The Unworthy Thor 5

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.

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?

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11 comments on “The Unworthy Thor 5

  1. Fury says “No god is worthy” – it’s not just about Odinson losing faith in himself, it’s all gods. And I think in the greater context of the kinds of changes Marvel is going through / has been going through, it think it’s important to lump all the heavy hitters in with the “gods.” Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers — all of their worthiness needs to be questioned. And that’s clearly what Marvel has been doing for the last couple years. So this is bigger even than Aaron’s 50+ issues of Thor, it’s the whole ethos of the publisher: no god is worthy.

    • The Iron Man and Wolverine books are certainly challenging the worthiness of their heroes. Tony’s fall from grace was entirely due to his worst impulses, and now he seems to be the bad guy to Riri Williams (I’m ignoring Doom for now, because Infamous Iron Man is actually a Fantastic Four book). And Wolverine, from day one, has been a critique of Logan and showing, through Laura, a more Worthy way. You could probably make the same case for Kate Bishop as well, she’s a fuck up, but nowhere near to Clint’s level. The comparison of how quickly she built her family in LA with Clint’s relative distance to his neighbours in Fraction’s Hawkeye (it took forever for him to learn Grills real name) certainly builds into that idea of an overarching theme about criticising Marvel’s ‘Gods’.

      But I think Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner and Miles Morales complicate that. The current Captain America books aren’t a critique on Steve Rogers, because the current guy calling himself that isn’t Steve Rogers. Even looking at just Sam Wilson, I wouldn’t say that that book is a critique on the Worthiness of Steve Rogers – if anything, a big idea is that Steve is more effective than Sam, if only because society isn’t rigged against Steve. The Amadeus Cho stuff doesn’t seem to be a critique on Bruce Banner. From my perspective, it seems to be more just be telling the Hulk story from the perspective of a horny teenager, instead of an angry adult. And Peter is still shown as Worthy, Miles is just doing the stuff Peter has grown past.

      I think Marvel do currently have something similar to what you say as a publisher wide ethos, but I think it is broader than ‘no god is worthy’. Some of their books are telling that story, but I think the actual ethos would be something closer to ‘Nothing is Worthy’. The ethos of challenging everything in an attempt to be better, not just their greatest heroes.

      This ethos also fits in some of their other aesthetic trends, like the great push of stuff like Cosmic Marvel, or the Inhumans. Or the broader range of genres being written. I’d say Marvel is questioning a great many things

  2. My local comic shop owner, Paul in JP called this development a while ago. Its cool, but why would Thor be so impacted by Fury saying it once as opposed to Gorr or any atheist for that matter?

  3. So, this miniseries mostly sticks the landing, even though the first three issues were really, really bad.

    Though yeah, the reveal of the whisper is a complex thing. Ultimately, everyone’s opinion that it “works in the greater context, but maybe not as well on its own” is how I feel. The words themselves are the perfect fit for the greater themes of Aaron’s run. In fact, the fact that this story happened at the same time as the Asgard/Shi’ar War storyline, a story full of gods being petty and vain, is important. The key idea has always been the thing that makes Jane Worthy is her humanity. Nothing fits the themes better than ‘Gorr was right’.

    But it feels wrong. I don’t have a problem with the lack of Gorr in this arc, I think he has featured enough in this arc to act as a satisfying payoff. Not a major player, but he’s featured enough. He’s haunted Odinson enough that I think it is fair to say that Goor is a satisfying payoff from that aspect.

    Ultimately, the problem is that we now have no idea how Mjolnir works. Previously, I had always assumed that Mjolnir either had Perfect Information, or that it was some sort of Soul Test. However, Original Sin made very clear that Mjolnir did not have Perfect Information – whatever caused Odinson to become unworthy came down to was due to unknown information. With the Soul test, the idea was that Mjolnir had the ability to look into the person’s soul, and judge that person in their totality – that’s why I was wondering if Odinson had accidentally caused Jane’s cancer. If Mjolnir tested the soul, then if Odinson had done something Unworthy, like doom the life of an ordinary woman through his irresponsibility, in complete ignorance, maybe Mjolnir wouldn’t be able to make an accurate judgement on Odinson’s soul (also, it would tie well into Jane’s cancer plotline, which will likely also need a payoff by the end of Aaron’s run, as I don’t think Marvel want Jane to die)

    However, what has actually happened is that Mjolnir neither had Perfect Information nor the ability to judge the soul. To continue using economic terms, what we have here is an Adverse Selection problem. There was an information asymmetry that meant that Mjolnir chose poorly. Mjolnir lack the necessary information to make an informed choice, and made a mistake choosing Odinson. It was only when an objective authority (like the guy who knows everything) corrected Mjolnir that the situation changed.
    And here’s the problem. While the payoff is thematically satisfying, it doesn’t feel properly built up. Because I find myself asking ‘How does Mjolnir make the judgement?’ What information does Mjolnir use? What was wrong with the strategy that Mjolnir used to make judgements, that it consistently got things for 50 years of comics? If it had Perfect Knowledge, it would have known this. If it had Perfect Knowledge of Odinson’s soul, and ‘Gorr was Right’ is an objective, universal truth, then Mjolnir would have known Odinson isn’t Worthy? So how did Mjolnir decide Odinson was Worthy, initially?

    Yes, this decision makes sense in terms of the Theme. But it doesn’t make sense in terms of characterisation. Without more time spent of Mjolnir’s characterisation, this feels out of character for Mjolnir.

    But there was good stuff. I did love the reveal that the mysterious figure working for Thanos was Hela – even if the fact we had two hooded figures with black speech bubbles got confusing. A Thanos/Hela alliance is one of those fantastic ideas, one of those things that just go together. Of course Thanos allying with the Goddess of Death would be a good idea.

