Saturday, May 30, 2009

I'm going to pretend I'm not embarrassed.

I'm a sucker for comic books.

I love the art. I love the story telling. I love the combination of art and story telling. I love that they use art to tell a story just as much as they use dialogue and narration. And I love bulked up superheroes, flawed and perfect. I love that we've taken the richness of classical myth, and recreated it for our modern world in a way that people who would never otherwise pick up a book on the topic can find meaning. The reinvention of myth and even the reinvention of what it means to be a hero. I love it all.

Lately, I've been taken in by the relaunch of Marvel's Thor title. It started innocently enough. I've always been fascinated by mythology (Pantheons, and the cultures that worshipped them were always my favorite part of history classes). I took a class on Norse Mythology in college, in fact. My husband comes from (among other things) a Scandinavian background. It's impossible to ignore the influence of the Scandinavian people, and their heritage when you live in North Dakota for any extended period of time-- but I'm pretty sure my love for Norse Myths, and Thor in particular, came before I fell into that Midwestern (and I say it lovingly) black hole.

The Thor title in its previous incarnation (588 issues? really?) never attracted my attention, though. For one thing, it wasn't until my teens that I cultivated any real independent taste for comic books that wasn't influenced by my older brother, and for another, it's a little bit hard to jump into those titles when they're on issue 500 and counting, and you have no idea what the heck is going on (in my opinion, this is the number one problem with the big titles, today. Superman, Spiderman, X-men, Avengers-- you almost have to know the entire history, as well as read every other title in the universe to have a context for the story in the issue you picked up off the rack, but that's another post altogether). I was, however, totally blown away by Ultimate Thor-- that is, Thor as he appeared within the Ultimates 1 & 2 titles (3 was a catastrophe that I've been trying to repress). The idea of turning Thor into a hippy conservationist using his powers to try to save the planet, ecologically, while boozing it up with his fellow activists was so alarmingly different, so incredibly unique a take, that I couldn't resist. Who can say no to a thundergod smoting a whaling ship with a bolt of lightning? Not only that, but this incarnation of Thor didn't feel at all compelled to speak awkwardly in the third person with outdated language! I was hooked!

So naturally, in my casual stroll through the graphic novels section of the bookstore (way, way, way too much manga, far too few traditional comic books), when I happened across volume one of this new title in trade paperback form back in August, I had to pick it up. Why not, I thought? I had a long train ride ahead of me to go visit my sister, and some reading material was in order. But once I read the first couple of pages, that was it. Marvel had me. Again. Just when I had given up on them because of that horrible Ultimates 3 fiasco. Here was a Thor I could respect! And (more importantly) a story that treated him as more than a musclebound oaf.

Yes, I'm perfectly aware that Norse Mythology itself paints Thor as something much less than the brightest crayon in the box, but let's face it-- the Norse Myths don't really give any of their gods a lot of depth. These are one dimensional characters. Whether that's because we don't have all the stories, or because the people who worshipped these gods didn't need anything more than that, I don't know. Maybe the other aspects of these dieties were so well known they didn't need to be included in the stories. Either way, creative writers shouldn't feel caged by these defining attributes. Taking apart and putting back together mythology in new ways is exactly what Marvel and DC peddle. And they do it, for the most part, incredibly well. Liberties should be taken, especially if the character is meant to stand alone, as the protagonist in a story, rather than a member of the supporting cast.

So, I read on. And finishing volume one, began anticipating volume two. And I waited. and I waited. One issue a month, 6 issues to a respectable sized trade edition, taking into account the fact that no comic book company is capable of delivering issues on time, especially not Marvel, and 10 months later, Volume Two was in my hands.

Now, here is where I get a little bit critical. And this is the whole reason I wanted to write this post and put it up here. Not because I want to advertise to the whole world my love for comic books (it really doesn't do a lot for my professional image, I'm sure), but because this second volume of Thor is the perfect example of a story that could learn a lesson from the writerly adage drilled into me from the first time I sat down in a creative writing class, and I'm sure you've heard it:

Show, don't tell.

Now, one could argue that being a comic book, reliant on art for part of its story telling, they're always SHOWING, and not telling, but I totally disagree, especially in this case. The story is good! Don't get me wrong, but after I read it I sat back and sighed. The execution is flawed. As a writer, and a reader, I wanted so much more. And not in the "yes! I want to keep reading!" way, but in the "Wow, why didn't they SHOW me that, instead of just telling me?" way. This book was full of missed opportunities for great moments! Everything was there for the moments to happen-- but then at the last minute, it seemed like the writer decided to take the easy way out. Instead of showing me the gods floundering about awkwardly in this new situation they've found themselves in, I have the characters just telling me. Over and Over again. Instead of letting me deduce the manipulations and mayhem Loki is engaging in, it's all spelled out for me. The reveals are too obvious, and the manipulations less than subtle. They could have done SO MUCH MORE with this story arc, with these issues, but they didn't.

Now, I'm not unsucked in. I'm absolutely going to be waiting with anticipation for volume 3 (and four, and five, and...) but I'm definitely hoping that in the next set of issues I have a little bit less telling going on. Show me the stuff that's happening, and let me draw conclusions myself.

Maybe I'm a little bit too hard on it-- in their defense, when a person has to wait 2 months for the next issue, they probably don't really remember everything in detail from the last one, so maybe they have to be more obvious so that you can follow the arc. But at the same time, I feel like that's a weak excuse, because if you do your job right as a writer, the reader is going to remember! Especially if they're used to the system.

this is a really long post.
But I think that's okay, since I'm pretty sure I'm the only person reading at the moment.

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