Plot as Engine: By the Hammer of …

This post is going to be pretty spoiler-ridden regarding Thor comics over the last several years.

Let’s just skip the movie for a moment and talk about the revitalized Thor comic. J. Michael Straczynski brought Thor back a few years ago, deftly displaying that he gets what makes mythological characters tick.

After a few necessary developments to bring Asgard back from Ragnorak, and cleverly dropping it in my home state of Oklahoma, Straczynski got on with the nifty plot twists: Loki’s return, his clever means of getting the more dubious Asgardians back on their feet, and his manipulation of time and Thor to put Balder on the throne were great reading.

We’ve moved on to other writers (most notably the talented Kieron Gillen) and seen combat and horror as Marvel’s Siege crossover centered on Asgard. After Siege we had a great trip to hell and a battle for the dead Asgardians’ very souls. Then came the most recent volume, the Worldeaters, and I felt like the series lost some steam.
Odin’s return and his reclamation of the throne from Balder felt forced. The status quo was largely reset to how things were before Ragnorak, and yet some excellent new ground was cleared and seeds sown for fresh stories.

I’m still reading as Thor once again became Journey into Mystery, and back to loving the scale and scope of the stories, but let’s focus on the bad for a moment. To set up some conflict in the next crossover, Marvel needed Thor, Odin and Asgard in certain positions to race them towards the next big event. The result will no doubt be compelling, but for a moment, the hood came up and we saw the gears of the plot moving.

It happens often. Sometimes plot necessitates a loss of story. Characters make a decision that feels disingenuous or unnatural for them. I don’t mean an act that forces them to go against their nature, which can be an important moment in their development, I mean a choice freely made. When it happens you recognize that the writer is manipulating things to bring about a certain outcome. The best analogy I can think of is watching a play. Rather than having the curtain go down for the stage to be rearranged, you catch the stage workers in the act. They intrude into the scene and start moving furniture while the curtain is still up. Your focus shifts entirely to them. Plot is an essential mechanic. Even the most literary book needs motion, for something to happen, but at the same time, obvious rearrangement and changes for the sake of the plot can throw the reader out of the story. It takes a careful hand to shoehorn in a game changing plot event in so short a medium as comics.

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