    But more importantly, I love Odinson leaving the hammer. I really thought that he was going to pick it up, and this was going to begin the endgame where Odinson started to become Worthy again and Jane’s time came to a close. But instead, the story seems to be getting larger (we now have two new bad guys in play), taking us in directions we didn’t expect, avoiding the obvious paths for something even more meaningful. But it is also the best answer from a character perspective. Of course the only meaningful result of this story is for Odinson to leave the hammer behind, to finally give up on trying to be Worthy again and instead commit himself to the sorts of actions a Worthy person would do (hey Odinson, I heard there was a war between Asgard and the Shi’ar going on). He has become more Worthy by forgetting about being Worthy and instead focusing being a hero again. The best possible outcome, and giving us an interesting new character in the War Thor

    That stuff was so, so good that it is a shame that it is forgotten under the complexities of the words. I really, really wish the words came together better. But ultimately, we needed a better understanding of Mjolnir for this reveal to make as much sense of a character level as it did on a thematic level

  4. So, thought:

    Whether Fury’s words were correct or not is irrelevant. Whether “Gorr was right” is actually true or not is irrelevant. The Odinson didn’t become unworthy because of what Gorr said.

    The Odinson became unworthy because he BELIEVED it. Because, when Fury said that Gorr’s ideas that the gods are worthless and harmful and deserve to die were true, Odinson instantly believed it. He lost faith in the other gods, in their worth, in his OWN worth, and if Odinson truly doesn’t believe he’s worthy, deep down in his soul, well…CAN he be?

    This would solve a lot of the problems Matt raised. Odinson’s unworthiness isn’t based on any outside thoughts or forces, but on an intrinsic change in HIMSELF. That makes sense to me: isn’t that what first allowed Thor to become worthy in the first place after his reckless youth?

    So yeah, it worked well for me.

    • I’d considered that interpretation, but I guess the hard thing is that it isn’t clear what happened. Maybe it is just because Original Sin was so forgetable that I can’t remember exactly what happened, but this issue doesn’t make clear exactly why these words made Mjolnir change its mind on Odinson’s worthiness. Was it because hearing that from Nick Fury changed Odinson and therefore his worthiness? Or was it nothing to do with Odinson, and everything to do with Mjolnir?

      There are times where ambiguity is highly valuable (been reading the last arcs of Gillen’s Vader, which truly uses ambiguity well). But this felt like something that really could have used clarity.

      Still, it is a perfectly legitimate interpretation, and one I really like. And honestly, I think the best thing is that regardless of what the answer is, I think it will lead to some really amazing stuff. Can already see a powerful climax that could be built from your interpretation

    • This was my reading, as well. The Odinson lost faith in himself — if he doesn’t agree that he’s worthy, how could he be? I do think the flashback in the previous issue, where he uses Mjolnir as a test of his worthiness kind of messes up that reading, but I also think it injects some humility into the character that maybe doesn’t totally belong there. The earliest flashback, where he’s convinced he should be able to do it, even when he objectively can’t feels more like Thor to me (and also better establishes the idea that he had just always taken his self-confidence for granted).

    • Yeah, my reading of this was “Mjolnir must know is worthy” AND “person must know (s)he is worthy”.
      Thor always knew he was worthy, but Gorr shook him and Fury confirmed it.

      Anyway: As an old dude that read comics back when series were numbered in the hundreds, to me this is all one comic series. Just like Amazing Spider-Man back in the Ben Reilly days. So, looking at this as ONE big series: Thor: God of Thunder, Thor (before we knew it was Jane), Mighty Thor, and Unworthy Thor, that’s a 52 issue series, and it’s not unheard of to have a villain in issues 1-12 be re-established as a player (even if dead) 40 issues later.

      So this made perfect sense to me and I really liked the reveal. I sometimes feel that wtih renumberings every year or two and writer changes that some stories/arcs/runs are more disposable in modern days. Read the trade, that should explain it all. I like how this helps it all fit together and feel connected.

      I dig it.

    • It is interesting how everyone agree with that interpretation. Even I do, though I am also trying to critique it from the perspective of ‘with the information provided, what can a reader conclude? And is it too ambiguous?’

      So considering we all have roughly similar interpretations, here’s some questions.

      – Mjolnir is a key character in Aaron’s run, to the point where it has an entire issue dedicated to it. Given that Mjolnir is an actual character, do you think Aaron has been clear or ambiguous with respect to why Mjolnir made the decision to declare Odinson Unworthy?
      – If you believe that Mjolnir’s reasoning is ambiguous, do you think this is an intentional choice by Aaron? What are the merits of choosing to keep Mjolnir’s exact reasoning ambiguous and up to the audience’s interpretation?

        • Except, ultimately it comes down to Mjolnir. Regardless of whether Odinson decided he was Unworthy or not, ultimately, Odinson no longer meets the criteria to lift Mjolnir. We’ve seen Odinson attempt to lift Mjolnir on multiple occasions, and be unable to. Unless you are saying that Odinson only pretended to try and lift Mjolnir, or subconsciously refused to lift Mjolnir, Mjolnir ultimately made a decision.

          Now, this could be because Mjolnir has made the decision that anyone who lacks faith in themselves is not Worthy. Mjolnir have have decided that Odinson is Unworthy because Odinson decided he was Unworthy. Mjolnir may have agreed with Odinson’s decision.

          But the fact that Odinson can’t lift Mjolnir, despite several attempts, makes clear that, regardless of whatever decision Odinson made, Mjolnir has also made a decision.

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