Today, Ethan and Drew are discussing Thor: God of Thunder 12, originally released August 28th, 2013.
Ethan: Religion is a funny thing. The effort and complexity inherent to trying to establish a useful way of thinking about where stuff comes from and how we should keep it going forward is difficult to wrap your head around. We humans are bundles of passion and logic, of guilt and pride, of doubt and certainty. Whether you think that’s thanks to some awkward midpoint of evolution, or intrinsic tension between physical and spiritual existence, it’s a heckuva weight to walk around with, and religions (or opposition to them — a kind of religion in itself) is seemingly one of the only ways we’ve got that get our species through each day and each millenium. Rather than a denial of the tension between our daily life and the unthinkable bigness of space and time, religions find ways to incorporate the vast distances that are out there into our miniscule doings. In the issues of Thor, God of Thunder leading up to #12, we’ve mostly focused on the Big, Godly Conflict; this issue takes its time to let us steep in the Small, Human Cares and to explore how those two scales are linked.
In neat, temporal order, this issue gives us three quick check-ins on Thor the Younger, Thor the Avenger, and Thor the Elder. The Younger returns “home” to 9th century Iceland, where he muses on the wild, disordered beauty of Earth. The Avenger returns to present day to make the rounds offering comfort, aid, and wisdom to new friends and old ones. One new friendship is formed when he meets up with newly minted S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Rosalind Solomon, and perhaps the most poignant of old friendships is renewed during his visit to Jane Foster, where he discovers that she is starting out on a battle against breast cancer. In the far future, The Older Thor repairs the damage wrought by Gorr and journeys back to visit a now-ruined Earth.
Thor, God of Thunder is hands-down one of my favorite titles out there right now. Maybe because I’ve been basking in the epic storyline and the gorgeous art, but it only occurred to me now that this is the only comic that gives me goosebumps. I love the way it can tap into the biggest of ideas while delivering the panel-by-panel joys of good dialogue and character connection. Young Thor and Old Thor had good moments in here, but as usual Middle Thor stole the spotlight. Again, while the kid owns the chutzpah and the geezer has the gravitas, the Thor we’re more familiar with served as the canvas for a bigger theme, which I brought up in my indulgent lead-in: like the name of the book says, Thor is first and foremost a god, and Aaron does a bang-up job of fitting godhood into a format we can enjoy and ponder.
We’ve seen Thor wielding incredible might against incredible threats, but this issue gives a much deeper view of Thor as a friend: friend of Earth, friend of humanity, and friend of individuals. Religious pluralism is at the fore — the scene of the Norse God of Thunder chit-chatting with a gaggle of nuns in the middle of a Catholic abbey is wonderful.
Thor doesn’t have a First Commandment; if you want to worship another god, that’s ok, he’s just here to deliver the Quasar Orchid seeds. His next stops are out East to share his recent experiences with a buddhist monk, back West to drink a toast to a roomful of disabled American veterans, and then back East to bring rain to some desert nomads. Thor is like Santa plus Jesus — he can be everywhere at once, and he genuinely cares about you, wherever you come from.
While moving, the nuns, the monk and the veterans were essentially faceless; Thor’s time with Jane Foster is another story. Thor the God is timeless, but Thor the Hero of Earth is pretty young, dating back to the 60s. As a godling, we’ve seen Thor’s early years as ones of hubris (if that term can be applied to a god) and lack of respect. Allfather Odin addressed that problem by embedding Thor’s essence into the human Donald Blake, where he served as a doctor alongside nurse Foster. Now, in present day, Jane is a doctor, but she’s got her own challenge to overcome.
Thor has died and been reborn again and again. Despite — or perhaps thanks to — this track record, he’s gained a respect for the weight that comes with human death, and we see the tension between his godly perspective and his human empathy in his interactions with Jane. His first reaction is to smite the heck out of the villain that did this terrible thing to his beloved. Once Jane does the conversational equivalent of grabbing his chin and making him look into her eyes, he’s able to adapt. She doesn’t need a hero, or a god, or a miracle; she needs a friend.
In a silent reminder of Thor’s ability to straddle both the infinite and the immediate, Nic Klein drops this frame on us in the final panel. Intrinsically above and beyond our expectations and existence, Thor steps from the abstract into the “real” without pause.
Drew — now that Gorr’s gone and Thor’s back to the business of being a hybrid god of Asgard and Midgard, are you still along for the ride? Or do you think his character is bound to falter without a monster to mash?
Drew: You know, given how much the last arc was about Thor AND Gorr, I half expected this issue to flounder a bit, but Aaron makes a compelling case for Earth as a new co-star of the series. This also retroactively shows the weight of just what Gorr was trying to accomplish — sure, we can abstractly understand that a world without gods is bad, but having these specifics about just how helpful Santa-Jesus (FROM SPACE!) would be sure drives that point home.
Ethan, I think your theological introduction is entirely justifiable — this issue is all about a god’s personal relationships with people. The beefy middle section explores this most thoroughly, but I was actually more interested in the implications of Thor’s interest in Midgard:
It’s a classic set-up for Thor’s next line, “How could I ever stay away?” It’s also an incredibly pessimistic view of humanity. The idea that he loves our shortcomings — not because they’re endearing failures, but because he actually likes crude and bitter liquors and harsh weather — is fascinating to me. Thor, as a character, is such a reflection of the values of the cultures that created him — both the ancient Norse AND modern comic creators — it’s an absolute brilliant turn that he should like Earth because it reflects the things that he values. Ultimately, that’s what mythology is all about: giving gods our values to justify having those values.
But what does it mean for a character ostensibly created in a barbaric ancient culture — thus representing barbaric ancient values — to be running around the modern day? Young Thor may claim to value our petty fighting and defilement of every land, but Thor the Avenger’s values seem a bit more modern. In one of the early scenes, he brings an extinct, famously delicious fruit to a death-row inmate as his last meal. In another, he crashes what looks to be a Westboro Baptist Church protest:
In addition to being multicultural and merciful, this god has an ironic sense of humor — a truly modern god. The notion of a god that changes with the times is obviously going to upset scriptural literalists, but it reflects how everyone reacts to religion — in relation to our everyday experiences.
The truly clever part, though, is that this isn’t just about a god (or even a comic book character) changing with the times; Aaron has tied this (rather compellingly) to Thor’s own maturation. Young Thor loved Earth because he’s a brash glory-fiend. Modern Thor loves Earth because he values community and philanthropy. Old Thor will love Earth because of the memories it carries. In that way, this series isn’t just about theology, Thor, or his relationship with Earth — it’s about getting older. That’s something we can all relate to — like Confucius said (or was it Yogi Berra?), “no matter where you go: there you are.”
Wow, I really liked this issue. Aaron delivers a dense, rewarding story, and guest artist Nic Klein knocks it out of the park with his superb acting and acrylic-y color work. Klein’s style is distinctly different from Ribic (whose isn’t?), but it’s a perfect match for the zoomed-in scope here. Or deceptively zoomed-in. I’m most impressed at how much of the scope of this issue lives off the page, sketching out eons of humanity for us to fill in.
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