Of all the superintelligent, super-strong and super-muscularly-enhanced supermen I’ve super-reviewed in my super-column, one of the superest of the super ones I’ve super-neglected up until now is Super-Thor. No, wait, he’s just Thor. Sorry, I was super-overloaded there.
The God of Thunder, the Odinson, the Norse Avenger, or for those of you more familiar with the films, the Guy with the Tremendously Sexy Biceps. The closest I’ve come to checking him out (his character, not his muscles, mind) is when I reviewed the book that killed him. That doesn’t really bode well, does it?
In all honesty, Thor’s a character I like in small doses, and in particular sets of circumstances. As a bruiser Avenger he’s pretty neat, as a decrier of Tony Stark’s douchebaggery he’s pretty cool, and whenever he and Captain America get together it seems that the Lawful-Good-Patriotism-O-Meter goes off the freakin’ charts. As a solo character, though, he can be quite hit-and-miss – you can go from something awesome like J. Michael Straczynski’s Thor omnibus, with lots of character development and a fast-moving and engaging plot, straight into something mediocre like Kieron Gillen’s Siege Aftermath, mostly dealing with the blokes Thor hangs out with on weekends, or even into the terminably awful like Stan Lee’s ill-advised backup story in Lateverian Prometheus, which should never be viewed by human eyeballs. It seems he’s a superhero that some writers don’t always know what to super-do with.
So can Jason Aaron, sterling writer of the actually-pretty-good X-Men: Schism and Wolverine and the X-Men, bring something new to the table that falls on the Straczynski side of the Good-Thor-Bad-Thor spectrum? Or will he doom the God of Thunder to the eternal damnation that writers like Stan Lee inflict upon him?
Thor is a young, untrained Norse deity hanging out on pre-millennial Earth when a dead god suddenly washes up on his shore. In the present, Thor is the Avenger we know and love and is investigating the disappearances of several major figures of worship across the galaxy, only to discover they’ve all been murdered brutally by the eponymous God Butcher. And in the future, several thousand years after all other Norse mythological figures have kicked the bucket, Thor wears a badass eyepatch and fights off the God Butcher’s black dingo minions as the last King of Asgard.
The story shifts between the three perspectives, tying a narrative across millennia in a simple and effective way that’s never disorientating. It’s easy to follow the story but the layers are still pretty dense, giving a depth of narrative across three different time periods that few other works can match. Plus, there’s something kind of awesome in seeing one-eyed piratesque Thor in the distant future kick the crap out of black dingo-looking dudes with a hammer and a metal arm that’d make the Winter Soldier jealous.
The character focus is front and center, fleshing out the hulking viking divinity with some greatly grounded moments that occasionally make you forget you’re reading about someone almost on the same level, superpower-wise, as post-crucifixion Jesus. While the cast of supporting characters is minimal, with the occasional appearance of Iron Man really being the only thread connecting this story to the larger Avengers-verse, what we get from the Blonde Bicep himself is more than enough to compensate. Anyone looking for ways to make absurdly powerful superheroes a bit more realistic and mired in the actual (lookin’ at you, Superman) could gain a lot from following some of the cues The God Butcher lays down.
The artwork by Esad Ribic is nothing short of breathtaking. Being a fan of those who take the time to really illustrate the page rather than just draw and CGI it (in the vein of names like Alex Ross, who paints every single page of every single comic he’s involved in from scratch) it’s refreshing to see an artist give us a beautiful, layered and toned piece of work that oozes with lots of TLC. All three Thor incarnations look great, the villain looks creepy as all get-out, the carnage is visceral, the alien vistas are gorgeous, and not an inch of the visuals feels wasted. There is an odd habit that sees Thor have his mouth open in an ‘O’ rather frequently, but rather than marking down the artwork I’ll just chalk that up to an appeal to the “homoerotic fanfiction writing” demographic that Marvel seem to be catering to.
Dialogue is good, with some pretty awesome and laugh-out-loud lines, but some characters seem to shift a bit too far in their personalities sometimes. A good example of this is the archivist Thor meets in some kind of deep space library, who alternates between “cool old guy” and “admonishing old guy who hates Thor”. Since this is coming from the writer of standout dialogue work from books like X-Men: Schism, it’s a little disappointing that characterisations flit about like an autistic hummingbird a little too often. It’s not a major strike against the book, but a point of contention nonetheless.
On the whole, though, The God Butcher kicks ass literally and figuratively. It puts me in mind of Stracyznski’s Thor magnum opus, giving us a protagonist we can relate to, a villain with pathos and proper motivation, some truly excellent artwork and a myth arc that looks set to be both epic in scale and methodical in execution. It’s pretty clear Jason Aaron has mapped out a lot of what’s to come already, which leaves me waiting with bated breath for the part of the story where Thor decides to lose his eye in order to become the biggest Norse pirate badass since Erik the Red.
BEST QUOTE: “Now if you’ll excuse me. There is always someone somewhere in need of smiting with a very large hammer. And Thor is always happy to oblige.” – Thor