Spencer: It’s easy to take a cynical view of environmentalism — personally, I’m thinking specifically of how that one-time donation of $20 I gave to my state’s Wildlife Conservation Fund has been spent three or four times over just paying for the junk mail they’ve since sent me — and its even easier to turn stories about environmentalism into preachy tirades. Amazingly, in Thor: God of Thunder 19 Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic avoid those traps, somehow presenting us with a nuanced and “realistic” tale of the titular God’s fight to save the Earth itself while also taking the time to remind us of our planet’s beauty — and what the planet could end up looking like if we fail to protect it.
S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Roz Solomon — who insists she is not Thor’s girlfriend — is going up against some heavily-armed and highly illegal whaling vessels; things go south, but she hangs on just long enough for Thor to come to the rescue (perhaps due to Coulson’s prayers?). Afterwards, the two confront Roxxon CEO Dario Agger, whose company has been mining for ice on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, in an attempt to provide more drinking water for the world — while charging a pretty penny for the service, of course. Thor upstages Agger by donating an entire mountain of ice he took from Jotunheim, which literally costs Agger billions and sends him into a violent rage. Thor and Roz make plans to discuss more ways to save the Earth, but then we immediately skip many millennia into the future, where Old King Thor’s futile efforts to revive the now shriveled, dead Earth are revealed. Even worse: Galactus is here, and he’s hungry!
As I said, stories of this nature are tricky, but I think Aaron absolutely nails the execution on this. First of all, he understands that the environmental issues Earth faces aren’t the kind of problems Thor can solve with a simple smiting — though Thor’s certainly going to try — and he allows that complexity to remain in play instead of trying to simplify things down to a “superhero” level.
Going hand-in-hand with that point is this issue’s villain, Dario Agger. I’m admitting something potentially embarrassing about myself here, but as a (very) young child my favorite show was Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Ted Turner’s attempt to educate children about conservation through a superhero cartoon. What stands out to me about that show as an adult is how one-dimensional the villains were; Captain Planet’s Eco-Villains were all mustache-twirling sadists who apparently had some sort of fetish for deliberately polluting and harming the Earth, with the money they made off their schemes barely factoring into their motivations. While it’s easy to write this off as the consequence of it being a children’s show, the truth is that many of the environmental narratives designed for adults resort to the same characterization for their villains.
Aaron, however, creates a much more complex antagonist in Agger, starting by giving him a God Complex that easily explains his selfish, materialistic behavior.
Moreover, while Agger is certainly only concerned about his personal gain, he never stands around talking about that or acting like he gets some sort of sick pleasure out of polluting. Instead, Agger hides behind a veneer of slick, shiny speeches that probably serve as terrific publicity, but when examined more closely, strongly hint at the sociopath buried beneath. Ribic’s depiction of Agger adds to the character’s effectiveness, hiding his eyes behind dark shades and rarely allowing his smug, punchable grin to fade. Seriously, don’t you just want to punch the guy square in the nose?
Aaron also avoids the trap of becoming too preachy; while there is decidedly an environmentalist bent to this issue, it’s delivered tactfully. Sure, Roz Solomon cares deeply about the issues, but she’s still a character with a personality and other concerns instead of simply a mouthpiece there only to deliver rhetoric; likewise, Thor and Coulson both support Roz’s efforts, but both have concerns of their own as well. Indeed, the effortless, clever rapport between these three is a joy, and keeps the story focused where it should be: on the characters.
Of course, Esad Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina play an integral part in pulling this off too; instead of Aaron telling us why it’s important to protect the Earth, Ribic and Svorcina simply show us. It’s mentioned several times throughout the issue how blue the Earth is, and Svorcina follows up on this by bathing almost all of the present-day section of the issue in shades of blue. Ribic, meanwhile, gets to cut loose with some absolutely breathtaking scenery.
That’s an ocean I want to protect! Ribic and Svorcina drive the point home by juxtaposing these scenes with the Earth of Old King Thor’s time, which is no longer blue and full of life but instead brown and dingy and dead; even Thor and his family are practically obscured by the dust and dirt.
