Today, Taylor and Spencer are discussing The Mighty Thor 4, originally released February 17th, 2016.
Taylor: As much as I try, I can’t escape news and opinions surrounding the Democratic and GOP primary elections. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be informed about what’s happening, but every time I log on to the internet (and social media in particular) I’m bombarded by opinions about Trump, Sanders, Clinton, Rubio, Cruz, and yes, even Jeb Bush. It’s not wrong to have a strong opinion about what’s happening in national politics, but I just don’t want to hear what everyone thinks about it all the damn time. There’s a time and a place to discuss these things and there are also a lot of subtle ways these issues can be discussed, none of which involve Facebook and the reposting of articles that support your particular belief. The Mighty Thor 4, as it always has, impresses me not only with its overall quality but, in this case, also with its subtle commentary on national politics.
The Nine Realms are quickly descending into chaos. Malekith, with the help of Roxxon, is poised to take over Alfheim with the forced marriage to Queen Aelsa, leader of the light elves. Thor is powerless to stop this from happening as Aelsa insists that this marriage is by choice. Thor has her suspicions, but for obvious reasons, she doesn’t have time to act on them just yet. News of the Lady Freyja’s trial before Odin forces Thor to leave Alfheim in a last ditch effort to save Asgard before it is consumed by revolution.
Before Thor even arrives in Asgard, I found the trial of Freyja (if it could even be called a trial) to be quite interesting. Odin claims that Freyja betrayed the Realm when she sided with Thor after Odin sent the Destroyer to take back Mjolnir from Jane. While these are the charges leveled against Freyja, it’s clear that they have less to do with the law and more to do Odin’s attempt to solidify his crumbling power and influence. In an impassioned speech, Freyja calls out Odin on this and on his inability to recognize that the world has moved on without him.
It’s a heck of a speech and damn if it doesn’t get me riled up. Whether he is or isn’t being manipulated by his brother, it’s clear to me that Odin stands between what the people of Asgard want and what he wants. More, he’s basically standing between social and political progress and “the old way” of doing things. This old way, as Freyja notes, is all about the patriarchy and keeping those in power powerful. I can’t help but see the analogy being made here between the political world of Asgard and the political world of America. American politics have long been dominated by old white guys and in this upcoming election we have a choice of whether we want to continue with the old way of doing things or if we want to select a leader who vows to do things differently. It doesn’t matter who he supports in this upcoming election; Jason Aaron has made it clear what he stands for. What I appreciate about this commentary is that is posits a position, but does so with a light enough touch that it doesn’t distract from Aaron’s story or bluntly declare anyone’s political position. If only all people could speak or write with such deftness!
The wonderful thing about comics is that despite any political leanings a story might have, the art can always be transcendent in its own right. And really, “transcendent” is the only word I can think of to describe Russell Dauterman’s art in this issue. I’m consistently impressed with Dauterman’s work, but there was one thing in particular that caught my eye: on several pages he uses round panels, taking what was already one of the more adventurously laid-out series in the comic industry to ever greater heights.
For me, pages like this are a piece of artwork. I like how the circular panel in the middle of page effectively sets the scene of Freyja’s “trial.” Its central position establishes the following panels as happening within Odin’s throne room, yet the circular nature of this panel invites my mind’s eye to wander around this space as I like. Further, as my eye moves down the page I notice how each panel is a zoom-in from the last. First we have the establishing shot, then the wide interior shot, and lastly a close up of the faces of the main characters in this scene. This quickly and beautifully gives me all of the meaningful information I need to understand this scene while at the same time narrowing in on the which information is most important. Lastly, I can’t help by draw comparisons between those pages with circular panels and the work of Alphonse Mucha.
The centrally located circular panel, the woman at the center of this circle, touches of naturalistic imagery on the outskirts of the page, and even the interplay of straight and curved lines all create a striking semblance of one another. I have no idea if Dauterman did this on purpose or not, but the comparison is fun and compelling to me nonetheless.
Spencer, do you see the similarities that I do between Mucha and Dauterman or I’m stretching a bit? Are there other aspects of Dauterman’s art that you particularly appreciated in this issue? Also, even if you don’t see any political allegories, the narrative of this issue is simply compelling. Your thoughts on what it all means?
Spencer: I can’t claim much familiarity with classic art, Taylor, but just looking at the Mucha piece you included here, I immediately noticed that both he and Dauterman have similar approaches to drawing hair, and the similarities only grow from there. So no, I don’t think your comparison’s too much of a stretch. Retcon Punch owes its existence to the idea that comics can be discussed as a form of higher art, so it’s no surprise to me that Dauterman (and colorist Matthew Wilson’s) work elicits comparisons to the classics.
