It feels weird putting a comic that I’ve only just got around to catching up on, and that I haven’t yet actually read all the extant issues of, into the bracket of the top ten comics of the year – but the fact that I am doing so sums up just how Thor: The Mighty Avenger has leapt into my affections, being as it is the most beautifully charming, wondrous, good-hearted and downright likeable comic I’ve read since… well, probably since All-Star Superman. Yeah.
I suspect the reason I hadn’t bothered getting around to it yet – despite the intense critical acclaim afforded to it – is that Thor books simply don’t come onto my radar (except for the brief period of time in which they’re written by Kieron Gillen). I’ve just never had any great interest in the character, which would also explain why the trailer for the upcoming movie doesn’t excite me a huge amount. Dismissing Thor: The Mighty Avenger as just another Thor-related book to be ignored was foolishness in the extreme, though – a point I really should have been aware of simply due to the presence of the great Roger Langridge as writer.
Nevertheless, it’s taken news of its impending cancellation and the general sobbing and hand-wringing that this has brought from the sort of corners of comics reading that did the same when Captain Britain and S.W.O.R.D. met the same fate (i.e. the corners that have good taste) to inspire me to finally get around to check it out (particularly with the knowledge that any TPBs that might ever emerge are probably six months or so away), and so I’ve managed to get hold of a few of the issues. And by gum, I wish I’d been reading it from the start. It’s delightful. It’s exactly the sort of comic you want to hold up to people to show them that comics are actually still capable of being fun, all-reader-friendly, character-driven, intelligent and witty stories about brightly-coloured heroes. I’d honestly put it in the same bracket as Pixar, Aardman and early-era Simpsons in that, although it doesn’t match their epoch-defining genius quality, it really does effortlessly appeal to and cater for an audience of just about any age or level.
Although ostensibly a retelling of the “classic” Thor origin, the book takes liberties not just with plot and detail (most notably, beefing up the role of Jane Foster and also giving her an entirely different career), but with the overall tone – and where it succeeds is that it isn’t really the story of Thor being cast out of Asgard and finding his way as a superhero on Earth. Instead, it’s the story of Thor, who happens to have been cast out of Asgard (although his history before reaching Earth is pretty much irrelevant to the story being told), meeting a woman who shows him all the wonder and beauty of a world he finds a strange and bewildering lesser prospect than his own. It’s a romance, in other words – a romance with punching and jokes and Ant Man, sure, but a romance all the same. And it’s lovely. The characterisation is the real key – this take on Thor, the likeable bewildered lost soul, is the most appealing I’ve seen, while Jane is nothing short of adorable. You wind up rooting simply for these characters to succeed in finding each other, because they’re so darned lovely. And the book is frequently (like you’d expect anything less from Langridge) very, very funny – most notably in issue #4, which not only features Volstagg, but also has a take on Captain Britain that’s every bit as funny as anything Cornell did (“Oh, it’s okay, [Brian's] Captain Britain.” “What?” “He thinks his friends don’t know, but he’s terrible at keeping a secret, so we pretend we don’t notice.”)
It’s a triumph visually, too – it’s odd seeing something only written by Langridge rather than drawn by him as well, but it’s absolutely the right decision as his cartoony style simply wouldn’t fit this. But having only known Chris Samnee for doing a passable Peter Snejbjerg impression on The Mighty, he’s a revelation here – with gorgeous, clean, mock-retro work that’s in a similar ballpark to the sort of thing Marcos Martin’s been doing on Spider-Man. A lush, vibrant colouring job from the ever-brilliant Matt Wilson simply rounds out the package – the whole thing is bright, and pretty, and energetic, without ever having the tacky and garish sort of look you might expect from such old-fashioned, straight-down-the-line superheroics.
That it’s only ever going to be a comic of 2010 – one final issue next month aside – is a great tragedy, but I’m glad I got the chance to discover it when I did, even belatedly. It’s frustrating that Marvel keep on taking a punt on series like this with such dazzlingly inventive and pure-of-heart craft behind them, and that the comics-buying public just don’t take to them – but hopefully the critical acclaim afforded to this and others of its ilk will prevent them from thinking twice about taking such chances in the future.