Today, Taylor and Spencer are discussing The Unworthy Thor 5, originally released March 22nd, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: Over two years ago the Odinson lost his most powerful asset and was deemed unworthy to wield Mjolnir. The circumstances that made the Odinson shamed in the eyes of his hammer were shrouded in mystery. The only thing readers knew was that, as he lay dying on the moon, Nick Fury whispered something into Thor’s ear which changed everything. What those words were have been debated across the fandom but now the patience of Thor fans has been rewarded. In the fifth issue of the Unworthy Thor, we learn what makes the Odinson undeserving of the universe’s most powerful mallet, but is the reason given worthy or unworthy in the eyes of the reader?
The Odinson is ready to fight his way out of the clutches of the collector. Channeling power from the Mjolnir of the Ultimate universe, Thor smashes his way to freedom on a wave of blue lightning. Along the way, the Odinson takes Old Asgard with him and thereby provides a sanctuary for all of the Collectors prisoners he has freed. Elsewhere, those who covet Thor’s power commiserate over their loss, but a new alliance between Thanos and Hela, Queen of Niffleheim, promises to cause plenty of trouble for the powers of Good in the future.
Naturally, the main draw of this issue the promise of finding out what Nick Fury said to the Odinson to rob him of his worthiness. It is only once he is free from the Collector that the Odinson tells Bill why Mjolinir abandoned him.
Gorr the God Butcher was right! After years of waiting, there we have it. The thing that robbed the Odinson of his power, which ushered in the rise of Jane Foster and the fluctuation of power in Asgard is a simple three words. To some, this might be a perfect reveal. It promises a future conflict between gods and men and also satisfies a certain type of fan who enjoys having their atheist world view verified. Those are fine reasons to enjoy this reveal, but there is something lacking here that robs this moment of its power. True, two-plus years of buildup is hard to satisfy, but it’s curious that the reason for the Odinson being unworthy is totally devoid of anything personal.
Much of the narrative surrounding the Odinson’s unworthiness made it seem as if he harbored some deep, ghastly secret which, once verified by Nick Fury, deemed him unworthy to be a heroic Thor. Now that it has been revealed that he — along with the entire pantheon of all gods — not worthy of mortals, the sense that this is a personal matter to the Odinson is gone. This isn’t necessarily bad, but one can’t help but wonder how future writers will make this particular fight matter to the Odinson and his fans at the same time.
It’s curious to realize that I was hoping for a personal failing on the Odinson’s part to be the big reveal here. That instead the issue of his unworthiness deals with all of the gods in the universe should excite me, since this epic backdrop is what I’ve come to appreciate about this series. However, there might be a reason in this issue which explains this puzzling dichotomy.
Elsewhere in the issue it is revealed that Hela and Thanos will be teaming up to carry all sorts of evil deeds. This scene takes place somewhere in outer space called the Black Quadrant where Thanos has set up shop. Normally I like this kind of grandiose, space-opera backdrop, but here it fails to impress.
It’s hard to exactly put a finger on what makes this scene unworthy to me, but I think it has something to do with the feeling that I’ve seen this scene before. Those who have read Mighty Thor might see echoes of a scenes played out between Malekith and Loki and Roxxan in this instance. Two unlikely evildoers swearing allegiance to each other to take over the Nine Realms seems a bit tired at this point, given this is the same plot which the other Thor series is tackling. Whereas previous issues delighted me with the Odinson’s adventures into deep space the scene above appears to promise a retread of stories already told. When the entire universe is your canvas, I want more exciting things to happen then a generic bad guy double team plan to take over a kingdom. Instead, GIVE ME THE SPACE GOAT!
Drew, what did you think of the reveal of the Odinson’s unworthiness? Good, bad, somewhere in between? In what ways does this issue promise to draw upon the larger Marvel universe in the future? Also the art in this issue is unique. Do you take that to be a complimentary statement or not?
Drew: Ooh! A critical rorschach test! The art in this issue — particularly that sequence with Thanos and Hela you highlighted — is certainly different from the rest of this series. The art credits on this series haven’t always been the clearest, but I believe that sequence wasn’t drawn by regular artist Olivier Coipel or frequent collaborater Kim Jacinto, but by Pascal Alixe, giving that scene a distinct feel from the rest of the issue. I have no way of knowing if Alixe’s involvement in the issue was driven by scheduling concerns, but in light of the previous issue’s showcase of current and recent Thor artists, I can’t help but speculate that this sequence might represent as distinct an era in Thor’s history as those we saw in issue four. That is, Alixe may be handling the art for this particular thread somewhere down the line, and this scene was simply establishing that tone.
That’s entirely speculative, and may be too kind, as I’m not sure the artist switch works as well within the context of the issue. There’s certainly nothing wrong with Alixe’s style — I’d even say it’s a good match for the style Coipel and Jacinto have established for this series — but it’s just different enough to be noticeable. I think that works if Jason Aaron’s larger Thor saga justifies Alixe’s contribution here, but feels unfortunate otherwise. Issue 4 had a motivation for every artist change. This one doesn’t. Yet.
I have a similar “works in the greater context, but maybe not as well on its own” attitude towards the big reveal of Thor’s unworthiness. I absolutely think a god losing faith in himself is a powerful story, putting Thor in the pantheon of Marvel’s most self-conscious heroes, but it’s not a very satisfying conclusion to this miniseries, largely because Gorr and his philosophy have been virtually absent from it. Gorr has appeared in some flashbacks, but there was no real indication that he had left such a permanent mark on the Odinson’s psyche. I can understand that Aaron wouldn’t have wanted to lean on Gorr too heavily in those flashbacks, but keeping the reveal secret made a kind of catch-22: if Gorr is weighing enough on the Odinson’s mind to make him lose faith, we should have been able to see it coming; if it wasn’t preoccupying the Odinson’s thoughts enough to broadcast it ahead of time, it doesn’t quite feel urgent enough to cause this crisis of faith.
But, of course, reading this series in a vacuum is clearly not how it was intended. This is simply a chapter in a much longer saga that opened with the existential and philosophical threat Gorr presented to the gods. I might argue that Thor: God of Thunder spent a bit too much time on ultimately trivial storylines between Gorr’s storyline and the denouement of Original Sin, but I’m happy to chalk that up to the complexities of event scheduling. Anyway, the Odinson’s loss of faith certainly hangs together better if we read this issue as the 50-something chapter of Aaron’s saga, rather than as the fifth (and final) chapter of the series in front of us.
I honestly don’t know how to prioritize those concerns — is it more important to me that a series work as a self-contained unit, or as a piece of a much larger puzzle? I suppose this is the episodic vs serialized debate writ large, swapping out miniseries (or arcs) for individual issues. The best I can come up with is to take this miniseries at its word — that the suggestion that Gorr was right cut him down — but seek the emotional justification for it in Aaron’s epic as a whole. There’s definitely some squinting required to keep both ends of the spectrum in focus — especially with so much time and so many issues separating them — but that seems like the necessary approach. It definitely throws a wrench in our efforts to talk about comics on an issue-by-issue basis, but it’s also exciting to think of the scope that this narrative requires.
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