Disclaimer: All of the comics reviewed in this column were either comped by the respective creators/companies, or purchased from Dr. Volts Comics in Salt Lake City.
BIFF! BANG!! POW … WOW!!!
By Jeff "Jerk-Bot" Vice
THOR: THE GOD OF THUNDER, #1-16 (monthly comic series, full color, Marvel Comics, $3.99)
WHO’S RESPONSIBLE? Jason Aaron (writer); Esad Ribic, Nic Klein, Ron Garney and others (artists); various (letters) and various (colors).
There are more than just a few scholarly types who would categorize super hero tales as the modern-day equivalent of “fictional” mythology. But the ancient, supposedly “factual” myths themselves have served as the basis for many fine super hero stories and periodicals throughout the years.
Arguably the most famous of these is Marvel Comics’ various Thor titles, based on Norse mythology. During the industry’s Silver Age, co-plotter/scripter Stan Lee and co-scripter/penciler Jack Kirby enjoyed a memorable, years-long run on the “Journey Into Mystery” monthly, which (initially) brought the Norse Thunder God to ‘60s-era Earth, or Midgard. (Lee and Kirby eventually re-told some of these Norse myths in semi-faithful “Tales of Asgard” back-up stories, set in the Norse God pantheon’s homelands.)
Many talented writers and artists tried and failed to duplicate the Lee-Kirby formula, but none of their efforts really clicked until writer/artist Walt Simonson put his even more myth-heavy … but no less enjoyable … stamp on the “The Mighty Thor” monthly title.
Then others tried to repeat what Simonson did, again with very mixed results. So they finally killed off the character -- only to have him resurrected by writer J. Michael Straczynski, in a series of more grounded, Earthbound stories that did show some promise. Unfortunately, Straczynski’s abrupt departure from Marvel left the characters and other, associated characters, in the hands of less-innovative and/or less-enthusiastic creators. (Even so-called “Marvel Architect” Matt Fraction couldn’t do much interesting with the title.)
But in the wake of two semi-successful “Thor” movies, Marvel has relaunched the concept again, as part of the continuing Marvel Now! Writer Jason Aaron, fresh off his acclaimed DC/Vertigo series “Scalped” and some very successful takes on Wolverine, Ghost Rider and other characters, is the brains behind the “Thor: God of Thunder” series.
The book’s first two, six-issue arcs (“The God Butcher” and “Godbomb”) have showed us three different eras of Thors: a young, wet-behind the ears and impetuous Thunder God, the most current version (the one we’re used to seeing in comics), and an aging ruler of Asgard who bears a striking resemblance to Thor’s sometimes-estranged father, Odin.
Separately, and, eventually, together, these three Thors have to contend with Gorr, the so-called “God Butcher,” a nearly omnipotent creature whose sole reason for existence was to kill entire pantheons of gods throughout the universe and throughout all of time and eternity. Subsequent arcs have largely concentrated on the modern-day Thor and the most current arc, “The Accursed,” provided a convenient tie-in to the recent “Thor: The Dark World” movie. (It features the same villain as that movie, Malekith the Dark Elf.)
Aaron’s take on “Thor,” with its pseudo-heavy metal “sound,” is unlike any other that’s been associated with the character and the concept. “God of Thunder is less Wagnerian and more Dethklok-ian in tone. So it’s no wonder that readers regularly write in with their own suggestions for reading “soundtracks,” in the book’s almost-as-entertaining letters pages.
And for the first two arcs, Aaron was joined by artist Esad Ribic, whose semi-realistic depictions of the characters and other mythological creatures practically jump off the page. (Ribic’s line art was painted over, giving it a Heavy Metal … the beloved, European comics publication, that is … look and feel.)
While Ribic has remained on covers, the art has been inconsistent in subsequent story arcs. Nic Klein, fresh off an underappreciated run on the canceled “Winter Soldier” title, turned in sterling work for a one-issue “breather” story.
But the “Accursed” story line has paired Aaron with Ron Garney, whose glory-day run on Marvel’s “Captain America” is well behind him. Garney’s angular characters look strangely cartoony when they’re painted over, and he’s apparently had trouble keeping up with a monthly schedule – at least judging by the use of another penciler to complete the less-than-impressive five issues.
“God of Thunder” hasn’t been very new-reader-friendly, especially since it has fallen back on earlier character and story continuity. (Aaron has done what he can to make the stories simple enough to follow, and his characters are less reliant on the pseudo-Shakespeare speak that made some early stories a bit silly.)
Also, it’s been a little “kill-heavy,” especially for a book that’s tied (at least tangentially) to one of Marvel/Disney’s most marketable characters. In the first two arcs, that was perfectly reasonable, but the “Accursed,” in particular, has been troublingly dark and unpleasant – even with some occasional, light humor moments. (Though, with one issue remaining in the story line, Aaron might just surprise us by nailing the ending.)
A few reservations about the most recent story line aside, this is my favorite and, in my opinion, the best and most fun of the first series of Marvel Now! Titles. Aaron has spread seeds about for future story lines that promise to bring back the other Thor iterations and move the character in newer, fresher directions. It’s the first Thor I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading since Marvel’s short-lived, all-ages “Mighty Thor” book got the axe.
Jeff Michael Vice, aka Jerk-bot, can be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), as well as be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff)