To help celebrate our twenty-fifth year of being on the information superhighway, we have reached out to some of our favorite former columnists for check-ins and updates. Today’s columnist, Mark Peters, was one of the winners of our 2013 Column Contest. In Best Joke Ever, he examined perfect jokes by masters of the form. We’re happy to welcome Mark back to the site with a brand-new installment.
“I make grave mistakes all the time. Everything seems to work out.” — Thor
For a genre of movies that evolved from what were once called long-underwear characters, superhero films haven’t been all that funny. The Spider-Verse movies are exceptions—and visually mind-sploding. Michael Keaton in Birdman is a dark comedy of the gods. Guardians of the Galaxy is a hoot.
But the title of Funniest Superhero Movie (cue “Immigrant Song”) must surely be taken by Thor: Ragnarok, a Jack Kirby-infused circus-romp through space that’s loaded with physical comedy, actual wit, great jokes, real surprises, and more British understatement and buffoonery than a London open mic.
The strong Kirby influence first drew me to Ragnarok, as the legendary writer and artist had long been deprived of proper credit for doing most of the work of creating the Marvel Universe—including the Hulk, Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Ant-Man, not to mention hundreds of other characters and properties. Director Taika Waititi pleasingly went full Kirby in the movie’s style, with Kirby-inspired designs and colors, including actual pieces of Kirby artwork incorporated into some sets. Kirby created universes and killed Nazis and practically invented action in comic books. Kirby was a pantheon-spawning creative god. And if you don’t believe me, read Tom Scioli’s bio.
For Ragnarok, I came for the Kirby but stayed for the comedy. Unlike the middling sequel Love and Thunder, Ragnarok’s batting average for joke success was at Hall of Fame levels, with a script not only inspired partly by The Big Lebowski but almost as memorable. Some highlights:
- Skurge, soon to be Hela’s stooge and eventually a hero, showing off his stuff, including guns from Tex-Ass, to the lasses of Asgard.
- Hulk and Thor’s bickering, which included memorably moronic lines like “You bad friend!” and “Baby arms!”
- The Melting Stick, an instrument of death every space tyrant should own. Also, every space tyrant should be Jeff Goldblum.
- Bruce Banner realizing he’s been stuck in Hulk form for two years, and now is stuck in Tony Stark’s wardrobe on a bizarre planet.
- Everything Loki does. That reliable god of mischief, whether impersonating Odin, ingratiating himself with Jeff Goldblum, trying to avoid the Hulk, or actually being a teensy-weensy bit heroic, is a goddamn delight.
- The sight of Chris Hemsworth as Thor stumbling and bumbling and slipping and sliding, tasered and humiliated, again and again, by circumstances and enemies. It’s a selfless performance, and boy, is it unfair that someone who looks like that is also funny.
It’s also a movie, for all its brawls and gags, about loss.
- Thor loses his hammer—broken by his long-lost sister with antlers, Hela.
- Thor loses his father—drifted away with the breeze like a Jedi who imagined himself to death.
- Thor loses his hair—trimmed nonconsensually by cameo expert Stan Lee.
- Thor loses his eye—gouged out by Hela, ouchie.
- Thor loses his home—Asgard gets blown up as part of the whole apocalyptic Ragnarok thing.
Hammer, father, hair, eye, and home are a lot to lose—a tough day at the Asgardian office. I reckon the unrelenting loss is what makes this movie hit a little deeper than a standard Marvel jokefest can manage. These jokes aren’t just there to make you chuckle, but to help ease the pain of loss. The comedy helps Thor survive.
Speaking of survival, Ragnarok feels more relevant than ever to me this year, which I can conservatively say is the worst of my life.
I don’t want to appear depressing and whiny—both come naturally—but this has been my Ragnarok year. I’m sorry for flinging it at you like a Thor’s hammer of depression, but if I don’t find ways to process it, like writing this damned column, I honestly don’t know if I’ll survive it.
This year, starting in April, has seen me take the following Ls:
- I lost my job. ‘Twas a unique and lucrative job I’m unlikely to find the likes of again. I’m still wrapping my head around the financial ramifications as I return to freelancing and near-poverty.
- I lost my father. It wasn’t a surprise. He had been declining for months and had a death sentence in the form of multiple myeloma. Still, the fact that Ed Peters doesn’t exist anymore is something I still can’t believe.
- I lost my dog. This is the freshest loss. Monkey, a rat terrier, died August 31. It’s not a shock when a seventeen-year-old dog dies, but it is the crushing loss of my teenage sidekick, who I’ve had for exactly one-third of my existence on this round shitball called Earth. This loss may hit the hardest, as my empty apartment feels even more dreary than it did before.
Even without a Loki messing with me, that’s enough to qualify for Ragnarok status, I suppose.
Through it all, maybe because of it all, or just in addition to it all, I’ve been dealing with the worst depression of my life. I thought graduate school depression and COVID depression were bad. They can’t compare to Ragnarok depression.
My biggest accomplishment of late is managing to sleep twelve to fourteen hours a day and inspiring my therapist to suggest I check myself into an inpatient or outpatient program. Yay.
So, how do I get out of this pickle?
Were I Thor, I’d make magic lightning come out of my fingers, and blast the minions of Hela straight to hell or Buffalo, New York, land of the frost giants.
Then, my dead father and dead dog would appear to me in a vision, which would be awesome because I miss them both dearly. I hope they’re somehow together. Among the many depressing aspects of my poor father’s life, his abusive father “disappeared” the family beagle after the dog misbehaved. My dad deserves a dog in Valhalla.
Since sparkles and visions are off the menu, and I want to survive, mostly, I’m trying to hold onto any reasons to keep going as I can.
I have great friends. I like drawing stupid cartoons. I love reading smart cartoons by people like Kirby, Geof Darrow, Moebius, Philippe Druillet, and Jim Woodring. I enjoy pro wrestlers like Orange Cassidy and the late Terry Funk. Key lime pie is my friend. So is pinball and the joy of multiball. Dumb as this list is, the ingredients are the only reasons I can find to not stay in bed permanently.
Oh, I almost forgot—I’m a writer. I think.
So returning to this column is part of how I’m trying to resuscitate my will to live.
Turns out that excellent job I lost did have one bad side effect: it took me away from writing. Writing has been the only thing I’ve ever really been good at, and I’ve thought of myself as a writer since I was too young to know a noun from a nun.
So, thanks to McSweeney’s twenty-fifth anniversary for getting me back doing what, I suppose, I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not exactly shooting lightning from my fingertips, but by Odin’s beard, I’m trying.
Jack Kirby killed Nazis and created universes. The least I can do is stay alive.