Comic series resetting to #1 about once every six months year eighteen months or so has become a normal part of the industry in the years since I gave up comic collecting. When I left, the issues of most major titles were still numbering in the hundreds from their original run. Now it seems surprising if we get two consecutive years of consistent numbering on any give title. But today is a magical day! It’s a Throwback Thursday! And that means we’re going to travel back to the mystical time of 1996. Oprah’s Book Club was born. Everyone was quoting Jerry Maguire. The Macarena was a thing. And, in July, Marvel had their first 500th issue with Thor #500!
(Astute readers will note this is not, in fact, Thursday. BUT I didn’t quite have this piece finished on Thursday and then I had Andrew’s amazing guest post to get us all excited about DC Rebirth. Buuuuut I did finally finish this up and wanted to post it now anyway. It can always be Throwback Thursday in our hearts right??)
When I returned to the world of comic collecting last fall the numbering on the covers was a bit of a surprise. It wasn’t the fact that so many titles seemed to reset to #1 so often. That I was well aware of from regularly following my nerd news online. What surprised me was the common numbering format on most Marvel titles looked something like this – Vote Loki #001. Uh, why do we have three digits on the cover when most comic titles don’t stay with consistent numbering long enough to hit #25 let alone #100?? It seems a little needless to me.
I get the whole point behind resetting the numbering though. A nice, new #1 does make it easier for new readers to jump into a title. I know it’s completely a mental thing too. Even if I’m buying The Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #1 there’s still fifty years of history with the character. But, as a reader, there’s just something that’s reassuring about starting with issue #1. When I returned to comic collecting, I started all of the titles I read from their (closest, convenient) first issue. I began Deadpool with Deadpool (Volume 1) from the Marvel NOW! relaunch under Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan. I excitedly started Ms. Marvel with her very first issue, back before the Secret Wars came. I picked-up Black Panther when Ta-Nehisi Coates began his run earlier this year. And before jumping into The Mighty Thor #1, I went back to when Jane Foster first picked up the hammer with Thor #1 after the Original Sin crossover. So I get it. I do. Even if the numbering is kind of irrelevant/just a mental thing, it still feels good to know you’re absolutely coming in at the beginning of a new story.
But there’s still something magical about the old ways. And there’s certainly something magical about reaching #500!
The extensive research I did before writing this piece (which may’ve looked more like twenty minutes reading articles I found through a quick Google search) taught me that only FIVE Marvel comics have carried #500 on their cover. In July of 2008, The Uncanny X-Men hit that milestone. The Avengers did it in 2004 while The Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four crossed that threshold in 2003. But Thor #500 would hit comic shelves nearly a decade earlier when Bone Thugs-n-Harmony were taking us all to “Tha Crossroads” in July of 1996.
Interestingly enough, of all those titles, only Thor and The Uncanny X-Men hit 500 without having been reset. Spidey got there in Volume 2 of the title and the Fantastic Four and the Avengers were in the third volumes of their books before resetting the numbering and placing 500 on the cover (*cough, cough* that’s kind of cheating *cough, cough*). Anyway, I remember the lead up to Thor’s big milestone issue. I remember the hype and the excitement. In the preceding issues, Thor was powerless and dating the Enchantress! What?!? Interesting life choices were obviously being made all around. What could this 500th issue hold?! I was turning fourteen that summer and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for the Thunder God!
Last night Wednesday evening, before enjoying some Double Stuffed Oreos (is there any other kind??) and watching a little Seinfeld with Kalie, I sat down and took that journey again. I read Thor #497-502. I wandered with Thor from regaining/losing/regaining his powers to the eve of his “final” battle against Onslaught alongside Marvel’s other heroes. It was a lot of fun…and it was eye-opening too. I’d kind of forgotten exactly what comics were like back in the mid-nineties!
The story was all sorts of realm-hopping fun. Thor (a topless Thor with a ponytail down to his knees I might add…ahh, the 90s!) had been kicked out of Asgard (so what else is new?) and exiled to earth. He was living in New York City while Red Norvell was the resident Thor in Asgard. Thor’s powers had been a bit glitchy but he was still doing his best to protect the people of New York. He was also apparently working for hire, although it’s anyone’s guess if he let Luke Cage and Danny Rand know he lifted their shtick. A labor union president, Victor Prazniki, hires Thor and Amora to protect his daughter Annie and new wife Silvia from those who want to steal Raven’s Eye – an ancient Asgardian sword that’s come into his possession. A Thunder God needs to eat/pay the bills (and also doesn’t want to see innocent people killed in the quest to own Odin’s old sword) so he takes the job.
