Spencer: To tell a good story, characters need to face consequences for their actions. Just look at Heroes, where characters could quit jobs, disappear for months at a time, or even switch between “good” and “evil” at the drop of a dime without ever facing any consequences, thus giving us little reason to care about what the characters did, since none of it mattered anyway. Contrast that with, say, Breaking Bad, where every decision the characters make, no matter how small, has the chance to ruin their lives; everybody’s actions matter, causing the viewer to become invested in the story and pay close attention to what happens. Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic follow the latter example, fortunately, in Thor: God of Thunder 21, which finds both versions of the titular god dealing with the consequences of actions he took in previous issues.
Thor the Avenger has been away from Earth for three weeks, and while he was gone, Roxxon CEO Dario Agger quite literally took over Thor’s home base of Broxton, Oklahoma, basically turning the town into a toxic wasteland, all while hiding under legal loopholes. Thor, in a fit of righteous fury, attempts to tear it all down, only to be talked down by Roz Solomon. Agger’s lawyers present Thor with a lawsuit over the damages done to Roxxon’s facilities and a restraining order that will keep him far away from all Roxxon property — including his beloved Broxton.
Those’re some harsh consequences, but they’re not unexpected; in last month’s comments we bristled at Thor’s reckless attacks on those Roxxon facilities, worried not only about the moral implications but that it was simply too easy — or too short-term — a solution, and we seem to be right. Aaron kicked this arc off by telling us that this environmental crisis was a problem too big for Thor to simply smite, yet he tried anyway, and it blew up in his face.
Yet, since Thor is a god, it’s possible he has the authority — nay, perhaps even the moral obligation — to carry out these kinds of attacks that humans simply can’t. Notice that it isn’t a pang of conscience that stops Thor’s rampage, but the appearance of a friend.
Likewise, Agger’s attempt to sue the pants off of Thor seems far too small-scale to actually affect him. Who could actually force Thor to pay Agger? Who would be capable of stopping Thor from attacking Roxxon if he really wanted to? Do the laws of mortals even apply to Thor? There’s an argument to be made that they don’t, but that’s honestly not the issue here. An army couldn’t keep Thor out of Broxton, but they could end up hurting the town’s citizens, innocent bystanders Thor cares about deeply. The government probably couldn’t take Thor’s money, but they could certainly seize the assets of his friends in the Avengers. If forced to, S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn’t take Thor down, but it would force him to fight against his friends, against Roz.
So yeah, Thor may have the power, perhaps even the right, to do whatever he wants, but the consequences could hurt everybody he cares about. We’ve long championed Thor’s love of humanity and Earth as one of his greatest strengths, but it’s a strength that binds him to our world. So it looks like, if Thor doesn’t want to lose the love of Midgard, he’ll have to play this game by Midgard’s rules. It should be fascinating to see what Thor does, but it’s a shame he had to learn this lesson so brutally.
As always, Esad Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina bring this story to life in a suitably epic fashion. What stands out to me the most, though, is the way they portray the now Roxxon-owned Broxton. When talking about issue 19, I highlighted the way Svorcina bathed the present-day in gorgeous blues to highlight the vitality of Earth, while he portrayed the dying Earth of Old King Thor’s era as brown, dingy and dead.
The above panel is set in Broxton in the present day, yet it looks as desolate as the Earth of Old King Thor’s time. While Aaron tells us plenty about what Roxxon has done to Broxton, it’s Ribic and Svorcina who truly portray a dying town.
Ribic and Svorcina truly get to cut loose in the scenes set in the future, however. Those scenes basically boil down to a drag-out, knock-down battle between King Thor and Old Galactus that literally cracks planets, destroys the Moon, and rocks the entire galaxy. In contrast to the present-day scenes, there appears to be a distinct lack of consequences in this fight, allowing us to simply sit back and enjoy the gorgeously rendered destruction and gloriously ridiculous banter between Thor and Galactus.
Still, this conflict is not as free of consequences as it first appears. Thor’s fighting to save Earth, yet his battle is literally destroying the planet; the loss of the desolate, dying planet ultimately means little, but it would mean that Thor failed. Then there’s the risk to Thor himself; losing this fight means losing his life. Yet, I think Old King Thor is prepared for this. I get the impression that even if the Earth perishes, Thor will take satisfaction knowing Galactus didn’t cause it; likewise, I get the impression that he’s more than willing to die in this fight.
That may be the biggest difference between the two narratives in this issue: Thor the Avenger acted without thinking things through and is now paying dearly, while Old King Thor seems to have taken the time to consider the consequences of his actions, and decided to go through with them anyway. Look ma, character development!
That said, both storylines end with Thor at a low point. Shelby, how do you think Thor is going to bounce back? Do you want to punch Agger’s smug little face as badly as I do? And is it just me, or does Ulik look more adorable than intimidating?
Shelby: I imagine Thor will bounce back with a lot of punching and smashing of hammer; that’s how he operates. Thor is a force of destruction, and never has it been more apparent than in this issue. Thor the Avenger brought destruction to his beloved Broxton through the destruction of the Roxxon facilities last issue. King Thor, in his attempts to destroy Galactus, is actually destroying the Earth (and definitely destroyed the moon).
Despite a battle with the moon as a casualty, this issue was kind of a snore for me. The environmental bent just feels so clunky and on the nose. With the Gorr story-arcs, we at least had the intriguing core concept of the effects of the destruction of gods. There’s a lot of heavy, faith-based implications there to contemplate, even while the story occasionally was similarly bogged down. But here, the big takeaway seems to be, “Destroying the Earth for money is BAD!“, to which I respond with a hearty, “Well, yeah, no shit.”
There is an opportunity here for something more interesting; we could be considering the benefits we reap from some of our more damaging practices. Oil companies can do a lot of damage in their line of business, but we also need the resource. When you consider how much we as human beings rely on the services which oil companies and other polluters provide, it’s a topic that becomes far less black and white. We don’t get any of that sort of depth here, however. Sure, Mr. Minotaur makes some paltry claim about bringing jobs to Broxton and reviving their economy, but it’s obviously just supercilious ploy to make Thor mad enough to start smashing. The whole story feels shallow and superficial. Even King Thor’s quest to save dead, lifeless, super super dead Earth in the far-flung future feels kind of meaningless. I understand the desire to keep things with sentimental value, but what good does a desolate, empty Earth do? I feel the same way when I watch those terrible shows about hoarders; these are people who love their things so much they have to keep them no matter what, but in the end they can’t even enjoy what they own. King Thor has these fond, beautiful memories of Earth, but how does keeping that dusty ball a-rollin’ through the cosmos reflect those memories at all? In the end, it just comes off as another empty reason to keep the story plugging along; Thor has to defend Earth…just because.
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