Thor: The Mighty Avenger and The Aesthetics of Scale

Over at his newly reinvigorated blog, Chris Samnee has posted a sketch of Thor and the Warriors Three.

Samnee hardly needs a good reason to sketch, although I imagine that he might be a little bummed out these days. It turns out, though, that he picked these particular characters in honor of Marvel's upcoming reissue of Thor: The Mighty Avenger. TTMA is one of the great unsung comics of this century, an all ages, absolutely free from the shackles of continuity Thor story, the real main character of which is Jane Foster, here an academic working at a museum. Roger Langridge wrote with a nice combination of for-the-neophyte and for-the-obsessive, totally reworking the character's history, but also nodding along to the tune of its contemporaries by setting it in Oklahoma, although in Bergen rather than Broxton. Rereading the first issue now, it seems pretty clear to me that whoever wrote the script for the Thor movie used this comic for part of the inspiration and they couldn't have made a better choice. 

The book was also the first extended encounter I had with Samnee's work, which I've since come to adore. Although the look is very typical for the artist, simple and bold, I think it might be his best work: the line is thinner than the one I usually associate with him and the compositions are less crowded, giving the book a gorgeous, spacious quality. Matt Wilson's not-quite-flat colors also need their due, as they detail the compositions while complicating them only slightly, joining Samnee's art with a consistent visual tone. 

For whatever reason, TTMA didn't sell well, and it only lasted eight issues. I suspect its unfortunate demise had to do with a misunderstanding about what could be expected, sales-wise, out of an all-ages title; as the mainstream newsmedia never fails to remind us, comics aren't just aren't really for kids anymore. A few neat looking all-ages comics boutiques not withstanding, the children's market is probably not as robust as any of the big companies would like. So when Marvel eventually collected TTMA, they doubled down, publishing it in a scaled-down digest format, presumably because little books fit better in little hands. Insofar as this cramped the book's style, turning the spacious into the claustrophobic, it was a small tragedy. 

Last weekend, I wrote about comics' unique ability to suggest through variation of panel size, and now I can't help but wonder if there's a minimum threshold for that. On the other hand, Archie and other books are published in small magazines all the time, but those stories are designed for that size. So it seems more likely that the nature of TTMA changed, that it got less good despite no actual change in content, not because of the size of the book itself but instead because it wasn't designed to be so small. I also wonder if the same thing is true about the scale up--  I've never read one of those neat IDW artists editions or any of those massive Marvel omnibuses, so I don't know for sure. But I get the feeling that they might be weird, or certainly awkward, reading experiences; nobody is big enough to read a thousand page collection the same way they read a single issue. 

The nice thing about this particular reissue of TTMA is that they've scaled it back up to original size, so that you can, in reading it, get a much better idea of why the book is so great. Surely, for Chris Samnee, the Warriors Four, and the rest of us, that's a good reason to celebrate. 

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