My Misspent Youth — Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

I get that Chris Hemsworth (with a key, late-breaking assist from director Taika Waititi) has made Thor one of the most beloved cut-ups on the big screen, but it’s worth appreciating the degree of difficulty in that task. Although the God of Thunder enjoyed a handful of exemplary runs by simpatico creators in the comics, most of the stories across his long history are dense, unwieldy lutefisk soufflés of faux Shakespearean dialogue, half-remembered Norse mythology, and C-list supervillains. Thor seemed a mighty implausible figure to be the third superhero to headline a movie during the long dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Then again, about a year before the first film appearance of Thor (and just a couple months after that debut was heralded by a the sight of a hammer at the bottom of a crater), writer Roger Langridge and artist Chris Samnee teamed to show just how charming, bright, and accessible Thor comics could actually be.

Thor: The Mighty Avenger was part of Marvel’s sporadic, haphazard effort to publish titles featuring their characters of rapidly mounting fame that free of the complicated decades of continuity sure to flummox novice readers who might find their way into a comic shop still dazed into enticement by projected blockbusters. The Mighty Avenger subtitle itself is a little tipoff that an eventual collection could be hustled right at newcomers who had only a handful of movie adventures as background context. The basic plot, too, fit right in with the way Thor would be handled in the MCU: He is cast off to Earth with the barest recollection of how her got there and with a humble beauty named Jane Foster as his smitten guide to the strange mores of mere mortals.

Like all of the undervalued creators who move in an out through the revolving doors of Marvel Comics, Langridge demonstrates a clear and abiding love of the fantastical comics of yore. Without wallowing in nostalgia, Langridge routinely exploits all the well-established chracter dynamics that animates years and years of issues, finding inventive ways to recycle the familiar. I sometimes compare the ongoing storylines of Marvel Comics, especially in its heyday, to soap operas. In his approach on Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Langridge shows how classic sitcoms are maybe a more apt comparison. It’s not only the gift for a punchline that Langridge brings to the proceedings (aided immeasurably in this by Samnee’s vivid, expressive artwork), but more the ability to mix and match established characters and story elements, creating the illusions of big change and bold narrative strokes while keeping everything tethered to the foundational elements. No matter how wild it gets, there’s a strong sense it will all be back to normal by the opening splash page of the next issue, Thor again ready to be valiant, Loki prepared for new trickster mischief that his brother can’t quite see through.

Langridge and Samnee also bring in other characters from Marvel lore, taking full advantage of the fervent fluidity of the Marvel mythos. Many favorite supporting players from Asgard enter panel left, as do tumbling ruffian antagonists. And, continuing the long traditional of sensational guest stars, Thor regularly encounters other Avengers and super-powered do-gooders, such as Giant Man, the winsome Wasp, and the Sub-Mariner. Mostly, though, the comic series is about Thor and Jane. It’s part rom-com and and part star-crossed drama. All the way through, the storyline makes it clear that Jane is more than a hollowed-out love interest. She has a sense of self and purpose that provides a welcome dose of humanity amidst the physics-taunting feats.

Helplessly and somewhat regretfully, I am fascinated by what Marvel’s movie maestros choose to carry over and discard from the wealth of panel-to-panel printed pulse-pounders to get to rummage through when shaping every new script. From the moment I read it — and ever since through the good and bad of Thor’s screen outings — I felt Langridge and Samnee’s comic held a magic that could work wonders if translated wisely. That conviction has only strengthened in recent years, as the post–Infinity War inclination towards fan-service spectacle has too often overwhelmed the material. The winning innovation of Thor: The Mighty Avenger, the thing that indeed elevates over most of the character’s comics before and, as far as I’m concerns, all of them since, is that it truly considers what it would be like if a demigod found himself hunkered down with regular people, one notably kind-hearted person in particular, and let himself be changed by seeing the better part of himself reflected in their understanding eyes.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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