Monday, September 27, 2010

Thor: First Thunder #1

As if the title didn't make it patently obvious, First Thunder is, simply enough, a retelling of the origins of the mighty Thor. With a plot pulled nearly action-for-action from the character's original appearance in 1962's Journey Into Mystery #83, dedicated fans shouldn't expect many surprises in this mini-series, just a few modernizations and minor alterations.

Artist Tan Eng Huat is the first thing you'll notice – his inspired work fills the issue with richly detailed environments and strangely proportioned characters, an unusual blend of Leinil Yu and Aeon Flux's Peter Chung. First Thunder's small cast universally exhibits bulging cheeks, bent bones and awkward poses, but they do so against a sharp backdrop and smart, well-timed storyboards. Though his work does seem too cartoonish and exaggerated during the scenes featuring Thor himself, Huat feels right at home with the god of thunder's human host, Donald Blake. An early chase scene between Blake and an unidentified monstrous pursuer, in fact, serves as immediate proof that Huat knows what he's doing. His clever storytelling does such a good job of leading us through the action that the numerous accompanying narration boxes quickly start to feel like overkill.

And that's where the issue's charm wears off. Bryan J.L. Glass's writing never even approaches the level of its paired artwork. Not a single page is left to speak for itself without the invasion of a hackneyed narrative box or bland thought bubble. Blake's ongoing internal monologues dwell too long on the presence of unseen gods and their effect on his situation. When he falls into a lake in the darkness, it's because the gods put it there. Swimming in a random direction, he finds land because the gods have shown mercy upon him. I'd assume the idea is to present him as a spiritual man, perhaps an expert in Norse mythology or general theological studies, but instead it just gives the impression that he's mentally unstable. Fred Phelps doesn't think about god's personal agenda this often.

When he isn't rambling on about the almighty, Blake is obsessing over his daddy issues, which seem to be a vital ingredient in something like 85% of all superheroes' origin tales. As it turns out, it's this fixation that unites doctor and thunder god, ensuring that no matter which consciousness is at the head of the issue's action, they're almost certainly going to be whining about something. When Blake makes his first transformation into Thor, the action immediately picks up and the dialog goes straight off the deep end. Not just from Thor himself, whose long-winded, lore-steeped monologues remain as frequent as ever, but from his enemies and their civilian observers. In true throwback fashion, everyone on the page suddenly becomes obsessed with explaining their thoughts and actions aloud.

While I'm sure the original feels out of touch and dated, the decision to retell this story in a modern setting is a curious one. It brings very little to the table in the way of fresh ideas or new revelations, and actually serves to make the characters less interesting and appreciable than they were before. The writing is heavy handed and clumsy, and while the artwork has some real moments of power, it's not without its own shortcomings. Big fans will want to skim over this, but the rest of us can skip it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3

No comments: