Thursday, November 21, 2013

Crisis Of Faith

Some of the most intriguing stories of Thor involve situations where his so-called "godhood" is called into question by the contemporary mortals he interacts with. Most of the time, Thor is diplomatic and side-steps the issue tactfully; he certainly doesn't respond by saying that he deserves the mortals' devotion and worship. Still, imagine calling yourself a god but maintaining that you're making no claim to divinity.

The long and short answer to Thor's situation, of course, is that once, long ago, the Asgardians (like the Olympians) did indeed seek worship from mortal followers, and brazenly so (see Thor Annual #5 for writer Steve Englehart's take on the issue)--yet, again like the Olympians, the Asgardians' time intertwined with mortals passed, and they withdrew to their own affairs. Had Thor not been shifted to mortal form by Odin in order to learn humility amongst mortals, he might well have returned to Earth expecting more appropriate treatment in terms of obeisance and homage, as opposed to merely setting an example and protecting them without thought of recompense. And yet, Thor still boldly and often touts the word "god" when referring to himself, and makes no secret of the fact that he considers his station well above mortals.

In other words, Thor wants no special treatment from the mortals he fights for and protects. Recognition, however, is another matter.

So it's no wonder that mortals are often curious about hearing Thor explain himself as to why he regards himself as a god--what he means by it. And the issue is revisited dramatically when a mortal who calls himself the Crusader comes after Thor with a vengeance, labelling his presumption of godhood blasphemy. Arthur Blackwood, a disillusioned seminary student unhappy with the passive nature of his training, starts on his more bloodthirsty path to serving God as the Crusader by ironically breaking with the church:

Blackwood then visits his father's grave, where he's confronted by shaming visions which spur him to become much more than he is:

I'm not sure why some people visit cemeteries in the dead of night to pay their respects. Don't they know that there's a very good chance you could become a super-villain?

And so the Crusader is born. And it looks like Thor will be his baptism of fire.

As for Thor, he experiences something of a crisis of faith when he saves a young woman from a deadly fall and discovers she's part of a cult of Thor followers. Afterward, he's interviewd by a member of the media, yet he becomes uncomfortable with her line of questioning:

Tsk, tsk--you can fly, Thor, but you can't hide. With the news coverage comes a focus on the issue, predictably from many perspectives of public opinion--and at a ceremony where the mayor of Chicago is handing Thor the keys to the city, Thor's supporters as well as his worshippers are in attendance. But his detractors are also well represented:

But everyone, including Thor, is surprised by the loud challenge of the man called the Crusader:

Before descending to face the Thunder God, the Crusader incites both sides of the crowd to anger, setting them against one another as well as gaining many supporters of his own. And when he descends to street level to take on Thor, his opponent finds to his dismay that he doesn't have the overwhelming support that he's accustomed to from the mortals. Surprisingly, he also finds that the Crusader isn't so easily subdued:

It's then that the Crusader takes it up a notch. And the battle takes a decidedly deadly turn:

Thor again seeks to end the battle, but this time much more forcefully. Yet he seems completely caught off guard by both the Crusader's fervor as well as his disturbing words:

From there, the battle goes downhill for Thor, who's now fighting for his life:

Game and set to the Crusader. But before he can take the match, the lady Sif arrives to spirit Thor away to Asgard, though not before giving the Crusader a deadly warning that she'll be back to settle his ass. Still, that's not going to stop the Crusader from taking his victory lap:

Meanwhile, in Asgard, Odin has healed Thor's wounds--and, just as in the Annual, he reiterates the Asgardians' role vis-à-vis the present-day mortals of Earth, only this time in the context of Thor's recent exposure to new worshippers:

So when the Thunder God returns to confront the Crusader once more, he has his head on straight with his godhood once again held in check, giving him pride in himself and his heritage but not the need for deference:

And while the Crusader fights with his usual fierceness and determination, fully confident in his calling, his opponent is now equally self-assured. But as the battle plays out, it becomes clear that Thor now fights for something different than when he fought before, where the Crusader is only armed with misplaced vengeance:

Finally, as the Crusader heads to the ER and the crowd disperses, Thor has a moment of closure with the young woman who put his crisis of faith in motion. And he finds the issue isn't nearly so difficult to navigate as he'd thought:

The two-issue Crusader encounter is an interesting take by writer Alan Zelenetz on the question mark of Thor's godhood, though I doubt it was meant to redefine the character's attitude or self-image. After all, some of the most enjoyable stories of Thor are ones where he faces an uphill battle against an overwhelming foe, and then spikes the drama off the scale by declaring that he has the power of a god and subsequently going on to victory. That's sheer pride talking, not humility--and it could have won this fight with the Crusader, as well, had Thor not been so conflicted about just what he expected from that mantle of godhood.

Mighty Thor #s 330-331

Script: Alan Zelenetz
Pencils: Bob Hall
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Janice Chiang

1 comment:

B Smith said...

This story makes an ideal follow-up to those two or three issues of The Avengers, around #147 - 149, where Moondragon asserts that Thor is in effect slumming when he fights alongside the Avengers, and he realises that he's been holding himself back all these years.