As the Marvel Universe prepares for War of the Realms, its latest summer crossover, Tim is taking a look back at Jason Aaron’s six-year run on Thor. Reading through this epic tale of the God of Thunder for the first time, he charts how Aaron and his artistic collaborators have quietly built a complete story spanning time, space and more Thors than you can shake a hammer at.
In this entry, Thor attempts to tackle climate change, deals with some very literal corporate bullshit, and Mjolnir is picked up by a new owner…
Covered, and spoiled forwards & backwards, in this instalment:
THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #19-25, ORIGINAL SIN #0-8, THOR (Vol 4) #1-8
The first two arcs of Thor: God of Thunder explored Thor as a character by himself. The third tackled his place in the cosmology and politics of the Nine Worlds. The fourth and final arc of this particular run deals with Thor down on ol’ Midgard – how he is perceived, how he interacts with the modern world, and what kind of problems he deals with.
Our human point-of-view on Thor is Roz Solomon, a newly graduated SHIELD agent first introduced in Thor: God of Thunder #12 having gone viral for asking Thor to be her date at whatever SHIELD’s version of prom is. Thor, looking to reconnect with humans after his time spent fighting Gorr the God Butcher, took her up on the offer.
It’s a very sweet scene in an issue full of them, and could easily have been all we saw of Agent Solomon, but Aaron clearly had plans for her. In her first appearance, she mentions that she’s part of SHIELD’s environmental task force (the first of its kind, we later learn), and that forms a central part of this arc. Thor isn’t the first Marvel character you’d look to when it comes to dealing with global warming and corporate pollution, but digging into the idea, it makes a surprising amount of sense.
Thor stories set on Earth and dealing with Earth-bound enemies tend to be the weakest elements of even strong runs on the character, because there’s rarely anything thematically linking them to Thor. They’re usually just about Thor fighting an opponent strong enough to stand up to him.
Iron Man stories are about the dangers of technology, corporate intrigue or the past catching up with you; Captain America stories are about the nature of patriotism, the role of the government or being an individual standing up against a system – all rich ideas that can be explored in a variety of locations. Thor’s stories tend to revolve around the rich mythic setting of the Nine Realms, or what happens when Marvel’s supernatural forces interact with the ‘regular’ world. But those are set dressing, rather than core themes, and as a result, Thor stories without those identifying elements feel lacking.
Positioning Thor as the hero to deal with a global issue like the environment works on several levels. First, Thor’s power level means that he has a worldwide scope, and having him show up in the Arctic Circle or a Somali desert makes as much sense as him flying around New York City. His weather-manipulation powers give him a connection to the global climate while also allowing stories to demonstrate the difference between an immediate fix, like a god showing up to make it rain one time, and long-term solutions that address root problems.
Aaron’s run has emphasised the immortal nature of Thor, stretching across thousands of years, and this gives him a long-term perspective on top of his global scope in the present. Indeed, this arc also shows King Thor in the far future, attempting to rekindle life on a burnt-out, polluted Earth (and stop Old Galactus from eating it in the meantime). Finally, it ties into the ideas of duty, responsibility and Thor’s guardianship of Earth that exist in Aaron’s run, and raises the question of whether Thor’s protection of Earth extends to protecting it from humans too.
In terms of big story mechanics, this arc introduces some important elements for Aaron’s ongoing plot, and also closes off a holdover from a previous period of Thor. Back in Thor (Vol 2) #85, Ragnarok occurred, destroying Asgard and killing off Thor and the rest of the Asgardians.
When the Thunder God was resurrected in J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel’s 2007 run, Thor and the rest of the Aesir didn’t reinstate Asgard to its previous position at the heart of the Nine Realms. Instead it returned as a floating city above the small town of Broxton, Oklahoma.
This move helped forge a closer connection between the inhabitants of Asgard and Earth, with several of Broxton’s residents becoming part of Thor’s supporting cast. When Asgard was once again destroyed, this time in the Siege event, the Asgardians elected to rebuild it as Asgardia in the same location.
This arc closes off that chapter in Thor’s life by bringing catastrophe to Broxton once more. When Thor angers Dario Agger, the obscenely wealthy CEO of Roxxon Energy (and part-time minotaur), Roxxon ‘invests’ in Broxton, driving out existing businesses and polluting the area with industrial run-off. It’s the kind of attack that can’t be weathered by Thor himself, nor can he fight it with hammer blows or thunderstorms, and his frustration at this is palpable throughout the arc.
When Thor is finally baited into a fight with Agger and Roxxon’s security, the destructive fallout is treated very differently to the aftermath of Siege. This isn’t superheroes swooping in to save Asgard and Broxton from a supervillain attack, it’s an angry god brawling in the backyard. As understanding as the residents of Broxton are (and as much as they hated Roxxon’s presence), Thor feels like a failure for raining chaos on the town once again.
That sense of failure is echoed in the King Thor sections of the arc, as the elderly Thor of the future and his three granddaughters, Frigg, Atli and Ellisiv, survey the ruined remains of Earth. Just as in the Gorr story, King Thor is a melancholic figure, almost Lear-like in his despair and regret.
