Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quarter Bin Review- “Thor” vol. 3 #10

Marvel Comics, September 2008

J. Michael Straczynski (writer), Olivier Coipel (artist and cover).

Summary- After last issue ended with Loki revealing to Balder that he's the son of Odin, Balder copes with the bombshell revelation that he's an uncrowned prince of Asgard. Wary of trusting Loki, Balder seeks out his trusted friend Thor, who confirms that Loki was speaking the truth. Thor explains that he was sworn to secrecy by Odin for fear of Balder dying before Ragnarok, but falters in explaining why he couldn't bring himself to tell Balder the truth now that Ragnarok is behind them. Prodded by Loki, Thor publically reveals Balder's heritage and announces a massive banquet in his honour. Though Balder proudly takes his place at Thor's side, he pulls Loki aside and cautions her that while he's willing to give her the benefit of the doubt for now, she would do well not to abuse his trust.

Comments- As someone who spent most of his childhood reading all the books on mythology I could get my hands on, I'm somewhat confused by this storyline. I don't really get why Balder is shocked to find out that he's Odin's son, when that's never really been in question in classical mythology. Pretty much every story involving Balder refers to him as the son of Odin and Frigga; to the best of my knowledge, it's always been the same in the Marvel universe, even if I can't think of any issues offhand where it's been explicitly stated. I suppose if you want to split hairs you could point out that Marvel's Balder also wasn't killed by a blind guy with a sprig of mistletoe, and that the comics don't necessarily reflect the myths, but I've always gotten the impression that if something about a mythology-influenced comic character is unsaid, it probably mirrors the classical representation. I guess it's kind of a minor point to get hung up on, but I'll admit that it still kind of bugs me.

Speaking of mythological comic characters, there are many different ways a writer can handle them. You can do straight superhero stories (like Thor's appearances in the pages of "The Avengers"). There's the fantasy/sci-fi mashup that Walt Simonson used for his run on "Thor", and that Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have been using on "Incredible Hercules". Matt Fraction put his stamp on Thor with a series of one-shots that read like the lyrics to a Slayer album. For this title, Straczynski opts for an almost Shakespearean tone, contrasting the majesty and import of the Asgardian gods with the simple world of man. This pairs perfectly with Coipel's gorgeous pencils, which are tailor made for drawing immortal Viking warriors. On the plus side, this establishes a regal feeling that's fitting for stories about gods, but the downside is that Straczynski's "Thor" is so atmospheric and character driven that nothing ever really happens. As cool as it is to see the Asgardians as incredibly powerful yet aloof and unfathomable figures, it eventually gets boring; after long issues of talking heads, a big part of me really just wants to see Thor crack someone in the head with his hammer.

Final Rating- 6/10.