The Thunder God visits New Orleans

September 4th, 2007 by Josh Neufeld  

Right in time for Katrina’s second anniversary comes the third issue of the latest incarnation of the Marvel comic book Thor. In this issue, the Thunder God superhero visits post-Katrina New Orleans. Here’s a text excerpt from the preview pages:

…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? Why this?

Like other attempts by mainstream comics to deal with real-world issues, I find this story simultaneously offensive and weirdly touching. In my experience, the escapist fantasies of superhero comics are expressly designed to take the reader out of their mundane existence. As with science fiction, when they do touch upon real-world issues, they do it best obliquely, or via metaphor. I mean, force fields?

As the Life Without Buildings blog puts it, “it’s a relief to see something like this; a mainstream comic that addresses, even in passing, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the disorganization which continues to delay the city’s reconstruction.” But typically (despite the fact that Thor artist Olivier Coipel does a nice job of evoking the flood-ravaged city), the story quickly devolves into a battle royale between Thor and Iron Man, with New Orleans merely serving as a backdrop.

Comics like Thor #3 are precisely why I feel it’s so important to forge A.D. as a comics document of real people’s real struggles with the storm and its aftermath. And I like to think that their stories are just as compelling—if not more so—than their make-believe superpowered counterparts.

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