This is a warning for us of what our Earth could become, but for Thor, it’s a much more definite future. I admit, seeing the state of the future Earth was a sucker punch; does it mean that Thor’s crusade against Roxxon is destined to fail, or simply that, even if he takes down Roxxon, he’ll never be able to stop the human race from greedily destroying their world? Knowing how King Thor ends up certainly makes the otherwise optimistic modern-day story seem a lot more depressing.
Time for another shameful confession: this was my first issue of Thor: God of Thunder. As that big, shiny “All-New Marvel Now! #1” on the cover assured me, I was not lost at all; this is a wonderfully accessible comic book here, but I am quite curious about the history between Thor and Roz, who make an adorable couple. Patrick, does your history with the title give you any more insight into what’s going on between these two or why Roz seems to be so gun-shy around Thor?
Patrick: Oh, Spencer! I don’t have the easiest time recommending this whole series to anyone, but issue 12 was on my list of favorite issues of the year, even if it ended up being edged out on the proper Retcon Punch list. In it, Thor just hangs around Earth answering prayers and being a god — it’s charming as hell, and is hands down the sincerest treatment of Thor as a “god” that I’ve ever read. Roz is introduced there, having invited Thor to her S.H.I.E.L.D. academy graduation ball (or… something like that). She does it because, well, that’s the god that S.H.I.E.L.D. has access to, and her environmental concerns are going to require some divine intervention. So, while she’s thrilled to have the buffest date at the dance, she’s not really looking to date the dude. Thor, on the other hand, is charmed by her — as he is of most Earth women with sincere passions — but he’s taking marching orders from a terminal Jane Foster: find a different nice Earth girl and love her.
Actually, come to think of it, issue 12 is a beautiful foreshadowing of a lot of the themes explored here. Jason Aaron seems to write his Thor stories in 5-issue arcs, with a sixth that does something different (and gives Ribic a break). Issue 6 gave us a look into the villain that straddled the first two arcs and issue 18 is just kind of a funny mapping exercise, asking the question “what if Thor’s reckless drinking buddy was town-stompin’ dragon?” It’s sorta fun to think that Aaron might have been seeding characters and themes in the last issue that we could be exploring in earnest months from now.
Spencer, I’ll beg you not to feel shame about loving Captain Planet as a kid. Yeah, it was garbage and the villains and heroes were about as one-note as they come, but — just as with the vapid Fern Gully — I’m more than happy to have been duped by them as a child. Environmental issues are incredibly tough because they are inextricably linked to issues of commercialism and consumerism. No matter how progressive and green I’m feeling, there are all kinds of sacrifices I’m totally unable/unwilling to make in the name of the planet. My phone, coffee, meat, my car, a long shower — these are luxuries that I’ve allowed to become necessities despite all that brainwashing we had as kids. I’m actually a little bit bummed that Aaron’s story pulls its punches a little bit in making the resource that Roxxon is so proud of refining water.
Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of experts and studies that suggest a water crisis is looming, but at the moment, the thought of mining ice from Titan to harvest drinking water for Earth is pretty crazy. It’s the stuff of science fiction, where sharper satire would shoot for speculative fiction. Aaron is writing a more nuanced story, giving the villain some more grounded motivation (even if that “ground” is a floating island), so the critique loses some of its teeth. But as Spencer points out, it’s easier for Thor to care about the big beautiful oceans of the world than the fossil fuels he never uses. Plus, it gives Ribic the opportunity to draw one hell of a cut-away gag when Thor steps in with an unnaturally handy solution.
I’m also intrigued to see the return of King Thor at the end of the issue. It has been a little while since we saw anyone but Thor the Avenger, and it’s comforting to know that Aaron wants to use those tools again. Also, how cool is it to pair an environmental story with Galactus? I guess the end of the world is the end of the world, be it by reckless, unsustainable use of resources or by giant plant-gobbler. Ironically, it’ll be Aaron’s biggest challenge to make the environmental threat feel as real and immediate as Galactus. That’s fucked up.
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