Let’s call her “Missy”, because that isn’t her real name.
Because she’s one of my those-who-shan’t-be-named’s, and because, based on the brief time we spent with her when we were both little kids, I’m convinced she’s grown into the kind of person well-versed in litigious charm. And the latter is something not to trifle with, especially when there’s no way for me to read this most recent issue of Thor: God of Thunder and not think of the one incident that defines her in my mind.
It played out years ago at Aunt Bethany’s (also a pseudonym, but to protect her connection to me and Missy), and while none of these things were there at the time it felt like there should have been tea served from not bone china, but fairly stainless steel puffed up on the pomp and ceremony that makes the Middle Classes feel as if they’ve arrived. It feels like there should have been sugar cubes in a small glass bowl, and grippers rather than a spoon. I remember Missy’s hand shooting up. And I remember Aunt Bethany, who had somehow gotten segregated from the adults in the other room and seemed now to be taking care of the kids… I remember Aunt Bethany correcting Missy and pointing out that this wasn’t a classroom, and that she should feel free to talk.
I remember Missy puffed up with pride like those spoons, saying that the next time God destroyed the world it would be permanent, and the next time he wouldn’t use water, he’d use fire. And I remember just that and nothing more, doing some damage. I remember that as the start of something—my coming into religion by the other side of the family, through Buddhism. And my coming to accept that religious tradition as a better model. And later, pushing beyond even that.
Aunt Bethany had somehow turned the talk to Noah and the destruction of the biblical Flood, and Missy had offered a savage economic equation. If you know things, secret things (and you get to define what’s secret), you should be able to reap social acclaim, and equally, should be able to leverage social sanction against others. There was no reason not to feel outcast during this exchange. But I couldn’t. Not at that young age. What I was dealing with instead was this. Look at all this wonder, who would want to destroy this permanently? And especially why would its creator want to destroy this? Wasn’t wanton, mindless destruction the Other Guy, the one in the Red Pajamas?
So when I read Gorr’s story, Gorr being the now mythic “God-Butcher”, the prime villain, prime evil of Thor: God of Thunder, I have no sympathy. Worse even, I can’t find any empathy with the character. After all, I made it out of that room with Aunt Bethany and Missy. Life is hard, Gorr learns early on when his own mother is killed at the Oracle of the Gods. Then his wife and child die, and Gorr flirts with atheism, only to need to reconsider when he encounters a pair of astronauts (who he understands to be gods). If I understand Jason Aaron’s writing correctly, Gorr’s character arc goes something like: Life is hard and you’re all fools to believe in the gods, but go ahead and push me to the side of your community for saying this, wait hang on looks like there are gods, therefore they’re to blame, therefore it’s time to take revenge on them.
It really does seem so petty. Really, shouldn’t there be more? Shouldn’t a revenge that spans the entire history of the universe be about more than needing to lick cave-salt and losing loved ones? My plea here isn’t that Aaron find the good reasons for becoming a supervillain. There are no good reasons. But what works in the secret origins of villains is either immanence or process. You either are just this malevolent thing in the world, or you come to be that thing by a path you arrange, a path fraught with dramatic irony. When it comes to supervillains, you’re either Iago, or Macbeth.
Maybe Shakespeare is an unfair comparison. Maybe a fairer comparison would be Star Wars’ Millennium trilogy, which equally fails to make Anakin Skywalker’s corruption explicit, and fails to portray that sense of loss that should come with losing Anakin to the Dark Side of the Force. And yet there was that poster, around the time of Episode One—Anakin as the kid in the desert, with Vader’s shadow stretching behind him. That image was a far greater promise than the stories themselves delivered. And yet, there’s Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. When we finally discover the Man in the Hat is none other than Goob, and when we see what he’s gone through over the years, it falls into place. Immediately we can feel that pain, and we can understand, even if it’s hard to condone.
Or maybe, just maybe, Shakespeare isn’t an unfair comparison. What was Aaron doing in those first few issues of Thor: God of Thunder? Issues printed in the closing days of last year, but just long enough ago to feel like something at a great distance now. It was something astounding, something sublime. Seeing Thor in Iceland Back When, Back In The Day. Seeing him not quite yet struggle against himself, struggle to become himself. There’s a beautiful, powerful human story at the very of Thor, at the heart of “whomsoever… this hammer…”. It’s the story of our coevolution as a species through technology. Can we become better than ourselves by constructing that betterment through our tools? And in those early issues of Thor: God of Thunder Aaron takes us to meet Thor on the day before “whomsoever… this hammer…”. There’s a drive and a passion and a pure joyfulness that Thor will keep and that will serve him well after he masters Mjolnir, but equally that’s a passion that must be tempered by Thor’s innate albeit dormant nobility. And that, Dear Reader, is Shakespeare country.
How it shakes out is just so. I don’t want to be too hard on Aaron because this is a filler issue. This issue doesn’t pick up on Marvel’s strangest Team-Up ever, Present Day Thor and Elder Thor. And it doesn’t peer into Gorr’s plans for the bodies of all those tortured gods. Filler issues are notoriously hard to do, and for good reason. And to get at the pathos of villainy in just twenty-something pages is almost too hard an ask. On the other hand, why focus this filler on Gorr at all? So much like Aunt Bethany’s spoons should have done, this issue falls squarely in the middle.