A comedy ends with a wedding, a tragedy in death. But what happens when the story begins in Hel and ends with Marriage and a return to life? Well, you’ve got the first arc of the third and final act of Jason Aaron’s Thor epic.
Welcome one and all to the column fit to hold the hammer. Welcome to the column that follows the moniker of Thor. Welcome back. . .to Worthy.
When I first envisioned this as an ongoing series, I thought there would be a larger chance to follow the Odinson as he clawed his way back to feeling worthy. I thought there would be more time before the War of the Realms came crashing into the “Thor” books. I also did not think it would actually affect the entire Marvel Universe and while that is a discussion for a future column, I note it here because of what its existence means for the rhythm of these acts.
See, I thought the established rhythms of the past would be indications of the future. Now that we are here, though, I see that the pace and the cycle of war is what set the structure of “Thor.” I see now, here, on the eve of a war five years in the making, just why Aaron chose to spend most of “Thor” through the eyes of those around the Odinson.
Before I begin, I just want to take a second to recognize VC’s Joe Sabino who has lettered every glorious issue of this run. EVERY. ONE. His lettering has defined this run as much as the visual artists and writer has and deserves to be recognized for that. I don’t bring it up throughout but without Sabino’s lettering, I honestly think these issues would have suffered tremendously, especially if we had to read the old Asgardian fonts. I’m not 100% certain if it was Sabino who made the change but he is the one who perfected it and the subtle contrasts between the rest.
For those who are ready, join me as we assemble our army of hammers and join the Odinson as he sulks on a boat and does other assorted spoilery things as the War of the Realms inches ever closer.
“Thor” Year 6
Act 1: Thor in Hel: ‘God of Thunder Reborn’
“Thor” (2018) opens, not on the war of the realms, not on Jane Foster, but on the Odinson, deep in Thai jungles, running away from the disciples of Cyttorak with a giant eye underneath his arms. Throughout the rest of the arc, the insanity mounts, with a wedding in Hel, the glorious return of everyone’s favorite murder dog, and the continuing despair of our focal hero. It should come as no surprise that, as each title before, a new #1 means a new theme, a new take on worthiness and a new perspective that informs and is informed by its title.
Jane Foster was The Mighty Thor. After only eight issues, she earned that moniker, proving to the world that the hammer chose well, better than before. The Odinson was never just Thor; he was always “Thor: God of Thunder” or “The Unworthy Thor,” now, simply, “Thor,” his title reinstated by the now hammerless Jane. Not earned, as of yet, and with only a sliver of Mjolnir to test his worthiness, a title that is tinged in sadness and doubt.
The Odinson continues to question his worthiness, as he has always done, but he accepts that, while he may believe himself to be unworthy — his ultimate flaw, and the reason he still cannot fully lift the sliver of Mjolnir — he must still strive to be the Thor that Jane knows him to be. He must take on the title and grow to it, instead of the other way around.Continued below
This, is the meaning behind the new title, and this is what the arc title, ‘God of Thunder Reborn,’ tells us. The God of Thunder is back, with his many hammers and jovial attitude, but Thor is not. Thor will not return until he can fight in the War of the Realms, until he has fulfilled his duty.
Visually and tonally, “Thor” (2018) reflect the Odinson’s new perspective as Thor, just as “Thor” (2014) was reflective of the ways Jane Foster saw the universe as Thor.
He sees the world as madness and mayhem, hurtling towards a war that he feel powerless to stop, stuck on some absurd quest to retrieve the artifacts that were scattered to the winds by the destruction of Asgardia, and feeling like a fool with an army of hammers that break after one hit. This is not the brash but thoughtful god of “Thor: God of Thunder” but instead the humbled, defiant god with something to prove that his adventures since losing the hammer has shaped him into.
Mike Del Mundo (with coloring assists from Marco D’Alfonso) achieves this shift in tone in much the same way as Dauterman & Wilson when they took over from Ribic & Svorcina. Del Mundo’s style, too, is painterly, almost a hybrid of Ribic & Svorcina and Dauterman & Wilson’s styles, but, perhaps, more impressionistic. Everyone, and everything, is malleable and pliable, made up of folds, with panels that create clear, sharp distinctions between background and foreground focus. Neon colors pop and fizz, shimmering across the page while characters bend like putty, more cartoony than the more rigid styles of before, but no less grand.
