Donny Cates’ rise in the comics industry has been meteoric. In three years, he’s gone from what could generously be called a third string comic (in Thanos) to anchoring two company-wide crossovers, writing two of the biggest books at Marvel right now (in Thor and in Venom) and a heavily promoted Image book. If Thor #10 says anything, it says that I don’t get how Cates got so big.
Meanwhile, of course, much more talented writers, such as Leah Williams, remain on those third-string books. What wouldn’t I give for Williams to be writing 2020’s big event?
Thor #10 continues the mystery of what happened to Donald Blake, the identity that Odin once created for Thor to walk in the mortal realm. Thor wants to figure out what is going on there, so swaps with Blake, only to find that Blake’s refuge deep in Yggdrasil has exploded, and that Blake has gone insane, stolen the Odinpower, and gone off to kick the tuchus of the rest of the Asgardians. Which he does.
And that’s it. The book is about half fight scene, and half exposition. There’s no meaningful character work. No one really feels anything, beyond dull surprise and pain. The core of a story is feeling, emotion, and beyond that dull surprise, and obviously Blake’s anger, there’s just not really any sort of emotion there.
Worse, I can’t really figure out what this story is supposed to be about. What’s the theme of this arc of Thor? Good stories – regardless of medium, comic or movie or book or what have you – explore something meaningful in their pages. Chris Claremont discussed prejudice over in his X-Men. Walt Simonson’s Thor had complex themes of brotherhood, kingship, and the nature of heroism. Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman has some meaningful thought on how you should spend your final days, on how you should do good.
But what is this issue of Cates’ Thor about, beyond the surface? I thought, initially, it would use Blake as a way to explore a sort of Jungian take on Thor, with Blake as the shadow aspect of Thor’s waking life. I thought they might use Blake as a way to explore Thor’s wish for a less complex, responsibility free life, or to contrast the older Silver Age adventures with the more complex present. But they didn’t do any of that. Rather, Blake is just Generically Insane.
Cates is, as usual, held up by his artists. Nic Klein does a really good job. His Blake does have a delightful madness to him. The fight scenes have a good sense of motion and vivacity, and the great big two page spreads – of the Asgardian warriors transported to “Dimension Blood, the Ancestral Hunting Grounds of the Vampa-Cabra” and of Blake’s ruined refuge – are really impressive. There’s some interesting work with page layouts, too. Similarly, colorist Matt Wilson, to absolutely no one’s surprise, does a really lovely coloring job. Wilson does a fantastic job in showing brightness, and he wows as usual.
It’s just a shame that the story isn’t nearly as good as the art.
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