Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Thunder in her Veins - the sacredness of geekdom

Some bits of childhood never do make sense.

Look: I grew up in a village with an unreliable bus service and two shops - that became one shop, and then none, and that's where it's settled. It was the sort of place where there were enough people who wore petticoats for the expression "Charlie's dead" to be part of my childhood lexicon. My elder sister was the first - the only - girl on the school's football team. It was a place where 'comic' meant the Dandy and the Beano, or - if you were really lucky - an old copy of Bunty*.

So how I ever came to read Marvel's Thor line is something of a mystery to me. I think I had a Spiderman annual once, and there was the X Men and the Fantastic Four on telly on a Saturday morning, but… Thor? Seriously? I might have been able to get it at the comic book store in the nearest town (seven miles and, apparently, a twenty year timeslip away) but, well, I always knew places like that weren't made for people like me**.

All the same, Thor I did read. A fair few, actually. Mostly the early ones, with Donald Blake in them. I remember being caught by something about them - the disabled man whose vocation was easing others' pain, his walking stick actually the hammer Mjolnir. I still can't really express why, but something about them felt very beautiful, very true.  Maybe it was the overtones of the Fisher King? Maybe it was just the myth connection.

Because I was a myth junkie, devouring folklore and fairytale. If a story was old and epic and glorious, then it was my kind of story. I grinned at the pranks of tricksters, railed at monsters, wept for Prometheus chained to his rock. Raised as both an Anglican and a Baptist (don't ask) I was used to God being male, ineffably right and absorbingly loving. My contact with the grim, problematic stories of the Bible was one sanitised by a Sunday school framing which repackaged them into a reassuring scholasticism where faith (read:goodness) was rewarded, and the wicked (read: unbelievers) were punished.

Used for review purposes
Noble failure...
Myths weren't like that. In myths, all bets were off. And that made for grandeur and for tragedy. It made for fatal flaws and noble failure. It made for Gods who were tricksy, passionate, even petty. They could be deceived, could deceive. They could be wrong. 

And yet despite all that, they were honourable, powerful, righteous.

It's probably fair to say that I found myself through reading Norse legends. Yes, I was too young, too uncertain, to call it 'faith', yet all the same something in me ran to those myths with a more intuitive open-heartedness than my parents' religion could ever call from me. More, they seemed to understand me. I craved them, the way you crave salt when dehydrated: dread, beautiful Freyja; bright, lost Baldur; Loki - quick, cunning, dangerous; and Thor.

Of course, Thor.

I always feel faintly ridiculous using the word 'sacrilege' in anything other than ironic hyperbole. All the same, there does need to be a word for that hurt that is located somewhere against your heart, behind your ribs, when the things you hold sacred are treated slightingly. As a Pagan who honours certain Norse deities, there is something wrong in seeing the stark, terrible beauty of your mythic landscape re-envisaged into slick, commercial print, complete with hulking villains and so. much. spandex.

Thus it was that, for years, I was embarrassed by the association. Marvel's Thor was not my Thor, their Odin not my AllFather. Drawing that distinction was important, remains important still. But scorning the former overlooks something vital, something powerful, something old. The memory of it came back to me with the release of the MCU film. A sense of struggle, of soaring glory, of a rightness at the very base of something. And, yes, it was more slickly packaged, and sexier than a fireside story about Sir Gawain, but it spoke of something grandiose and sweeping on that same, gut-deep level.
Used for review purposes
Something sweeping and grandiose

People tend to associate the numinous with a sense of peace, of silent wonder, but sometimes it is more a sense of your heart being pried apart with grinning exuberance. Sometimes, it is that twisting, cathartic need that comes with the raunchiest choruses of folksong, the catchiest reels of the Morris. Sometimes it was what we feel when we hear stories about heroes, about people in extremity, about villains we love to hate, and sometimes just love, despite ourselves.

And that feeling is sacred. Some narratives speak to something deep in us, something more real than anything we enounter in our daily lives.When they are slighted, undermined, mocked, we feel that little wince that cries out 'sacrilege!'. It is one of the reasons why feelings are running so high around this 'Hydra Cap' debacle. Some heroes should be held high, above baseness, above the taint of cynicism.

Yet, collectively, we disown these stories. Heroism, self-sacrifice, betrayal, need - the bright, bold colours of traditional stories - are things we insist upon shutting out as we become 'grown-up', 'critical', 'literary'. But these things are still nestled in us, occupying a space in what I can only call our soul.

My engagement with this comic was not adult. It was not smooth, questioning, probing. It was not the 'refined' tastes that I have spent years cultivating. No. It was the wild joy that got me into stories in the first place. It made me air punch, made me grin, made me arch my feet and press my eyes together. I cared from a place of total, unironic absorpsion. I felt this book, felt the way I once felt as I tore around the playground pretending to be the Human Torch.

(Flame on!)

But, as such, an actual review is beyond me. Is Mighty Thor: Volume 7 great art? Will it change the shape of Literature as we know it?

Is the story any good, even? Should you read it?

I have no fucking clue. Sorry.

I had to whittle this down to one awesome picture. THERE ARE SO MANY.
Also: Malekith the Accursed - just too FABULOUS for your morality.
There are some books out there that make you realise the futility of reviewing books, that make you see there is no helpful, universal rubric to define whether something is worthwhile. Yes, you can analyse craft and effect and technique, but sometimes a story speaks to something that is too pronounced and personal, its power over you too great to allow you to reach for your wonted pose of critical objectivity.

I have to admit that, while I tend to enjoy what I read, I'm not especially immersed in Marvel 616 stuff. As an adult reader, it's rare they provide me with more than an entertaining stopping post for an insatiable bookworm. Mighty Thor: Thunder in Her Veins went so far beyond that faint praise that there is no comparison - but those feelings are so subjective that I cannot extend to any of you.

As such, I really can't recommend it. Do you like stories about honour and righteousness, about family and longing, about war and good and evil, and some things that you just can't categorise? Then maybe read it. You might get something from it.

But, while we're on the subject of recommenations, what I have to say is that  it isn't really this comic you need to read. No. Don't seek out a specific story or book, don't listen to anything else. Instead, shrug off your irony. Ignore the cheap, headline grabbing shots, the 'risky' takes appealing to the part of you that wants to tarnish and tear down.

No. Reach into your heart and find those embarrasing remnants of unmitigated joy - however commerical, low brow or melodramatic they may be. Find your heroes - your glorious and impossible heroes - and cling to them. Celebrate them.

We are readers. We are better than that.

*What? The stories were better.
** Shout out to 'The Grinning Demon' and 'Whatever Comics' of Maidstone, which (when I finally plucked up the courage to slip inside) were absolutely lovely. But you know what I meant.

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