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I Came, I Thor, I Conquered: The Strange Postcolonial Politics of the Thor Trilogy…

The Thor franchise has never been particularly consistent.

Compared to the Iron Man or Captain America films, the three Thor films have lacked a clear sense of unity or direction. Part of this is down to the lack of a singular creative vision across multiple films in the trilogy. Jon Favreau provided a very clear statement of purpose when he worked on the first two Iron Man films, a loose improvisational style tailored around the personality of Robert Downey Jnr. The Russo brothers ensured that Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War were of a piece with one another, pseudo-political action movies.

In contrast, the Thor franchise has always felt like the runt of the litter. The first film in the series was directed by Kenneth Branagh, and bristles with the excitement of getting to play in the comic book world of grand language and bright colours. Branagh pitches Thor as the most classic superhero movie; he borrows the Dutch angles from Batman! and the bright aesthetic from Superman. In many ways, Thor is the most undervalued film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, perhaps the best distillation of the company’s formula applied to the character best suited to it.

Branagh did not return for the sequel, Thor: The Dark World. Marvel initially hired Patty Jenkins, but that fell through due to creative differences. Jenkins would demonstrate her ability to direct mythology-themed superhero action with Wonder Woman, but Marvel replaced her with Alan Taylor. Taylor was a television director, and by all accounts was treated as such by the studio. The film ended up an overstuffed tonal mess, often feeling like a half-hearted (and confused) imitation of the wave of “prestige-tinted blockbusters” that were popular at the time.

The failure of the sequel would lead to a significant delay between the second and third films in the series, not to mention a complete change of direction. The third film in the trilogy, Thor: Ragnarok, would be directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi. Waititi was a comedy director best known for his work on What We Do in the Shadows and The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, who pitched the film as a superhero version of Withnail & I. The result was a film that felt utterly unlike either of the two earlier entries, even sending its title character out into deep space.

As such, the Thor films all exist at odds with one another. There is no consistent throughline to the series. The setting, the tone, the quality, the narrative focus; all of these elements change from one film to the next. The title character is introduced in Thor when he gets hit by a van, can become an inter-dimensional peacekeeper in The Dark World, and wield ray guns and steal space ships in Ragnarok. Attempting to impose structure or consistency upon the Thor films is an act of madness, one compounded when trying to integrate them into The Avengers or Avengers: Age of Ultron.

And yet, in spite of all of this, there are small themes and ideas that simmer through the three films in the franchise, recurring fascinations. In particular, the Thor trilogy is particularly fascinated with the idea of empire. In shifting away from the idea of Asgardians as literal gods or living stories, the franchise instead settled on the notion of Asgard as an imperial power tasked with bringing order to “the nine worlds.” With its magnificent spires, idyllic surroundings, exaggerated British accents, the Thor movies return time and time again to the idea of Asgard’s golden throne as the seat of empire.

Each of the Thor movies approach this idea in different ways, but they all play with the question of imperial legacy in a manner that is arguably more political than anything in The Winter Soldier or Civil War.

Note: This post contains spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok. Continue at your own risk.

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Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery – Fear Itself (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Whatever about the quality of big “event” comics like Secret Invasion or Fear Itself, they typically serve as the launching pad for a variety of new series. Using the sales power of a tie-in to a big event, comic book publishers are more likely to convince readers to try something a bit new or a little outside the norm. It doesn’t always work, but – if used cleverly – these tie-ins can serve to draw attention to low-key books that might otherwise be flying under the radar. Or, you know, “Loki books.”

Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery is a contemporary classic. Even if one is unsatisfied with Fear Itself – and I’m quite fond of it, to be honest – Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery is enough to justify that juggernaut of an event.

Ghosts of gods of mischief past...

Ghosts of gods of mischief past…

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Avengers: Season One by Peter David et al (Review)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

What exactly is the point of Marvel’s Season One initiative? Is it to update the origins of classic superheroes to make them accessible to modern and casual audiences? Is it to re-tell familiar stories just with modern touches like Facebook and iPhone references? Is it to dance between the rain drops and package an adventure from the early days of our heroes’ careers without disrupting established continuity? Is it an attempt to reach beyond the core comic book audience? Is it an attempt to package some material for feature film adaptation?