It’s a style that goes well with the return of the Odinson to the fore and it provides the perfect contrast to the litany of guest artists that are present in “Thor” (2018.) But I get ahead of myself. Let’s discuss, finally, the opening arc and how it fit into Aaron’s larger thesis.
Structurally, Aaron mirrors the first issue of the last time the Odinson was Thor, way back in “Thor: God of Thunder” #1, by splitting “Thor” (2018) #1 into two parts: current Thor and his ongoing quests and King Thor and his melancholic quest to rejuvenate what was once lost. It also acts, in much the same way as #700, as a state of affairs. We see what the Odinson, hammer in hand, has been up to since being re gifted the title. We check it with Jane and Roz, meet up with what remains of the League of Realms, see Volstagg is in the hospital, being tended to by Freyja, and we check in with Heimdall and Odin.
All are reeling after the destruction caused by the Mangog and the ongoing refugee crisis caused by the War of the Realms, and the Odinson is chafing at being unable to venture out into the other realms. The one thing he was tasked to do by the Mighty Thor, the one thing, and he cannot even do that because the Mangog, thanks to Malekith, destroyed the rainbow bridge, cutting off his access to the war itself. By issue’s end, Thor is reunited with Loki, pre-whatever the heck happened in “Infinity Wars,” and the two are thrown, in an almost slapstick manner, back into the heart of the war, reunited with Balder in Hel, ready to fight off the Queen of Cinders and finally join the war in a proper battle, rather than play pick up sticks with magical objects.
It’s fitting that the first arc of a new series would be the first, real battle in the war, or at least on the eve of the war. The War Thor’s killing spree was merely a reaction to an invasion, and thus much less a battle and the Mangog was a fight all on its own, as the actual war raged on elsewhere. But now that Asgardia has been burnt to cinders and all the realms, at least all that they were aware of before the destruction of the bifrost, have been invaded (save for Midgard,) it finally begins. We also finally learn what happened to Hela, and to a lesser extent Thanos, between “The Unworthy Thor” and here, following up on her quest to regain control of Hel.Continued below
The choice to focus on one battle in the War of the Realms was a smart one, as it keeps the shape of the war ambiguous and the scope and scale of it distant. We do not see the destruction or the devastation, we only see the places where rebellion can flourish and victories can be won. We needed the respite, as what came before was bleak and heartrending and the end of an era. Some small victory, even if it, too, ended bittersweetly.
Everyone in this arc is striving to be worthy of something or someone, even if ample time is not able to be given to the pursuits — the primary focus still being on stopping the flow of Malekith’s war, after all. Hela, Sindr, and Balder are all vying for ultimate control of the realm, for being worthy of the throne in the eyes of their subjects. Who earns it by the end? Only Karnilla, who sacrifices Balder to fight in the war, who knows what it means to rule, is worthy of the crown alongside Hela. One must be cruel to rule Hel, and is there no one more cruel than the Norns?
Loki desperately desires to be worthy again in the eyes of Thor, after all the mischief and lies, but he knows he never will be able to get it and so he doesn’t try. He merely helps in the ways he knows how, hiding his true pain and desires behind a smarmy smile and a wave of mischief. His true feelings show through in his refusal to kill Thor at Thor’s behest, even if they are mixed in with the worry that everyone else will kill him if he does.
As for Thor, it’s obvious that the shadow of Gorr still haunts him, now more than ever, as the only symbol of his worthiness was reduced to rubble. He tries to approximate it through his army of hammers but all that can do is simulate it, leaving himself feeling empty and ill-content. When the waters of Gjoll threaten to swallow him up, these are the thoughts that haunt him. And yet, he perseveres. Not because those thoughts aren’t there, but because he knows that they should not hold him back.
By the end, the Odinson has taken one more step towards accepting his title. At the start, he questions his efficacy as Thor, declaring that in only a week, he is the worst of the Thors. But by the end, he has accepted the title in full, knowing that in order to stop the war, he must embrace and live up to the title, even if he believes he will never reach the same heights as Jane.
“Thor” Year 7
Interlude 1: Futures and the End of Everything: ‘Old Gods’
There’s a line in issue #3, when Thor is drowning in the river Gjoll where he worries “the eons will roll by one after another until all the stars have grown cold, and I will still be there, morning everyone I have ever loved but couldn’t save.” If only he could see himself again, old and living his best life, wrestling space sharks and fighting the Phoenix Wolverine. . .mourning the loss of Jane once again.
