The Comic Book Club: Thor #615

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up talking about what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Evan Narcisse and Mike Williams discuss Thor #615.

DOUGLAS: I’m not sure what I expected Matt Fraction and Pasqual Ferry’s first issue of Thor to be like, I’m pretty sure this wasn’t it, and I really liked it anyway. Fraction described the tone as “epic space metal,” so I was probably counting on something more Hawkwind-y, with rainbow bridges and Galactus armor and stuff. This is… doom metal, in a lot of ways. Which makes sense if, as Kieron Gillen put it, “Thor gains its energy by mashing that ‘ideal’ world view against the real world.” And the literal central image of the book is the “ideal” world of Asgard mashed (and in pieces) against the “real” setting of Broxton.

It’s a very strangely paced issue, too, but obviously very deliberately paced. Three pages of dialogue where we can only see one of the speakers (which reminded me a bit of Fraction’s opening sequences from The Order); then a twelve-page interlude where we get to meet a pair of young lovers so their slaughter (in an actual raining-blood sequence!) can set up the big bad threat–the sort of thing Tomb of Dracula used to do in a much more compressed way all the time; then, finally, halfway through the book, a wide-open-spaces five-page scene with Thor himself; back to our opening interlocutor for a more broadly staged two-page scene; six more grand, echoing, basically actionless pages with Thor; and back to the opening scene for a final sequence, ending in a “big reveal” that’s also sort of a punch line. If this storyline is a doom-metal album, this is the eight-minute opening track of whooshing synthesizer drone (with some double-bass-drum action a few minutes into it).

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But it’s also got an incredibly strong, well-defined aesthetic, and I’m a sucker for that even when the plot doesn’t draw me in. It doesn’t read particularly like Fraction’s other comics; its only real look-and-feel connection to “classic” Thor is the return of John Workman’s lettering, which added so much to the stylishness of Walt Simonson’s run in the ’80s (I don’t know about the special Ano-Athox word balloons with the little Watchmen blot in them, but Sif yelling “THOR!” in that big round Workman word balloon in the center spread gave me a little thrill). This is a new kind of Fraction comic, a new kind of Thor comic, and especially a new kind of Pasqual Ferry comic–a huge leap for him. Matt Hollingsworth’s coloring has a lot to do with it, too, but that Alfheim sequence is a knockout, and the rest of the issue’s right up there too. Everything’s just so grand and Wagnerian-looking.

EVAN: I’ve been away from Thor a long, long time. Loved the Simonson stuff, as it’s almost obligatory to say nowadays. I read a little bit of JMS’ run and liked it well enough. I wondered what we’d get when Fraction was announced as the new writer.

The cold open (can I call it that here?) is great. Dr. Solvang’s explanation explains the idea of the story arc inside the story arc. I kinda felt like it was for people like me, readers who’d been away for a while but came back out of curiosity or creator loyalty. (I’ll also say that Thor #615 sports maybe the best recap page I’ve read since Marvel started doing these things.)

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Thor‘s kind of like Fantastic Four–at least how Douglas described it in an Emanata from a few weeks ago–in that every creative team who comes on it has to grapple with the long shadows of Lee & Kirby. Simonson ramped up the mythology while rooting it in actual Norse lore. Ellis’s brief run sexed things up and injected a bit of nasty palace intrigue to Asgard. Very British of him. So far, it seems like Fraction’s going to keep the human side of the book way on the opposite end of the spectrum from the celestial stuff. Jane Foster’s setting up a doctor’s office while one of the Nine Worlds dies. Volstagg happily chows down while Balder’s moping. And Don Blake and Thor snipe at each other, in the most blatant illustration of this core tension. The component parts of what we understand the Thor comic to be are in disharmony, and purposefully so.

Ironically, the Ano-Athox scene is closest we get to a mainline cosmic Kirby in this issue. It’s a bit chilling to see the only action in the book be portrayed as gruesome murders carried out by anti-Thor in service of anti-Odin and anti-Asgard. It’s like “This is what I’ve been waiting for! No! Wait! Ugh!”

Lee & Kirby had humanity and Asgardian gods crashing onto one another all the time, but eventually the two ideas found a respectful co-existence. Fraction and Ferry seem like they’re going to extrapolate that tension in a dire way. As in: “you gods aren’t even supposed to be here.” It’s a nice thematic engine for the run, and I’ll definitely follow where this goes.

MIKE: It’s funny to hear you ask, Douglas, about what kind of Fraction comic this was going to be. The first three pages were unmoving shots of Dr. Solvang pontificating on multi-dimensional scientific theory. All I could think of how strongly this reminded me of the last two years of Invincible Iron Man: talking-head panels and science-like dialogue.

After the prevalence of the widescreen shot in Iron Man, I was pleasantly surprised by the many different panel and layout distinctions throughout the issue. It went from the talking-head panel grid to the huge double page splash of a ruined Asgard to the full page columns featured in the confrontation between Balder and Thor. Then, of course, there is the hit-you-over-the-head color disparity between the free-love poet society in tones of blue and the war-band of Ano in shades of red.

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Have Thor and his alter ego always been able to carry on conversations with each other? Is there precedent for this or is Fraction taking some liberties? Does anyone else feel like Fraction is setting up the return of Loki? To me, Thor’s misty water colors of childhood hunting trips is groundwork for the return of the Trickster God. I’m truly hoping this isn’t the case. I’m taking it as more of an explanation as to why Loki always got another chance to redeem himself (herself?). If Loki saves the day against the Anti-Thor (great call on that name, Evan) I’ll feel let down.

One more thing: I hope that the promise of the Heroic Age holds up here, that promise being more self-contained stories. We have Thor and at least a few hundred (few thousand?) Asgardians ready to protect their pile of rubble. There’s no reason to see Peter Parker or Logan running around in the pages of Thor for a while.

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