It’s hard to put into words exactly how good Thor: God of Thunder is, only partly because the two remaining titles devoted to Marvel NOW!‘s prime trinity (Iron Man and Captain America) are shockingly bad. But mostly, it’s hard to put into words how good Thor: God of Thunder is, because the quality of it’s high concept is so diffuse throughout the book. There’s no one magical moment that gives you the sense you’re standing in the cathedral of something larger than yourself. No cathartic moment that appends to a single instant of salvation or redemption in the text. Instead the opening chapter of “The God-Butcher” is just good throughout. And already, the book leaves you with the sense that it is enduringly good.
What writer Jason Aaron (together with artist Esad Ribic) achieves in this opening chapter is a drama of duration. Immortality is directly the subject of God of Thunder, but not the immortality of the wind or the mountains or the sea or the sky, not an immortality that circuits and loops and hears everything, knows everything, is everywhere. This is a treatment of immortality in human form—an immortality limited to the human limitations of seeing one thing at one time, from one place. And in painting this portrait of immortality-by-limitation, Aaron really does excel in his characterization of the thunder-god.
Stan Lee really knew what he was doing back in those early days of Thor. How do you tell the tale of an immortal, constrained by mortal form? You stack the deck with the ordinary, the everyday. Thor’s adventures play out on Earth, he assumes the form of Donald Blake, physically the inverse of the powerful viking form of Thor himself. Aaron’s single most important decision is to forego any reliance on these genre-familiar foils that have become conventions over the course of the character’s publication history. Aaron uncovers a Thor that is deeply interesting for himself.
Aaron’s courage to write Thor without writing his foils makes God of Thunder more literary than any comicbook ought to be. This Thor that we’re seeing for the very first time, a Thor shriven of relations, allows us to apprehend literature directly as a concept. We can sense literature’s first stirrings in that early time, a thousand years ago, when the first Icelandic Sagas aspired to something more than just a form of folk-reportage. And onwards to the present day, when literature struggles with other-ing and other-nesses (as Thor encounters the distant world without gods), and on till the final conflagration.
But Thor’s story is literature’s own story as much because as audience we’re forced into the points of view that Stan Lee had relied on to act as foil to the idea of Thor. Without relying on the instance of Donald Blake, we as audience are positioned into viewing Thor’s inner frailty. Without Loki, we as audience are pushed into his point of view. Through Iceland in 893AD, through the distant world of Indigarr in the present time, through Asgard millennia hence, Thor struggles with that casual, ugly brio that in the original ideation of the character was recognized by Loki, and that necessitated the enforced humility of becoming Donald Blake.
What we see over time is a Thor broken by history, by the cold winters alone, we see that that brio as a calculated defense, a posture, rather than Thor’s character. And we see the long march of time break Thor. There’s always a hesitancy to acclaim any one vision of a character, particularly in populist medium, in the superlative. But with Thor: God of Thunder there is another hesitation—the hesitation at imagining a more finely-crafted, richer vision.