My hammer doth fly of itself, if ye know what I meaneth.
Thor Disassembled (Marvel 2006), The Sad State of Spider-Man
I don't care if he carries around a magic hammer, speaks in Elizabethan, and has
flowing golden locks. I don't care if he resembles Fabio and likes sleeveless shirts.
I love Thor.
And let's make one thing clear: he could kick Superman's red-clad tuchus across
the galaxy. Even if you ignore the fact that Superman is vulnerable to magic, there
is the fact that Thor has a hammer and Superman only has his fists. One hammer
blow to the head and it's over, folks. And if Superman is stupid enough to fight
Thor in the atmosphere, Thor has gale-force winds at his disposal. Can you fly
through that, Clark? And don't take about heat vision -- we're discussing a guy
who is the master of lightning. Thor can take a little heat.
Let's wait a moment for that miasma of geekery to clear . . .
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby supposedly came up with Thor after they had churned out
the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man and a couple dozen others, Lee
reasoning "What's next but a god?"
As a superhero, Thor is incredibly counterintuitive. His purple dialogue ("my
hammer striketh in the service of justice, and in that cause the God of Thunder doth
dare anything!") is the most obvious off-putter, but his supporting cast is also made
up of fellow gods and goddesses who get bored if they're not battling Frost Giants.
He occasionally turns into a human with normal speech patterns, notably Donald
Blake, Jake Olson or Eric Masterson, but more often he is himself, high diction and
all. Lee and Kirby were going so fast and riding such sudden success that I doubt
they ever stopped to think what a bizarre guy they were introducing to their comics
Thor even has religious followers. The Ultimate Thor, while modernized, is a
spiritual leader: a "pacifist with a big scary hammer" complete with his faithful
group. Marvel 2099 has the Thorites and a few anachronistic Vikings still turn up,
praying right to Blondie.
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Marvel's version has never been all that faithful to the dimwitted brute of Norse
mythology, and few writers have bothered to incorporate more than a surface pass
over the myths. Marvel's Thor engages in heroic struggles against Loki, the
seductive Enchantress, and a bevy of Jack Kirby's old monsters. Norse Thor, in his
more famous exploits, was tricked into doffing women's clothes by Loki. Marvel
has "Balder the Brave" while the Norse Baldur is a peaceful, gleaming Christ
figure. Marvel Sif is a warrior woman, single and lusty with raven tresses, while
the Norse Sif had a proper set of Nordic golden locks and spent a lot of her time
caring for Thor's children while her red-bearded husband was out killing trolls.
It's easy to ignore Thor's real myths and keep him a straight superhero. Plenty of
writers have written decent Thor stories without really touching the myth, Tom
DeFalco and Dan Jurgens being two notable examples, but two legendary Thor
writers have given the comic a rich bouquet of myth and made their stories stand
apart. Walter Simonson is the most famous. Michael Avon Oeming, who wrote
Disassembled, is the other.
In the prologue to Disassembled, Loki steals the infamous mold in which Thor's
hammer was made, forging his own weapons of the mystical Uru metal. Loki's
attack promptly shatters the walls of Asgard, and as Thor strikes back, his hammer
is met with four or five other hammers, cracking Mjolnir in half.
Loki casts Thor to the depths of the Asgardian sea to be devoured by the Midgard
Serpent, but Thor escapes to Earth, to the embrace of his fellow Avengers, and
aided by them, he returns to Asgard to find it wasted by Loki's attack, and, most
fatefully, Balder slain by a familiar piece of mistletoe . . .
Longtime Thor readers are well aware of the Ragnarok story; it gets pulled out
every fifty to one hundred issues. Balder has died a good five or six times. Fenris
the wolf gets loosed every other issue. Naglfar, the ship made of dead men's
fingernails, has been lurking in the background ever since the mid-80s. So despite
the wasteland that Asgard has become in Disassembled, the longtime reader won't
really get the "wow" factor until well into the fourth chapter, in which Thor retires
to the high seat of Hidskjalf to foresee and hopefully stave off the Doom of
I can't tell you how. I can't tell you why, or give away any more than I already
have. Let me just say that no Thor comic, ever, has really gotten the meaning of
Ragnarok like this one.
Germanic and Norse myths are essentially fatalistic. Like the ravens that
represented Odin's sight, the whole Nordic world lived for death: a world caught
between crushing ice and blazing fire, its death already woven on the Norns' loom.
So at the end of Disassembled, when . . . okay, I can't tell you it all, but when Thor
makes a decision that utterly changes Marvel Asgard as we know it, forever and
ever, you will be stunned and shocked and you might just think that, rather than a
Marvel comic, you just read a good old Nordic Thor tale. For once, Thor isn't
anachronistic. He makes a decision based on power and fate, those primal Viking
values. It transcends superhero conventions and becomes truly mythic.
