Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thor #604

It's really nothing new, but life's been kind of shit for the Norse God of Thunder over the last few months. After returning from hibernation, reviving the lost city of Asgard and its population and helping to defeat the Skrull invasion, Thor was exhausted and ripe for an attack. That's all the invitation his half-brother needed. Acting swiftly, Loki wrested the control and loyalties of Asgard to a more controllable figurehead, transplanted the city limits to Latveria and forged an uneasy alliance with, who else, Doctor Victor Von Doom.

It really wasn't that long ago that this series had built a respectable head of steam. J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel had managed the relaunch in style, giving Thor a new mortal link, Asgard a new locale and the Gods themselves a fresh direction. I still wasn't especially taken with the cast, which is why I merely flirted with the title around its launch and then left it behind, but things seemed to be headed in the right direction. Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened up this issue to find that things had all but returned to the stale status quo that had all but doomed the series years ago.

In his first month at the helm, new writer Keiron Gillen has inherited something of a disaster in Thor. Gone are the new directions that had effectively granted the series a face-lift. Thor still employs Donald Blake as his link to the mortal realm, but he's becoming more of a bit player and less original with every passing moment. Asgard loses a bit more of its luster in each panel, becoming less the unique floating city that left Oklahomans in awe two years ago and more the crusty, ancient tomb it had been for decades before. The gods have returned to their distant, haughty old ways. Add to all that another cryptic scheme from Dr. Doom that doesn't really make any sense, and you've got a book that's running - no, sprinting - in the wrong direction.

Like the gassy topping of a turd sundae, the artist of choice for this leg of the series is none other than Billy Tan. To say I have a mild distaste for Tan's artwork would rank among the understatements of the century. He's not single-handedly responsible for my dropping New Avengers from the pull list several months back, but his lumpy musculatures and nasty layouts were among my chief reasons. Since moving to Thor, his rendering has improved moderately, but his compositions remain clunky and messy, infuriating to navigate and terribly confusing at even their finest moments. Tan routinely rides on the coattails of his writers, summoning whatever cheap gimmicks he can muster on the pages that offer built-in visual excitement and adding nothing to those that don't. I don't understand what Marvel sees in this guy: he constantly turns in disappointing work and they keep rewarding him with regular, high profile gigs. I guess, as an evaluator of talent, sometimes when you swing for the fences you wind up striking nothing but air.

Simply put, this issue is a waste. A waste of time, of paper, of momentum, of character... take your choice. It's all of the above and then some. It's exactly what the first issue of the relaunch seemed to go out of its way to step away from, and it's sad to see it's returned there so swiftly. Skip it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 1

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