The Comic Book Club: Action Comics #900 and The Mighty Thor

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DOUGLAS: “Check out THOR – only in theaters!” goes the line at the end of the eight-page, four-image preview of the movie’s concept art at the end of The Mighty Thor #1. That’s as good a reason as any to relaunch the series, I suppose, although he seems to be in a lot of comics right now, too, you know? But I’m not going to complain about the existence of the relaunch, especially since I’m so fond of the retitled Journey Into Mystery.

(More on TIME.com: Weekly Comics Column: Journey Into Mystery Returns)

What I am going to complain about is that this isn’t really a first issue; it’s not something you could show to someone who was excited about the movie and wanted to see what Thor was all about. First we get an Oklahoman minister bloviating for a page; then we get a four-page Silver Surfer/Galactus sequence that could have been cut and pasted out of any Silver Surfer story in the past 45 years; then back to the minister… and when we finally get around to Thor, a third of the way through the story, he’s wearing a suit of armor that obscures his appearance, and doing something obscure that I suspect is carried over from the previous Thor series. We get a lot of pretty psychedelic colors, but we never, in the course of this issue, see Thor in the outfit he’s wearing on the cover, and we don’t get any inkling of how his sequences relate to the Silver Surfer/Galactus stuff. We don’t even quite see how Thor sustains the injury he’s complaining about later in the issue, although that’s probably more Olivier Coipel’s problem.

The first-rate Thor stories of the past are cosmic or folkloric or both; they may be so huge in scope they beggar literal comprehension, but they’re also as direct and plot-driven as myths. Matt Fraction can do a lot of tones awfully well, but “cosmic” and “folkloric” aren’t among them so far. The moments where The Mighty Thor comes alive are the ones where he deliberately bends its voice (like Loki’s “spear of great stabbing”). What I want from Thor is a sense of the uncanny, not of the vague.

GRAEME: Well, you’ve just answered my question about whether Mighty Thor #1 was, in fact, released yesterday – There were no copies in my store, and I was told it hadn’t shipped yet. So… hmm. I feel like I have dodged a bullet, though; what you’re describing sounds exactly like my issues with Fraction’s Thor so far, which has a lot of… self-importance, perhaps, without being able to back that up (lots of characters saying “This has never happened before! THIS IS BIG” to events that seem overly familiar or purposefully obscured), and a truly surprising amount of disconnect between the text and the art. But, seeing as you’ve seen it and I haven’t, a quick question: Does it in any way tie into Fear Itself?

DOUGLAS: It doesn’t, curiously enough: unless I’m misreading the story, which I might well be, the scenes in Broxton are set while Asgard is still there. You’d think the two titles could be better coordinated given that the same guy is writing them.

GRAEME: Maybe this is a sign that Fear Itself will end with the Asgardians back in Broxton? Or that this story takes place pre-Fear Itself, which means that it probably won’t have any massive impact seeing as the status quo is apparently exactly as it was at the end of Thor #621 at the start of Fear Itself #1? Hmm.

EVAN: So the one thing I was expecting with a new Thor launch was a boffo, energetic opening. We were promised Thor vs. Galactus, so the mind wanders to crazy cosmic action, grandious speechifying and a huge sweeping sense of scale. Copiel delivers that in spades, being faithful and re-interpreting with equal strength. It’s Fraction who lets me down.

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: Thor #615)

One of the criticisms Fraction got with the Thor book that became Journey into Mystery was the slow start it got off to. I thought for sure that he’d take a different tack in a new book, a book that ostensibly wants to pull in curious movie-goers. Instead, I feel like he makes the same mistake here. It’s not really a mistake so much as it is a stylistic choice: starting on the human scale, showing the impact that gods among us would have on just plain folk, surveying an Asgard trying to rebuild. But the error to me feels like doing what he’s done before. I understand why he’s doing it, to run counter to expectations of Lee/Kirby-style storytelling and present a more deconstructed approach to those creators’ characters.

But, as Graeme gets at, Fraction’s really at his best when he’s tossing off ideas rapid-fire. The heavy and portentous tone that his Thor run has taken on feels a bit insecure, like he’s still feeling his way around how he wants to present the mythos. Contrast this to his Iron Man, which feels looser and more electric. Even at the launch of a new book, Fraction feels like he’s tentative at the wheel. The ideas are good, but I just wish he’d open up the throttle and let loose already. 

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