Andrea DiVito's art is big and poetic, full of statuesque heroes and beautiful
settings both pristine and wasted. The city of Asgard, the land of the light-elves,
and the frenetic battles of Ragnarok have been tall orders for thousands of artists
throughout history. DiVito, though, brings a grandeur all her own to each scene,
and her final battle with the legions of Sutur's fiery demons is worthy of nine
worlds of gasps.
Next summer we shall get a glorious Thorapalooza, with the upcoming movie
directed by Kenneth Branagh. Seriously! Kenneth Branagh is directing a superhero
movie. Sblood and zounds, it staggereth the imagination. I'm going to be there on
the first day, and I might just bring my magic hammer.
Um . . . okay, well, given that "you want to see my magic hammer?" will probably
get me arrested, I think I will leave it at home.
Moving on . . .
No hero in comics gets so kicked around, beat up and picked on . . . by his editors.
(Also, no other comic character has received so many words per Pictograph from
me.) In about the worst story ever written, solely to satisfy a dubious minority of
the audience, the 2007 One More Day story erased Spider-Man's marriage through
a deal Peter made with the devil.
[Warning: this is a long one. If you thought that paragraph about Thor beating
Superman was bad . . .]
Almost three years later, Spidey's comic has rattled on through a heap of stories
wherein Peter is portrayed as either a lazy jerk, a selfish jerk, or by-the-numbers
joking Spidey with little meat to his personality, despite some spectacular talent on
Peter isn't allowed to grow as a character, so that's what you get, even from the
likes of Mark Waid.
The most recent Spidey story, One Moment In Time, was the long-awaited (also
long-dreaded) move by Marvel to try and explain the consequences of the
marriage's disappearance on Marvel continuity. I can't do a "proper" review of
One Moment in Time, since I just read it in the aisles of my local store. I won't
spend money on a Spider-Man comic, barring the alternate-continuity Ultimate
Spider-Man and Spider-Girl.
One Moment in Time explains what "now really happened" on the day of the
Spider-Marriage, redubbing the art right out of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21,
when they were wedded. Only in this new timeline, Spider-Man got knocked out
by a random crook for a few hours and missed his wedding.
(You might not get this if you don't read a lot of comics. Writers and editors are
constantly finding cheats to rewrite their characters' history. Besides a deal with
Mephisto, I've seen multiversal crises, time wars, and just plain "this is how it
really happened because we said so." In any case, your average comic book
character's past is more subject to revision than Great-Grandpa's war stories.)
The crook part is pretty silly. A fat thug falls on top of Spider-Man and they land a
few stories below and he's out for three hours? This from a guy who's fought the
But the rest of the first chapter of One Moment in Time is actually good, showing
how Spidey and MJ's marriage might have gone wrong and the stupid decisions
they could have made based on wedding jitters. There is a telling moment where
Mary Jane overhears Harry Osborne and Flash Thompson talking about her man-eater personality, predicting that the marriage to meek Peter will last six months.
Peter finds the abandoned bride once he comes to. She isn't mad, but she realizes
that she doesn't want to get married, not now, not until she can come to terms with
his commitment as Spidey and what it might mean for their relationship and their
future and even possibly their kids. She still has tickets for their honeymoon in
France, and she still wants to be with him, so off they go, together but not married.
All in all, this works. This might have even been the best way to deal with the
marriage way back when. I remember the kinds of things that seemed like huge life
problems when I was first married/engaged, and I laugh a little at how easily I was
But if Peter and MJ lived together as the new continuity says they did, they would
have gotten married eventually. She knew his identity since they were both in high
school, and the on again/off again relationship through the huge changes in both of
their lives gave them a special understanding of each other.
Instead, as One Moment in Time goes on and Peter reveals his identity during Civil
War, MJ decides she just can't handle it anymore. This particular revelation comes
just after May Parker has been shot but revived in the hospital, and Peter has
convinced Doctor Strange -- not Mephisto; in this new past it's Doctor Strange --
try not to think about it -- to erase the knowledge of his identity from everyone in
In sum, at the end of One Moment in Time, Peter has actually solved all the
problems his actions have caused. Aunt May is alive. No one knows his identity.
Mary Jane, though, is tired of getting chased by random crooks and hiding from
the law. She splits. This particular act seems right in line with the panicked Mary
Jane we saw on the day of the wedding. Problem is, this is a Mary Jane who has
been living with and loving Peter Parker, even in this non-marriage continuity, for
years. Why is this worse than having Venom come into her apartment and terrorize
her, as he did a scant week after she and Peter were married (in the old continuity
-- oh my aching head)? What about all the other times she was threatened by the
Green Goblin and the Scorpion and the other villains who discovered Peter's
Thus far in One Moment in Time, she has been chased by one fat thug.
At the end of One Moment in Time, writer Joe Quesada, also the editor-in-chief of
Marvel and the world's biggest detractor of the Spidey marriage, flips a big fat
middle finger at the fans who are still justifiably outraged over the dissolution of
the marriage with this:
"There's someone out there for you, Peter," Mary Jane says, "but you'll never find
her until you get over me."
Quesada might as well have written: "As long as I'm in charge of Marvel, you will
get over it."
