Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Thor: The Mighty Avenger, The Complete Collection review

I’ve been a big fan of Chris Samnee’s work since I read a story arc he drew in Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country as well as the Vertigo Crime graphic novel Area 10 written by Christos Gage. This is the first time I see his art coloured and it’s also the first time I see him draw a superhero comic. The reason I picked this up is mostly because of appreciation for Samnee’s art. It also helps that it was rather well received during its initial monthly publication.

Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee have made a relatively dense comic. At least, if you compare it to other superhero comics published at the time. It’s a very good thing because it allows them to tell an engaging story with a lot of depth but it a way that isn’t overly dense (like an Alan Moore comic, for example). Most pages have roughly 7 or 8 which is just slightly more than what you would normally find in a Marvel comic but it’s enough to make it feel more substantial. There is a lot that happens in these nine issues and it’s a result of an impressive collaborative effort. Langridge's ability to tell single issue stories with an overarching story is what allowed for interesting things for Samnee to draw. From sea monsters to other interesting characters from both Thor's Marvel comics mythology as well as from other corners of the Marvel Universe.

The first few issues the comic seems to be more about Jane and this new visitor in her life but as the story goes on the focus shifts slightly which is perfectly fine. It's called Thor: The Mighty Avenger not Jane: The Museum Curator. This comic is about Thor’s exile from Asgard by his father, Odin. He threw his son off the Rainbow Bridge and onto Earth with the hopes of teaching him humility. Odin denies Thor the knowledge of what he did that resulted in such a punishment. Unfortunately, the series was cancelled before the story could progress to a point where the reason for Thor’s exiled could be revealed. Thus, we are left to think that Thor was a big jerk and Odin may have slightly overreacted by casting his son out of Asgard. As a whole though, it doesn’t really matter. What matters are the lessons Thor learns while on Earth.

Thor’s been on Earth before, many, many years ago. Everything has changed now since a lot of time has passed since his last visit to Earth. He can’t recognize anything and he’s lost. He can’t even interact with modern people because even social interactions have had time to change and evolve. It takes Jane Foster’s eternal patience and compassion to give Thor a chance to interact in anything resembling a normal fashion. Once Langridge is done setting up Thor’s situation, he quickly creates new situations for him and Jane that force Thor to learn new lessons about himself, about humanity and about what it means to be an all-powerful Asgardian. He does this mostly in done-in-one issues, telling a single tale or adventure which sometimes has its beginnings in a previous issue and often has story threads leading into the next issue. This volume collects a total of nine issues and they all tell a single story but they’re also all connected (with the exception of the Free Comic Book Day issue which is a genuine single issue story). It’s impressive that Langridge makes it look so easy because it seems to be one of those many lost comic book talents since we’re increasingly bombarded by overly decompressed story that take several issues to come to any kind of resolution or story progression. 
Roger Langridge's version of Samnee's cover
for issue #6. Yup, he's an artist too.

By choosing to tell a done in one story each single issue, Langridge allows for Thor to develop and grow as a character every issue. Langridge tries to have Thor learn a new lesson each issue and something he fails or something he doesn’t learn his lesson until the next story. Either way, it’s nearly guaranteed character development each issue. Thor learns to make a new friend, learns about what it means to be human, learns to be selfless and leans how and why he should help out. He also learns about love and caring. All of these lessons have their roots in Thor’s relationship with Jane Foster.

Jane Foster was a delightful character. You get a sense that she was well rounded and define individual before Thor popped up in her life. She’s not just a female interest for Thor. In fact, Langridge sets it up the other way around. Jane is the main character in the first and maybe second and third issues as well. It’s not until the Boys Night Out story in issue #4 that Thor really comes to the forefront. More than that, when Langridge has Thor do something Jane is generally also doing something be it something by herself or with Thor. In that same Boys Night Out story, Thor goes on an adventure with his friends, The Warriors Three. Upon his return, we find out Jane also went out with some of her friends. She didn’t sit around at home waiting for Thor to come back home. Her life doesn’t revolve around him. You could argue that Thor’s new life on Earth revolves around Jane. We get a scene where Jane is at work and Thor is bumming at her place sitting on the couch and watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Jane is a well-developed character and not just another damsel in distress or a sultry superheroic supermodel in frilly garments mean to be an object of lust and desire for both the male protagonist and the male readership. Well done, Langridge and Samnee.

Thor, hanging out and making friends.
While reading, I was constantly surprised by the choice of having Samnee draw the book. Not because he isn't good, he is, he's excellent, but his art style doesn't make me think he'd be good at drawing fantastical elements. He proves me wrong throughout the entire book. Maybe I feel this way because my introduction to Samnee’s work was in a comic that is more grounded in reality. It was clearly an excellent choice because a big part of my enjoyment of Thor: The Mighty Avenger was due to the art.

You can tell Samnee isn’t used to drawing a comic that is meant to be printed in colour. He shades and texturizes things more than you would expect him to. He seems to like adding a lot of shading on the characters but he also shows restrained, reserving it for scenes that take place in areas with poor lighting. Otherwise he doesn't add any shading on the faces, leaving them open and expressive. Because of his art style, a specific kind of colouring is needed. Matt Wilson uses a lot of flat colours because Samnee's inks tend to be thick. It's a different story for the faces though. Wilson uses gradients to indicate lighting and to add some shading but not always. The use of gradients appear here and there throughout the work, more often than not on some of the more fantastic and superheroic elements.   Still, the use of gradients remains minimal throughout all nine issues.

Samnee is pretty good at drawing faces and facial expression. Some facial expressions are rendered rather cartoony but that's fine by me. I'm just impressed by how expressive some of his characters can be. Expressive faces are a good thing to know how to draw, Langridge writes a fair amount of humorous scenes that really on the art to carry the punch line.

There is a lot that happens in these nine issues and it’s a result of an impressive collaborative effort. Langridge's ability to tell single issue stories with an overarching story is what allowed for interesting things for Samnee to draw. From sea monsters to other interesting characters from both Thor's Marvel comics mythology as well as from other corners of the Marvel Universe. In issue #5, Samnee draws a Jack Kirby sea monster. The Kirby influence is clearly there but he keeps it in check with the overall style of the Thor comic. His lines are thinner than Kirby’s but he still manages to uses dark, inky shadowing for texture and that blocky look associated with Kirby’s art.. It works very well and the sea monster looks awesome. Samnee gets another chance to draw a Kirbyesque monster when Heimdall transforms into a creature that kind of looks like Fin Fang Foom. 
Thor: The Mighty Avenger could and probably should have been one of the few great superhero comic book runs but alas it was cut short due to poor sales and Langridge being unhappy working for Marvel. The sketchbook section at the end of the collection offers a small glimpse of one of the stories that could have been in the works. Samnee draws a sketch of the Hulk. I’m certain Langridge and Samnee would have given us a unique and thrilling encounter between Thor and Hulk but we’ll have to content ourselves with the sketchbook section. If you like accessible, well written and superbly drawn superhero comics with as much brains and heart as there is brawn and creative costumes, do yourself a favour, pick up a copy of Thor: The Mighty Avenger and savour the brief glimpse into a grand story that could have been.

No comments:

Post a Comment