Issue(s): Thor #330, Thor #331
The story here is that Thor catches a suicide attemptee and realizes that she's part of a group of devout Thor worshipers. And yes, he seems taken aback, and denies seeking followers and even pays lip service to greater powers...
...but that's because he's realized he's been too successful. This kind of overt worship is just going to cause a backlash (and worse, embarrass him in front of his Avengers buddies).
Indeed, the backlash starts with this incident.
As Donald Blake, Thor even denies to Sif that he's been seeking worshipers. Sif doesn't see why he should, but she also refuses to learn modern speech.
So why is Blake playing things down to Sif? Because he's been playing a very subtle game here. Sure, he's got to keep up humans' goodwill for himself and the Asgardians (it's what saved them in Thor annual #10 after all) but he can't be overt about it or stuff like what happens in this issue is going to happen. And Sif, as we can see, is not going to be subtle about it. She's already one step away from setting up temples.
Meanwhile, the aspiring priest that shouted "Blasphemy!" gets kicked out of seminary school for being too much of a zealot, and he has a weird experience at his father's grave that transforms him into the Crusader.
He makes the gravedigger, a guy that keeps referring to himself in the third person in his own thought bubbles, his squire.
So when Thor shows up to accept a symbol of thanks from the mayor (and hopefully use the meeting to send a coded message to his followers to keep it on the down-low for a while), the Crusader shows up to attack him.
His mere presence sparks a riot.
And he turns out to be tougher than expected.
Sif shows up (in a new costume that materialized between issues) in the aftermath of Thor's defeat to teleport him back to Asgard.
Odin is surprisingly nonchalant about the whole thing.
He's also a bit coy about what happened to Thor. It's clear that the Crusader isn't just some regular super-villain that got powers stronger than Thor's. Odin says it's a question of faith.
And he says the problem is that Thor hesitated when he found that people were overtly worshiping him.
Odin's next statement, that Thor should serve among the humans without accepting their worship, is the most problematic line in terms of my suspicion of Thor's motivations for the last two publication years. That final panel, taken in exclusion, seems to be saying that the Norse gods' time has passed and they shouldn't be expecting people to worship them anymore. But when looked at in light of the preceding panels, Odin seems to be saying that the problem is that Thor can't be approaching things so cautiously. Either he has to drop his doubt and accept being treated like a god on Earth, or he can't accept people's worship. And considering the lessons in humility that Odin has subjected Thor to over the years, plus his friendship with mortals like the Avengers, it's pretty much a forgone conclusion that Thor is not going to be able to fully accept worship. So that's why Odin is saying Thor has to give it up.
And that is an interesting conundrum in light of Thor annual #10 (drawn by Bob Hall, who drew and plotted this issue; both were also scripted by Alan Zelenetz). In that issue, it was revealed that all of the earthly deities were formed by human faith shaping Earth's Demiurge (possibly it's through this power that the Crusader is powered as well). And i posited that the reason Thor was able to fight the Demogorge, whose job it is to recycle no-longer-wanted godstuff back into the Demiurge, was because Thor had been engaged in this worshiper scheme of his. Commentor Walter Lawson also noted the fact that Thor is directly descended from one of the Elder Gods, Gaia, which puts him in a different category than the other Asgardians, able to function as an active god outside the Norse pantheon. And i do think the roundabout way that Odin is saying some of this stuff means he's trying to send Thor a message without maybe breaking some rule.
So the question is, does Thor takes his father's advice and (essentially) resign himself to being just a super-hero instead of a god?
Well, Thor returns to Earth just as the Crusader is striking the priest that kicked him out of seminary school.
And note Thor's trash talking about the Crusader's god. He's not a real god. But Thor's faith is strong.
And Crusader loses the crowd.
So does this mean Thor is accepting his godhood ("You're the agent of a false god but i'm a real god"?). Well, no. I have to concede. Thor ends saying that he isn't a god "fit for worship".
Now i could argue that the "fit for worship" line gives me a little wiggle room, and that Thor got the message from Odin and he can continue to operate as this new type of god on Earth that still draws power from the admiration of the people's he's protecting, and just without the overt worshiping like we saw in this issue. But i'm gonna go ahead and give it up. I was really just having some fun trying to find some subtext in the past few years of books, most of which were very insubstantial. But i really do appreciate this story, which is one of the few that really looks at Thor as a God in the modern day. The Crusader may not be the most exciting villain (although he does have several more scattered appearances), but he's used in a way to really create a contrast with Thor in a modern and predominantly Christian society. You could argue that having it stated that the Crusader wasn't really a follower of the Christian God is a cop-out, but i think it goes as far as it could have without getting offensive.
Bob Hall's art, unfortunately, is not as awesome and impactful as it was in that Thor annual. I don't know if it was a question of inkers (the annual had several but none were Vincent Colletta) or the crazy cosmic stuff he got to draw there.
In non-religious treatise news, Thor lets readers know at the beginning of issue #330 that if Sif can't adjust to life on Midgard, "our betrothal, pledged in the heavens, may be... broken".
The Nurse Stevens ethnicity report is showing "white" today. The other guy in the scene is a cop investigating Jane Foster's disappearance.
At the end of this arc, some police show up to request that Donald Blake go down to the police station for questioning.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: The MCP places this between Avengers #230-231. Next issue begins at the police station, but Blake has his lawyer with him at that point (and he's not under arrest). So i'm allowing that there could be some space between this arc and next issue.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showCrusader (Holy Zealot), Fandral, Heimdall, Hela, Hogun, Nurse Stevens, Odin, Polowski, Sif, Thor
i really like the crusader. I'm always a sucker for villains with unusual motivations, in this case religious (also interesting that he is an Alan Zelenetz creation, who also made the moon knight foe, Zohar, the only religious Jewish villain I can think of.)
As you note, he helps take Thor in an new direction by creating an interesting foil for him. I especially wonder how religious christians would veiw this story.
But like most great villains, he only really works as a Thor villain and should have stayed that way. (Like the flag-smasher/Captain America or Firebrand/Iron man pairings.) He should not fight Wolverine or Luke Cage as it lessens his impact. (I'll say he's a black knight villain in a pinch.)
Posted by: kveto from prague | August 3, 2013 7:44 PM
Once again I agree with Kveto. Crusader makes an interesting Thor "villain" because he's not a criminal and has no desire to exploit others. Unfortunately, when he's made a few appearances outside this issue, he's just turned into another generic villain with a zealot twist which makes no sense.
The source of the Crusader's power in this issue is not addressed I think, and the fact that it fluctuates makes it very interesting. If I remember correctly, the OHOTMU puts his power levels really below Thor's, yet this issue makes him a comparable foe.
Posted by: Chris | August 3, 2013 8:36 PM
Oh brother, it's not just race: Nurse Stevens is suffering from the same hair color malady as so many other Marvel heroines! (seriously: she starts a brunette in the Menagerie story (who becomes a blonde mermaid), then was blonde and then after a couple color changes is black-haired. Is she just that bored with her life she can't make up her mind what she is!?)
Posted by: Ataru320 | August 3, 2013 9:07 PM
"Arthur Blackwood" may be a combination of Victorian fantasy/horror authors Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood.
Sif's new costume seems way too much like her late 1960s outfit.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 4, 2013 4:37 PM
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