This post is part of an ongoing series.
You are warned, here be spoilers.
“But the God of Storms was not here when the hurricane came, and the knowledge that he could have tamed the winds and turned back the sea burns him to the core. That, and the questions. If he was not here… then where were the other heroes? Why were not force fields erected? Why were tides not evaporated by heat and blast? Why were buildings not supported by strength of arms and steel?”
So run the first few narration boxes on the second page of this issue, as Thor arrives in a post-Katrina New Orleans, and there is so much going on in that paragraph.
Within any setting with superheroes, the integration of real-world tragedies cries out for an explanation. Where were the other heroes?
At the beginning of Superman Returns, Superman has just returned from a long sojourn in deep space. When the film came out, I remember one film critic citing this as an explanation for 9/11 – because with Superman around, 9/11 simply wouldn’t have happened. In the case of a terrorist attack, this claim is debatable – the conspirators might have formed a different plan, one that allowed for the existence of Superman. But in the case of a hurricane, which makes no plans – and in a world with a much bigger superhuman community than that of Superman Returns – the claim holds a lot more water. In such a world, the horror wrought by hurricane Katrina should not have happened.
Thor’s own thoughts are given voice later in the issue, when a mortal – living in a run-down house with at least ten other people – calls Thor out over this very point:
Ezra: “I told the reporters and I told the politicians and I told the celebrities and now I’m telling you – this is our town, it’s our pain, it’s our life, and you don’t get to use it like it was some kinda movie set so you can look like a big guy! If you were gonna do something, you shoulda done it when we needed you! Where were you then? Huh?”
I love – love – depictions of mortals calling out the gods for treating mortals capriciously. It is, among other things, one of the aspects of Exalted that first attracted me; there, standing up to cruel or irresponsible gods on behalf of mortals is a central tenet of the heroes’ mandate.
This scene (and this issue) is about holding the gods accountable for how they treat the earth and its inhabitants. It’s also, however, about how comic book heroes are our mythic gods. The fact that Thor is technically a god at once highlights and obscures this point.
It’s interesting that one of Straczynski’s characters complains about people using his pain “like it was some kinda movie set so you can look like a big guy,” when Straczynski himself is doing just that. Not good, not bad, but damned interesting.
Thor also has a run-in with Iron Man, who tries to hit Thor with the whole Superhuman Registration Act deal. This leads to a fight scene, where for once Marvel’s notorious habit of having heroes fight heroes seems justified. Thor rattles off a laundry list of offenses Iron Man committed in Thor’s absence. It’s also implied, though he doesn’t say it, that he blames Iron Man for the lack of hero response to the hurricane. The heroes were all off fighting their stupid Civil War instead of, y’know, hero-ing. This whole sequence is immensely satisfying.
It’s not uncommon for a writer to have nature reflect the actions of the story, to have the weather change to fit the characters’ moods, and so on. In this case, we see wondrous justification of it – as Thor is the god of thunder, it’s only natural for storms to gather when he’s angry. After the first half of the issue (deliberately, I believe) conflates “superhero” and “god”, the second half tears them apart again.