Thumbnail: New Thor, New THOOMS; The Epic Sound Effects of Russell Dauterman’s Asgard
There is probably no superhero comic better known for the lettering of its sound effects than Walter Simonson's 1983-1987 run on Marvel's Thor. John Workman's lettering on that seminal, still-beloved run was so integral that it's difficult to imagine those comics without it. Workman's big, bold DOOMs, THOOMs and KRAKATHOOMs hit readers' eyes and imaginations like graphic hammer blows. Simonson's art alone could tell powerful, affecting stories, but Workman's lettering really made those Thor comics sing... and scream and thunder and crash and splinter.
How fitting then that the most recent Thor comic, featuring a brand new star character wielding Mjolnir to protect Midgard, should also have such a highly distinct sound effect style, and yet have those sound effects stand out in a completely different way than those of the Simonson/Workman Thor comics of yore.
The recent Thor comic, an eight-issue run by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman that launched to great fanfare in 2014, stars an initially mysterious female hero who has taken up Thor's name and hammer after the original model was rendered unworthy.
The series was lettered by Joe Sabino, although Dauterman handles many of the sound effects himself. The first of them appears on the third page of the first issue, a rather simple "THOOM," the sound of a frost giant's huge hand slapping against a cliff.
Unlike Workman's THOOM, this THOOM, and those that follow throughout the sequence, are rendered in what looks like simple, spontaneous print, almost scribbled over and over for emphasis. They also radiate around their source, as if flowing out of the impact of the giant's hand or foot or fist against the surface being struck.
The style of the sound effects is consistent throughout the run, but Dauterman and company are endlessly inventive with how they are integrated. Background noises, like those in the distance, will appear in the background, eclipsed by elements in the foreground; particularly loud or violent noises will fill a panel, the jagged letters leaping up at the reader.
When a super-strong character gets thrown through a wall, the sound effect travels through the hole in the wall with them.
The most bravura sequence is in the second issue, when the new Thor challenges some giant dog monsters made of ice (ah, comics!). She flies at and through them, over and over again, at incredible speed, like a living bullet criss-crossing in and out of them. It's too fast for our eyes to follow, but you can hear it, and follow the path she takes through her foes:
Note how the lettering moves your eyes to her landing, and then the KRASH of the ice dogs shattering a beat afterwards.
Later, the magic hammer is trapped in a room and trying to fly back to Thor's hand, and it keeps ramming against the nearly unbreakable doors, while the THOOMs are kept on the same side of the doors as the hammer itself.
Later still, SHIELD Agent Roz Solomon is in a gunfight, and while the guns all make the expected sounds --- BLAM BLAM BLAM --- note how the sound is drawn as muzzle flares; the sound effects don't obscure or cover up Dauterman's art; they are Dauterman's art.
N,ot every sound-effect in the series is so showy. That same page, for example, has Roz leaping through a glass window, and I didn't even notice until I started writing this that Dauterman had drawn huge shards of glass coalescing into a CRASH behind her.
Similarly, Thor will land on the ground so hard that the rock will crack into the form of a THOOM, a frost giant's freezing breath might be FOOSH shaped, and if you hit one hard enough in the head, it's possible to make a wound that spells out KKRRAK in navy blue blood.
No story, not even a Thor story, can be all DOOMs (the sound of The Destroyer's foot-falls) and KAROOOOMs (the sound of lightning leveling a giant). The smallest, sharpest noises count just as much when composing such a superhero symphony:
Lettering aside, there's actually quite a lot to recommend Aaron and Dauterman's Thor, which is ultimately true to the spirit of the concept and character, while simultaneously its own thing. Kinda like its sound effects.