Thor Odinson vs. Roxxon: You Can’t Serve Two Masters

In preparation for my paper on Jason Aaron’s use of the Divine Feminine in The Mighty Thor at the ACA/PCA Conference on Popular Culture at the end of the month, I’ve finished reading his entire Thor: God Of Thunder series.  Following Gorr the God Butcher, Aaron introduces another villain who is equally rich in menace and theological significance.  Dario Agger, CEO of Roxxon Energy Corporation, will challenge first the Odinson and then Jane Foster when she becomes Thor.  In continuing his exploration of what makes a worthy god Aaron uses Agger as the personification of two of our most sinful and dangerous traits – the idolatrous worship of wealth and wanton environmental destruction.  These then are the forces a worthy god opposes. 

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Returning to the theme Aaron has developed since the start of his run, we see Thor is the greatest of all the gods.  So, through this series, Thor becomes the allegory for what the divine is/should be.  In Thor Aaron shows us what is worthy of worship.  In many ways then, this series looks at our idolatrous relationship with “false gods,” contrasting all we put our faith in that isn’t worthy of worship, with Thor, the picture of a worthy god.  This point becomes especially clear as Agger and Roxxon represent the idol whose altar so many of us in the developed world chose to worship at over God’s – wealth.  His wealth comes from the domination and destruction of the natural world, illustrating both a literal and figurative truth.  In real life, every day we destroy this world in the name of our greed and apathy, refusing to adjust our consumption for the good for all.  And, as wealth is something diametrically opposed to the world God envisions, the amassing of this wealth comes from the destruction of the world God created.  What better enemy could there be for Thor, the image of a worthy god, to oppose?

Thor: God Of Thunder #19 opens with a memo from Roxxon stating, “As we prepare to take the corporate world by storm, we must guard our good reputation as the world’s wealthiest, most powerful super-corporation with all due diligence.”  Could there be a better description for a villain, anchored in the sin of capitalist corruption, standing opposed to all that is God’s than, “the world’s wealthiest, most powerful super-corporation”??  It’s brilliant!

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

While there are some who hold to the “Health and Wealth Gospel” or the “Prosperity Gospel” (the idea that financial blessings are the will of God and the more money you have the more blessed you are by God), nothing can be further from the truth we find in Judeo-Christian scripture.  Luke’s version of the Beatitudes (6:20-21) begins with these words, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”  By using the term “blessed” Jesus is telling his listeners that God is to be found in the most unlikely of places.  God is among the poor, the hungry, and the weeping.  The Kingdom of God is good news aimed at these marginalized and oppressed people.  When the Kingdom comes, it will belong to the poor.  In it, the hungry will be full.  Those who weep will laugh.  With the Kingdom of God, the natural order of the world is turned on its head.

Our world seems about as ready to accept this vision today as it was when Jesus proclaimed it two thousand years ago.  Those in power will fight it.  Those living comfortably will underplay it.  And those at the edges of society will rejoice in it.  But it is those first two categories Dario Agger so masterfully embodies.  We are proud of the status and reputation that comes with our salaries and the stations in life our work represents.  We feel we’ve earned them and as such we have a right to them.  This is why Agger is such an important villain!  He personifies this.  Look how often we treat the super wealthy as celebrities (let alone how often we demonize the poor and blame them for circumstances beyond their control) in our culture, how often we consider more money; more stuff; more, more, more something to be envied and emulated.

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Thor and Roz Solomon stand against Roxxon. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Dario Agger is introduced at a press conference where Roxxon is selling fresh water from Jupiter to “solve” the water crisis on Earth.  When S.H.I.E.L.D. Environmental Agent Roz Solomon confronts Agger he says, “Roxxon is the world’s wealthiest and most powerful corporation.  If we don’t know what’s best for the people of this planet, then I ask you dear lady…who does?”  Tell me this isn’t how we live!!  We afford corporations the rights of human beings in courts and allow them to rape the world as we celebrate “low prices” and the procurement of goods we don’t need.  Brilliantly, as soon as Agger poses his question to Roz, Thor shows up.  Well played Mr. Aaron!  Well played.  Who knows what’s best for the people of this planet?  Perhaps we should look to the divine for guidance.

