Pagan themes have been a ready source of inspiration for popular culture for decades, providing mythic heroes, sinister occultists, and enduring symbols in every genre of entertainment. But rarely has any inspiration been so widely used and so widely misunderstood. Join us for thoughts, criticism, and commentary on the intersection of Paganism and popular culture.
Me and That Thor (Part 1)
Ten days ago, I finished a long and occasionally arduous journey deep into the heart of nerdom: I finally read every issue of Marvel's THOR and its sister comic, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, published since the character came back in 2007.*
Between here and there, there have been about 60 issues of the main Thor book, plus 37 issues of Journey into Mystery, plus assorted one-shorts and miniseries. (I'll confess, I haven't read every single one of the one-shots, mainly because Marvel released a ton of them around the time the movie came out and I'm sorting out what's what. If I stumble onto any gems, I'll let you know.) That's a lot of comics - Gods bless the iPad, without which I doubt I ever would have taken up the project.
If you like superhero comics... Well, it's actually hard to tell, exactly, how well you will enjoy this particular era of the character. The 2007 Thor relaunch emphasized the fantasy side of the series as opposed to the super-heroing; most of the time, when the series goes towards superheroics, it falls a little flat. The best parts, for me, evoke a wonderful feeling of magical realism, the mixing of the mundane and the fantastic, the holy and the comedic.
The story of the book, at least up until the recent Marvel NOW! re-relaunch, is that Thor, returned from a state of nonexistence, rebuilds the city of Asgard in a field outside of Broxton, Oklahoma. Why Broxton? Who knows - nobody ever really asks Thor why he chose that area. Maybe it's because of the Heavener Runestone, though Broxton is pretty far west of there...
From that premise spins tales of comedy (the farmer who owns the field Asgard was built in comes by, asking for compensation; he's last seen speeding away with the bed of his truck literally overflowing in gold) and tragedy (one of the townsfolk falls in love with a demigoddess, with the usual results of such a romance.) All the usual touchstones are there: scheming Loki, and uproarious Volstagg, and noble Thor.
I fell for the story of Asgard and Broxton immediately: it's one of the most original, and beautiful, ideas to come out of Marvel in years. The mortal and the immortal live side by side; the gods were gone, but now they have returned. What does that remind me of?
While reading these comics, I found myself thinking about something that inalienably true about my life and my faith: the fact is, I am bound up with this character from the funnybooks, this character who is, in so many ways, not at all like Thor of the myths. This character - the Thor Stan Lee and Jack Kirby invented in 1962 - is a part of my spiritual make-up. I am certain that I came to Asatru because The Mighty Thor was one of my favorite comic books while I was growing up; the hammer pendant I wear every day comes as much from Marvel's Thor as the mythic one.
That can be an uncomfortable thing to think about - indeed, that was much the point of an earlier essay of mine, Valhal-Mart. This line, in particular, stuck out to many who read the essay:
"The truth is, I looked at the toys in my hands and I saw the result of millions of dollars of development and thousands of hours of manpower, put into something bearing the name of a god, my god, and it had nothing to do with me."
I'm thinking of the wonder I've felt reading these comics over the past few months, and I'm not sure how true that sentence really is. No, Marvel doesn't give a damn about me, or anyone who actually worships the god Asa-Thor. But this does have something to do with me. It would be an exercise in willful ignorance to claim anything else.
This will be part of a series of posts - probably three, perhaps more - exploring the complicated relationship of pop culture's Thor and modern Paganism. In the next installment, I'll be discussing the ways the comics Thor has influenced my relationship with Asa-Thor, and seeing just how deep that well goes. (Anyone who knows about Asgardian wells knows the answer to that: a long, long way down.)
*For the uninitiated: Marvel canceled the Thor comic in 2004 and erased all the Asgardian characters from the Marvel universe, signaling - to me, anyway - that they considered such fantastic beings unsuited to their "darker, more realistic" style. It was a big part of why I quit reading superhero comics altogether for several years.
**In the span of six years, Thor's numbering has been changed four times: Vol. 3, #1 in 2007; then restoring the Vol. 1 numbering for #600 in 2009; then restarting at Vol. 4 #1 in 2011; then becoming Thor: God of Thunder with a new #1 in 2012. Finding a particular issue from this series on Comixology is an exercise in madness.
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