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    Thor by Walter Simonson - Volume 1

    It doesn’t matter if you’re a deeply religious man or a recalcitrant atheist, writing about gods can’t be easy. Writing about ancient deities that most people are unfamiliar with is even harder. Somehow you must find a way to combine mythology with a cohesive and contemporary narrative that readers –atheists, believers or even agnostics– will find captivating. 

    Few authors have been able to understand Thor, to weave Nordic sagas with everyday life, to juxtapose divinity and humanity. In recent years, J M Straczynski accomplished this; and so did Walter Simonson 30 years ago. It all began with “Doom!”, published in The Mighty Thor # 337 (November, 1983). As a writer, penciler and inker Walter Simonson had one goal in mind: forever change the landscape of the Odinson. And the first task, of course, was to alter the status quo of the thunder god. 

    “Whosever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor” are not only words carved in Mjolnir –Thor’s hammer–, they are also an enchantment placed by the All-Father. For centuries, only Thor had been able to lift the powerful mallet, only Thor had been deemed worthy. Until now. Because the arrival of Beta Ray Bill –a tragic hero, a defender of a doomed race and a lonely and afflicted warrior– will change this. Beta Ray Bill fights against Thor as if the survival of his planet would depend on his victory. And triumph he does. After lifting Mjolnir he automatically acquires divine powers. And when Odin realizes that his son has been replaced by an otherworldly creature, he’s surprised, but at the same time admired: Beta Ray Bill’s strength and courage are a sign of a noble spirit. Eventually, the king of the gods and ruler of Asgard finds the fairest solution: he creates a new enchanted hammer, named Stormbreaker.  

    In this process, however, Thor loses the ability to return to his civilian identity. Doctor Donald Blake is gone, and so is the magic to make him return. Trapped from now on in a godhood state, Thor will have to struggle to find the balance, to reconnect with normal people. And for that he decides to adopt a new identity. Following the advice of Nick Fury –director of SHIELD–, he now goes by the name of Sigurd Jarlson, and because he can’t change his physiognomy he simply starts wearing glasses. In fact, in an unforgettable and very amusing scene, Thor –as Sigurd Jarlson– bumps into the man who perfected the secret identity: Superman, or rather Clark Kent. Walter Simonson’s reference to the Man of Steel is evident, but subtle enough to avoid a demand from DC (Marvel’s distinguished competition).

    There is something deliciously clever about that. If we accept that Superman can hide from scrutinizing eyes not by donning a mask but by simply wearing glasses and combing his hair differently, then we should accept that Thor –or any other character for that matter– could do the same. Simonson’s scripts include jokes and Easter eggs that comic book fans will surely love. But he never forgets the essence of Thor, and the essence of the civilization that worshipped Odin and the rest of the Nordic pantheon.

    This spirit is reaffirmed in “The Last Viking”, a story about the last survivor of a lost Viking tribe that had lived in isolation in Iceland. Determined to be welcomed into Valhalla, this last Viking knows he must die in battle. And in order to accomplish that, he prepares a series of deathly traps inside a cavern and calls the name of the Odinson in an ancient Nordic dialect. Thor arrives, destroys all the traps and attacks the man, but he soon realizes that his aggressor is an old man. And the god cannot kill such a faithful mortal. 

    And yet to die of old age is a great dishonor for any proud Viking; Thor then decides to take the man to New York, and together they fight against the dragon Fafnir. Fafnir is immune to Mjolnir’s power, and it’s only thanks to the sacrifice of the last Viking that it can be defeated. Fallen in battle, the old man’s soul is finally picked up by the Valkyries and Odin himself, and gains a seat of honor in Valhalla, the warrior paradise.  

    As a writer, Simonson proves that he’s an expert in handling many different plots and subplots. Every issue contains a full story (Beta Ray Bill’s fight against Thor, Beta Ray Bill and Thor as allies battling against an horde of intergalactic demons, Thor and the last Viking facing Fafnir the dragon), a full plot if you will, and it also includes two different levels of subplots. On the one hand, there is a continuing subplot that goes throughout the 9 issues included in this first volume: a demon similar to Surtur is forging the sword of Ragnarök, once the sword is ready, the predestined death of the Nordic gods will become a reality. On the other hand, it includes the subplots we usually find in other comics, although in this case they are all deeply rooted in Asgard: we see Loki conspiring against Balder the Brave, who has now turned into a pacifist; Lorelei lying to lady Sif; Karnilla plotting against Loki; Volstagg and Hogun preventing the attack of a reckless opponent; the arrival of Malekith and the Casket of Ancient Winters and so on. On this level, the subplots find resolution after two or three issues, but the overarching subplot of the sword of Ragnarök keeps gaining momentum. The twilight of the gods is near.
    Thor by Walter Simonson - Volume 1
    Beta Ray Bill holding Stormbreaker / Beta Ray Bill sujetando el Destructor de Tormentas

