O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
Ever read a comic to the last page, close the book and just wonder to yourself how on Earth did this get printed?
Yeah, but in a good way?
Sometimes you meet stories or characters that don’t seem to fit in with the flow of your usual reading milieu and you’re floored that such a thing could hang out next to Iron Man and the Hulk on the shelves. I’m not saying those books can’t be deep or intellectual, I’m just saying when an indie book or Vertigo title gets heartfelt, sentimental, experimental or metaphysical, it’s kind of par for the course. Hey look everyone, Sandman’s referencing an abstract concept in a grounded yet mythological fashion! It must be Tuesday.
But when Thor does something similar and it’s not just a Kirby reference, there’s something that always makes me sit back in my chair and get my adult comic reading hat on and really take in the narrative. I’m as bad as anyone who reads far too many comics in getting complacent and bogged down in “what matters,” that weird, ephemeral concept that drives publishers to event books and banner titles. It has been said that comic readers want books that “matter,” taken to mean they want books that get a notation in the Overstreet guide: “First appearance of So-and-So,” “New Costume for Whatserface” and the ever-so-coveted “Death of That Guy.” These are things that matter… for now. They crack the internet in half and fans panic and then a few months/years later, Hawkeye’s death in ignominy is just something to chuckle about rather than scowl around.
But let’s really think on this.
Comics that matter. These are not just footnotes in a price guide, these are comics that, in short and put bluntly, are good. They make you think. They make you cry. The next issue cannot possibly compare to the moments you have just witnessed in picture and words. Decompression in storytelling means that you are constantly left hanging for the next fix, the next piece of the puzzle that adds to the enjoyment of the comic you just read.
On the other hand, remember when Aunt May wrote an email to the Daily Bugle? During the Stracznyski run, Aunt May gets let in on her nephew’s secret identity and during the course of the next issues, she campaigns for Peter’s good image. In issue #39, May cancels her subscription to the Daily Bugle because of their anti-Spider-Man stance. I can practically hear the ire coming toward this, but at the time, that little email moment really mattered. Yes, current editorial beliefs have kicked that particular comic to the curb, but the stories where we learn about the characters and think about ourselves are the comics that truly matter to me.
Yeah, there’s no Overstreet annotation for “Aunt May Gains Acceptance for her Nephew’s Heroism,” but it still matters.
Let’s get back to Thor; the Chaos War is a tight little event book that kind of straddles the “cosmic/godly” line of what is and that which seeks to destroy what is. Being and not being. Punching big evil monsters in the face. If you want to take the Chaos War to your little coffee shop/record store with your thick-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans, go ahead! We’re talking about concepts of endlessness and entropy, what makes a divine entity and at the end of days, what will the Gods themselves do facing the cessation of their own endless existence? Yeah, that sounds deep. Then again, if you want to roll the book up, stick it in your back pocket and chuckle with the sound effects, watch two friends fight the good fight and see a bunch of awesome Marvel godly characters rally against an awesome infinite evil, then yeah! That sounds awesome. Chaos War has something in there for everyone.
Even a short, two-issue mini-series by J.M. DeMatteis and Brian Ching called Chaos War: Thor. I’m going to level with you, dear reader, I have no idea how this book got made. In the middle of our big event storylines, our screaming banners of who will live and who will die, Chaos War: Thor is an amazing treatise on faith, hope and humanity’s connection to the divine. Which is awesome because if you think about it, the divine lives down the street in a mansion and hangs out with a war hero and a businessman. Thor is the god who lives next door. He could come to your town and save you in such a direct fashion you would have no other opinion than to believe that he exists. Now, I’m not saying people are going to fall over themselves to worship him (that was for the Thor: Lord of Earth issues), nor would I say that in a world of radioactive spiders and super science, his divinity wouldn’t be challenged. But you have to admit, he is the Mighty Thor.
And you can see that if something terrible happened to you, some earth-shattering tragedy, you would look for something to explain the ever human question of “why?” Why did this tragedy happen? Why did it happen to me? Why am I so sad and Snooki so happy? So who do we ask these questions to? The infinite? The divine? Do we want an answer?
See how I said this was all totally high concept stuff to be packed into a tie-in book for a mini-series where people kick and explode?
Chaos War: Thor is the story of one woman at the end of her rope in the middle of nowhere asking “Why me?” Then Thor shows up. In two issues, that question is not only answered, but fought in great descriptive style and epic panache. I have no idea how Mark Panaccia looked at this story and said, “Sure, throw it in with the Hercules Punching Guys story!” because there is so much more going on here than the death of an alien slave-god. There is something so beautiful and poetic about the heart of this story that I honestly have no idea how it got published at all.
I’m glad it did. No one changed their costume, no one died. No one got married and the banner on this book is super small in the era of The Heroic Age. There can be no Overstreet annotation for “Understanding of the divine beauty in us all,” but I don’t care. It matters to me and that’s all I can ask for.