Gee, Quesada, and to think you could have written an actual story.
If Marvel absolutely had to erase the marriage, there are plenty of ways to do that
properly. The Scarlet Witch is a Marvel character that currently hates the Avengers
and has the power to alter reality. Spider-Man is an Avenger. Why wouldn't the
Scarlet Witch rob him of his marriage?
The god of mischief, Loki, owed Spidey a favor from back in J. Michael
Straczynski's run. Why wouldn't Pete call in the favor to erase his identity-reveal
and therefore Loki's usual mischief-making would muck with the marriage?
For that matter, all it takes is one good writer to actually deal with the implications
of One More Day and write consequences instead of continuing this perpetual
abortion, giving the fans a little closure. Peter gave Mephisto permission to change
the memory of the entire world. Are we supposed to believe that there is no
Faustus-style catch? They don't have to stay married, but Peter needs to learn
about his unheroic choice and face up to it.
Sigh . . .
Thing is, I can see where some detractors come from. Spidey's marriage was, in
retrospect, mishandled from the start. As soon as MJ got married to Peter, she
started worrying about him. All the time. Her role was usually to meander in the
Firefighters, police, soldiers and SWAT teams have spouses! Mary Jane was
always written as an independent, gregarious woman with a strong sense of self-identity. The biggest problem for MJ isn't that Peter's in constant danger. It's that
his whole crazy life makes it so that she often has no identity other than The Girl,
and that he often overshadows her without meaning to. That is one of the few
things Spider-Man 3 got right. When he starts talking about how many people
almost died because of him, she shuts up about her next role and her next
photoshoot, because it doesn't seem important, gradually fading her away.
That was the bone of contention that made their marriage interesting. Their efforts
to overcome it were far more interesting than Pete's escapades with various
She was never really mined for plotlines. MJ's Hollywood politics never got
caught up in Peter's life, nor did her abusive ex-con father and perpetually hard-luck sister. She did nothing, but she was always in the background worrying! In
fact, she was supposed to be jetting to Hollywood every few months. Few writers
took advantage of long-distance relationship issues.
About the only superhero who has been subject to the kind of editorial abuse that
Spidey has is Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, who got turned into a serial-murdering
crazy back in the early 90s and had to do a stint as the Spectre in order to atone.
DC learned their lesson from that and brought Hal back, after Hal's fans hounded
them for years.
Spider-Man's fans, other than a lot of online complaining, haven't put the kind of
pressure on Marvel that DC received from Hal Jordan's fans. I wonder why not.
Why shouldn't there be rallies for the marriage at prominent comic conventions?
Where is the official Parker Marriage Fan Club?
It's a little horrifying to realize that most comic fans, even when they hate a comic,
will keep buying for a certain character "fix." I had a friend tell me that he got
"cold sweats" the first time he dropped a favorite series.
There are thousands of other good comics out there. Invincible is the best
superhero comic on the stands, as good as any Spidey title ever was in its heyday,
and will give you a nice amateur-hero-learning-the-ropes fix. Former Spider-Man
writer J. Michael Straczynski is currently writing both Superman and Wonder
Woman, doing a bang-up, new-reader-friendly job on both. Transformers: Last
Stand of Wreckers blew the lid off the underestimated Transformers franchise.
I plead thusly: if you are pissed off about One Moment in Time and One More Day
but you are still reading Amazing Spider-Man, drop the comic. Drop a lot of
Marvel's titles. There is better stuff out there.
Comics historian Peter Sanderson made a good point when One More Day came
out. For years, the comics industry has been run by baby boomers that wanted
Spidey the way he was in the first ten years after 1962. But those guys are
gradually reaching retirement age, and they are going to be replaced by a crop of
folks who grew up with a married Spidey. I was seven when Peter got married. I'm
thirty now. I never knew an Amazing Spider-Man who wasn't married. Marvel's
star writer, Matt Fraction, is thirty-four. Brian K. Vaughn, another star, is the same
So One More Day and now One Moment in Time will be undone. It's only a matter
of time. Joe Quesada is forty-eight, and reaching the end of a normal tenure as
editor-in-chief, though he has been incorporated into the upper echelons of Marvel
Seems silly to wait, doesn't it? Why not hire a writer to write a story now that can
address all the problems from One More Day? Resolve the issue now.
Joss Whedon rewrote a little shambles of a script called Toy Story once. Hire him,
Marvel with this sole instruction: "Fix it." Or Peter David, or Matt Fraction, or
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, or even current Spider-Writers like Fred Van Lente. Just
hand it to a good writer and say, "Fix it. No parameters," and I guarantee we'll get
something that will improve the situation and bring back old fans.
Bring the marriage back or don't, Quesada, but treat the fans with respect and
remove your biased, mismanaging obsessed self from the process.
Otherwise, I guess I'll see you in twenty years, Pete. Miracle Pictographs will still
be here, unless I get shut down for all this hot air contributing to climate change.
Next issue: Not a Spider-Man rant! How bout that?
Read more by Spencer Ellsworth