Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A Thor rerun: Thor Annual #9!

This was one of my earliest posts here, but the Thor movie is as good an excuse as any to drag it out again recap it:

Thor Annual #9 was written by Chris Claremont, with art by Luke McDonnell. Now, I'm not saying Claremont is verbose (I got what, four posts out of one Moon Knight issue, so my stone throwing days may be over) but it took three letterers to do this issue...Again, I feel like I'm being harsh on Claremont, and I want to say I usually enjoy his work. It's just that he has a very set dialog and narration style, as well as certain themes that he comes back to over, and over, and over some more. (Slavery, mental control/domination, good characters turning evil, there's more and you know it.)

Oddly, I don't think I noticed, until I saw some of his non-X-Men work. Claremont used to do a fair number of the Marvel Annuals. Avengers Annual#10 is probably the best known, as it guests the X-Men and has Rouge and blah, blah, blah. But he also wrote the first Star Wars annual, and an issue of Savage Sword of Conan (issue #74, hit your local comic shop now! Or don't.) I really liked the Star Wars one as a kid, but reading it now, after I've read his other work, and it's like the framework of his style is painfully visible. A story by Claremont reads as a Claremont story, regardless of whether it has Thor, Luke Skywalker, or Wolverine. Sometimes, it totally works, sometimes it's completely obtrusive. But enough snark! On to this issue!

This was way back in the day, when Thor still had the secret identity of Dr. Donald Blake. Perhaps because there was the space for it in a "King-Sized Annual!" but the issue starts with the good doctor actually performing medicine! I've read a good chunk of Thor, and I think I've seen him use those skills more in Avengers than in his own book. Nineteen panels between the second and third pages, which I like. Afterwards, Dr. Blake turns down another doctor because he has plans to go skiing that weekend, leaving her to wonder how a lame man could go skiing in the middle of summer. Y'know, after they wrote off Jane Foster from his book, Thor got really halfassed about his secret identity. And since I just watched an episode of House, I'm glad Dr. Blake was phased out, because Marvel would totally turn him into House. No question.

But, when Thor says skiing, he means "racing bigass pseudo-Viking longboats through the ice floes of the Sea of Marmora, and fighting sea serpents, if need be." After the serpents unwisely attack the boat with Balder, Hogun, Sif, Fandral and Volstagg; Thor goes to help the other ships in the race. He's lured to help an illusion of Sif, and a falling mast knocks Thor out, and into the water. Thor's invulnerability is weird. Like Wonder Woman, Thor usually blocks bullets or lasers shot at him. (Thor with his hammer, of course.) He usually seems able to breathe in space, or at least not particularly bothered by it. Yet, for this story, the unconscious Thor would have drowned if not rescued by the real Sif.

In the same vein as Thor's on-off invulnerability, Sif has to fight hard through the ice-water, struggling for breath and weighed down by her armor...but if I recall my Marvel Handbooks, Sif can bench press at least 15 tons. Maybe more. She should've been strong enough to throw Thor from the bottom to the surface. We'll file that under "dramatic license" and leave it be.

Thor's crew takes him to the physician, and they and the other, lesser gods set sail for Asgard. The narration points out that there were many lost to the serpents, which is why the Norse no longer have deities for Interior Decorating, Investigative Telejournalism, and apparently Blogging. Plus, a Viking Physician, even a Viking God Physician, doesn't sound like a great deal. Nine times out of ten, he prescribes hallucinogenic mushrooms. The tenth time, grog.

You know, to wax nostalgic for a moment: I honestly think I miss the days when a hero could deliver a lengthy monologue, and a mighty punch, in the same panel. This panel's a little thick, to the extent it takes away from the action; but I almost prefer it to panel after panel of dialog with nothing happening. The "monologue punch," if you will, used to be more prevalent back when it was believed every comic could be someone's first comic, so you had to recap for the new kids. And recap. And recap. Read a few Marvel Essential volumes, and you'll see it. And see it. And see it. I suppose the problem there is, if you came up with a great expression for the character's powers like "Focused Totality" you are by god going to use it. And it's easier to reuse then come up with a new one every month.

By the way: Thor, next time you're going ice-longboat racing, you might wanna leave Volstagg at home. Although, winning with him on board would dramatically improve your bragging rights.

Lots more after the break!

This is one of those comic oddities that I thought was weird when I was 10; and is disturbing even today: why is Loki chained to his wife in bed? OK, you can probably think of a reason, but why? Why why why? Those aren't exactly "fun-cuffs" either, that's a fucking manacle. See, I would never do anything like that. I usually have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and my wife is not waking her ass up for that...

And Loki rocking the pointed ears, for some reason...

All right: Last time, a semi-concussed Thor was the only one in Asgard who noticed weird lights and new, demonic guards. After stomping a few guards, he goes to get his dad, All-Father Odin, to nip that in the bud.

Odin, however, is busy playing chess, like all old, crazily bearded coots. His opponent is long-time Dr. Strange (and Smokey the Bear) enemy the dread Dormammu, which isn't really a big surprise since it's on the cover. So, the art crew forgoes an establishing shot of him, to focus on the weird giant floating heads of Lord Chaos and Master Order over Dormammu and Odin, respectively. As Dormammu takes another of Odin's pieces, Thor realizes that Chaos grows and Order shrinks. Too bad this was 1981, otherwise ESPN 2 would be all over that.

No one else can see the chess match, just like the rest of the weirdness, so Thor jumps to the conclusion that this is Loki's doing. Admittedly, not a huge stretch. He shows up at Loki's, kicks down the door, and drags around Mr. and Mrs. Loki; who, based on this page, sleep handcuffed in their living room. Wrong, just wrong. Loki denies having anything to do with anything, and Thor grudgingly believes him. Mrs. Loki is concerned for her hubby, who wishes "Fell Damnation!" upon his brother. Maybe with reason that time, gotta admit.

