Friday, August 13, 2010

Trade Waiting – Thor: Latverian Prometheus

When J. Michael Straczynski walked off Thor after his masterful run many people were ready to swear off the character, most just went with JMS to never return, but a few stayed on to see what fill in creator, Kieron Gillen, could do. They didn’t know how long he would be on there but it was worth a shot, wasn’t it? I never picked up Thor by any creator but I heard enough news to know I should take a look at some of Gillen’s run and when our overlord, Kirk, was offering to buy us a free trade I jumped at the opportunity to sample the first trade in Gillen’s run, and hot damn was I not disappointed. Hit the jump to see how Doom vs. Thor means a win for us all.

Written by Kieron Gillen, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Stan Lee, and Chris Giarrusso
Art by Billy Tan, Ryan Stegman, David Aja, and Chris Giarrusso
Collects Thor #604-606, Sif #1, and some material from Thor #600

It’s important to note that Gillen’s opening arc on Thor is a three issue story. I think that’s such a golden way to open a new creator team on a much loved title. Don’t make the readers have to invest in the start of an unknown 5-6 issue arc when many are only tuning in to ‘give it a go’ and some are only looking for an excuse to drop the title completely. If you lead off with a 3 parter it’s much easier to commit time and money to that venture and if a creative team can win you over in that short amount of time then they will have proven themselves directly that they can handle your character. Hickman did it on Fantastic Four and Gillen does it here just as well. I seriously hope Marvel, and all comic companies, look at making this more of an unspoken mandate.

Gillen’s opening pages are centered on Dr Doom tricking and killing the Asgardian Kelda. It’s well played by Doom but mostly it just makes me wish Gillen was writing a Doom mini, if not ongoing. Throughout this entire story, Gillen proves himself insanely adept at writing Doom to maximize his intellect and his entertainment factor. I could watch the Latverian dictator sway and posture for pages and pages. We are then shown Balder, the new leader of the Asgardians, then Dr Donald Blake, and then whisked back to see Loki’s appearance amongst the thick of it all. Gillen sets the stage with his players to bring them all to a head. He gives us character work while setting up the story and wastes no pages. It’s a great introduction.

Gillen’s Loki is amazingly well crafted in that he comes across directly as a Shakespearean figure of menace and malice. He’s Iago in his machinations and also his smarts. We can see, in many instances, that Loki doesn’t do anything without a purpose, and his purpose is always to better his own situation. The brilliance is that though the other characters generally know this they are put in a spot where they have no choice but to acquiesce. It’s fantastic watching Gillen weave this tapestry of Loki’s devilry directly from the start.

But the story, Doom is capturing the Asgardians, whose homeland now resides in Doom’s Latveria, and he’s chopping them up like some super-villain version of Mengele and it’s actually quite disturbing. He’s looking for the power that holds these beings up above mortals and he, of course, wants to make this power his own; and he’s slowly succeeding. Balder rallies his troops to go and attack to protect his people, though Thor does not appear to hear the call to arms so they go into battle without him. It’s a simple enough set up for a good little battle and tale to unfold.

When the Asgardian forces arrive at the castle Doom released his new warriors, who are all demented-looking and altered Asgardians who he has killed and then refurbished into serving his own whims. It’s a nasty idea that Doom really does look down on these people as being just tools for him to use. Gillen nails the indifference of Doom as he stoically watches the battle that unfolds as he doesn’t deem himself needed to interact personally at all. And then Gillen gives us the ending we need, Thor has been absent all issue and in a final splash he makes his presence, and intentions, known. It’s a great lead in issue that I know I would have bought the second one the next month. Gillen is playing Thor, the title, almost like a violent Victorian drama, but only with more of the blood that occurred then but so rarely made it onto the stage.

As Thor and Doom duke it out at the start of the next issue, all I could think was that Doom was a Frankenstein monster within his own armor, shutting out the rest of the world, and trying to find solace and isolation within his own boundaries, and his own intellect and arrogance. The Prometheus name drop in the title is there to make me think of the subtitle to Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus. It seems that it’s not just Doom wanting to steal the fire from the gods but also being the monster that is created when mortals take this power into their own hands. Doom comes across as almost sad, but a man who has absolutely no concept of how to get help, or where he would even start looking.

I’m almost annoyed to see a Doombot brought into play, and I want to know why the characters fall for it so often, but then I realize that I fell for it as well. And the entire set up was alluded to in the prelude scene between Doom and Kelda. So I can’t call the characters fools lest I show my true colours as well. Just once I’d like to see everyone ignore the real Doom because they think he’s just another ‘bot. I don’t know how you trust Doom, ever, when he’s so often opting out of situations. I like this use because this isn’t Doom wanting an easy out if there is failure, instead it is another great and purposeful set up for him to steal the energy of these gods. And it works.

The power that Thor uses to destroy the Doombot is then harnessed by Doom and put to use by bringing life to a stolen Destroyer armor that Doom has managed to lay his hands on. This is obviously the more overt Frankenstein creature of the tale and Doom uses its mighty power to drop Thor down a peg or two. It’s a great way to level the playing field when fighting a god; Odin himself was the creator of the Destroyer armor specifically to battle Thor with it. We then get a final splash where Doom has turned the tables and reversed the end of the previous issue. Doom is a smug and arrogance fool once he gets the upper hand and Gillen takes the time to revel in these moments of glory. Again, Marvel, hook up Gillen on a title where we get him writing another arrogant fool some more. He got a Loki one shot, perhaps he could have something more like that, please?