This interlude technically begins in issue #1 as a backup but I’ve chosen to talk about it all together as it works better this way. Christian Ward was the perfect artist to bring back King Thor. His coloring style and artwork is similar to Del Mundo’s: both utilize heavy, vibrant neons, particularly pinks and blues, and both are highly stylized digital paintings with elastic character work that lends itself to the bending and twisting of intense action. However, where Del Mundo’s stylings lean more fantasy, Ward’s is more cosmic sci-fi. He gets to really let loose and play in Kirby’s sandbox, getting to draw Fing Fang Foom, Goom, Gorgilla, Monstrom and the most earnest but ridiculous concept out there: Doctor Doom with the powers of the Starbrand, Iron Fist, Sorcerer Supreme and Ghost Rider.Continued below
It’s a glorious arc palate cleanser that parallels the events of the previous arc tonally and continues the other long-term story Aaron has been creating and telling. It is a tale about endings, the ultimate ending as it were, and the fight against impossible odds and overwhelming power.
It’s also a deeply sad two-parter when put into the greater context of the series.
Here is Thor, battling one of his long time friends because Thor did the one thing that he always does: save Midgard. In issues past, we have seen how Midgard is an escape for Thor, the one place in the universe he feels at home and has chosen over all else. And yet, all he can think about in the rest of the series is getting out of the realm and into the other nine.
Moreover, Logan voices one of Thor’s greatest fears during their battle, that by prioritizing Midgard and protecting it, he is actually making it a target. That is was his fault Midgard was destroyed in the first place and that his atonement may actually be born from the arrogance he held in his youth and not the wisdom of his old age. Doom’s penance stare draws this, and more, out of him as well. It confirms all his fears, all his worries.
He is once again lain low and unworthy in his own eyes. His strengths, his unwillingness to die and to let Midgard die, are now his weaknesses. And, just as a younger Odinson needed a more Mighty Thor to show him why his doubts make him worthy, he needed Logan, one of his oldest friends, to show him that his love is what makes him worthy. Worthy of the Phoenix Force and worthy of defending Midgard from Doom.
This is the last we’ll see of King Thor before the War of the Realms begins, save for one page in issue #11, and so it is fitting that this interlude has its own interlude, following up on what happened to the rest of the universe, and what is happening to Ego the Necroplanet. It is clear Aaron is thinking beyond the “War of the Realms,” perhaps allowing the story to come full circle, with Thor vs the necrosword and Thor vs Loki, the trickster who simply will not die.
“Thor” Year 7
Interlude 2: ‘Young Thor’s Lament’
In columns past, I usually grouped sequential interludes into one heading but the above acts more as a mini-arc, one that was explicitly following up on the back-up story of issue #1, so it didn’t feel right to include this as part of the same interlude. However, I didn’t want to call the above an act in the series as it wasn’t building to where present-day Thor, instead informing on where he will go, not where his is or has been. So, here we are, two interludes in a row, continuing to channel the spirit of “Thor: God of Thunder.”
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Young Thor and so, after two arcs focusing on Present and Future Thor, it only makes sense to check in with him again. What Aaron does with this issue was genius. For one, Tony Moore and John Rauch perfectly capture the memory that Thor is sharing. It is crisp and vibrant, blood-splattered but never appalling, romantic and tragic, with panels that waver as if written on old parchment and linework that is soft and detailed yet still grizzled and intense. Colors are subdued but varied, save when it comes to the more fantastical elements such as the rainbow bridge or Odin’s fire.
Erica the Red is a character I wish we had more time to spend with but her truncated presence, too, benefits the issue. We watch events in Asgardian time, in the time of memories, which stretches and contracts in strange ways. It is a love tale for the ages, showcasing Young Thor at a more mature time in his life, not yet Thor, not yet worthy, but less obsessed with the endeavor.Continued below
A reversal of the usual tropes, and of the ones Aaron used earlier in his run, this issue finally answers one of the central questions of Young Thor’s life: when, and why, does he become worthy? In this one issue, Thor learns what it means not to be a god but to be human, to be humbled and happy and to slow down, and to love and cherish, in ways that Odin never knew how to teach.
It also hints at present Thor’s obsession with the War of the Realms and the unhealthy nature of it. What will he lose this time, if he can only think about going off to war? What will he forget to say or do or cherish? Who will he have to mourn, when all is said and done?
