Fairly early in the run of Marvel Comics’ The Mighty Thor, the writers realized that turning a Norse god into a superhero granted them license to tell a wide variety of stories, from Earthbound supervillain stand-offs to cosmic epics to tales steeped in the mythology of Asgard. The straight-to-DVD animated feature Thor: Tales Of Asgard has been timed to coincide with the blockbuster live-action Thor movie, and designed as well to appeal to Thor fans who prefer the medieval-fantasy aspects of the character to the more conventional “strongman who beats up bad guys.” The story is set during Thor’s headstrong, pre-hammer-wielding teenage years, and follows his quest to find The Lost Sword Of Surtur, joined by the boastful, fun-loving Warriors Three, and his adopted brother Loki, a fledgling sorcerer. Having Loki as an ally, not an enemy—as he is in current Thor lore—is just one of Tales Of Asgard’s winks to longtime Thor readers. The movie also features Thor’s lady-love Sif in her early days with the Valkyries, flashbacks to the epic battles of Thor’s father Odin, tense standoffs with the Frost Giants, and the origins of the Dark Elf Algrim’s grudge against Thor. It draws on 50 years of Marvel backstory and centuries of Norse legends, and turns them into a credible 70-minute sword-and-sorcery epic.
At times, Tales Of Asgard is a little too derivative of Lord Of The Rings-style fantasy, given that it’s about a powerful weapon that corrupts its users, and features scenes of cloaked questers edging along the side of a frozen mountain. And sometimes the inside jokes are a little overdone, as when Thor loses his sword and Loki hands him a wooden mallet, saying, “Better than nothing.” But Tales Of Asgard’s team of writers, directors, and animators pack a lot of story and character into a short running time, aiming for something richer and more sophisticated than Thor Babies. The Thor in Tales Of Asgard is a flawed hero whose cockiness almost touches off a devastating war. This is in no way a standard good-vs.-evil story; it’s more champion-with-faults vs. monsters-with-legitimate-gripes. In other words, classic Marvel.
Key features: Two wonky commentary tracks by the creative team, a detailed 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, and a bonus episode of the cartoon The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!