Call For Comments: Styles and Cycles (or, a funny thing happened on the way to Ragnarok)

From Wayne: So the biggest complaint I’ve heard about Thor: Love and Thunder is that is too silly. It’s a Taika Watiti movie, so I’m not really surprised by this, but the complaint seems to center around the idea that this change in the basic character of Thor from the comics is a bridge too far for many fans. The first Thor movie attempted to capture the gravitas of the Shakespearean influences on the character. They didn’t hire Kenneth Branagh to direct for nothing. But over time Chris Hemsworth’s comedic chops shined through, allowing for a redefinition of who the MCU Thor was, and that contrasted greatly from what fans of the comics wanted or expected.

I personally am not put off by this. I was never the biggest fan of Thor as a character. I read and respect the early Lee/Kirby stories, if for no other reason than watching Kirby’s visual imagination just run rampant. I thoroughly enjoyed Simonson’s seminal run in the 80s. But I’ve never been able to relate to him. The faux-Shakespearean language, the space god milieu, immortal characters with nothing resembling human concerns… none of it spoke to me very directly. I don’t think I was ever able to take him completely seriously. As a result, I’ve been okay with the MCU portrayal. But this reaction has led me to some questions.

I was a youngster when the Batman TV series was on the air, and I certainly watched in syndication for years after that. It was goofy and silly and was a fairly accurate portrayal of what DC Comics had been since the advent of the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s, which essentially ensured that comics remained ‟for children only.” It was also responsible for a very specific idea of what superheroes were to the general public for decades. No one – outside of certain fans and creators within the industry – took the genre seriously because of this camp sensation. The parody of the superhero mostly supplanted the actual superhero for most people. For those of us who did take it seriously, convincing others has been an uphill battle ever since.

Superhero comics began addressing more serious social issues not long after the Batman TV series, and by the 80s, thanks to a loosening of the Comics Code and the advent of the Direct Sales market serious adult fair was being addressed. Comics, it seemed, had finally grown up, at least to those of us who were paying attention. Yet every article that addressed this issue – yes, every article… I checked – had the title, ‟Bang! Pow! Comics Aren’t Just For Kids Anymore!,” essentially implying, yeah, but they still are… really.

The 80s led to an era in comics history that many refer to as the dark age. The surface elements of adult content, sex and violence primarily, were foregrounded, leading to a surfeit of ‟grim and gritty heroes.” Violence and rape and an utter lack of a sense of humor was the order of things in way too many superhero stories. Somehow this translated as ‟serious,” and for many readers like me, tedious.

The MCU has been fairly successful in integrating humor into their superhero universe without becoming a complete self-parody inundated in camp, yet I’m seeing a backlash to this. Is our perception of superheroes moving backwards or is this just part of a cycle? Is the reaction to the newest Thor movie just based on it violating a lot of fan’s head canon, or is Watiti just making fun the genre and its fans?

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