Thor 4

Alternating Currents: Thor 4, Spencer and Drew

Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Thor 4, originally released January 28th, 2014.

Spencer: Would my life be different if I had a different name? Back in high school I thought Spencer was a nerdy sounding name and that it gave me an automatic handicap when it came to being “cool,” but now that I’ve matured I’ve come to realize that my name didn’t dictate my personality or path in life. Still, as I’ve grown to love and appreciate my name it’s come to feel like an intrinsic part of my personality; it may not have shaped my life, but it’s grown with me and absorbed my qualities, and if somebody took my name away from me, it would feel like I was losing a part of myself. That’s the exact situation Thor Odinson finds himself facing in Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s Thor 4, an issue that firmly establishes the new Thor while also showing just exactly what that means for the old one.

After being found unworthy of wielding Mjölnir and losing an arm to Malekith, Odinson now finds himself face-to-face with the new Thor, and he isn’t too happy about her taking up the mantle! Their vicious battle only ends when Mjolnir refuses Odinson’s commands and instead returns to Thor, and the two are able to put aside their differences long enough to dispose of the Frost Giants (although not Malekith and Agger). Odinson decides that he is no longer worthy of being known as “Thor” and officially passes the name onto his replacement, though this leaves his fate less certain than ever.

So when it comes to talking about Thor 4 and especially to analyzing the development of poor Odinson, there’s one image that feels absolutely vital:

dying inside

First of all, it almost goes without saying, but Dauterman and colorist Matthew Wilson are on fire. The sheer scope and detail of this spread is staggering, but I’m most impressed by the sense of personality Dauterman imbues both of our heroes with. Odinson’s always been a powerhouse brawler, but as Aaron’s narration points out, the emotional stress of the current situation has him hitting harder than ever before. Thor, meanwhile, glides effortlessly, allowing Mjolnir and its lightning to do most of the work for her.

This is, at least in part, because Thor’s still a new hero, likely untrained in the way of physical combat (although we still have no idea who she actually is), so of course Mjolnir needs to give her an extra hand. That said, it may also come down to gender; I don’t mean to stereotype men as brutes and women as waifs, but one of the ongoing dynamics of Thor has been the contrast between how the men and the women of Asgardia solve problems. Odin, Odinson, and Agger, among others, have been portrayed as angry, arrogant, and egotistical, while Freyja and the new Thor have approached their battles with a practical composure lacking in their male counterparts.

Odinson's rage

As Thor points out here, Odinson’s rage isn’t a new problem. This seems to be referring to the temper tantrum Odinson threw at Roxxon during the final storyline of Thor: God of Thunder that resulted in a devastating legal attack from Agger (more evidence pointing towards the new Thor being Roz Solomon); could this be a sign that Odinson was slowly losing his worthiness even before Nick Fury’s infamous whisper, as well as to why the new Thor is a worthier candidate?

Either way, it leaves Odinson lost. Refer back to that first spread I posted, specifically Odinson’s narration; seeing the new Thor using his beloved hammer is almost literally killing him. As we’ve pointed out in past reviews, “Thor” isn’t a mantle that’s passed down like Batman or Captain America — it’s literally the character’s name. Even Mjolnir’s enchantment doesn’t say that its holder becomes Thor — Beta Ray Bill sure didn’t — simply that they gain his power. So for Odinson to willingly pass on his own name shows how heavily intertwined Odinson’s sense of self was with his ability to wield Mjölnir, and how unlike himself he feels without it.

The name Thor means quite a bit for its new holder as well.

The Mighty Thor

Throughout this whole storyline — and even as recently as the page before this — Thor’s insisted that she never wanted this power and that she’s only doing what needs to be done. It’s a noble sentiment, but the first panel here shows the full weight of her new job hitting her for the first time. The sacrifice Odinson is making leaves a lot for Thor to live up to, and her new job is a weighty one; Thor is clearly a bit nervous, but that doesn’t stop her from breaking into an enthusiastic grin in the last panel as she flies off.

Yes, Thor is worthy of the name and aware of the full weight of her responsibilities, but also fully embraces the fun side of her new powers. It’s a winning formula for a new character, but if there are any naysayers left out there, Odinson’s endorsement should go a long way to winning them over. But what of Odinson himself? Can he become worthy once again, and if so, will it involve regaining the humility he seemed to be losing sight of even before Original Sin? Or will Odinson have to walk a new path to worthiness? What does being worthy even entail? These are just some of the many questions Aaron’s balancing right now (What did Fury whisper in Odinson’s ear? Who is Thor?), but he’s done the work to make the answers not only just a way to satiate readers’ curiosity, but to have a real effect on the characters, and that will only make the eventual outcome all the more powerful.