It’ hard to know. Marvel has made some nods towards accessibility in recent years, but all too often these feel more like sales gimmicks than genuine attempts to court new readers. Written by comic book superstar (and successful novelist in his own right) Peter David, Avengers: Season One should be something of a slam dunk. It’s a book featuring characters from a multi-billion dollar movie franchise, in a stand-alone graphic novel, with a slew of great writers and untethered to serialised long-form storytelling.

Unfortunately, Avengers: Season One winds up feeling like a mess.

Here come the heroes...

Here come the heroes…

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Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s Thor – The Might Thor Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

I am a massive fan of The Mighty Thor. There’s just something so clever and playful about the idea of a classic Norse deity reimagined as a Marvel superhero, a self-aware take on the whole “modern myth” approach to American comic book storytelling that it’s hard not to love. Indeed, I would rank portions of Lee and Kirby’s work on Thor among the best of their output from the Silver Age, a truly epic large-scale epic fantasy narrative that isn’t anchored or tethered to any limitations beyond the imaginations of those working on it.

While The Fantastic Four is a lot more consistent and a lot more important in the grand scheme of comic book history, Thor is a bit rockier. It took Lee and Kirby a considerable amount of time to find their creative voice on Thor – a difficulty compounded by the fact that heavy work loads on other Marvel often forced the duo to delegate the early issues of the book to other writers and artists. As a result, this mammoth tome of Thor serves more as a learning curve, building towards a point where the duo will have figured out quite how to tell compelling and exciting stories featuring the God of Thunders.

Taking the hammer for a spin...

Taking the hammer for a spin…

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Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Don Heck’s Avengers – Avengers Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

It’s always fascinating to go back and read the original sixties Marvel comic books, to get a sense of just how influential or informative they were on the generations of writers and artists who followed. While it’s not quite as spectacular a mess as The Incredible Hulk or The X-Men, I’ll admit that I never entirely warmed to the classic version of The Avengers. I like select stories – Roy Thomas’ Kree-Skrull War, Starlin’s Infinity trilogy – but, as a whole, these classic Avengers comics never really grabbed me.

Don’t get me wrong. These are massively iconic and influential books, and they’re well constructed, laying down a blueprint for decades of adventures to follow. There’s a sense of wry self-awareness here, and there’s no denying that these are vitally important classic superhero comics books. However, I could just never bring myself to love them.

Holding it all together...

Holding it all together…

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Watch! New Thor: The Dark World Trailer!

I’m looking forward to Thor: The Dark World, if only because (somewhat controversially) I think that Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is the best of Marvel Studios’ films to date. Branagh isn’t back directing, but I’m always a sucker for high-concept fantasy and a wonderful cast. From the looks of it, Thor: The Dark World is really cashing in on this year’s hip new cinematic trend: destroying London. It joins Red 2, The Fast and the Furious 6, Star Trek: Into Darkness, among others, in laying waste to the capital.

The Dark World features returning performers Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins, which is reason enough to watch. Add in Christopher Eccleston and I’m intrigued.

Anyway, the traielr is below. Check it out.

Watch! Thor: The Dark World Trailer!

Look! It’s Great Britain! Isn’t that so fantastical and surreal, arguably as strange as any of the nine worlds?

The first teaser for Thor: The Dark World has arrived. I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little disappointed. I’ve made no secret that I think that Branagh’s Thor is the best of the films Marvel has produced, and I’m wary of trying to use some television directors to offer a large-scale fantasy. Still, while the trailer seems a bit jumpy and jumbled, there are some nice things. I like that Asgard seems to be getting its design tips from S.H.I.E.L.D. and that they seem to have taken some trouble to ensure Loki will feel right at home in a whited-out holding cell. And Anthony Hopkins’ narration is as wonderful as ever.

Anyway, check out the trailer and let me know what you think.