Agger welcomes Thor by saying, “Thor.  What an unexpected pleasure.  Dario Agger, CEO of Roxxon Energy.  It’s so rare that someone in my line of work…gets to shake hands with a relative equal….Gods and CEOS.  Who are the masters of the earth if not us?”  When we, as a culture, worship at the altar of wealth, we give truth to this lie.  We equate God and CEOs.  However, it is very distinct in scripture, we can’t have it both ways.  We must choose.  Jesus makes this clear, in no uncertain terms, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:24) when he says, “No one can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.”

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Which master do we follow? / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

“Mammon” means “wealth,” “money,” and/or “material goods.”  This isn’t a both/and situation.  It’s either/or.  Either we choose and serve God or we choose and serve wealth.  It doesn’t take a well-trained eye to look at our culture and see what we, by and large, have chosen.  It’s hard to live as God calls us to!  In the story of the rich young man (Mark 10:17-31), a rich young man (obviously) comes to Jesus to ask what he must do to enter the Kingdom.  After running through all the commandments and getting the affirmative that he does them, Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said, “You are lacking in one thing.  Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  To follow Jesus, we must sell everything we have and give the money to the poor.  There’s no getting around this.  And, like all of us, “[a]t that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”  But Jesus doesn’t judge him.  He loves him!  In the Gospels we see this choice is difficult for us.  Jesus alone and his open invitation weren’t enough.  The young man needed to be transformed in his heart before he could accept this.

This is why Agger proves such a challenging nemesis for Thor!  Over the course of these seven issues Agger brings Thor to his knees with no obvious way for Thor to fight back.  He can’t punch his way to victory here.  Again, the symbolism is clear.  It’s not easy for the divine to vanquish the idolatry of wealth because we won’t give it up.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Thor strikes first, bringing the largest mountain of ice from Jotunheim to offer fresh water, cutting of Agger’s play and costing his company “billions per day” in issue #19.  Then, in issue #20, he brings atmospheric anomalies – localized superstorms – down on four of Roxxon’s Atmospheric Treatment Centers, two iceberg processing plants, and their main East Africa evaporator, destroying everything.  He also hits facilities for the Yashida Corporation and Alchemax.  This shows two points of theological significance.  First, the mountain of ice illustrates how corporations take and charge for what the divine freely gives.  One is unnatural and profit-driven, the other the natural way of things.  Second it shows no matter how powerful it seems, the divine will always be stronger than mammon…even if the battles are never quick or easy.

And Dario Agger – mammon personified – is not so easily beaten.  He attacks Broxton, Oklahoma –  the city on Earth that Asgardia flies above, the city Thor and the other gods now call home.  Roxxon got approval (and tax breaks) from the State Senate to move their flying factories to the area.  Then they began buying up every piece of land they could, with the people being so poor most couldn’t refuse.  They bought the bank and began taking people’s homes, homes that have been in their families for generations.  The nursing home is forced to close.  People can barely breathe with what Roxxon’s done to the air.  The water tastes like gasoline as a result of Roxxon’s work too.

Thor goes to confront Agger (against Roz’s warning, she said she could handle it legally) and threatens to destroy Agger and Roxxon unless they end their “assault” on Broxton.  Agger replies, “Assault?  Wherever did you get such a foolish notion?  I’ve recently made a significant financial investment in Broxton.  As CEO of Roxxon, I’ve brought new job opportunities and cultural amenities to those good people.  In just a matter of weeks, I’ve reinvigorated what was a small town economy on the brink of collapse.  I did this, Thor, as a gesture of goodwill towards you.  After the awkwardness of our previous encounter.”

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

This is exactly how systemic sin sells itself.  It wraps the rape and murder of the earth and those who live on it for profit in the packaging of a boon for those same people.  However, the only people who profit from this are the wealthy.  There is another clear theological theme here.  This is how you wound God.  The vision of the Judgment of the Nations we find in Matthew 25:31-46 states, “Whatsoever you do to the least among you, you do to me.”  God stands with the marginalized in a special way.  God is with those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, and imprisoned.  In targeting these people specifically, Roxxon is targeting God…or Thor, as the case may be in this story.

