Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Mighty Thor 16, originally released February 15th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: As our current president is learning on the job, it’s hard to be a good leader. On one hand, you have to appease the electorate who voted you in and gave you your power in the first place. On the other, you also have to work with fellow politicians, some of whom hate you, to get your legislation across the table. It’s a difficult job and some are more suited to the task than others. And while the gods may deal with things on a grander scale, this doesn’t mean they are by any means exempt from these same problems. After all, being the leader of entire worlds, as opposed to just one nation, isn’t an easy task, as Mighty Thor 16 assures us.
Thor has been abducted by the Shi’ar gods Sharra and K’ythri. They wish to challenge her to a sort of god duel to see who is the most mighty deity in the nine realms. Thor would rather not do this, but is forced into action lest Earth be destroyed by Shi’ar space cruisers. Reluctantly, Thor accepts Sharra and K’ythri’s challenge but it will be seen if she actually has to complete the Challenge of the Gods. Spurned on by Thor’s allies, Cul has launched an assault on Shi’ar space!
It’s hard to read issue 16 of Mighty Thor and not notice the political overtones. Some of these overtones are subtle and others are blatant, but it’s clear that Jason Aaron had politics on his mind when he wrote this issue.
Naturally, Thor represents the valued institutions of liberty and democracy in our country. However, she and her values serve more as a foil to the Shi’ar gods in this issue. compared to Thor, the Shi’ar are small-minded, cruel, egomaniacal, and jealous. It’s clear that their reason for challenging Thor to a god duel is that they feel their godship is being threatened by a god who does things so differently from their way. For instance, in the first trial of the Challenge of the Gods, The Shi’ar try to kill millions with a tidal wave because they know it will scare people into praying for them. Thor saves these people and instead earns their praise through her compassion, not her power.
Reading this it’s hard not to notice how similar the Shi’ar to Donald Trump. Otherwise unfit to lead the masses, they rely on fear and bellicose action to assert their power. Thor stands in stark contrast to this. She shows that it’s possible to lead by helping people and leaping into action. That the Shi’ar try to nullify Thor’s actions by saying they’re unfair, only resonate all the more with our current leader.
Digs on the current administration aren’t the only thing that make this issue political though. At the Congress of Worlds things are moving at a similarly depressing pace as they are in our own senate. In an attempt to force a vote declaring war on the Shi’ar for abducting Thor, Volstagg has been filibustering the Congress with stories of adventures past. The reason for this is to buy time to convince Cul to declare war himself, but it’s telling how divided the Congress of World is.
Just as in our own congress, everyone has their own agenda which prevents any meaningful action from being taken. The Elf’s are mad because they still hold a grudge against Malekith, the Vanir think Thor being abducted is a good thing, and the Cinders hilariously just want everything to burn. To read this and not see the similarities with the current state of affairs in government is nearly impossible and frankly saddening. Maybe if Senators always carried cake and clubs of meat things wouldn’t be so bad.
There are things in this issue that aren’t political though, such as Russell Dauterman’s glorious art. What I noticed this go-around is the way that Dauterman plays with objects in and out of focus to give depth to his panels. Look at this example from the opening pages of the issue.
In the first panel, the servants bowing to the Shi’ar in the foreground are blurred as the camera focuses on the action in the background. In the next panel, Dauterman uses the same affect only now the blurred figures are in the background as the camera focuses on the foreground. Noticeably, Thor is in focus in both of these panels, which only makes sense given that she is at the center of this scene. More impressively, The blurring of people in the fore- and background gives an added sense of dimension to this scene. Other artists could simply draw these characters in focus but Dauterman is stretching his abilities to create a scene that feels cinematic and deep. We’ve seen Dauterman use this effect in previous issues but it feels like he’s perfecting it here.
Reading into this use of focus a bit more one could maybe even draw the conclusion that Jane is a good leader because she never loses focus of her values or what is important to her. In the end it’s just another lesson in how amazing Jane Foster is as Thor and how amazing this series is in general.
Drew, how’d you like the issue? I read political overtones in this issue, but are there others I missed? Are you continually amazed not only by Dauterman’s pencils, but Matthew Wilson’s colors? And don’t you wish the creative team would release a “Guide to the Nine Realms” issue that talked about all of the gods and worlds and space?
Drew: It’s interesting, Taylor, while I definitely picked up on some parallels to the current political climate, they were almost all from Cul, rather than Sharra and K’ythri. To me, a week-willed, misogynistic pretender-to-the-throne bears a much closer resemblance to Trump than malevolent-but-nonetheless worshipped deities do. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but my impression is that Trump is much more reviled than he is celebrated (the distribution of his electoral support notwithstanding), so a disaster of this magnitude would more likely be held up as evidence of his incompetence than a cause to rally his support. Moreover, while societies throughout the ages have worshipped malevolent gods, who demand more fervent worshipping and more frequent sacrifices in the face of famine, drought, and disease, democracies are basically the opposite: a politician that threatens his constituents’ livelihoods will quickly lose all support — our politicians serve us, not the other way around.
All of which is to say, I saw the Shi’ar gods as yet another avenue for addressing the theological themes that have swirled around Aaron’s Thor work for years, rather than a specific political commentary. Trump may not hold his constituents in any higher regard than these gods do their worshippers, but he at least know he needs to say what they want to hear. He may claim to not be a puppet, but he’s got to dance when his supporters say dance.
Cul, on the other hand, is a total puppet, and I think represents the true threat of Trump’s presidency. All he needs to be goaded into open war is someone suggesting that not doing so would make him a coward.
Sif’s appeal to him might as well be a Saturday Night Live cold-open for how subtle it is, and his decision to charge into war might as well be a twitter meltdown for how well-reasoned it is. But the thing that makes it truly Trump-like is that he’s more concerned with what people are saying about him than he is about the actual actions taken against his subjects. He’s entirely passive about the Shi’ar capturing Thor because they didn’t insult his hand size or whatever, but Sif’s life is threatened the second she suggests that his passivity is cowardly. (Here again, it’s best to think of violence as twitter.)
Taylor, I’ll echo your praise of Dauterman and colorist Matthew Wilson’s simulation of out-of-focus elements throughout this issue. For me, that level of realism is interesting in that it suggests not only that we’re seeing the action through the physical lens of a real camera, but that that camera has a very specific location close to the action. It’s possible to get all elements in a scene in focus (or close to it) if we’re very far away from them, viewing everything through a powerful zoom lens. Comics are often drawn taking that approach as a given, even if other elements like foreshortening and the relative size of objects in frame suggest that the camera is actually very close to the action. The discrepancy between the information given by those elements and the relative focus of items in the frame can create a kind of subconscious friction. That friction is not necessarily bad — indeed, I’d argue that it takes advantage of the difference between drawing and photography, creating an effect that essentially couldn’t be photographed — but avoiding that friction makes all of the elements work in harmony, such that they all tell us in unison that we’re right behind Thor, or whatever the case may be. It’s a choice that intensifies our sense of where we are within the scene, adding an immediacy to the action that few artistic teams can achieve.
I suppose it makes sense, then, that we’d see so many specifics orienting the themes of this issue in a time and place, as well, though I think it’s interesting that we don’t quite see eye to eye on how those themes manifest. Obviously, we’ve both got politics on the brain (who doesn’t these days?), so maybe we’re both right? Conversely: maybe we’re both wrong. I’ll happily defer to the comments on this one — what did everybody think?
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