    But now let us remember the dawn of the gods, to the creators of Thor and Marvel. In his introduction, Walter Simonson confesses how much he loves the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby: “New characters seemed to appear with practically every issue, the pace of the stories never let up, and Thor was in trouble most of the time”. In Simonson’s opinion, Kirby’s art was “rough, visceral”, certainly “the drawing exploded with energy”. Inspired by Kirby, Simonson expresses the same vitality in his art, he has a level of energy hard to find in most comic book pencilers of the present decade. The splash page of Beta Ray Bill holding Stormbreaker for the first time or the last Viking’s ascension to Valhalla are fine examples. These are powerful images and just as rough and visceral as Kirby’s pages from a half a century ago. 
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    Thor by Walter Simonson - Volume 1
    Beta Ray Bill versus Thor

    No importa si eres profundamente religioso o un ateo recalcitrante, escribir sobre dioses no puede ser fácil. Escribir sobre deidades antiguas que poca gente conoce es incluso más difícil. De algún modo, debes descubrir la manera de combinar la mitología con una narrativa consistente y contemporánea que los lectores -ateos, creyentes o incluso agnósticos- encontrarán cautivante. 

    Pocos autores han sido capaces de entender a Thor, de entretejer sagas nórdicas con la vida diaria, de yuxtaponer la divinidad y la humanidad. En años recientes, J M Straczynski lo logró; al igual que Walter Simonson hace 30 años. Todo empezó con “La maldición”, publicado en "The Mighty Thor" # 337 (noviembre de 1983). Como escritor, dibujante a lápiz y entintador Walter Simonson tenía un objetivo en su mente: cambiar para siempre el paisaje del hijo de Odín. Y la primera tarea, desde luego, era alterar el status quo del dios del trueno.

    “Todo aquel que sujete este martillo, si fuese digno, poseerá el poder de Thor” no son sólo palabras talladas en Mjolnir –el martillo de Thor–, también son un encantamiento del Padre Supremo. Por siglos, solamente Thor había sido capaz de levantar el poderoso mazo, solamente Thor había sido considerado digno. Hasta ahora. Porque la llegada de Beta Ray Bill –un héroe trágico, un defensor de una raza condenada y un solitario y afligido guerrero– cambiará esto. Beta Ray Bill pelea contra Thor como si la supervivencia de su planeta dependiera de su victoria. Y de hecho triunfa. Después de alzar a Mjolnir él automáticamente adquiere poderes divinos. Y cuando Odín se da cuenta de que su hijo ha sido reemplazado por una criatura de otro mundo, queda sorprendido pero al mismo tiempo admirado: la fuerza y el coraje de Beta Ray Bill son signos de un espíritu noble. Eventualmente, el rey de los dioses y amo de Asgard encuentra la solución más justa: crea un nuevo martillo encantado, llamado Destructor de Tormentas.  
    Thor by Walter Simonson - Volume 1
    Thor meets Superman (Clark Kent) / Thor conoce a Superman (Clark Kent)

    Sin embargo, en este proceso Thor pierde la habilidad de regresar a su identidad civil. El Doctor Donald Blake ya no existe, y tampoco la magia para hacer que regrese. Atrapado de ahora en adelante en estado de divinidad, Thor tendrá que luchar para encontrar el balance, para reconectar con la gente normal. Y para ello decide adoptar una nueva identidad. Siguiendo el consejo de Nick Fury –el director de SHIELD–, asume el nombre de Sigurd Jarlson, y como no puede cambiar su fisionomía simplemente empieza a usar anteojos. De hecho, en una inolvidable y muy divertida escena, Thor –como Sigurd Jarlson– se tropieza con el hombre que perfeccionó la identidad secreta: Superman, o más bien Clark Kent. La referencia de Walter Simonson del Hombre de Acero es evidente pero lo suficientemente sutil para evitar una demanda de DC (la distinguida competencia de Marvel).

