In Brief: These first two volumes of Thor, God of Thunder, written by Jason Aaron with principal art by Esad Ribic, give us three versions of Marvel’s Thor from three separate eras. Thor must track down and face the God Butcher, a foe from his distant past, present, and future. It’s cosmic comics adventure that takes full advantage of the current Avengers cross-over appeal.
Pros: The story is first rate – epoch-spanning, with bits of Asgardian and Marvel Universe lore, while clearly being centered on Thor. Ribic’s art has a Dark Horse/Conan flavor that effectively captures galactic grandeur and Middle Age Norse grit.
Cons: Well, the price. The two hardbound volumes retail at $25 apiece. But that’s a problem the comics industry continues to face. Also, movie fans hoping to see Loki won’t find him here.
Review: Reading comics as a kid, Thor was always just kind of there. He was an Avenger. He had a hammer. He talked funny. I never really picked up any Thor comics, which is weird because I really liked mythology. Of course the character has enjoyed something of a revival recently, with a couple of good super-hero movies and the Avengers tie-in. At Marvel Comics they’re no doubt acutely aware of this, and their Disney masters are on them to capitalize. Books like The God Butcher and The God Bomb fit the bill. They can also serve as a reminder to the corporate types (hopefully) that the comics medium still tells stories of high adventure with the best of them. This tale begins in Medieval Iceland, with a younger, brasher God of Thunder enjoying his time among the Vikings. Thor the Younger has not yet proven worthy of lifting the hammer, Mjolnir, but it’s not for lack of effort on the battle field. In Iceland, the Vikings find the decapitated head of a god washed ashore – a god of the American Indians – and Thor wonders who or what is responsible. We then shift to the present day as Thor the Avenger pays a visit to a distant world in the galaxy, answering the prayers of a people who’s world has been ravaged by drought and war. He brings back the rains and speaks to the planet’s survivors, who tell him their gods are dead and gone. A trip to their Asgard-like home reveals that these gods have been butchered, tortured… And Thor recalls an earlier age, when he faced a foe who called himself Gorr the God Butcher.
Another shift back to the Middle Ages, and Thor the Younger indeed clashes with a reaper-like being who has just slain a pair of Slavic gods. The God Butcher is a frightening dude, with some kind of amorphous black-matter/black-energy power that makes him more than a match for Thor. As they battle, Thor learns of the Gorr’s quest to slaughter all the gods anywhere in the universe. Meanwhile, in the present day, Thor the Avenger follows the clues and faces down black matter hound-like guardians. He begins to worry that the diabolical being he thought he’d killed long ago has survived and continued his bloody rampage.
Another shift, this time to the distant future. We meet Thor the All-Father, a one-armed bitter old god, who sits the throne in Asgard as the lone survivor of the realm. We learn he is a prisoner here; his jailers are a legion of those black matter hounds, created by the God Butcher. Gorr has continued wiping out whole Pantheons, leaving Thor in solitude as the last to be slain.
So writer Jason Aaron has set the stage for three Thors from three eras, battling Gorr the God Butcher to save the various eternals and god-like beings of the universe. In God Bomb, the three Thors will come together in the far future for the final showdown.
Aaron handles the three-phased/three Thor approach very well – an additional wrinkle in the present/flashback method of comic book storytelling more and more writers are using . This technique adds depth and context to longer storylines while affording the writer an avenue for adding to characters with decades of backstory. What I appreciated about Aaron’s approach is how he touches on some of the existential questions about these eternal god beings in the Marvel Universe without becoming heavy handed. The three Thors have their distinct personalities, and yet they are still recognizably the same.
The artwork on this book is spot on. Esad Ribic uses the pencils-and-no-inker style first popularized in Dark Horse’s Conan books, giving the series a rugged, gritty feel. At the same time, this style seemed really effective when expanding the scope to the cosmic scale, which was a little surprising. Ribic gets the colorist assist from Dean White and primiarly Ive Svorcina. They deserve a lot of credit, because this style not only requires precision pencils, but real depth and vision from the color artists to look good. Ribic’s sense of scale and tempo make for excellent sequential art storytelling; the dude knows how to draw a hammer fight scene.
You could complain that some of the panels are a little dark at points, which detracts from some of the details. You could accuse the writer of going over the top with some of his gods references. Certainly you could complain about the price: each of these in hardback will cost you $25, but since each volume has six issues of the comic, that’s about where we are. Loki, so integral to the cinematic Thor, gets a mention or two in the book but makes no appearances.
Bottom Line: This two volume set is a great comic book Thor story. It will appeal to longtime fans as well as casual fans of the movie looking for more thundering action.