Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"If He Be Worthy..."

The year is 2170, and the Midgardian city known as New Asgard is under siege--with the Asgardians themselves in danger of being slaughtered to a man by Desak, whose life's mission is to purge the universe of those who think of themselves as gods and liberate their helpless mortal subjects who toil on their behalf and struggle to fulfill their whims and perform their will. Since establishing their presence permanently on Earth, Thor and the Asgardians have given the world's mortal population the illusion of freedom and self-determination, yet forcing the guidance of the gods upon them--prohibiting religious worship, certain vocations, and any activity which Thor feels would lead them down the path once again to irresponsibility, violence, poverty, and oppression. In the process, Thor has lost sight of the good intentions which he began with, becoming convinced over time that mankind would not survive as a race without acting as their arbitrator regarding their choices and decisions.

In other words, the Asgardians have become textbook examples of the sort of gods that Desak has sworn to destroy. And on this day--perhaps the last day of their existence--it's become clear that, for all his power, Thor and those who fight by his side may be incapable of stopping the onslaught of this god destroyer.

Yet the unknowing architect of Desak's creation has been Thor's half-brother, Loki, who has reveled in Thor's iron grip on Midgard and its mortals and who feared the ultimate rise of Tarene--the young girl who was destined to become the Designate, a being who would one day take the human race to its ultimate evolution. Unjustly imprisoned in a hidden sarcophagus, Tarene reached out across time to the past and eventually found Desak, bitter at the sacrifices demanded of his own world's gods and all too willing to accept the mantle of wiping such gods from existence--with Tarene knowing that Desak's path would eventually bring him to New Asgard.

Yet during this devastating attack, where it became clear that Desak was capable of seeing to their extinction, Loki unleashed the power of the Destroyer, an armored creation of Odin's designed to defend Earth against a future threat. We know in hindsight that the Destroyer's target turned out to be the Celestials--but one can only wonder if the future actions of Thor himself might have also been a consideration while Odin was conversing with Mimir at his flaming well.

And the Destroyer indeed proved to be a formidable threat against Desak, before he discovered that Loki had used the life force of Tarene, her body still hidden in her crypt, to empower his armored foe. Freeing her, Desak then adapted parts of the Destroyer's armor to himself, becoming even deadlier than before. And as far as Desak is concerned, Loki's words have virtually signed the Asgardians' death warrant.

The situation now seems hopeless, as Desak, overseen by the one who maintains his safety, returns to laying waste to Asgard and slaying those who still defend it. But for Thor, he finds clarity at last in the words and actions of the one person who has been his most staunch ally and supporter--Loki, who is at the point of grasping any straw in taking desperate action to prevent what appears to be certain death for all of them. To any other Asgardian, Loki's advice to Thor would be the mantra of the day: Attack! Kill the invaders! But in Loki's stinging words, Thor also hears a perspective on his own actions to date which, coming from a god who has been known to be both vile and evil, registers with him this time instead of being dismissed out of hand.

And by recognizing the truth, and resolving to do what he can to set things right, Thor is able to reclaim an object which will meet the threat of Desak and deliver the judgment of the Lord of Asgard.

And so Desak at last falls--only this time, Tarene will not come to his aid, for she sees at last remorse and, yes, worthiness in Thor, combined with the need he feels to set things right. (It also probably doesn't hurt that Loki has paid in full for his actions against her.) And the brief discussion that takes place between them appears to smooth out the rough edges in their relationship vis-à-vis her creation of Desak.

Tarene's explanation is all well and good as far as her role in the evolution of mortals is concerned, though it's surprising that Thor doesn't confront her with her complicity in the slaughter of countless races of gods who fell under Desak's axe, all judged guilty in his eyes whether or not that guilt was justified. She did create a monster, as Thor said--yet her own remorse is nonexistent. Not exactly someone you'd trust to tamper with mortal evolution.

But writer Dan Jurgens is having no recrimination of Tarene, the "Spirit of the Jewel" who escapes this affair without an ounce of accountability since she's been groomed to help Thor to see the error of his ways. Instead, it's all water under the bridge, as Thor makes use of her assistance in employing a device created by Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man, to locate and change a key moment in time that will both avoid Asgard's destruction and withdraw the Asgardian presence on Earth while there was still *ahem* time.  And in the process, he rectifies an important aspect of himself, the absence of which was a key factor in over 150 years of misjudgment.

It's interesting to note that the Thor run would come to an end very soon after the wrap-up of the "Gods and Men" story arc, with the "Thor Disassembled" storyline bringing us the final, accept-no-substitutes Ragnarok to close the series.  How odd, however, that in the future we've just seen, which lasts nearly 200 years past that point (and includes the death of Balder, which heralds the dreaded twilight of the gods), Ragnarok never comes to either the Asgard floating above New York City or New Asgard on Earth. Who knew that all it took to fend off Ragnarok was a change of venue?

The five-part "Gods and Men" story arc brings to a conclusion a two-year saga that lasted nearly thirty issues and raised some intriguing issues of just how far one should go in solving the world's ills if one has the power. Thor of course has found his own answer, but any of us in his place would have found ourselves faced with similar choices and moral dilemmas, even without the shadow of Asgard present to serve as a constant reminder of the blurring line between assistance and guidance. It's well worth the read (and a weighty one it is, should you choose to binge on the Thor Omnibus - Heroes Return, Vol. 2), which switches gears a number of times and provides a nice variety of artists and formats to keep it all interesting.

The Odin-power haunts Thor with the deaths of Balder, Captain America, and many others.

Thor #79 (581)

Script: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Scot Eaton
Inks: Drew Geraci
Letterer: Randy Gentile


Big Murr said...

We'll have to do the "agree to disagree" tango here.

I had quit (with great sadness) buying Thor long before this saga, but of course kept a hopeful eye out for any indications of fresh directions to make it worthwhile again. In the course of flipping thru a new issue at the store (with years of well-honed experience allowing me to get a basic sense of the quality but quickly enough not to arouse the ire of the store owner "This ain't a library!"), I was horrified when I wasn't utterly confused. All-Father Thor acting with all the cool wisdom and diplomacy of a drunken Viking. Takes advice from Loki?? Makes decisions that end up with dead Avengers?? Marries the Enchantress??
That's all ridiculously off the rails for Thor's established behaviour and history. I don't mind philosophical examinations of, in this case, use and abuse of power, but the characters have to stay in character.

Eventually, I came to understand this was a tediously long "What If" story arc and settled down to wait.

Maybe there are nuances and explanations I'm missing by not giving it all a panel-by-panel read, but I'm not inclined to put myself thru that misery to find out.

For my money, What if? #107 comes far closer to what would happen with "What if Thor became ruler of Asgard?". The story ain't perfect, and it's crushed in the brief one-issue constraint, but it feels far more plausible an outcome than the blood-drenched angst depicted in this saga.

Comicsfan said...

There are times when you can't judge an entire story by a covert flip-through, Murray. ;) What you've seen here is the climax of a very involved, and meticulously plotted, storyline that takes many if not all of the unexpected character twists you mention in turn and strings them together in a way that helps to present Thor's actions within a very structured context. (Though the development with the Enchantress doesn't really catch the reader off-guard, the foundation for it already having been laid well before now.) There were a number of such issues that I had to leave behind in an effort to make a concise post on the subject (though you'll find one or two other installments of this series elsewhere in the PPC)--self-contained gems that add a good deal to this quandary that the gods of Asgard must navigate by Thor's will and ultimately play a part in the decisions we've seen play out here. But to each his own, I say; after all, different impressions of a story are practically the cornerstone of Marvel's fan base. :)