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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Thor #1 -- At least two moments in the opening pages of this first issue will remind you of Mark Waid and Alex Ross's Kingdom Come, but in all fairness to the creators of this new attempt to make a comic book about the Norse god of thunder work, Waid and Ross stole Ragnarök from Norse mythology more than Straczynski and Coipel are stealing from Kingdom Come.

Of course, Ross's best artwork had the proper sense of majesty to convey something of the enormity of a war between gods (or god-like beings), while Coipel's generic craftwork conveys precisely the fact that Marvel has a monthly series about Thor again, and here's an issue of it.

Any reader who rankled at the mystic hooey in Straczynski's dire Amazing Spider-Man run will be surprised only at how much further said hooey is ratcheted up in Thor #1. You'd think the character and milieu would easily accommodate such baloney, and perhaps it might, if it were not of the vague variety Straczynski hauls out to coax Thor from out of the narrative mothballs he's been in for the past however-long-he's-been-"dead." Lots of mumbo-jumbo between Thor and (I guess) Don Blake as they stand amidst the generic swirly-stuff of the void (Mr. Coipel, you're no Gene Colan when it comes to generic swirly-stuff) chit-chatting about how Thor has freed himself from the cycle of Ragnarök and is now free to rock out with his hammer out all the live long day, and by the way, all your presumed-dead supporting characters friends are just waiting for you to wish them back out of the cornfield.

Once Blake and Thor return to Earth, Straczynski shows us how clever he is by having a woman Blake rents a room from note that "Weatherman says we're expecting a thunderstorm." Blake grins and says "I wouldn't be at all surprised." Yikes. The era in which Straczynski was able to create genuine tension and humour in his characters -- around the second and third seasons of Babylon 5, frankly -- seem far, far away from what he delivers here. Well, a straight-to-DVD B5 release is pending; maybe he saved his good stuff for that.

The final page of this debut issue (with "to be continued" on it and everything) has to be the least-compelling cliffhanger I think I have ever seen in a superhero comic. No stakes are raised, no mysteries are offered, and unless one has been powerfully seduced by this most average of stories, it's almost impossible to imagine anyone saying to themselves "Man, what happensnext?"

Varying eras of Thor have risen and fallen in quality, as is true of any corporate superhero franchise unwinding over decades. The best-written was almost certainly also the best drawn, when Walt Simonson was following his bliss on the title in the 1980s. But Dan Jurgens's stories a few years back were serviceable, and certainly Mike McKone and Tom Raney delivered much better art than the thunder god enjoyed since Simonson's storied run ended so long ago.

This first issue delivers none of those pleasures, though -- both story and art feel uninspired and painfully, joylessly mediocre. Despite the sales figures of their other recent Marvel work, ultimately neither Straczynski or Coipel are much more than slightly-above-average talents when it comes to the creation of corporate superhero comics circa 2007. So you'd have liked to think they would have brought their very best efforts to the table in re-launching a key Marvel series, with the added bonus of a more-or-less blank slate upon which to make their mark. Instead, they deliver a run-of-the-mill effort that is impressive only in how mightily it fails to impress.

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