurgens was to show what Thor would be like without his human element, and restore that - he lost is by removing Olson and they were rejoined. I don't know if the same type of thing happened with Blake, and as you point out I don't know how they separated this last time. I don't know if it's the same though - when it happened with Olson, Olson did have the memories but he also talked about the human element. Blake had the memories, but he never talked about not being whole or Thor missing the human element (I don't think). Olson tried to be the hero and fight Thor, where Blake seemed pretty petty wanting power back and going to the Echantress... so not sure if Thor lost the human element. As for Thor being more violent, he's generally been more badass (which is actually awesome!) since he's been back, period. I think all he's been through has made him tougher, and recall when he killed Bor that he was still connected to Blake, so I think it's just how Marvel wants him. I remember the Thor stories from the 80s and 90s and loved the space or Asgard based ones - where he is jacked and really strong, but on earth he's weakened down. Marvel somewhere said he was 'psychologically weaker' around Captain America and the Avengers, because of the respect he has for them or something (I know, brutal). But it's apparant that he's not holding anything back now! Battles with the Sentry, Serpent, etc. and other Avengers comment on his importance in the Avengers books now (if you check out those). .....Ps: as I final aside with Hickman now taking over Avengers writing from Bendis, he just did an interview and said that heavy-hitter type powerlevel guys will be more a factor, and the Avengers will have more of a universal presence with Earth being THE most important place in the universe :)