During transit to a safe house, Annie and Silvia are abducted leaving Thor and NYPD Office Kim Gaunt trying to track them down. The whole group ends up being transported to a warped/alternate version of Asgard as imagined by Wagner in his opera the Ring Cycle and worshipped by Ludwig II of Bavaria. Wearing the wildest of 90’s costumes, Thor battles Wagner’s Thor and ultimately kills Wagner’s Odin by throwing Raven’s Eye through his chest. Thor is then transported back to the normal Asgard to find the city in ruins.
The 500th issue begins here, with Yggdrasil apparently poisoned and slowly dying. The World Ash has been tricked into thinking Ragnarok has already occurred. Since Ragnarok means the end of all and the death of the gods, the gods have lost their powers and been banished to earth. In the Aesir’s absence, the Trolls have taken over the ruins and fight to keep the Frost Giants out of their new territory. During the ensuing battle, Thor pulls Raven’s Eye from Yggdrasil only to have it disintegrate in his hand. HOWEVER his powers return! A full-on thunder god once more, he destroys the Frost Giants and – after Dr. Strange assures him he feels something evil coming – he heads to earth to figure out exactly what’s going on.
Did Marvel’s first 500th issue live up to all the hype?? How was I supposed to know? It was the first one ever. Still, I remember being very excited when I first read it and I couldn’t wait for the next month’s issue to see what happened on Thor’s quest to find the other gods. Upon my recent rereading of the story arc, I enjoyed it again. Many of the classic things that made me love Thor – god and human interaction, realm hoping, mixing of advanced technology and ancient mystical arts, a cast pulled straight from Norse mythology – were all there. And I enjoyed revisiting them.
However, I was quite thrown off as I read – jarringly so at some points – by reencountering exactly what comic characters looked like in the 90’s. At the time, I knew nothing different. In fact, Mike Deodato Jr. (who illustrated the majority of the issues I read) was one of my absolute favorite artists in my youth. I still have great respect for his work then and now (I really loved what he did with Darth Vader in Vader Down for example)…but what passed for superheroes then doesn’t sit well with me anymore. This art is the height of both the 1990’s male power fantasy and the objectification of women. A casual glance below shows a monstrously muscled Thor with Amora cowering behind him…in the barest of scraps left of her clothes. To be fair, I guess Thor does have one tear in his pants while Amora’s clothes are hanging off her in shreds. So I guess it’s the same?? Gah. Honestly, given what I’m used to seeing in comics now, it made me a little uncomfortable.
Compare that image with what we see now. Captain Marvel and Spider-Woman are two of Marvel’s leading female characters. Below (as with the Squirrel Girl picture above) both are seen wearing actual uniforms (not bikinis) that completely cover their bodies. Neither are drawn in poses that fetishize them, leaving them as little more than objects of juvenile sexual fantasies.
Looking at this contemporary picture of Spidey and Deadpool, we also see, while toned and muscular, there’s at least a bit more realistic size to their bodies than the rippling monstrosity that is 90’s Thor gave us. Look at those muscles again!! God or not, how do you hold that torso upright let alone keep your veins from exploding out of your arms at that size?? Both the men and women of the comics in the 1990’s were designed to prey on, cultivate, and nourish these darker male desires. Men were all big, hulking beings of immense power. This is not an image designed to attract a female reader. By and large, women tend not to find such bulging brutish body types attractive. But they speak to the young, adolescent male mind as an image of POWER. They same is done with the women. Most female characters are drawn to prey on, cultivate, and nourish these dark, unhealthy, underdeveloped male sexual fantasies. There is nothing healthy or normal about that sort of body type!! Nor is it realistic to presume that every battle will leave a woman with her clothing completely ripped save the tatters that cover her unmentionables.
As I said, it was jarring to see this sort of art on such bold display over the course of six issues again. While I enjoyed the walk down memory lane and still loved the content of the stories and the art as a product of its time period, it made me very happy to be reading comic books now, in 2016. I love that I can have my heroes and enjoy their adventures without the not-so-subtle-nor-subliminal messages of male power and female objectification being driven into my brain. I think we’re all significantly better off for it too!
In fact, after enjoying this little trip back to Thor #500 and the 1990’s comic scene, I was compelled to celebrate all that makes Thor great RIGHT NOW. In reading the latest issue of The Mighty Thor, I saw once again that Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s run on The Mighty Thor completes me…and they had me at “hello.”