While Thor the Avenger struggles to find a way to fight back against Roxxon in the present, the arrival of Old Galactus gives King Thor something to punch after centuries of frustration. Esad Ribic’s pages convey the Asgardian’s sadness, and his joy at finally having a tangible foe to combat, but just like in the present, his determination to overcome his foes turns sour.
Having exhausted all his other options, King Thor leaves his granddaughters to fight Galactus and flies across the galaxy to find All-Black the Necrosword, the weapon of Gorr the God Butcher. The sword enables King Thor to finally defeat Galactus, but just like in Broxton, the cost of victory is a steep one.
Just as War of the Realms is sure to, Marvel’s summer event in 2014 brought about a major change in Thor’s status quo – but unlike the event we’re counting down to, Original Sin isn’t primarily concerned with the Odinson. The story largely focuses on a ragtag group of characters including Doctor Strange, the Punisher, Gamora and the Winter Soldier as they investigate the death of The Watcher, the big-headed silent observer who shows up during Marvel crossovers to let you know serious shit is going down.
Compared to his work on Thor and elsewhere, Aaron’s writing on Original Sin feels a little clumsy here. There are touches of fun here and there: his inclusion of Doctor Midas and his daughter Oubliette rescues them from the comics limbo they’d been in ever since Grant Morrison’s 2000 run on Marvel Boy, and the idea of a group of Mindless Ones suffering an existential crisis is a good one.
Plus, we get the inclusion of The Orb, a minor villain Aaron created for his Ghost Rider run that has cropped up in most of his Marvel work since – and who doesn’t love a character with an eyeball for a head? But overall, Original Sin fails to capture the imagination, and its central premise raises more questions than it answers.
Marvel events tend to fall into three broad camps. The best are those that arise naturally from stories being told in one or more comics that reach a scale that would draw in other heroes. Events like Inferno, World War Hulk and Secret Wars all fall into this category, and the organic nature of the build-up, crescendo and aftermath make them some of the strongest stories Marvel has told.
The second category are big blockbuster stories that arrive with little foundation, but that have a strong central premise. If the previous category feels like a grand season finale of a TV show, these events are movies – relatively self-contained to begin with, but often with far-reaching consequences afterwards. Think Civil War, Age of Apocalypse or Avengers Vs X-Men. They vary wildly in quality, from great to terrible.
The third and weakest type of event is the reshuffle. These are events that exist largely to pivot characters off into a new direction, with the actual story seeming like an afterthought. These events can either be aimed at creating an ‘exciting’ new status quo (Fear Itself, AXIS) or restoring characters back to normal after a period of experimentation (Secret Empire), but either way, they tend to fall flat and be very quickly forgotten. Original Sin, sadly, falls into that category, and the changes it makes to Thor feel like they would benefit from being including in the core title, rather than a half-baked event.
Original Sin brings three major upheavals for Thor. The first, which is dealt with in a related miniseries (or possibly sub-series? honestly, the numbering and reading order for Original Sin is a catastrophe), reveals that Odin has another child Thor was completely unaware of.
This daughter, Angela, has been raised in the secret Tenth Realm of the World Tree, Heven, but the actions of The Orb in Original Sin bring her existence to Thor’s attention, and he breaks down the barrier that has kept Heven hidden. I won’t go into Angela’s whole deal here, largely because I’m not super familiar with the character, but connecting her to Thor doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world.
The second change, which happens in the same series, is smaller but still notable – Odin and his brother Cul return from their exile in the ruins of old Asgard (the realm, not the city) and the Allfather takes leadership of the Asgardians back from Freyja.
The third, far bigger change is that Thor becomes unworthy of wielding Mjolnir.
During the climatic battle of Original Sin, Nick Fury whispers something to Thor and the hammer drops from his grip, landing on the Blue Area of the Moon (which in the Marvel Universe, has a breathable atmosphere). Exactly what Fury said is a mystery at the time, but knowing now what is said to Thor reaffirms my belief that this moment should have happened in Thor: God of Thunder. I’ve never been a particular fan of Mike Deodato’s art, and here he completely fails to capture what should be quiet, tragic moment for Thor, instead showing the God of Thunder in sex doll-style wide mouthed shock.
Fortunately, Deodato doesn’t follow us to Thor (Vol 4), where Aaron resumes his story with a mystery character picking up Mjolnir and transforming into a new female Thor (for future reference, I’ll be matching the comic’s style guide and referring to the new Thor as ‘Thor’ and the previous Thor as ‘Odinson’).
There’s a completely new art team in town, as the storybook-style illustration of Esad Ribic and muted colours of Ive Svorcina are replaced with the kinetic art of Russell Dauterman and the bright, electric tones of Matthew Wilson.
The new art style is perfect for the energy that a new Thor brings to the title. While Ribic’s painterly look was ideal for stories that spanned the ages, this new Thor is rooted in the present and unfamiliar with her powers. Dauterman’s layouts are far more inventive than Ribic’s, with panels often tilting under the strength of Thor’s blows or fracturing with intensity.
