Making the Case for Broxton
In case you haven't heard...DONNY CATES IS TAKING OVER THOR.
This is a big deal! The man has been one of the most captivating writers in comics for the last few years, on and off the page, and now he's been given the keys to an entirely different section of the Marvel universe.
What do you do, though, if, like me, you've never really felt drawn to the character of Thor before? What if you're a giant Donny Cates fan and this is now going to be your first Thor comic, and you're feeling a little intimidated? Where should you start, if you want to try reading an earlier Thor run to get a grasp on the character and his world? I thought if I explained my thought process on how I started to warm up to Thor, maybe it would help other people who might be in a similar situation.
My favorite era in Marvel comics is the mid-to-late 2000's. It was the heyday of the Yearly Marvel Crossover Event, and I was following along (a few years behind though), buying trades and hardcovers faster than my pathetic food court paychecks could keep up with. This was how I made sense of the Marvel universe at the time - starting with Avengers: Disassembled to Civil War to Secret Invasion and beyond, I, along with many others, was following the connective story threads from event to event. I soon learned that while the crossovers were fun, blockbuster events; the ongoing series for the individual characters and teams were where the real, consequential storytelling was happening. I loved Civil War, but I loved reading about the formation of the New Avengers in the buildup to Civil War that much more. It's these other, individual series that really flesh out the broader world, and it was through this process of reading various individual characters' series that I eventually discovered Thor.
Fast forward a couple years to 2011. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was just coming into its own, the upcoming fourth film was Thor, and I barely had any idea who Thor was. This is because during my main focal period of Marvel reading - the mid-to-late 2000's - Thor was dead.
In the final issue of Thor (Vol. 2) #85, Ragnarok happens, and all of the nine realms (except Midgard!) are destroyed. This was back in December 2004, and Thor would go without his own solo title for THREE YEARS, until the release of Thor (Vol. 3) #1 in September 2007.
As such, when faced with the looming release date of Thor in theaters, I turned to the most recent COLLECTED relaunch of Thor in comics to help introduce me to the character and world. This was Thor (Vol. 3) #1, written by J. Michael Straczynski and pencilled by Olivier Coipel, released in September 2007.
Straczynski actually wouldn't stay on this volume of Thor for too long: it was a shorter run of only 18 issues, ending with Thor Giant-Size Finale #1 in November 2009. Briefly, Straczynski's run is about Thor reawakening after Ragnarok. He reawakens in America as his alter-ego Dr. Donald Blake and soon regains his memories. The ensuing issues deal with Thor one by one finding his friends and fellow citizens of Asgard, who are all similarly stuck in "civilian" bodies with no recollection of who they really are, and reawakening them.
More importantly, Thor reconstitutes the city of Asgard itself, except now it's floating above the fields of Broxton, Oklahoma. It is this new, earthbound location of Asgard in Oklahoma that proves to be the most impactful development from this series to the greater Marvel universe moving forward.
In addition to seeing how Thor and the newly-reawakened Asgardians react to their new earthbound status quo, I think what's more exciting as a reader is to see how these developments impacted the citizens of Broxton - quiet, country people who don't know the first thing about the big city, to say nothing of the literal, mythical big city that's now hovering feet off the ground just outside their town. The citizens of Broxton and the relationships they form with Thor and the other Asgardians are unexpectedly touching and form the core emotional arc of this storyline.
Some of the things that initially turned me off of reading Thor all those years were the epic grandiose scale, the Conan-style musclebound brawly fights, and the goofy "YEA VERILY" dialogue. This run in particular helped to humanize those more niche elements of Thor and allowed me to get a sense of the larger Thor universe, while managing to temporarily sidestep a lot of the bigger, empty-feeling Lord of the Rings-style battle scenes that I was worried would be prevalent throughout. That sort of content is in Straczynski's run, to be sure, it's just humanized effectively through the comparatively "normal" circumstances of the citizens of Broxton.
And, if you're reading this far, I feel like I can't end this article without mentioning the elephant in the room - Jason Aaron. If we're talking about important runs on Thor, it feels criminal to not mention the epic, years-long run that Jason Aaron has just finished with this character.
It's already being widely recognized as one of the best runs of Thor of all time, and for sure belongs near the top of any list of Best Comics of the 2010's. So why did I spend all this damn time talking about a different, "lesser" Thor run? The easiest answer was I wanted to give this article some personal perspective, my own process of beginning to learn about Thor, and at the time, Jason Aaron's run on the character was still a year or two off in the future. But I also legitimately believe the down-to-earth (pun intended) nature of the Broxton storyline is an underestimated humanizing force that works very well at demystifying the world of Thor, which (for me at least) was a very confusing and overwhelming separate corner of the Marvel universe. Jason Aaron's run is massive, sprawling, the very definition of the word epic. It has absolutely earned its legendary status. But to more fully appreciate a run like that, it can be beneficial for the uninitiated to dabble with a more grounded storyline, and you can certainly find that in J. Michael Straczynski's run.
Thanks again for bearing with my rambling self this entire time. Anybody that's all the way down here at the bottom of this article, I love you for caring enough to read any of this nonsense. Stay tuned for more coverage about Thor and Donny Cates as we lead up to the debut of this anticipated new run!
-Fire Guy Ryan
Fire Guy Ryan (sometimes just known as Normal Ryan) is one of the co-hosts on the ComicTom101 YouTube channel (and podcast!). When he's not reading comics or talking about them with his friends Tom, Russ, Jeff and Eryn, he's most likely working his graveyard job at the hotel in Seattle or sleeping in the daytime, and those are the two reasons he's probably not answering you right now. He's a lover of storytelling - film and television in particular - and every now and then he tries writing his own screenplay. He totally didn't write this blurb about himself either.