Trimming The Collection – Thor: Vikings

Thor: Vikings #1–5 by Garth Ennis and Glenn Fabry

I started a theme a long time ago – Trimming The Collection – where I chatted about comic books I had bought but now, when reading them again, I’m not sure why I’ve kept them and decide whether to keep them or not.

I recently had a sort through my longboxes, mostly to tidy up and file things in the correct boxes. In doing so, I found some books that I could barely remember reading, let alone buying, so I thought I’d read them to work out the thought process and to see if they should be on the list.

Thor: Vikings came out in 2003, towards the end of the Bill Jemas era of Marvel Comics, where they were experimenting a lot more, getting writers to come in and do interesting things with their characters. Garth Ennis had been lured to Marvel with the promise of being able to do whatever he wanted with The Punisher. His twelve-issue story – Welcome Back, Frank (with Steve Dillon on art) – turned out to be the basis of the recent Punisher film with Thomas Jane (but don’t let that put you off – it’s a great story), and Ennis went onto write a host of Marvel characters you wouldn’t expect him to (Hulk, Ghost Rider,Spider-Man) and those you might (Nick Fury, in a story which allegedly put George Clooney off doing a Fury film).

After Hellblazer, Preacher and Hitman, Ennis became one of those writers where you would try almost anything of his, which is why I bought this mini-series. After this mini-series, I didn’t afford him this luxury. Not that this is a bad story – Ennis isn’t capable of writing really bad stories, he’s that a good writer – but it just feels wrong.

You are warned on the cover – Parental Advisory: Explicit Content – so you shouldn’t be surprised by somebody stepping on a woman’s head on the first page. However, it’s this mix of gritty realism of what Vikings were actually like and the noble and heroic Thor punching people while wearing tights. Obviously, we don’t see any Vikings raping women – it is a Marvel comic – but Fabry enjoys drawing Vikings stabbing, beheading, hanging and generally killing absolutely everyone in sight in the most bloodthirsty way possible. To be fair, Fabry does good gore (although his colour work still doesn’t capture the sharpness of his black and white work from his early days) and I’ve no objection to it; however, the combination of this with a traditional superhero tale of Thor fighting just doesn’t come together as Ennis intended.

Some Vikings have been cursed, and turn up in Manhattan in 2003, amped up and seemingly unstoppable, killing everyone and turn the city into a death camp. Thor tries to stop them, only to get the crap kicked out of him, and the Vikings to keep on killing. Then, Doctor Strange turns up to explain everything and come up with a solution – find descendants of the shaman who did the original curse gone wrong and use some proper magic to empower them (a Viking maiden, a Teutonic Knight, and a Luftwaffe pilot) and Thor to fight the Vikings, which they do (with Thor rather embarrassingly starting it with the phrase: ‘Tis On.) And win. The End.

It’s a very strange idea, albeit put together more than competently, and it’s fine if you all you want is some over-the-top violence set in the Marvel universe. Ennis does his war and soldiers themes as well as usual, although his Thor is fairly one-dimensional and his Strange seems a little too effete, although more capable than most people write him, with the occasional good line. But it feels like Ennis was cajoled into working up a Thor idea (it’s a good concept, mixing the Norse God with the original Norsemen) and the final product not given the necessary editorial reigning in that another writer might have been. I don’t think this will stay in my collection – re-reading it didn’t bring the same joy that Preacher or Hitman does and that’s the line I have to take.

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