Today, Courtney and Patrick are discussing Thor: God of Thunder 4, originally released January 9, 2013.
Courtney: I’d like to start by saying that I knew a guy named Thor once. He was (and probably continues to be) a gentle, mild-mannered Army logistician of short stature, broad shoulders, and profoundly Scandinavian heritage. Most of his behaviors were marked by a kind of good-natured exhaustion and an uncomplicated gratitude for peace and merry-making. It was from him that I first learned the Ben Franklinism, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” I mention this not because it has any particular relevance to this issue of Thor, but because I am a creature of anthropocentric narratives; I require a certain amount of character development before I can engage a story, and it has become clear to me that in this case I will only get that character development if I bring it to the table myself, because Jason Aaron isn’t going to do it for me. I don’t really have a good grasp on who or what any of these characters are, both literally (I was never good on Norse mythology) and philosophically (what is a god?). I don’t much understand why any of them do the things they do, or what that has to do with the nature of the consciousnesses that I’m likely to encounter. That’s a particular and personal fixation of mine on storytelling, and I recognize it’s not everybody’s. In other regards, the craftsmanship is more than adequate.
We begin with a withered, one-eyed Future-Thor in a crumbling city, begging for death and lamenting the failures of his leadership. He wants to call it a day, be done with the agonizing responsibilities and general too-much-ness of the thousands of years of his life, but dang it, the Butcher just won’t kill him yet. Jump to the present day, where Thor finds a four-eyed, no-eyelidded Shadrak in a cave. He has witnessed the torture and murder of many gods. Thor promises to protect him in exchange for information about the God Butcher.
We return to the library on Omnipotence City, where we learn of a hidden world called Chronux, just in time for our heroes to be attacked by some kind of horrid berserkers ostensibly in the service of the God Butcher. Thor has a flashback to his cave encounter with the God Butcher, which is torturous and gruesome. Modern-day Thor starts booking it for the Palace of Infinity. There, the God Butcher argues with the Time Gods, then announces (but does not explain) his maniacal commitment to deicide.
The epistemology of this world is unclear. Gods are real – many gods from many belief systems, presumably from ALL belief systems. They can be killed, although the mechanism that facilitates this is not totally clear. There is some profound moral wrong in killing them, although we are to implicitly expect a high-minded ethos about when and how killing mortals can be right or wrong. Gods die not because humans forget them, but because they are literally physically mutilated and bludgeoned beyond all recognition.
The writing is simple and straight-forwarded with very few flourishes, which is good, because the smallest trace of literary pretension would destroy this issue completely. Aaron seems to be shooting for the kind of stiff but lyrical sort of grace which ancient religious texts often achieve in translation. He doesn’t quite pull it off, but in his defense, that’s really, really hard. It is already impressive that he can manage it without sounding like an asshole.
If this sounds like a litany of complaints, that’s because I’m saving up for the big guns. This series is so visually pleasing that the project on the whole is decidedly a triumph. I regret that I do not have the vocabulary to do it justice, but I will say that it compensates handsomely from any imperfections in the narrative. At all ages and in all states of disarray, Thor looks positively heroic. Everyone has great, epic veins bulging out of their great, epic arm muscles. The ruins, the gods, the monsters, the thunder, the chains – all are the stuff of dreams and nightmares, the fantasy realm we played in for hours and hours as kids.
Patrick, you’re a card-carrying sucker for narrative – am I missing something here? Is there more than meets the eye to these characters? What can we learn about the world they live in? And would you care to share with us a few of your favorite images?
Patrick: I am a card-carrying sucker for narrative, but I believe that mostly just qualifies me as “human.”
Your observations about Thor, as a character, are really interesting to me. I don’t disagree at all that the Thor doesn’t possess personality so much as he possess a set of goals. But I do think you’re missing out on that blank-slate quality that we’re supposed to ascribe to mythical heroes. He’s like Hercules or Achilles – characters you know for their feats of strength and their adventures (and/or their hilariously specific weaknesses), but not for the quality of their character. Part of the way that’s exacerbated here is that we see three almost-completely different versions of the character in this series — and this issue, in particular, makes approximately equal use of all three. Every single one of these versions of the God of Thunder has a different set of values, but what I find most striking is they way they view loss.
Young Thor is arrogant as shit. The God Butcher basically tells him as much when he’s got the viking god strung up in his magical torture-chains. But that arrogance comes from a place of believing himself to be above loss – Thor’s still young and invincible, after all. Modern-Day Thor has planted enough roots in the universe that he’s actually pretty desperate. No longer blessed with the arrogance of youth, he’s appealing to all kinds of weird tactics in order to take out the Butcher, including revisiting the site of the initial torture and teaming up with Shadrack (who is so totally a liar, by the way). And then finally, there’s Old Thor, who seems to have come to terms with the fact that his life is all about loss: he’s buried all of his loved ones and witnessed several ragnaroks. He’s resigned himself to such a life. Look how meekly he celebrates the victory of summoning Mjolnir.
But those three insights are decidedly non-specific to the Thor character, so while I find the different attitudes neat, I do get the criticism that we don’t wholly know Thor. That said, I’m fine with a little projection.
Speaking of projection, I read the end of the issue totally differently than you did. This chapter — more than the previous — cut around freely between time periods, so I might have gotten this wrong, but I think the issue ends in the future with Middle-Aged Thor appearing in the ruins of Asgard at the end of time. For one thing, Thor is covered in blood on the final page, and it sure seems like the God Butcher needs a WHOLE POOL OF BLOOD to travel through time. I’ma post that panel because you specifically invited me to share my favorite art from this issue, but also look how much blood.
Holy shit, Ive Svorcina’s colors are incredible there. I love the frequently blocky texturing Rebic employs — like the not-quite-crosshatching in the Butcher’s cloak here — but the glow coming off that indigo pool of alien blood is just jaw-dropping. Oh, oh oh! Here’s a great example of Rebic’s texturing used to achieve a sort of supernaturally scary effect: Thor coming to and seeing the Butcher.
What’s up with that big inky brushstroke in the second panel? It’s fucking awesome.
And I mentioned that Shadrack’s a liar. I can support that. First of all, there are a lot of ellipses when he talks, but specifically when he’s relaying his history with the God Butcher. He’s making it up on the fly. FURTHER EVIDENCE, he told Thor he was the god of Wine and Waterfalls, which actually would have come in SUPER HANDY at the library when that scroll/book was on fire. The bone fides he lists for the Librarian? God of Songs and Somersaults (which would make him hilariously lame, by the way).
On a side note, both you this week and Shelby a few weeks ago brought up the problematic concept of killing a god. What does it mean for a society when their gods are murdered? If a god can be murdered, in what sense are they immortal? Just what the fuck are these things anyway? I’m paraphrasing, of course. But I’m tempted to make you two hash it out in the comments. I see these gods of champions of elemental forces on specific worlds. But just because a champion disappears doesn’t mean their patron element does too. Therefore, it makes sense that people (poor, dumb people) could go on believing in long-murdered gods – even if their prayers will never be literally answered again. I don’t know what in the text supports further exploration of this idea, but it is fun, so have at it.
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