Monday, June 11, 2007

Thor Reborn

Besides being a successful Hollywood screenwriter, J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) is pretty good at comic books, too.

It's a big deal, because other big-name authors have tried before and have found out that comics ain't easy. Think of Samuel Delaney's awful "Seven Moons Cast Complex Shadows" or how a clumsy, in-over-his-head Stephen King wasted Berni Wrightson's superb artwork in "Creepshow". The use of narrative flow, dialog, foreshadowing, and characterization is different in comics than in books or film, and good comic book writers understand that. It's more than pasting word balloons and boxes of captions over the pictures.

Kevin Smith gets it. So does Joss Whedon. And as he's doing with Requiem, J. Michael Straczynski shows off his artistry in skillfully rebooting Thor.

Sometimes a franchise superhero icon can have an identity crisis, especially a character who has been around not just for years, but for decades. As Frank Miller warned, "The legends of the comic book universe are like fat 'n' happy guys in the suburbs wearing PJs." The raw passion of youth fades to a dull nostalgia. One of Straczynski's strengths as a writer is recognizing the primal essence of a comic book superhero. Straczynski remembers what got us excited about a superhero in the first place. In the new series Thor, written by Straczynski and illustrated by Olivier Coipel (House of M), the duo reminds us that Thor isn't another generic hero in a cape with bulging muscles. Asgard isn't a theme park by Disney.

Thor is a God. An immortal older than history, an entity who commands the lightning. Certainly, there's a rich, deep well in Norse mythology to use. Instead, the God of Thunder has been mired in confusion, disinterest, and a loss of purpose ever since the end of the glory years with Lee and Kirby.

But J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel do their best to make every one of us believe in gods again.


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