Review: Thor and the Warriors Four trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

[Review by Doug Glassman.]

So what happens when you combine Walt Simonson’s The Mighty Thor and the all-ages, Gurihiru-drawn Power Pack? You get Thor and the Warriors Four. Published in 2010, it’s the last of the Pack mini-series so far, and perhaps the best as well. Marvel’s all-ages line was heavily impacted by the purchase of Marvel by Disney, leading to a reduction in titles. However, the success of A-Babies vs. X-Babies, the greatest single issue of 2012, put Gurihiru back on the map, and Julie Power was a popular cast member in Avengers Academy.

Alex Zalben quickly reestablishes the Power Pack’s origins and personalities before putting them in a troublesome situation: the reality of death. It's not some cosmic threat, however; rather the Pack has to come to terms with their grandmother, dying in a hosptial. Despite the so-called “maturity” of many comics from the Big Two, this is perhaps the most mature take on dying that I’ve seen in comics since Aunt May’s death in Amazing Spider-Man #400 (and that was retconned away). The Powers have incredible abilities . . . but they can’t save their grandmother. When Julie Power finds a conveniently-placed book about the life-restoring Golden Apples of Idunn, however, they hatch a plan.

Before the Power Pack can reach Asgard, however, the first encounter the Pet Avengers. They’re led by Frog Thor (or Throg, if you wish) also known as Puddlegulp, Thor’s froggy friend from Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson Volume 3. Other members include the Inhumans’ dog Lockjaw, Lockheed of the X-Men and SWORD, Speedball’s cat Hairball, Ka-Zar’s Saber-toothed Tiger Zabu, and the Falcon’s assistant Redwing. The oddest member is Ms. Lion, Aunt May’s dog from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Ms. Lion is actually male, which could qualify him as one of comics’ few transsexual heroes. The Pet Avengers are a very silly concept, almost too silly for me, but it makes sense to pair them up with the Power Pack in a comic intended (at least in part) for kids.

The two teams fight Asgardian Wargs (to quote Katie Power, “Pets fighting pets! It’s like that dream I had!”) and the Pack use the giant wolves to get to Asgard. The Pack gain special clothes and assistance from a traveler named “Koli,” whose true identity you can probably guess. After they establish themselves as the titular Warriors Four against various Asgardian enemies, the best character in Thor and the Warriors Four arrives. Zalben clearly recognizes that Beta Ray Bill, despite his honor and might, is a giant, stoic, orange, buck-toothed, horse-faced alien in a funkified Thor costume; the pony-obsessed Katie quickly becomes enamored of him, even offering him a carrot, which he quietly accepts.

Bill isn’t the only Walt Simonson-ian touch in the book. Like much of Walt’s run, the story centers around actual Norse myths, such as the aforementioned Golden Apples, Jormungandr the World Serpent ,and Ratatosk, the squirrel which runs messages up and down Yggdrasil the Life Tree. The Pack inadvertently allow Loki, the Enchantress, and a Frost Giant ally to take over Asgard and change its inhabitants into children, leading to what the Internet has collectively dubbed “The Cutearok”. This is where Gurihiru’s artwork becomes key. Everything about the de-aged Asgardians seems spot-on, from Thor turning into Donald Blake in a giant coat to the Warriors Three having a snowball fight.

Over twenty years of “Thorse” jokes finally reach their apex with the de-aged Bill, known as “Baby Ray Bill” throughout the fandom. He becomes something so adorable that I can’t believe Marvel hasn’t turned the design into a stuffed animal. Naturally, Thor gets to ride on him. Later on, as the Asgardians rapidly age, Bill first appears with braces and an afro, and then a strange cowlick. Thor, meanwhile, gets his Sal Buscema armor and mustache from the later issues of Simonson’s run. Alex Power gets to use Mjolnir after learning how to keep his cool around his siblings and appreciate their contributions, while Julie tries to reconcile myth and science.

With the help of the Pet Avengers, Thor, and Bill, Loki and crew are defeated, and as Donald Blake, Thor sneaks Grandma Power some applesauce made from the Golden Apples. I would normally be against this kind of ending, but considering the age range of the audience, a happy ending is warranted, and the kids certainly earn it. The story isn’t over, though: Colleen Coover provided a back-up story which chronicles Hercules babysitting the pack after Johnny Storm backs out. In fighting Hydra, cleaning up the mess afterwards, and attending Katie’s tea party, Hercules helps reinforce the strong family themes.

Every woman is in love with Hercules, which is just one of the great jokes and running gags peppered throughout the book. From Julie’s Norse Myths book being met with Koli’s Norse Facts to the terrifying implications of the Squirrel of Mischief, Thor and the Warriors Four revels in the fun of the whole situation. The team keeps forgetting to use their code names, and Katie is convinced that “Asgard” is a dirty word. The Gurihiru team put in numerous background jokes, such as Lockjaw and Jack teleporting away to get tropical drinks. They even keep up one of the jokes from the Pet Avengers comics: the pets speak in “animal,” meaning that from the human perspective, they’re just making growls and squeaks.

In the aforementioned A-Babies vs. X-Babies, Baby Thor rides in on Baby Ray Bill, both using their Power Pack designs, even though Bill isn’t an Avenger; he wasn’t even in the crossover itself! This, along with a Pack appearance in the background, show that Gurihiru appreciate the book that made them famous in the US. The Thor and the Warriors Four digest is hard to find and expensive on Amazon, but it’s well worth a search. I hope it and some of the other digests get a hardcover release like The Kids Are All Right so that they can reach a broader audience.
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