The change in artist and colourist isn’t the only update in storytelling that this new volume brings. Rather than employing the third-person narration boxes that he used throughout Thor: God of Thunder, Aaron uses thought bubbles for Thor, a now slightly archaic narrative device that fell out of favour in the late ’90s. Like the switch from Ribic to Dauterman, this shifts the book away from the ‘mythic tales’ tone of the previous volume and towards pop-art immediacy.
The thought bubbles also serve a couple of other purposes. They provide us with insight into Thor’s thought processes, allowing us to connect with the character without revealing her identity (after all, how often do you think your own name?). They also allow us to distinguish between the hammer wielder’s internal monologue and the ‘Thor instincts’ that seem to be part of Mjolnir.
The hammer seems almost sentient at some points, imbuing Thor with knowledge, skill and a cod-Shakespearean vocabulary. The clash between Thor’s typical external confidence and braggadocio and her internal panic and confusion lends an almost Spider-Man-esque aspect to this version of the character. Except with all the terrible puns and quips replaced with “Have at thee!”s.
In issue #4, the captions return, but only for the internal monologue of the unworthy Odinson, as he prepares to clash with the new Thor. It’s not until the end of issue #7 that Thor gets her own captioned monologue, and even then, it stands alongside her more immediate thoughts, captured in bubbles. It’s a smart and efficient way of showing the character getting more used to her new status and powers.
In issue #8, we get more complete first-person narration at the start and end of the issue, and it’s here that we finally get the reveal of Thor’s secret identity – it’s Jane Foster, still fighting against breast cancer in her mortal form. It’s a well-executed reveal preceded by an effective red herring in the form of Roz Solomon, who the Odinson is convinced is actually the new Thor.
So far, only the reader is aware of Thor’s real identity, teasing the conflicts that will emerge further down the line when this knowledge becomes more widespread.
Speaking of developing plots, this Thor’s first story arc deals with Malekith’s quest for the skull of Laufey, king of the Frost Giants. At the start of the arc, the skull is retrieved from its resting place at the bottom of the ocean by Dario Agger and Roxxon, placing the two villains at odds. However, by the end of the story, Malekith and Agger have formed an unholy union with plans to resurrect the giant and plunder the Nine Realms for their natural resources.
The second arc focuses more on Odinson’s quest to uncover the new Thor’s identity, while Odin reacts in his usual measured, diplomatic way and sics the Destroyer Armour (steered by his brother and former enemy Cul) on Thor. Odinson, having finally accepted the new Thor, rallies a group of female heroes and Asgardians to aid Mjolnir’s new master, leading to a wonderful double-page splash that showcases Dauterman’s detailed art and Wilson’s astonishingly vibrant colours.
Thor (Vol 4) only ran for these eight issues, but that’s because yet another giant Marvel event came along to disrupt things – in this case, Secret Wars. Fortunately, we haven’t seen the last of Thor or the Odinson, as the journey towards the War of the Realms continues…
- King Thor’s granddaughters are armed with familiar items from the Asgardian armouries. Ellisiv has Hogun’s mace and Fandral’s sabre; Frigg wields Stormbreaker, the enchanted hammer of Beta-Ray Bill; while Atli carries Jarnbjorn, the axe used by Young Thor prior to becoming worthy of Mjolnir, and by Odinson again in the present.
- In addition to becoming unworthy, the Odinson also loses an arm during a fight with Malekith, who proceeds to carry it around his neck for a while before incinerating it in front of the disarmed god, just for kicks. Odinson is promptly outfitted with a magical prosthetic by dwarves, taking a major step towards resembling the King Thor of the future.
- Malekith is around a fair bit in the first few arcs of Thor (Vol 4), but largely seems to be biding his time and mustering his forces. Dauterman’s version of him is a delight, though; far more playful and mischievous than Ribic’s, with exaggerated features that emphasise his magical nature.
- Thor: God of Thunder #25 features three stories, with Simon Bisley handling the art duties on a tale of Young Thor foiling the resurrection of Laufey but letting the skull sink to the bottom of the sea, where it will be found by Roxxon hundred of years hence. Bisley’s art is well-suited to the medieval action of Young Thor, but there’s some combination of the slightly flat angles of some panels and the colour palette that makes the whole thing feel like a much more heavy-metal version of Ivor the Engine.
- Roz Solomon has a sort of 3D printer on her belt, allowing her to create specialised bullets on the go in a manner not entirely unlike Judge Dredd. It’s a fun little bit of super-spy tech that sits at just the right level of beyond reality for standard-issue agent gear in the Marvel universe.
- We get some of Dario Agger’s origin in Thor (Vol 4), with a partial explanation of how it is that he can become a minotaur (including the fact that he’s not The Minotaur of old), but it definitely feels like a ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’ deal as far as the true source of his power goes…
- In my first entry, I said that I wasn’t sure if Aaron had planned the War of the Realms from the beginning, or just pulled together the various story threads into an epic conclusion. Thor: God of Thunder #25 gives us a fairly conclusive answer to that question, with King Thor’s granddaughters namedropping the event as they explore future Asgard’s ruined library
Next time: Secret Wars brings us more Thors that we can possibly handle, and Jane’s story continues with the return of a certain God of Mischief…