Thor: The Mighty Avenger (Comic Review)

Thor: The Mighty Avenger

Thor: The Mighty Avenger

In late 2010, to prepare for the upcoming Thor movie, Marvel released a barrage of new Thor-related comics. I’m not sure exactly how that was supposed to help with either publicity or sales: Marvel’s back catalog already had a confusing series of unrelated comics to sell if needed, so creating a bunch of new ones with different styles and from different continuities isn’t really changing anything.

But these days, the standard M.O. for superhero publishers seems to be to throw everything possible against the wall, and one or two good things will come out of the mess. That happened this time with Roger Langridge’s and Chris Samnee’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger. The second (and final) volume is released in paperback today.

The work that these two put out was unexpected. Langridge is best known for comedy work, with an unsympathetic edge. His writing here was surprisingly tender and human: Re-telling Thor’s “origin” story, this series starts just days after the god Thor is exiled to Earth. Langridge makes superhero tropes secondary so he can focus on the pain and anger of a proud man who has lost his home, and his growing relationship with Jane Foster as she helps him adjust to the human world.

Chris Samnee provides excellent art. I had not known of him beforehand, but between this title and the recently released Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale, I’ll be keeping my eye on him. His work is soft and understated, with simple lines calling out emotions, and incredibly natural body language. Every character looks distinct and natural. While that may sound out of place in an action-heavy genre, where artists usually focus on adventure at the expense of portraying the people, Samnee makes it work: When every pose conveys Thor’s quiet, confident strength, the powerful action flows naturally.

Other superheroes guest star in almost every issue, but this aspect still seems muted. The impression is that we are witnessing the quiet beginning of a superhero age, and the people of this small town would normally never see them. Thor’s sudden presence naturally brings some others in, but the feeling that this is a world populated by ordinary people remains strong.

"Simple and good. I like simple and good very much."

Words you rarely see in a Thor comic

This should have become a classic work, but it was canceled way too early by Marvel when they began culling the overstretched Thor line. Not only did this rob us of future comics like this, but it actually managed to lessen the existing ones: The first six issues were obviously intended to go together as an introductory story arc, with Thor gaining some acceptance of his new role. Issue 6 closes with a relationship beginning between him and Jane, and issue 7 opens up some time later, after he has gotten to know the other people of the town.

That’s a good structure, and it was natural for Langridge to assume that Marvel would want six-issue story arcs. But when the series was suddenly canceled at issue 8, we were left with a long introduction followed by a short, two-part follow up. To make matters worse, Marvel released the collected editions in two volumes, with four issues each. The stopping point between these two volumes feels entirely unnatural, and breaks the flow of the story.

This could have been a great series, and it’s not at all the fault of Langridge or Samnee that it didn’t reach that level. But the first couple issues were still finding their footing, the last couple felt like a slightly rushed coda, and Marvel’s collection policy means that the few middle issues are drained of some of their power. This is still a very good work, and unique among comics today, and I can recommend it wholeheartedly. But judging it by what it became, instead of what it should have been, I simply can’t give it an A.

Grade: B+

(Editorial note: Since I have a Twitter feed to comment on all the comics I read, I don’t normally plan on reviewing them here. But I’ll look back on entire series, or notable stretches of them, when appropriate. I can only review the ones I read, of course, so they will often be positive reviews if I’ve stuck through to the end. But fortunately for you, there are some pretty terrible series that I’ve stuck with because it didn’t become obvious right away. So you’ll get to hear me complain sometimes as well.)

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