[26 August 2013]
For decades, it has been Thor’s ultimate threat, the foretold end of the Norse Gods and all there is. Ragnarok! Gods will clash and die, worlds will burn, and the sun and moon will be devoured. Ragnarok! All the stars will vanish, and the great cosmos that Thor inhabits, along with all his of friends and foes, will be gone as if they have never been. Ragnarok!
Problem is, once creators have cried “Ragnarok!” too many times, it doesn’t leave many places for a new creative team to go. You could take a step back to the more grounded (and well-worn) ‘god in Manhattan’ approach, but having the God of Thunder duke it out with mortal blockheads like the Wrecking Crew probably doesn’t cut it in the 2010s. Walt Simonson in the 1980s found his own grand approach, drawing on the big guns from Norse mythology like the fire giant Surtur and the world serpent Jorgamund, but it has been hard for anybody else to use figures like these again without seeming like they are deep in Simonson’s shadow.
For his Thor: God of Thunder assignment writer Jason Aaron—himself the sporter of facial hair to rival the gods of legend–found a reasonably satisfying solution to this dilemma. In his opening storyline, Aaron introduced Gorr, a powerful if emaciated being who hunts down and butchers gods on any world that looks to the skies in worship. And in his second major storyline, Aaron has introduced a device of Gorr’s that threatens to wreak destruction on all the pantheons in the cosmos—the Godbomb! It does not just span the entirety of space, it reaches through time to kill gods whenever they may be. It may not be the blooming end of all that is, but wiping out the universe’s entire contingent of gods sounds plenty big enough. It brings to mind a cataclysm of hyper-Nietzschean proportions, even if the philosophical implications of the gods being dead are of less importance to this tale than making a really loud bang.
In this final part of the “Godbomb” storyline, that bang goes off, and the gods are sent splattering across the opening pages. Of course, it is up to Thor to put a stop to it, or more precisely it is mostly up to our present-day Thor, rather than the young, headstrong Thor from the past or the old, grizzled Thor from the far future. The centerpiece of the issue is a grand, bloody battle between our Thor and Gorr, with Thor stretched to his godly limits in his efforts to finish off the menace of the God Butcher. Aaron narrates the story in the stately, elaborate, straight-faced style that Simonson used to such great effect—sample: “If he’d been a lesser god, Thor might have accepted that Gorr had won. And more so, that Gorr deserved to win … But this was no lesser god.” And artist Esad Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina enjoy the chance to portray a battle to shake the cosmos, particularly in the sequence when Thor unleashes thunderous hell upon the God Butcher.
The creative team also deftly handle the quieter moments that follow in the aftermath of the battle, bringing to mind the closing scenes of The Return of the King movie, although they are (thankfully) much shorter. If there is a nit to pick, you do not quite get the same sense as you did with Simonson that Aaron and Ribic are fully behind their material—there are just a couple of clichés too many—but even to be generally successful is to be a long way ahead of most other Thor runs from the past three decades.
More significantly, Thor: God of Thunder has shed the standard superhero approach that the protagonist has been mired in for the majority of his stories, and steeped it instead in the fantasy genre, with a bit of space opera thrown into the mix. One could very well say that Thor has been ‘Conan-ized’, and there are some similarities, both visually and in terms of narrative, with Dark Horse’s Conan books in particular. Ribic’s hunched warriors and landscapes, without trying to be at all dismissive with this comment, are taken straight from Fantasy Drawing 101, while Svorcina’s murky, washed-out tones are a departure from the primary colors of most superhero titles. Of all the major Marvel heroes, Thor is the only one that fits neatly into the fantasy space, which by no means necessitates that he should be in that space, but it does present a chance for the book to stand out from Marvel’s other offerings, and for the company to diversify its genres.
Both the final passage of this issue’s story and the letters page profess that things have just begun for this era of Thor tales. If that is so, then these first eleven issues have been a promising start. Other Marvel NOW! titles have tended to mainly rearrange the pieces (the original X-Men team in the present day, Captain America in another dimension, Hulk as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, more mutants joining the Avengers) but Thor: God of Thunder has arguably significantly shifted the foundation of the series. The Gorr storyline is over now, but the approach that Aaron, Ribic and Svorcina have established should hold the series in good stead. Just as long as they keep a writer with an epic beard on board…