Like Taylor, I too was impressed by the layouts and staging throughout The Mighty Thor 4. Taylor did a great job dissecting that second image he posted, but there was one more element of it I wanted to point out — the positioning of Odin and Freyja.
Odin and Freyja’s positions relative to each other do wonders to establish and reemphasize their dynamics. Odin literally looms over his wife, showing how he considers himself above all others in Asgard. Freyja, meanwhile, is forced to look up at him, forced into the role of an underdog, forced to deal with his presence before she can do anything else. As we’ve come to expect from Dauterman, it’s remarkably smart and intuitive.
That same kind of clever staging translates to the action sequences as well. We’ve long praised the way Dauterman skews his panels (and I’ve got to give a special shout out to that splash page of Thor hitting Odin, where the skewing of the image makes it appear that Thor’s hit him so hard that she’s knocked the page on its side!), but one of my favorite examples of this throughout the entire Dauterman/Aaron run comes during this issue’s opening moments, as a powerless Jane Foster plummets to the ground.
The slope of each panel matches the path of Mjolnir’s descent — the reader literally follows the hammer throughout its entire fall. Moreover, we’ve also got that one panel of Loki as a beautiful contrast — he’s standing on solid ground, and thus his panel is a standard, non-slanted, rectangular one. It’s grounded just as Loki is, and that moment of inaction only makes the action on the rest of the page pop even more. Every page of The Mighty Thor 4 is a visual feast, and I can’t get enough of it.
Taylor’s analysis of the issue’s political commentary is also quite excellent and accurate, but I like that the issue’s content is broad enough that it can be applied to multiple agendas and perspectives, not just the American election cycle. One of the most notable moments in this issue, at least to me, is the scene where Freyja begs Odin just to listen to his subjects.
Odin’s actions have negatively impacted Freyja, transforming her from Asgardia’s All-Mother into a lowly prisoner, but that’s not her concern — she just wants what’s best for Asgard, and for Odin to discover what that is, he needs to be able to listen to his subjects and accept the fact that he needs to change. Odin, of course, can’t do that — he’s an unmovable object, absolutely convinced of his own omnipotency, in the idea that’s what best for everyone is to follow his every command, and that this will never change. I imagine that this scene makes each and every one of our readers picture a different institution, because there are so many with power in our world today who refuse to change, and continue to impose their own selfish will on those around them (be they be governments, big business, or even “men” as a general group). The first step in enacting change is listening, but most are unwilling to do so, because the idea ever being wrong about anything simply baffles them.
For all its political potency, though, I can’t help but also see this plotline as a clear stand-in for the world of comic books, and especially The Mighty Thor/Jane Foster as Thor’s role in it. Odin serves as a counterpart for many comic book creators, editors, and/or readers alike, those who believe that comic books should only exist to cater to their tastes and whims (not to rag on fellow nerds, but we’ve all met more than a few fans like this, right?). A book like The Mighty Thor would’ve never come into being under their watch, but thankfully, these kind of fans are no longer the majority. Fans of all kinds are making their voices heard, and comic companies have finally realized that there’s money to be made by listening to their requests. This doesn’t mean abandoning more familiar kinds of comics and styles of storytelling, it just means creating a more balanced, inclusive landscape. It’s something we all benefit from in the end, just like Asgard would benefit if only Odin would listen to his subjects.
Elsewhere, Laufey too serves as a stand-in for certain kinds of fans: those who can’t stand the fact that Thor is a woman.
Taunts like Laufey’s are quite familiar to anyone with an internet connection, as is Loki’s defense of her, for that matter. That kind of talking-up can feel cheap, though; we want to see Jane prove her worthiness through action, not platitudes. Thankfully, she’s done just that plenty of times in previous issues, but there has been a notable lack of results from Thor’s efforts as of late. It’s probably why she’s so eager to confront Odin at the issue’s end — after dealing with Malekith’s magic, I’m sure she’s longing for something to hit.
I have to wonder, though, if that’s the best method right now. Confronting Odin head-on is a very Thor-like move, in the sense that it’s what the Odinson would do, but in the previous volume, didn’t Jane prove herself to be slightly more prudent, less battle and honor obsessed than her predecessor? Freyja’s words have fallen on deaf ears, and I can’t imagine Thor’s fists are going to be more effective — I’m starting to think that perhaps only Jane Foster can reach Odin. After all, can even Odin himself seriously accuse Jane of enchanting Mjolnir or of wanting her longtime love’s title stripped away from him, as he’s so long accused the new Thor of doing? Perhaps, but I’m thinking Jane might be just the ammo we need to poke a hole in Odin’s ego.
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?