Tuesday, 25 September 2012
Some Thoughts On The Mighty Thor #20
Yes, it's an Event that involves just two books, and, yes, those two books are both conveniently under the supervision of the same editorial staff. Yet the Everything Burns too-and-fro between Journey Into Mystery and The Mighty Thor more than strongly suggests that the modern-era comics crossover can be far more than the flaccid, fleece-the-punter marketing scam that it's so often seemed to be. The four chapters - of six - that we've had so far have been cannily-written and exuberantly paced, with a host of insightful, telling character moments played out by writers Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction against the backdrop of one of the superhero book's few compelling comics apocalypses of recent times. (When isn't it the end of everything these days?) As a result, the momentum of Everything Burns; A Dog And His Tricks is so ferocious and its plot-lines so skillfully interwoven that it's not immediately obvious how worryingly thin certain aspects of it run the risk of being.
For there's three splash pages among the 21 sides of this issue, including one which contains just three words against an entirely black background, which in itself is as blatant an example of comic-padding as I can recall since The Ultimates #1. (There's several other pages very much dominated by a single money-shot of a frame too.) More initially suspicious yet, there's nine sides given over to battle-scenes which barely move the plot forward at all, which means that more than half of The Mighty Thor #20 runs the risk of fundamentally cheating the trusting reader. Yet those sequences of unheavenly warfare are wonderfully staged by artist Alan Davis, inker Mark Farmer and, in a scene-stealing performance, colourist Javier Rodriquez, and they help create a sense of terrible, fearful inevitability which only serves to makes Loki's machinations seem all the more catastrophically misjudged.
As such, even the page with nothing but "that bad dog" on it seems forgivable, because for all that it's an obvious attempt to suggest something from pretty much nothing at all, it doesn't diminish what's been achieved elsewhere. Add to that the sight of so many aspects of the recent past of both books studding this issue's pages and there's the satisfying sense of a well-seeded, intricate master plan being played out. Those splash pages? Those beautifully rendered and yet relatively plot-light fight-scenes? In the context of both this crossover and this particular issue, they work remarkably well. In fact, with this much story and this many characters, a even more dense and frame-heavy approach may well have ended up destroying the story's sense of pace and scale without adding anything that was essential. In that, The Mighty Thor #20 is a rare example of how many of the modern-era's least apparently edifying storytelling conventions can be used to create some very fine work indeed.
Yet at the heart of Everything Burns, as is only to be expected these days, schemes the entirely captivating figure of the born again Loki, who's perhaps the single most fascinating character in any of today's super-books on either side of the Big Two divide. And it's clearly not enough that he's embarked on a grand deception which involves the betrayal of absolutely everyone else in the cast, for he's also given to winking at and teasing the reader through the fourth wall too. (So too is Mr Gillen - or is it Mr Fraction, giving the vagueness of the credits - himself, as can be seen the from smile-inducing meta transmitted by the scan below.) It's a smartly-played business, for it ramps up the audience's desire to know exactly what Loki's game is, and that's true even despite the suspicion that his motives will ultimately still seem murky and potentially self-serving. In that, we're constantly being encouraged to hope against our more cynical suspicions, and indeed much of the evidence on the page, that Loki really is pursuing something more virtuous than his own self-serving, world-splitting mischievousness this time. And yet, that air of mystery and deep-hidden, many-layered connivance needs to stay in play too, or Loki's appeal might start dissolving in the sentimentality of the prodigal redeemed.
With that central enigma in place, it's the duplicitous foster brother of Thor who unquestionably dominates events even when far off-panel, and that's just as true when the Thunder God himself is shown helplessly drowning in Muspelheim's fire-pits. Cleverly, Gillen and Fraction make not the slightest effort to hypefully suggest that Thor's life may just be over for good this time, and they focus instead upon the distress caused by the probability that his perpetually trusting heart has been broken by Loki again. After all, that's a far more powerfully involving prospect than yet another oh-so-tragic and yet oh-so-easily-reversed superhero death, and it's a prime example of the way in which Everything Burns trumps a great many of its fellow Event books. Underneath all those spectacular set-pieces and those apparently space-swallowing splashes, it's a sharply plotted story that's grounded in the smart and generous-hearted use of character and emotion. As such, it's anything other than a disposable, hucksterism-blighted read.
Indeed, the cosmic-comics spectacle is a bonus to be enjoyed in addition to the central pleasures of the mystery of whatever it is that Loki's up to. This isn't a comic which works despite the elements of contemporary comics craftsmanship, but in significant part because of their presence. Crudely put, it's the Journey Into Mystery material which grounds and drives the issue, but a considerable degree of the pleasure of that is informed by the horned-helmet opera which the setting and recent backstory of The Mighty Thor offers too. The story's the thing, as of course it pretty much always should be, but if a team of creators and editors can make the turn-it-up-to-eleven material work to the story's advantage too, then every credit to them.