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“Thor Has His Doubts About This One..” COMICS! Sometimes It’s Gruff In The Age of Mjolinir!

John Kane

Here’s some words about a comic with Thor in. Do with them what thou wilt.

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Anyway, this…

THOR: VIKINGS #1 – 4
Art by Glen Fabry
Written by Garth Ennis
Coloured by Paul Mounts
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
MARVEL, $3.50ea (2003)
Thor created by Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber,  Stan Lee and the people of Norway
Dr. Strange created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee

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This 2003 limited series features the popular and girlishly tonsured hero Thor versus zombie Vikings. It is set in the Marvel MAX universe and is written by Comics’ toughest shave, Mr. Garth Ennis. Surprisingly Garth Ennis isn’t the star here and nor is Thor; the real star of this series is the genially grotesque art of Glenn Fabry. For a MAX series about Thor versus zombie Vikings in New York City the whole affair is relatively restrained. Particularly on the part of Garth Ennis. Quite possibly in deference to the real-life events of 11th September 2001; an event towards which eyes are obliquely lowered towards at a couple of points on these pages. While there’s some playful undercutting of the usual conventions of super hero comics (The Avengers get a royal battering; Thor is swiftly shunted to the sidelines) Ennis never really lays into the superhero concept as is his wont. He certainly doesn’t do that bullying overkill thing where it becomes less like reading a comic and more like watching a drunk squaddie man-dance on a student’s neck in a pub car park come closing time. The reason, I think, being Ennis just isn’t that interested in Thor;Thor’s not worth it. To the extent that it doesn’t really read like a Garth Ennis Thor story at all. It reads like a Garth Ennis story that happens to have Thor in it.

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The generic set up’s the give-away; all that’s required is a titular hero you can blindside the reader by immediately side-lining, a chippy wizard who does all the work and a city of Enormous Symbolic Importance. So here we have Thor, Dr. Strange and New York City but it would have worked as well with Judge Dredd, Devlin Waugh and Mega City One or Superman, John Constantine and Metropolis. Sure, you’d need to shorten the hem and let out the waist a bit in each case but the set up would basically be a snug fit. Because this is a Thor comic here we have Thor and (seriously) Ennis isn’t really interested in Thor so Goldilocks gets a good hiding in short order from the zombie Vikings. Dr Strange (who Ennis isn’t interested in either even though he gets all the best lines) kisses the be-banged one’s boo boos better and gets the plot moving and hustles us into the bit Ennis is interested in. See, to battle the zombie Vikings (a very English sounding) Dr. Strange plucks three people from the time stream (amusingly visualised as a stream of Time) and it’s these which allow Ennis to play with his favourite toys. Selected for the First Team are a lady Viking (woman are as good as men at the worst men can do. Violence, I’m talking about violence there); a Python-esquely single minded Crusader (Religion; not the top of Garth’s Pops so rumour has it) and a Good German (if Garth Ennis has a dog I bet it’s called “Erwin”).

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This bunch fight the Vikings while Ennis backs Thor into a ridiculously confined corner and then just shrugs and, metaphorically, has Thor turn round and open the door which was behind him all the time. It isn’t exactly tightly plotted is what I’m getting at there. It is, however, fast-paced, absurd and wryly inventive in its scenes of horror and violence; but best of all it is gifted with an artist who can do Ennis’ ridiculous flights of fancy justice;Glen Fabry.

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Of course Fabry and Ennis have previous form; Fabry provided painted covers to Ennis and Steve Dillon’s popular series about the undeclared homosexual love between a vampire and a virile idiot. Preacher, I’m talking about Preacher there. They’ve worked together since then (e.g. The Authority: Kev); enough so to suggest that Ennis has geared this script to the tastes of his artist. Glen Fabry’s wonderful art first lunged off the page at me in 1985 when he started illuminating Pat Mills’ Slaine series in 2000AD. Unlike his Preacher covers his art there was B&W linework and the subject matter of Celtic barbarians soon made him a dab hand at drawing the underdressed enthusiastically hacking away at each other. This comes in very handy here as his zombie Vikings have a physical solidity and air of authenticity which make the ridiculous concept peculiarly plausible. The early scenes where the Vikings are behaving badly in their own time are highly convincing but it’s when the magically animated anachronistic dead start acting up in NYC that the art becomes most captivating, and the appeal of Fabry’s skills become most apparent.

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The credibility Fabry’s detailed art has given the time shifted terrors in the earlier pages is carried straight-facedly into the more modern milieu in which they massacre like massacre’s are going out of fashion. The hard won visual integrity of these impossible figures allows Fabry to pull off the frankly preposterous demands of Ennis’ imaginative, but cursorily plotted, script. Severed heads piled so high they block a street; Fabry’s the man with his rubbery mugs which flinch just short of caricature. A dogfight between a levitating longboat and the last of the Luftwaffe in the sky alleys of the Big Apple; Fabry’s the fella with his melding of research and chutzpah.

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While Fabry’s art is grounded in realism there’s an amiability about it which lends it a degree of flexibility. It’s more cordial than the chill of po-faced photorealism and this openness allows his art to embrace unreality just enough to make the impossible, well, probable at least. In its attention to detail Fabry’s art is very similar to the art of another talented 2000AD alumnus, Chris Weston. If Weston’s clench jawed and detail dense art were on muscle relaxants. Of the Old School Fabry’s art harks back to Hogarth (Burne not William; the 1700s is a bit too Old School, cheeky) both of them sharing a preoccupation with anatomy but Fabry’s figures are more placidly posed than Hogarth’s often frenetic excess in this area. It is of course excessive indeed to place skills of Fabry’s calibre in the service of, um, Thor versus zombie Vikings in the MAX universe. But then there’s little point to Thor versus zombie Vikings in the MAX universe other than the excess, which I guess is why Fabry’s art elevates a sloppy but fun wisp of a thing to GOOD!

Thor versus zombie vikings in modern day New York is very much – COMICS!!!

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