My Composition 1 class’s last assignment was a concept essay. To illustrate the assignment, I mapped out how I would approach the term nerd. I would classify myself as a nerd and I think the ramblings of this blog will validate my claim. It’s a curious term though. Whereas nerds once sat on the sidelines playing D&D, reading sci-fi, and preparing for the next wedgie, the Internet has made nerds cool, and more importantly, it has revealed that there’s a nerd in all of us. Thus, the rise of the hyphen nerd. Grantland is home to sports-nerds (and Bill Simmons is a basketball-nerd), The AV Club to TV-nerds, IGN to video game-nerds, FiveThirtyEight to statistics-nerds, WWTDD to celebrity-nerds, and so on ad infinitum. When major news sources have people scoping Reddit for stories, you know that nerdom has finally won. The question is no longer, “Will you be a nerd?” but “What kind of nerd will you be?”
This isn’t to say that this development is all great. If everyone is a nerd, the term loses much of its value. And similarly, it has given rise to a particularism that pushes people to an annoying, false, self-righteous, ironic extreme.
But for all its pitfalls, the rise of the nerds has, at least through the Internet, given people an outlet to discuss similar interests without having to annoy their real life associates. No one I know really likes soccer, so I go into depth with people on the web. No one I know likes comics, so I read about them on the Internet and write about them here on my own page. For this, I’m grateful. Without the web, I can safely say I wouldn’t actually be interested in either thing, and they both bring me joy and happiness (and excruciating pain) on a weekly basis.
I guess the real question is, if you aren’t a nerd about something, what are you? I made my class think of their concepts in oppositions, and the only thing I could come up with in contrast to nerd was boring; someone who was apathetic to everything. These people are the worst.
All of this is my long-winded intro to talking about the first issue of Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic, and Dean White’s Thor: God of Thunder, part of Marvel’s NOW relaunch.
I have been skeptical about Marvel NOW for a couple reasons. First, getting into a Marvel series is a much bigger investment than reading DC. Whereas Batman comes out once a month, many Marvel titles double-ship (twice a month). For example, I read Daredevil, and since it’s launch in July 2011, it’s had 24 issues, including two necessary cross-overs (where the story is carried over between multiple series). In contrast, there’s been only 16 issues of Batman since September 2011 (including an Annual), and although that included two crossovers, Batman kept a self-contained story for both, meaning it was the only series you needed to read to actually understand what was happening. If you bought the other series like Catwoman or Batgirl, you got additional stories around the same concept, but you could avoid them and still know exactly what was going on. Second, most major Marvel books are $3.99 for 20 pages of story. In fairness, DC did raise the price of Batman from $2.99 to $3.99 with issue 8, but they also bumped up the page count from 20 to 28-30 pages.
Perhaps my biggest issue is that the creative teams that sound so awesome from the get go are going to get overburdened so quickly by the shipping policy. Most of the books have already announced rotating art teams, but for the ones that haven’t, I’m worried about where they are going to go. I’m trusting Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk because of what he’s done on Daredevil. Even though that title has seen 6 artists, they have all managed to maintain a similar tone. Each Daredevil issue looks like Waid’s Daredevil. I assume he’ll manage to make that happen on Hulk too. I can’t say I have similar optimism for Thor, and when Esad Ribic is your starting point, any deviation is going to be a massive disappointment.
All of these elements combine to make me dubious about the one Marvel NOW series I really want to read, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers. First, it’s really two series: Avengers and New Avengers. Second, Avengers is going to be bi-weekly, with a $3.99 price tag, and a stable of 4 rotating artists (Jerome Opeña, Adam Kubert, Dustin Weaver, and Mike Deodato). And third, the likelihood that this is going to turn into some massive, money-grubbing event is astronomical. But it’s Jonathan Hickman. Luckily, there are a number of series I do read that are ending, so I think I can justify it. But it’s going to have a really short leash.
Where were we? Oh yes, Thor. Well, quite simply, this is awesome. From page one, it is engaging, surprising, and beautiful. This is really the story of three Thors: the young, brash, cocky Prince Thor, the modern-day Avenger Thor, and the old, nearly-broken King Thor. In all the interviews leading up to this, the three-story structure is what worried me. But Aaron has linked them beautifully.
As we begin, young Thor has responded to an Irish village’s prayer for someone to protect them from a Frost Giant. After answering their prayers and slaying the beast, Thor has engaged in four days of drunken debauchery with the people. The festivities are interrupted when the head of a Native American God washes on shore.
In the present, Thor again responds to the prayers of a planet, Indigarr, that has gone years without rain. After saving the day and once again engaging in some ale-fueled shenanigans, Thor is shocked to hear that Indigarr is a planet without Gods, an idea unheard of in his intergalactic journeys. Investigating the claim in the planet’s clouds, he finds their Gods, but they’ve all been systematically butchered.
Finally, we see Thor in the future, grey and alone on the throne of Asgard. He is the last surviving God, and he’s determined to enter Valhalla. The final page sees him rushing headfirst into the Butcher’s army.
First issues generally struggle to balance characterization with the introduction of a credible, believable threat. Often, we get thrown right into the action of a minor skirmish so we can see the hero in action, only to follow up with some personal interactions that help us get to know the person underneath the costume. Finally, faint whisperings of a larger, looming threat drive us to the next issue. Aaron plays with all of these tendencies. First, we are introduced to this Thor after battle, in the time when he is most engaging and relatable. The first page of this is just perfect and you instantly love Thor for his personality, not his powers. Second, the looming threat isn’t looming; it’s obvious and enormous. Because he is established with such confidence, the immediate reservation and fear Thor shows when the first God is found dead shows you the stakes in a fascinating way. The badguy isn’t some criminal mastermind or zany villain; he’s a force of nature.
I also love the crazy way that Thor is presented as a God. He answers prayers. He helps those who believe in him. Whereas the Asgardians are generally presented as gods in a metaphorical sense, Thor is a God in the religious sense. It certainly creates an interesting paradigm as the series continues.
Finally, I can’t close without mentioning the art. With Ribic on pencils and Dean White on colors, this couldn’t look any better. Whether he’s drawing alien races, mythical beasts, or average people, Ribic brings each character to life. And White’s colors add a richness and texture that most comics don’t even come close to. This feels more like painting than anything, and it certainly befits a book about a God. Like I said earlier, I’m fearful of who is going to fill in for these guys so I pray Ribic can work fast.
I couldn’t be more excited to see where this goes. I’m pumped to see how this battle with Gorr goes and even more excited to see how Aaron opens up the world of Asgard.