Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Failure... Death... Rebirth!

Yikes! In Parts 1 and 2 of Thor's struggle against the overwhelming power of the Celestials, the Thunder God was last seen piercing the armor of the massive form of Exitar*, the Exterminator, in an effort to reach its incredible mind and destroy it. Now, as we pick things up in the third and final installment to this story, Thor resolves to fight to the bitter end--bereft of his enchanted hammer and facing insurmountable odds, as the planet he fights for faces the imminent judgment of beings that have decreed its death!

(*If writer Tom DeFalco is going to go the alliteration route with this Celestial's name, I might have substituted "Extar," instead. Perhaps a little too obvious, in conjunction with his name's modifier; but the new name would no longer sound like this being's primary purpose is to take his leave.)

On the planet Pangoria, Thor has again encountered the aliens who once sought to pass judgment on Earth, convinced to depart only through intervention which offered them living examples of humanity's potential. There is no such saving grace on Pangoria, now that the Celestials have already begun the process of carrying out their decree--starting with encircling the planet with an energy barrier which prevents its inhabitants from fleeing their fate. An act which Pegas, the ruthless pirate who has usurped control of Pangoria and denied ship passage to those unfortunates who cannot meet his boarding price, seeks to bypass in order to save his own selfish life.

And what of Thor? The last we saw of him, he was under attack by a swarm of humanoids following the destruction of his hammer, Mjolnir--preventing him from approaching his target and completing his desperate task. Things indeed look hopeless--but try telling that to the raging god who refuses to fall, no matter how many foes are set against him. The battle is on!

Few beings talk as good a fight as an Asgardian, and that surely goes double for the God of Thunder. But Thor is savvy enough to realize that, without the power of his hammer, his moments of resistance are numbered--in this case, outnumbered. (Apparently those one or two times where we've seen Thor employ the power of the storm without the use of his hammer have been consigned to the dust bin of the Silver Age.) He also knows that he only has to make it to his goal in order to hopefully bring this fight to an abrupt end--and if Asgardians are prone to adrenaline surges like the rest of us, surely this would be the moment to take advantage of it.

This time, Exitar reacts noticeably, as Pegas's fleet of attack ships continues to buzz ineffectively about its head in futile assaults--while within, Thor is subjected to intense examination, until, finally, he is ejected by his foe. Whether it's to rid Exitar of a potential danger or a nuisance (or both) is anyone's guess.

While the woman called Myla sees to Thor (as well as to her abandoned young charges), the fatal moment finally arrives when Exitar, acting in concert with Arishem, carries out the fate of Pangoria. Even at this moment, DeFalco maintains that this fate is a "decree of death," which is about as self-explanatory as you can get--but we're about to see that, for the Celestials, the term carries much more meaning than meets the eye (or the dictionary). Death surely comes for select residents of Pangoria, make no mistake--but what also arrives is new life, not only for the planet but also, unexpectedly, for its survivors. (You can probably guess which camp Pegas and his men fall into.) It's an almost wondrous development that Thor was not expecting, on the heels of his admitted failure to defend Pangoria and its people.

It's the first time that the Celestials have deigned to communicate with Thor, if indirectly (if you're not counting the Eternals, who acted more as informal interpreters for the space gods), giving us our clearest indication yet of their purpose--or, at least, one of their purposes, if we presume that not every world is treated thus. Either way, it's made disturbingly clear to Thor that the standards by which they judge other races require neither his understanding nor his consent, standards which are bottom-lined by a very subjective term--"worthiness." As shocked as we may be at seeing that level of arrogant presumption deployed on a planetary level, deciding the life or death of other species from countless worlds, consider that the Celestials are not alone in enacting such judgments. For example, Odin himself has pronounced judgment or made decisions which take into account the worthiness of others, ranging from one person, to a group, to an entire race (as was the case with the race of beings who created Mangog); in fact, you have only to look at the inscription on Thor's hammer to get an idea of Odin's employment of worthiness as a measure of the fate of another.

And speaking of mighty Mjolnir, are its days of summoning the storm and being hurled toward the enemies of justice over and done with? Itself reduced to bits and pieces that Thor has carefully collected into a sack? Such an undignified end for the enchanted hammer is not to be, as it seems that even the Celestials have come to respect it--and with the bolt of power that bursts forth from the replicoid, Thor finds his hammer restored to him, and more.

With this story, we now have an interesting angle to consider to future encounters with the Celestials, one which certainly casts a new light on Thor #300, where the Celestials were ready to render their judgment of Earth. If Arishem's palm formula for the fate of Earth had been similar to that which was produced for Pangoria, would Thor have been as at ease as he appears to be at the close of this adventure? Would he have been as accepting of the Celestials' judgment of "purification," discovering that a portion of Earth's population (perhaps even a majority) had been wiped out, leaving only those an alien race deemed worthy of survival? And if the circumstances for Earth were not similar, what would a thumbs-down judgment from the Celestials have entailed? Interesting subjects for Thor to ponder, and perhaps he might reflect on the matter some day--but the Celestials have rendered their judgment, and Thor has overstayed his welcome, whether he agrees with that assessment or not.

In hindsight, one can't help but reflect on the parallels between this tale and Odin's own judgment of Galactus, a being who also destroys life on a planetary scale but does so solely for the sake of survival. Galactus makes no provisions at all for a planet's inhabitants, being totally "indifferent to their fate," to quote his own words; yet Odin judged that he should allowed to continue as he had been, with no interference. When it came to the Celestials, however, Odin deemed them to be a deadly threat to Earth without any investigation whatsoever, and immediately attempted to strike them down--and, failing at that, began to plan for their eventual return in order to make another attempt to destroy them. Why the distinction? If Galactus returned to Earth and planned to render it lifeless, would Odin move against him? In Odin's eyes, the Celestials are not worthy of continued existence--while the Celestials apply their own such standards to determine such worthiness in others. There's a compelling tale waiting to be told in there somewhere.

Mighty Thor #389

Script: Tom DeFalco
Pencils: Ron Frenz
Inks: Brett Breeding
Letterer: John Workman

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