illustration (c) Josť Villarrubia 2000 digital
illustration (c) Josť Villarrubia 2000
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Art by Chip Zdarsky. Copyright 2002.

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A failed attempt to re-imagine Marvel's hammer-wielding superhero.

Writer: Warren Ellis
Penciller: Mike Deodato
Trade Paperback Collection
Published 1996, Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Alasdair Watson.

This book is one of Ellis' weaker comics, written in the mid ninties, shortly after his time on Hellstorm and Druid. Whether he was chosen for the job because of his success (critical, rather than commercial, although Druid shifted numbers that would be considered entirely respectable in today 's market) in revamping another tired Avenger, or his acclaimed Excalibur run that was underway at the time, the fact remains that Ellis was, as he says himself in his "Intermission" (this being Marvel, they lack the good sense to place in introduction at the start of the trade, chosing instead to place it between parts two and three) a strange choice to re-vamp Thor. And given that Thor (inevitably, perhaps) reverted to his previous status quo pretty quickly, one is forced to wonder what the point was.

And to be fair, he does his best to push the character forward, and force him to grow, although in a slightly heavy handed manner, as the climax sees Thor saying exactly that, "I must grow!". Sadly, Ellis is hampered here by the ludicrous nature of Marvel's Norse pantheon, and the need to recap the history of Thor in order to push him beyond it. You see, Marvel haven't got the balls to have an actual pantheon of gods that aren't Judeo-Christian (for fear of teaching the kiddies satanic things at a guess). No, their Norse pantheon are immortal extra-terrestrials who's technology is so far advanced that it is indistinguishable from magic, even to them. Add to that the slightly convoluted premise that the essence of the thunder god has (over the course of the title's history) been split between Thor himself, an alien who rejoices in the ludicrous name of Beta Ray Bill, and two normal humans, and you start to understand that this watered down version of Norse myth is a pretty lame duck to begin with.

What we have here is two separate stories: one about Thor in peril, being rejected by Asgard, and saved by long-time foe, The Enchantress, the other about a British detective on secondment in New York trying to make sense of the events of Thor's story, and indeed, make sense of the Thundergod himself. Where this falls down is that in the second story is little more than an expository device, contributing nothing to the overall story, and never even making contact with Thor in the slightest. It serves a slight purpose in the brief interaction with the Enchatress, simply to remind us that while she may have put aside her differences with Thor, she still hasn' t reformed, but one is still left with the feeling that there must have been a more elegant option available for a recap of the title's history.

The Thor strand on the other hand, works quite well, even if it is a little heavy handed in places, as it genuine does move the character beyond his previous self, into something newer and slightly more interesting, developing in unexpected ways. (If nothing else, the temporary removable of the awful thee's and thou's from Thor speech is grounds for cheering.) It makes reasonable use of a blend of Norse myth and mad science, speaking to the roots of the character without overtly reminding us of the ludicrous nature of his orgin, (shuffling that off into the strange side piece).

What lets this slightly shaky attempt at a revamp down further, however, is Mike Deodato's art. Confusing page layouts, inculding strange two page splashes that require the readers to flip the book sideways, and still leave you uncertain as to the reading order, ludicrous proportions, and a variety of other sins make this book an annoyingly difficult read. Marie Javins' colours raise the quality slightly, but one is still left with the impression that she was left with the unenviable task of polishing a turd.

All things considered, this isn't worth bother. The quality of the story doesn't repay either the price tag or the effort of reading it.

Not recommeneded.

Alasdair Watson is one of the founders of PopImage.

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