Comics: Thor the Mighty Avenger
Roger Langridge (scripts)
Chris Samnee (art)
Marvel Comics, 2013
Marvel Studios’ 2011 movie Thor appeared in 2011 at roughly the same time Marvel Comics produced a short-lived comic book series called Thor the Mighty Avenger written by Roger Langridge and drawn by Chris Samnee. In the movie, Thor is stripped of his powers and banished from Asgard, the home of the Norse gods, by his father Odin. He arrives on Earth in plainclothes, meets a plucky young woman named Jame Foster, and eventually re-unites with his legendary hammer Mjolnir, regaining his powers and taking up the good fight against evil. In the movie, Heimdall, the guardian of Asgard, is played by black actor Idris Elba (a casting decision that briefly caused outrage in pretty much exactly the places you’d think it would), despite the fact that the character had been portrayed as a bearded white man for fifty years in Marvel’s Thor comic books. In Thor the Mighty Avenger, an amnesiac Thor finds himself on Earth, stripped of his powers. He meets a plucky young woman named Jane Foster, eventually re-unites with his legendary hammer Mjolnir, regains his powers, and takes up the good fight against evil. In the 6th issue of the series, readers meet Heimdall – and he’s an enormous black man.
No official link between the 2011 movie and the 2011 comic book series (a series now given a complete-run one-volume trade paperback edition) has ever been acknowledged by either Marvel Comics or Marvel Studios, but these issues certainly feel like an adapted screenplay. Gone is the version of Thor that Marvel fans had known for decades; that Thor was dour, dutiful, and Superman-level powerful (and his Jane Foster was a wimpy nurse, and his Heimdall, as noted, was a middle-aged white guy); in his place, we have a floppy-haired, winsomely happy young man of decidedly human – almost scrawny – dimensions. He smiles a lot; he wears T-shirts in his down-time; he drinks with his friends (the hilariously-portrayed fellow Asgardians Hogun, Fandral, and Volstagg, to whom he says, “You are my best mates, you are”)(as opposed to the more Stan Lee-style “E’er upon thy brows shall rest the undying crown of Thor’s friendship!”); he hangs out with Jane Foster. This version of Thor was about as different from the version currently running in Marvel’s normal Thor comic as it was possible to get.
The main thing to say about this alternate version is that this makes for some of the most consistently enjoyable comics-reading you’ll do all year. Landgridge’s writing is heartfelt and deceptively smart (there are cameos by Ant-Man and the Wasp, Iron Man, and Captain America, all perfectly in character and yet delightfully off-kilter, just like our hero), and Samnee’s art is a revelation: dramatic, yet irresistibly punning – you have to study his individual panels to catch all the clever little things going on in them.
Thor the movie did well enough at the box office to guarantee a sequel; Thor the Mighty Avenger got cancelled after eight issues and is already on its way to becoming something of a minor cult classic. The irony is that if this cancelled comic series really does represent a proto-version of the character from some point along an infamously tangled script-evolution, that version – lost, affable, decidedly human – didn’t last much longer on the big screen than it did on the printed page. Half-way through the movie, that almost-human Thor is replaced by a stern, all-powerful warrior-god, and that warrior-god also growls his way through two hours of the smash hit Avengers movie without so much as seeing poor Jane Foster, let along canoodling with her until the pizza delivery arrives.
For that Thor, these wonderful issues are all we’re ever likely to get. All the more reason to treasure them.