When Thor realizes he can’t beat Agger in the traditional way, he approaches Agger, willing to beg as requested.  His pride, Thor says, is nothing compared to the lives of the people of Broxton.  Thor asks how much begging it will take to make Agger “feel like a man” and Agger replies it’s been sometime since he felt like just a man.  Then he turns into his Minotaur form as Ulik and his trolls rise up out of yet another sinkhole they’ve created in and around Broxton to attack.

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The face of Mammon. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

This, too, is brilliant.  Take a minute to think about what Jason Aaron has done here.  The CEO of this horrid corporation is a literal monster.  The symbolism is direct, yes.  But it’s perfect!

Thor battles Agger and Ulik in Thor: God Of Thunder #23.  After Agger stabs Thor through the back with his horns he says, “I’m glad to hear that hurts, God of Thunder.  But just know…I don’t plan on killing you yet.  I want you around to see everything that happens next.  To see the New Age of Roxxon.  Do you know what will be left once I’m done having my way with this planet?  Once I have burned off every resource and made every penny there is to be made here?  Nothing.  Nothing will be left.”  THIS.  This is capitalism, greed, and consumption personified.  And, again, making Agger a literal monster shows wealth as the false god it really is.  Jason Aaron shows us the face of sinful corruption that is Mammon.

Ultimately Thor, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the forces of Asgardia arrive to help route the trolls and begin the clean up.  With the arrival of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agger returns to human form and blames everything on the trolls.  He gets away because, obviously, we let our corporations do whatever the hell they want.  Thor however weeps for what his actions have brought.  Broxton is destroyed and nothing will ever grow in their soil again, for as long as the world will last.

This illustrates the second sinful machination symbolized in Agger and Roxxon. We in the developed world thoughtlessly destroy the environment for our own comfort and convenience.  When discussing environmental problems, we are quick to consider population control or outer space travel as opposed to the far more practical answer of curbing our consumption.  What could be more sinful?  Genesis shows we were literally created to be stewards of creation, to respect and care for all creation.  But we don’t take this seriously.

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The damage we have wrought. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Roxxon pillages the world for profit but, in these issues, it’s most clearly illustrated in what happens in Broxton.  Addressing issues of environmental destruction couldn’t be more pertinent, as ignoring it is sinful in the deepest sense.  Of course this is something Thor – who represents the greatest god as well as what is worthy of worship – must oppose.  What does a worthy god do?  Protect creation while battling the idol of wealth.

In addition to refusing to curb our consumption, we live in a world where some people still deny the reality of climate change.  Despite everyone from the pope to NASA being in agreement, some people still think it’s a hoax.  Who needs “reality” when ignorance is so much easier, right?  However, no one gets to invent their own reality.  Facts are facts.  Reality is reality…even if it makes us uncomfortable.  Now, to be clear, environmental problems are nothing new.  What is new is the extent and severity of our ecological crisis.  We are causing damage to the earth now that could take thousands of years to heal, if at all.  Some of the damage we’ve done may be irreversible.

Global Climate Change (relatively rapid worldwide changes in temperature and precipitation that threatens animal and plant species around the world) is real.  We are causing it.  Granted, relatively gradual climate change has occurred naturally throughout Earth’s history.  And climate change is necessary too.  If the climate ever stops changing, we all die.  But within the past sixty years, Earth’s atmosphere and oceans have been warming at an unprecedented rate.  Most of that warming is likely the result of human activity and this can’t be debated or disregarded with any shred of scientific credibility.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Thor fights for this planet because that’s what God does.  Care of creation is what God wants.  We have a God-given responsibility to care for this planet.  Everything in creation has a special role to play that serves the greater good of the whole community of life.  But humans are unique in the fact that we alone have the choice of how we will relate to creation.  We are not the owners of this world.  We are not the masters of this world.  All in creation is God’s and God’s alone.  As such, we are called to use it as God wants, to respect the gift we’ve been given.  Tragically, we don’t.

