Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. Today’s reviews include a good chunk of the Jane Foster issues of Thor, as well as recent issues of Batgirls and Do A Powerbomb.
Let us know what you’ve been reading lately in the comments or on social media.
Thanks to my local library having all five paperbacks, this week I read all of the 2016-2018 Mighty Thor series. Written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Russell Dauterman (and others), it covers the bulk of Jane Foster’s Thor career. Had I done a little more research, I might have tried to read the stories not collected here, which tell Jane’s Thor-igin (not sorry), but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference. Aaron is careful to fill in the reader on the whys and wherefores, and Jane is basically dropped into a fast-moving plot anyway.
In fact, let’s address that first. I had read Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder as it came out, so I was familiar with recurring villains like Roxxon Oil and Malekith. By the time Jane comes along, both are still causing trouble, and T:GOT supporting character Roz Solomon (agent of SHIELD) is still around to help. Between Roxxon, Malekith, Loki, and a seismic change in Asgardian leadership, it feels like Jane/Thor is ping-ponging from one threat to another; but Aaron and Dauterman never seem to overwhelm her or the reader. The new Thor’s real identity is a secret (a nice retro touch), but a subplot involving a pair of overzealous SHIELD agents threatens to get tedious. Nothing really overstays its welcome, except for the War of the Realms. It’s a constant source of peril that is all bubble and no boil, and I couldn’t tell if the crossover of the same name had already happened or was set to begin. (Thanks to GCD, I see that apparently it was the latter.)
Probably the most fun arc was the “Asgard/Shi’Ar War,” which ran in issues #15-19 and involved the two incredibly egotistical Shi’Ar deities challenging Thor to various godly feats. The Imperial Guard and the Phoenix Force got in on the action as well, amping up the stakes and allowing Aaron and Dauterman to show Thor at her most powerful. Since the Shi’Ar deities were bent on wreaking as much havoc as possible, and Thor was committed to saving as many lives as she could, the whole arc was a nice bit of light-hearted superheroics.
The final arc pitted Thor against the Mangog, a character who I would describe as Thor’s version of Doomsday. Its conclusion was fairly affecting, and I was sorry to see the end of this Thor’s adventures. Jane is now Valkyrie, and although I am curious to see her in that role, I can’t imagine that it was better than her time as the Goddess of Thunder.
This was a very well-done series. As bombastic as God of Thunder was, it could also get pretty grim; and Aaron’s Avengers work has also often leaned into some dark areas in order to give Earth’s Mightiest Heroes some suitably loathsome villains. However, Mighty Thor was fueled by the determination of its headliner, whose struggle against terminal cancer was weighed constantly against her heroic responsibilities. I do want to revisit the rest of Aaron’s Thor, including War of the Realms; but again, this seems like a high point.
I also read Batgirls #7, which may be a nice jumping-on point for new readers. Written by Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad, drawn by Robbi Rodriguez, and colored by Rico Renzi, it is Part 1 of a 2-parter wherein the Batgirls – Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain, and Stephanie Brown – try to rescue Seer from the trio of supervillains called the Saints. Seer is a teenage girl who is great with computers and once thought she might be a sort of anti-Oracle. The Saints are leftover muscle who used to work for Simon Saint, one of the masterminds behind “Fear State.” Cass and Steph track Seer and the Saints to the Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge, and while they monitor the situation, Babs and her plus-one are set to pose as partygoers. The script is bouncy and unpretentious, with peppy omniscient narration. Rodriguez’ art is more traditional than Jorge Corona (the book’s regular artist), whose distinctive, energetic work might have been a little too chaotic for such a straightforward issue. Instead, Rodriguez brings a different sort of energy, with plenty of speed lines and cool expressions, which conveys the Batgirls’ methodical approach to Seer’s plight. It’s a lot of setup, but good setup; and next issue should be good, too.
The highlight of my comic-reading week had to be Do A Powerbomb #1, the new series from Daniel Warren Johnson of Beta Ray Bill, Murder Falcon and Wonder Woman: Dead Earth fame. This one combined several things I love — magic, professional wrestling, Johnson’s kinetically frenetic artwork and the emotional gut-punch I’ve come to expect from his work. While it’s easy to get lost in the visuals and what Johnson brings to the creation of each page — a heavy metal power chord turned into visual gold — I remember that what made his Beta Ray Bill series stand apart from most other Beta Ray Bill stories was that heart-wrenching moment in the first issue when you get to see and feel how apart Bill feels from everyone in his life, thanks to his tragic origin story. Y’know, this:
Do a Powerbomb #1 has a similar story-defining moment in its opening, as we learn why Lona Steelrose wants to become a professional wrestler, why everyone around her would prefer that she not, and why an offer from a necromancer who runs his own wrestling federation is tempting to her. And it’s an emotional gut-punch, which may just be Johnson’s own signature move.
The other thing I wanted to comment on is how well Johnson creates the look and feel of this professional wrestling world that the Steelrose family is a part of. Reading the back matter and knowing that he became a fan not from the Attitude Era or any sort of route through WWE, but instead came to it through New Japan Pro Wrestling, you can see how that helped define this gritty world that we’re in.
There’s a respect for the art form and athleticism that you don’t always get from the flashy, “show biz” fake reality of the WWE. Although with the fantastic elements that end this issue, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had sited Lucha Underground instead.
Once again, Johnson has created not only a visual treat, but also a compelling story where you really want to see what happens next.