“Thor” Year 7
Act 2: A Whole that is Greater than its Parts – ‘Road to War of the Realms’
It is here that the previous cycles of Aaron’s Thor epic begin to break-down. Issues #8-11 have the forward motion of a regular act, all drawn and colored (except the final issue) by main series artist Mike Del Mundo (with Marco D’Alfonso on colors with Del Mundo on issue #10,) and yet, each issue is a stand-alone tale with a different POV character, all coming together to tell the tale of the eve of the War of the Realms.
Ever-present and yet always in the background, the war rages on beyond the borders of Midgard. Lines are drawn, alliances shift, and the realms are in chaos while Thor continues to search for a way to the other realms. It’s fitting, actually, that he is unable to. One, because we need the war to actually come to Midgard, and two, because if Thor leaves to go to war, then whatever happens next would haunt him for all the days of his life. From a story point of view, it would also be a very different tale, one much more protracted than what we currently have. And structurally, by making these issues interconnected one-shots, Aaron is able to simulate the fragmentary nature of the events leading up to a war, of the revelations that come about that never have time to truly cohere before the war is inevitably upon you.
We experience time as a sequence of events, yes, but they always feel independent as they occur and it is only later that the larger pictures become apparent. Mundanity is the natural state of a story until the future can shape it into something more. Moreover, every person experiences events in conjunction with their own life experiences, filtering and modifying them, injecting their own personal growth, mindset, and feelings into them.
So, it is with this in mind, that I approach the ‘Road to the War of the Realms.’
Issue #8 begins by catching us up, in one page segments, with Thor, Jane & Thori, Black Panther (i.e. The Avengers,) and Odin, filling in the gaps on what Loki has been up to in the other books and allowing us to see that the world, and our characters, go on even as the War looms. In it, we learn that Heven has sided with Malekith and that Angela had been captured by the angels, who then captured Thor and Valkyrie and torture the three of them. It’s pretty gruesome but also very comedic thanks to Del Mundo’s Looney Toons take on the torture.
It’s interesting how we begin with this juxtaposition of humor and melancholy at the start of the arc but, as the arc goes on, the humor is less prominent and all that remains is the restlessness of a god who feels powerless, who feels like the world is going to swallow him up because he does not know what to do. At the heart of this issue, and this arc, lies that fear. It is why he keeps asking Angela if he is worthy. He trusts in her judgement, after all they’ve been through, and needs the reassurance because his normal measure is gone. It’s why he keeps searching for a hammer or, even THE hammer.Continued below
With issue #9, Roz is back at the forefront and we learn what she’s been up to since Aaron last spotlighted her. Now an Agent of Wakanda, our favorite ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is tasked with tracking down extra dimensional energy and the sources thereof. What she discovers is something new to them but old to us: the existence of the Black Bifrost. This was, perhaps, the most confusing part of “Thor” (2018) for me. I had assumed that they were aware of the Black Bifrost at this point, especially after Sindr called for it back in Hel, but, as I said before, it doesn’t particularly matter. What matters is what we learn about Roz.
Another step in her arc, from an agent in training to the Troll Slayer of Broxton, Roz has changed the most over the course of this series. She struggled with her own worth, next to both Thors. We learn that she did try to pick up the hammer but could not. Just as the Odinson could not lift the hammer because of his own self-doubts, so too is that the case with Roz. She wonders, was she ever good enough for him? For the world? Has her actions actually solved anything and, if so, what does that say about her?
Moreover, she has grown hardened in battle and has lost who she used to be. Regret drives her to be better at her job, to stop the war at any cost. But what will she sacrifice? What will be left of her humanity, of love, of what makes her worthy, when all is said and done? Is there any room left for joy in her heart or is there only regret and the bitter, gnawing pain that comes from all the cruelties of war? This is the question of issue #9.
The tragedy here is that she needed a friend, someone to talk to and open up to but the one person she desired to open up to was no longer in a position to be there. Both in a new relationship with Jennifer Walters and stuck in his own head with the war, Thor and Roz have drifted apart to the point where she cannot approach him for help nor as a friendly hand.
We also get a moment of foreshadowing with Dario Agger, chief asshat, and a teaser as to where Cul has been since being deposed at the end of “The Mighty Thor.” Turns out, he was sent into Svartalfheim by Odin to act as a spy, something that isn’t followed up on yet, but I suspect will play a part in the “War of the Realms.”