    Y esa es la delicia de la astucia. Si es que aceptamos que Superman puede esconderse de ojos escudriñadores sin colocarse una máscara sino simplemente usando anteojos y peinándose diferente, entonces deberíamos aceptar que Thor –o cualquier otro personaje– pueda hacer lo mismo. Los guiones de Simonson incluyen bromas y referencias que los fans del cómic seguramente adorarán. Pero él nunca olvida la esencia de Thor, y la esencia de la civilización que reverenció a Odín y al resto del panteón nórdico.

    Este espíritu es reafirmado en “El último vikingo”, una historia sobre el último sobreviviente de una tribu perdida de vikingos que ha vivido en aislamiento en Islandia. Determinado a ser aceptado en el Valhala, este último vikingo sabe que debe morir en batalla. Y para cumplir con esto, prepara una serie de trampas mortales dentro de una caverna y llama al hijo de Odín en un antiguo dialecto nórdico. Thor llega, destroza las trampas y ataca al hombre, pero pronto se da cuenta de que su agresor es un anciano. Y el dios no puede matar a un mortal tan fiel. 
    Thor by Walter Simonson - Volume 1
    The last Viking / el último vikingo

    Y no obstante, morir de vejez es un gran deshonor para cualquier orgulloso vikingo;  Thor decide entonces llevar al hombre a New York, y juntos luchan contra el dragón Fafnir. Fafnir es inmune al poder de Mjolnir, y es derrotado sólo gracias al sacrificio del último vikingo. Caído en batalla, el alma del anciano es finalmente recogida por las Valquirias y el mismísimo Odín, y gana un sitio de honor en el Valhala, el paraíso de los guerreros.

    Como escritor, Simonson demuestra que es un experto en manejar diferentes argumentos. Cada número contiene una historia completa (la pelea de Beta Ray Bill contra Thor, la alianza entre Beta Ray Bill y Thor y la batalla contra una horda de demonios intergalácticos, Thor y el último vikingo enfrentándose a Fafnir, el dragón), un argumento principal completo, y también incluye dos niveles diferentes de argumentos secundarios. Por un lado, hay un argumento secundario que atraviesa los 9 números incluidos en este primer volumen: un demonio similar a Surtur está forjando la espada del Ragnarök, cuando la espada esté lista, la muerte predestinada de los dioses nórdicos se hará realidad. Por otro lado, también están los argumentos secundarios que encontramos en otros cómics, aunque en este caso están profundamente enraizados en Asgard: vemos a Loki conspirando contra Balder el Valiente, quien ahora se ha vuelto pacifista; Lorelei le miente a lady Sif; Karnilla planea en contra de Loki; Volstagg y Hogun previenen el ataque de un impulsivo oponente; la llegada de Malekith y el Cofre de los Inviernos Antiguos, etc. En este nivel, los argumentos secundarios son resueltos luego de dos o tres números, pero el argumento secundario predominante de la espada del Ragnarök sigue generando suspenso. El ocaso de los dioses se acerca.

    Pero recordemos el amanecer de los dioses, a los creadores de Thor y Marvel. En su introducción, Walter Simonson confiesa lo mucho que adora la obra de Stan Lee y Jack Kirby: “Nuevos personajes parecían salir prácticamente en cada número, el ritmo de las historias nunca decaía, y Thor estaba en problemas la mayor parte del tiempo”. Simonson opina que el arte de Kirby era “rudo, visceral”, ciertamente “el dibujo explotaba con energía”. Inspirado por Kirby, Simonson expresa la misma vitalidad en su arte, tiene un nivel de energía difícil de encontrar en la mayoría de dibujantes de cómics de la década actual. La página en la que Beta Ray Bill sujeta al Destructor de Tormentas por primera vez o el ascenso al Valhala del último vikingo son muy buenos ejemplos. Estas son imágenes poderosas y tan rudas y viscerales como las páginas de Kirby de hace medio siglo.

    Originally Published at http://artbyarion.blogspot.com/2013/09/thor-by-walter-simonson-volume-1.html

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    About the Author - Arion


    Arion, who is either from Chile or New York (it’s not really clear) writes a blog that the Outhouse steals on a regular basis.  Arion is by far the nicest of all the staff writers and the most well behaved only having been banned from one country.  One thing we really appreciate about Aroin is that he writes his reviews in English and Spanish and we hope someday he’ll translate this blurb for us.  We’re not so good at languages, just look at how well we write in English if you need proof.  You should bookmark Arion’s blog -  http://artbyarion.blogspot.com – and actually look at it.  There will be a quiz at the end of every month.

     


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