Drew, what’s your take on Thor and Odinson’s new status quo? Do you have any thoughts about gender as it relates to this issue, or on Freyja or Odin’s roles in the issue? What about Malekith and Agger’s schemes, or the possibility or Mjolnir being sentient? There’s a lot going on in Thor 4, and if the resolution is as strong as the set-up, then the rest of this series should be a blast.

Drew: You know, I don’t think it occurred to me until reading your thoughts on gender, but the whole premise of this series can be read as a straightforward allegory about affirmative action, or at least the acquiescence of white male power that comes with the democratizing of society. As a literal heir to the throne, Odinson is maybe an even more ideal representation of male privilege than Tony Stark. He has a lot to lose. Heck, to make things more complicated, Aaron has been explicit in how Odinson’s identity is tied up in that power — one could reasonably have an identity crisis if they lost a position they cared about, but these are rather explicitly “the powers of Thor,” so much so that Odinson equates them with being Thor.

It could be easy to dismiss the allegory as a nightmare fantasy about women gaining power — nothing needs to be usurped for equality — but I think it actually reflects some important realities about why there is such resistance to equality. Because sure, this could be the story of how another Mjölnir picks a woman, giving us two equal Thors, but much like specific jobs (say, the President of the United States), there is only one Mjölnir, and the symbolic quality of that singularness is important. Perhaps more importantly, a situation where a female Thor has a second Mjölnir would almost certainly ghettoize her as the “new Thor” or the “female Thor,” while limiting the number of Thors makes sure that she is simply “Thor.”

Of course, it helps that this issue is all about Odinson coming to that very conclusion. He fights Thor at first, insisting that these powers are rightfully his, but he is won over by Thor’s ability to wield Mjölnir. Unfortunately, I don’t think these situations resolve quite so happily in real life, which is why “affirmative action” is referred to with such sneering derision by certain segments of the population. It’s easier for Odinson to give up his power when a magical hammer is making the decisions (it’s not like he can wield Mjölnir now, anyway), but what if the decision was made by a board of directors? And what if the decision didn’t just affect what weapon you carry into battle, but your very eligibility for that battle? Or, you know, the size of your paycheck? Odinson handles his situation with grace and dignity, pointing the way for how we might react to similar situations in real life, but its worth noting that his situation is a little easier to swallow (even if, again, his actual identity is tied up in this whole thing).

I definitely think gender and power are central themes of this series, but they’re far from the only thing going on. Spencer highlighted Dauterman’s skill for body language and detail, but I’ll gladly add “dynamic layouts” to his list of strengths. Generally, crooked panels are overused to the point of meaninglessness, but Dauterman carefully paces their use, reserving them for moments of action and emotional intensity. The double-pager Spencer included of the Thors in battle is a standout example, but I’ll provide another, just to show it in context (and because its so darn pretty).

Malekith Magic

Beyond his carefullness in deploying crooked panels (seriously though, you can easily map the arc of this issue by just cataloguing when he angles his panels), Dauterman is always quite precise with them. Notice that the angle of the shot isn’t canted — up is still up, down is still down, etc — just the frame we’re looking through. It’s the opposite of the cheap Star Trek “shake the camera” trick (or, to be precise, exactly like the Star Trek stabilized” gifs floating around the internet). The effect shows the impact of these moments (again, either physical or emotional impact), without confusing the up-down orientation of the page.

Between the complex take on hot-button issues and the stellar art, Thor continues to be one of the most exciting series on my pull. Throw in the tease that Odinson is going to be investigating the identity of this new Thor, and I’m completely hooked. I’m interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts on the efficacy of keeping that identity a secret (I’m personally never a fan of having a character ask an important mythological question, only to get too distracted by something else to follow up while the person with answers is in the room [I’m looking at you, LOST]), as well as how this series might relate to male privilege. That issue is a bit too big to fit in my brain, so I’m excited to see it spilling into comics — and hopefully the comments section here.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

One comment on “Thor 4

  1. I don’t know how I managed to neglect this in the write-up, but I think it’s important to note how important the story of privilege was to the naysayers who balked at a female Thor. “Let them have a new hero, don’t mess with OUR heroes” was a common refrain, but I think this issue illustrates why that wouldn’t have worked. Ultimately, I do tend to think these choices boil down to tokenism — there’s really no doubt that the mantles of Thor and Cap will inevitably revert back to the white men that people associate them with — but both this series and All-New Captain America make the case for why that’s a stupid status quo to maintain.

    But maybe I’m being to hard. I tend to think that if you like regressive, conservative art, you’re going to cultivate regressive, conservative views, but it might work the other way around. Maybe comics are the last bastion for white dudes who only want to consume art about white dudes? Or maybe those complainers are really a tiny minority that have successfully pumped their numbers up in my mind. I don’t really know…

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