Speaking of our good pal Odin, issue #10 places us in his head as he and Thor meet up for one final chat before the war arrives on their doorstep, in an issue about fathers and sons. Just when I thought Odin was an unrepenting pill, Aaron makes me sympathize and feel bad for the old, crotchety asshole. After all that work to show just how horrible of a father, a husband and a ruler he was, we get this issue, which uses the weight of his failures to drive home his greatest character flaw and to elucidate how self-aware he has become.
The tragedy of Odin is that, despite knowing how terrible he was, he can’t bring himself to stop. He eggs Thor on, insulting him, fighting him, refusing to acknowledge any of his strengths or positives. That one splash page, from Del Mundo & D’Alfonso, showing the Odinson as he grew, was heartbreaking and by juxtaposing Odin’s internal monologue against his actions throughout the comic, we are given a more sympathetic look at his actions in the past. It neither excuses it nor does it make Odin any less of an asshole but it does change our perspective on the all-father.Continued below
He was never worthy of being Thor’s father, of holding the hammer, because, despite all the wisdom he possessed, the one thing he never knew how to do was be a better father than his own. To teach his son to be better, to love and show love. And yet, in all its irony, that was the one thing he was able to teach Thor, not because of his actions, but in spite of them. Thor had Midgard, Thor had love, and Thor had an All-Mother who taught him more than his All-Father ever could. All this gave him the tools to reject his father and grow beyond him.
I love how this character study is the second to last issue of “Thor” before the “War of the Realms” arrives. It shows the many modes this comic is capable of and continues to distance us from Thor, who is becoming more and more stuck in his head, while simultaneously asking what defines him and his relationship to the focal characters. For Roz, it was by falling, both in and out of his life. For Odin, it was by pushing, and the equal and opposite reaction it elicited. For Freyja, it is an embrace and a word, one that set the Odison on the path to becoming Thor, to becoming worthy.
Which brings us, finally, to Issue #11, ‘The Eve of War.’
Lee Garbett & Antonio Fabela take over as guest artists bringing a more traditional look to comic, one that echoes Kirby and Simonson, for an issue that channels the more traditional heroism of Thor, serving as a reminder of why we love the character and why he is a hero. Placing us, for the first half of the issue, in Freyja’s POV, we see how she sees and remembers her son. As the boy who cares, who has always been obsessed with the hammer but not what it stands for, not what allows him to pick it up.
And this issue teases us with a story that we may, or may not, see. What that teaser does, though, is overturn every piece of advice Freyja has given. She has always been worthy, and has always known how to be worthy, and so all her advice comes not only from a place of wisdom as the All-Mother but also from experience. It also reframes and reinforces ‘Young Thor’s Lament’ and also restates the thesis of the arc: that love is a powerful force, one that is necessary for worth, and one that, if poorly maintained, can harm more than it helps.
Odin failed to show his love and almost doomed his son, as Freyja worries. Roz loved Thor, for a time, and loved her job, her earth, her world, but the weight of that love crushed her as forces beyond her control took it away. Loki, who we check-in with often during these last two issues, loved his family but was taught by his fathers that love can only be shown through destruction and violence, twisting his own views and it is only the love for his mother and, yes, his brother that has saved him from giving into that in full.
Structurally, the back half of the issue reflects that of issue #8, and that of the arc as a whole, with one page vignettes that are linked but remain independent. It is all foreshadowing for what is to come, with King Thor mumbling about the war, even at the end of time, with the War Thor violently awakening, with Jane being in remission and, possibly, reclaiming a hammer once more with an ominous krakadoom. With Sif and Brunhilde sparring, with Freyja and Balder awaiting Thor’s return to spend family time as Odin sits alone on a broken rock. With Loki in his hovel, talking to the stolen portrait of his mother from issue #4, lamenting his failures as Dark Elves sneak behind him. Of Malekith mobilizing his armies and of Thor, releasing what was left of Mjolnir, only for a tree to grow out of the star.Continued below
What this means, I do not know yet, but I do know that ending the issue, the final word on the character before the war arrives, on Thor releasing what was left of Mjolnir, is an important point of growth for him. If Act 1 ended with his acceptance of the role of Thor once again, then here is the moment that he truly accepts that he does not need Mjolnir to know that he is worthy. That he must be worthy and that, if he is not, then Midgard is doomed and that is not something he can accept. So he will fight, alongside all the others, even if it means he may not be making it back.