But, I don't remember seeing Mrs. Loki--OK, her name's Sigyn--through Simonson's run on Thor, so I'm mildly curious what happened to her. Although, it's certainly possible that if you're sleeping chained to your wife, and your psycho brother busts in with a hammer and starts accusing you of insane gibberish, then leaves, and you don't kick his ass? Yeah, Asgardian Divorce Court. Probably involves some crazy hats and a quest for a Golden Grapefruit or some damn thing.

Meanwhile, back in the comic, Thor goes to Mimir, the Well of Wisdom; who's a big flaming face on a plate, and has a syndicated radio call-in show in 37 national markets. Even though Mimir admits hating Odin, he's still able to put Thor up to single-handedly invading Dormammu's Dark Dimension.

Odin's ravens tell him that Thor has left, and Odin sends the ravens to get Sif to head Thor off. Dormammu, however, has his head in the game, and has put Odin in check again. Which makes a lot more sense to me now, then it did to 1981-me that had never played chess, and could only assume: "Check=Bad." Which is why I don't spell-check to this day...

Last time, Thor was invading Dormammu's home, the Dark Dimension, in an effort to help his dad Odin not get beat at chess. Seems like a lot of work, doesn't it? How about for a cosmic chess game with serious, vague, possible repercussions for the entire universe? Thor mentions the Dark Dimension hasn't improved since the last time he was there; but really, did you expect it to? Like Dormammu was gonna put in hardwood floors or something?

I like this page: Luke McDonnell and Vince Colletta do a lot of smaller panels in this issue, so they deserve a big shot here. Plus, I like the idea of mixing the Ditko/Dr. Strange style landscape with the raw Kirby of Thor.

While Thor smashes the big green...whatsit...Sif has been captured by Dormammu's sister, the Unspeakable, Unmerciful, Unsatiable Umar. (I know it's spelled Insatiable, but it's almost funny the other way!) She recently had a memorable role in the last Defenders series, and that was pretty funny. Here she's straight up vampy extradimensional evil, and puts Sif under the "G'Uranthic Guardian." It's a big evil statue with one eye, six arms, and a blue mind-zapping light. In best serial villain tradition, Umar reveals that her spells and trickery made Thor aware of the Great Game, then leaves Sif under the zapper.

Sif manages to get out from under the blue light, but is drained. Thor hears her scream as demons attack her, but he ends up rescuing Jane Foster, his nurse/love interest from his early appearances. Sif and Jane had been merged into one sometime in the past, and to Claremont's credit he doesn't get really into it. Twenty-seven panels in the last three pages, by way.

Umar attacks and is defeated even though she uses/namechecks at least three of Dr. Strange's brandname spells. She reveals that any player that leaves the chess board before the game is over forfeits the game, so by now Odin is regretting finishing that Super Big Gulp Dormammu bought him. Ooh, evil. Umar suggests that releasing the Mindless One (and I thought it was Ones, and I think they'll be in Nextwave soon!) would bring Dormammu running.

Jane struggles to remember what happened to her, and what mission Odin set for Sif, and then is attacked by a leftover demon. Instead of screaming for Thor like she did in every other appearance ever, Jane kills the demon with Sif's sword, then uses it to stop Thor's hammer. Umar asks if Thor wants Lord Chaos to remake the universe, but Jane points out Odin wouldn't want to win by treachery. Thor shakes it off, and realizes what he's doing. Umar then tries to kill them again, but they escape to Chicago.

Thor and Jane take a moment at the World Trade Center. Jane laments that she loves Thor but couldn't live in Asgard, while Sif loves him as well, but couldn't live on earth. Thor's response is little more than, "Yeah, that sucks." Seriously. Jane reverts back to Sif. They return to Asgard, where the Great Game has ended.

Odin reveals that the game has once again ended in a draw, as it should every year, Order and Chaos both make up the circle of life, blah blah bearded manservant, prepare the Bedchamber Royal! In conclusion, Odin gives Thor and Sif commorative tokens of their roles in the Great Game: pawns, Sif's White, Odin's color; Thor's Black. Odin: total dick.

In the closer, Thor worries about next year's Great Game, and the year's after that. Maybe Zeus picked up next year's against Darkseid!

Summarizing the last bit here, it seems like a lot crammed into the last third of the annual; but I'd rather that than Claremont stretch it into four issues or longer. Not as many even unintentional laughs in the last stretch, though. Thor's been gone for a few years now, and I'm hoping a version pretty close to Walt Simonson's comes back. It just seems like Marvel doesn't want stories about far-flung dimensions and gods walking among men; when it can have issue after issue of heroes being dicks, and getting rid of the last few secret identities.

(EDIT: Man, cranky back then. So what if it still applies...)


Anonymous said...

Enjoying this - Odin ordered Loki to be chained to his wife Sigyn (so she could keep an eye on him) as punishment for almost bringing Ragnarok to fruition. They were unchained a few issues later when Loki argued that Sigyn was being unfairly punished for his crime.

Sigyn has popped up here & there throughout the run of THOR, but not too often. Turns out, Loki really, truly, deeply loves Sigyn, to the point where he considers her his only weakness. And he's pissed of a LOT of powerful people who'd be happy to target her. Therefore, in true star-crossed romantic fashion, he keeps his true feelings for her hidden, and most of Asgard feels sorry for her as the poor abused wife of cruel Loki. In fact, she adores Loki, and lives very comfortably doing whatever pampered Asgardian Princess housewives do.

Koriand'r said...

And what happened to her? What is hers nowadays?