Our greed pushes us to consume, to consume, to consume…more and more and more.  And our egos make us believe we have the right to it all.  Again, this is perfectly personified in Dario Agger.  Come Thor: God Of Thunder #24, in the aftermath of the battle, Agger becomes bored with his work and asks Ulik about the Nine Realms.  Agger isn’t content with taking all the Earth has…or ever all outer space can offer.  He wants to make the Nine Realms his.  There is no end to his greed.

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Enough is never enough. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

While Thor can’t defeat Agger with a punch or a lightening bolt (anymore than God can force us to care for the world the way we’re supposed to or abandon the false god of wealth), he can lead by example.  We see his desire to do the right thing.  We see his humility, willing to bow and beg before Agger to protect the people and the planet.  And, after Asgardia votes to leave Earth and return to the heavens after the damage they’ve caused, Thor rips his own castle off of Asgardia and leaves it for the people of Broxton to live in.  It is an attempt to make up for at least a small part of the destruction he helped cause.

How do we begin to honor our call to stewardship?  How do we live as God calls us to?  How do we reject the idol of mammon?  We humble ourselves.  We give up some of the luxuries we’ve become accustomed too, things we enjoy but certainly don’t need.  We put the good of all life – human, animal, and plant – above our own comforts.  We carry the pain of the Earth in our hearts as we work to defend it with all we have.  And we never stop doing this.  As the Agger/Roxxon arc plays out, we also have a side story where King Thor and his granddaughters – Ellisiv, Frigg, and Atil – battle Galactus millennia in the future to protect a barren Earth, ultimately defeating the World Devourer and bringing life back to Midgard.  With Thor as our example here we see, with God on our side, there is no force we can’t defeat and life will always find a way if we refuse to give up.

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Even millennia in the future, when the world is all but lost, Thor fights to protect it. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Thor: God Of Thunder #’s 19-25 show Jason Aaron continues to raise the bar for what a comic book can accomplish theologically.  Only slightly below the surface of a comic featuring flying cars, Minotaurs, and troll battles, is an eloquent narrative about the idolatrous and corruptive nature of wealth and the sinful reality of environmental destruction in the service of our apathy, ignorance and greed.  As Thor battles the Minotaur, the trolls, and the minions of Roxxon he is embodying the battle between the Divine and Mammon, between stewardship and domination.  In our lives, as in the comic narrative, we can’t serve two masters.  We must choose.  Culture calls us one way, the way of false gods.  While Thor, a god worthy or worship, shows us another path.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

9 thoughts on “Thor Odinson vs. Roxxon: You Can’t Serve Two Masters

    1. My pleasure! I had missed this one too. If it wasn’t for researching this paper for that conference on pop culture, I might never have checked it out. I’m glad I did!

      Sometimes when I go to my local comic shop I look at the collections of allllllllllll the comics that came out in the years I wasn’t reading them (let alone all the years before I started!) and I daydream about working there and reading comics all day :).

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    1. Thank you Gary! I am constantly impressed with how theologically rich Jason Aaron’s writing is and how deep the allegory he’s crafting runs. I keep thinking of dropping the title when Jane’s done as Thor but, as long as the story is this theologically rich, I can’t imagine walking away from it.

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      1. Amen! Whenever I read it I’m impressed at how deep and how nuanced it is. Sure, it’s a comic about Thor fighting bad guys. But right there, just below the surface, is sooooo much more for those willing to look. I love it!

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      2. I wasn’t able to see Jason at Wonder-Con. I am praying for him. My friend said he was a atheist but had a Christian upbringing. I guess you can’t hide the truth of God.

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      3. I’m not certain what his religious background is myself. I’ve not looked into it, tending to let the message of the work speak for itself. But, even if he is, I think an atheist perspective can often still raise some powerful spiritual truths for us to consider. Like Philip Pullman’s “Dark Material’ Trilogy. He’s often presented as the anti-Narnia (and he clearly has a HUGE ax to grind with organized religion, as evidenced by parts of his narrative) yet I still find some brilliant points in there, in regard to the importance of a vibrant spirituality and challenging some of the hypocrisy that can be done in God’s name. So, whatever his personal beliefs are, I can’t deny the deep/powerful spiritual truths he’s given us. I think you’re right too – the urge for the transcendent, for a personal relationship with the divine – is stamped deeply within our heart/soul/being.

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