The final issue shows us the knock-down drag-out between Thor and the Destroyer armor that Doom is now in. Sadly for Doom, though, it is slowly ebbing power with every effort. It seems Doom hasn’t thought through his plan completely, though we see that there was yet another plan underneath it all that Doom was working towards. Just when you think you’ve worked out a characters motivations, well at least when it comes to the villains, the surface is scratched and there’s a new shade of darkness to their schemes. There is a final scene with Loki and Doom that is absolutely fantastic and I only wish the scene could have gone on longer. It actually reminded me of a scene Jonathan Hickman wrote in Secret Warriors between Norman Osborn and Baron Von Strucker. There’s antagonism as well as a general brotherhood understanding that they’re not each other's major enemy, but overall it just comes off as antagonistically hilarious.

The final image we have of Doom is that he is still tinkering with Asgardian power, and DNA, and with his samples he is slowly working to create his own version of a very mischievous Asgardian, and though he doesn’t have it right just yet, he will persevere. It’s nice to see that Gillen can take off the gloves at times and really land a bare-knuckled blow to the jaw when he wants to. His tale ends, in a tidy three issues, and things are changed because of it, we learn about many of the players through it, and there’s plenty more room to spread out the toys and have a play. The only comment I would make as a detrimental aside is that this did feel like more of a Doom story that Thor appeared in.

The Sif one-shot was reviewed here by Matt and I could not have agreed more with his assessment. It’s a great little tale where Kelly Sue DeConnick really seems to get under the skin of Sif and paint her like a real person, a real woman. The tale is done-in-one and enjoyable and I think everything is always made a little bit better with some Beta Ray Bill. The artwork of Ryan Stegman is so clean and nice but you can really see the difference between his work and that of Billy Tan who comes before him. Stegman’s work is more rounded, cartoony, and I would prefer it to the stuff that Tan does, but that’s just me. If you missed out on the Sif one-shot the first time around then I think this is a great place to pick it up as a sample alongside some great Thor/Gillen work.

There is a Stan Lee short that appeared in the back of the Thor #600 anniversary issue and it’s a face-melter to see his words alongside the art of David Aja. Stan The Man does what he does best by having the story absolutely zoom along from one set piece to another without too much worry about deep character work. We see Thor working with the Avengers to battle giant robotic aliens. It’s a simple battle and then we cut straight to Asgard where Thor needs to deflect an attack by Loki, who is riding giants as a distraction for the fire dragon he has unleashed. Once victorious, Thor goes to his Lady Sif and declares he wants to retire to Earth, get away from it all, but then Dr Donald Blake is needed to perform surgery and when the child survives he quotes, out of the blue, Thor as a hero that helped him make it through the adversity, thus Thor knows he must continue to strive to set the global example. Yeah, all that in just 11 pages, and only in the Merry Marvel Manner. It’s not a bad story, it’s just a tad anachronistic.

However, the Aja work laid down under Stan’s words is pretty damn fine. I’d love to see Aja draw more Avengers and this story only makes me wonder if Aja is ever going to be given an ongoing again. Aja’s work comes across like it could be an all ages Thor, very clean, plain, but then we see Mjolnir cracking teeth in giant jaws and generally bringing the pain. Matt Hollingsworth’s colours absolutely make the piece, each page vibrantly pops out at the reader and you’d be hard pressed not to just smile and even enjoy the story without the words.

The final installment to this collage of a trade is Chris Giarrusso’s Mini Marvels tale ‘Welcome Back, Thor’. This is a very funny 7 page story that basically serves as a catch up for what happened between the death of Thor and his return at the hands of JMS. Giarrusso milks plenty of laughs out of a few recurring jokes and all the while still gives us the overhead view of that whole Clor thing as well as handles a few nods towards Secret Invasion and the overall characterization of these players. It’s funny so long as you have some passing knowledge of main Marvel U events.

Verdict – Buy It. This trade is a weird beast in that it includes so much varied material. It’s almost like one big anniversary issue on its own but all that means to me is that I definitely got my Kirk’s money’s worth. Gillen’s main story is absolute top shelf Asgardian/Latverian battle drama. He writes Thor like he’s writing bloody poetry and he has a handle on all of the characters, with his villains coming across as exceptionally interesting characters, and even Balder and Thor get some fantastic lines amongst the action. He’s fleshing out the emotion of the characters and it’s certainly appreciated by me, I want to see a big hammer smash stuff, but I want some literature on the page as well and Gillen does this. To put it bluntly, I’ll actually be using my own money to get the rest of Gillen’s run on Thor. As for the rest of the back matter featured here, it’s Stan Lee and David Aja teaming up (golden) and Giarrusso making with the funny in a very cool way. This trade is a win and I only wish Marvel had priced it slightly lower so that more people would take the dive, which you should all definitely do.

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Flip The Page said...

I could heap any amount of praise onto Gillen's work on Thor, but what always comes to mind is that he's one of two writers who are fresh to Marvel who've taken DOOM and made him the best he's been in forever (the other being DOOMWAR writer Jon Maberry). It's awe-inspiring to see the 'new kids' show that much finesse.

And I never thought I'd say it, but I wish that Matt Fraction never gets to write Thor. Gillen's just too good at it.

Matt Duarte said...

The one thing that I noticed was that you mentioned that you wished the price was lower, but when I went to check it on Amazon and it's 14.99 (without the discounts), which is the standard prize for a trade this size.

I know for example that Vertigo (and sometimes Image) price some of their trades cheaper than that, but they also use lower quality paper.

MisterSmith said...

If by some chance we're given another opportunity to read Doom in an ongoing series (as he had back in the 2099 days) I can't imagine anyone other than Gillen being the one writing it.

His Thor & Co. are great, too. JMS was a tough act to follow, but he passed with flying colors.

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