Where Do I Start? Thunder God Edition
In the process of navigating the Marvel Universe, you will eventually run into Thor Odinson who happens to be one of the strangest creations in all of comics. I mean here’s a character from real Norse mythology that has been transplanted into a world full of superheroes and sci-fi characters. Oddly enough, Thor, Mjolnir, and the rest of the Norse pantheon have become quite at home among the various Avengers, X-Men, and Spider-People over decades of storytelling.
And as the Marvel Cinematic Universe prepares to close its second phase of films with Avengers: Age of Ultron next summer, fans of both movies and comics have been given an opportunity to explore Asgard and the rest of the Nine Realms in three films so far. There’s that great onscreen sibling rivalry between Thor and Loki, Anthony Hopkins’ Odin as well as concepts such as the Bifrost and the World Tree. So, if you’ve left the theater interested in seeing more of the golden-haired thunderer beyond his film appearances, here are a few recent volumes of essential reading to check out.
Ages of Thunder (Matt Fraction, various artists)
One of the signature story elements presented in the Norse myths is the idea that the world, the universe, and even time itself exist in a self-perpetuating cycle. Birth, life, death, and rebirth (I’m paraphrasing). This is apparent when Odin falls into a deep slumber each winter and awakens fully refreshed, rejuvenating the Earth with springtime renewal. Even the Norse apocalypse – Ragnarok as it’s called – ends with the promise of a new beginning for the world.
Matt Fraction’s Ages of Thunder collection takes the idea of the cyclical story to the next level as each individual tale takes place during a different Ragnarok cycle, giving the impression that Thor and his fellow Asgardians live, die, and live again only to embark upon vaguely familiar and at times significantly altered adventures. Fraction constructs tales of war, courage, seduction and trickery all the while utilizing pieces of real Norse mythology such as the Frost Giants and Loki and putting them up against Jack Kirby additions like Odin’s Destroyer Armor. Since these are non-canonical, out-of-continuity stories, they are perfect entry-points into the thunder god’s world for both casual and older fans.
The JMS Run (J. Michael Straczynski, various artists)
In 2007, J. Michael Straczynski literally brought Thor back from the dead in a set of graphic novels entitled simply Thor Volumes 1 – 3. The previous Ragnarok storyline had killed Thor and wiped out the Asgardians, so part of this arc is about tackling his resurrection and return to the Marvel Universe. Re-launches and bringing heroes back from the dead are nothing new to superhero comics; at the same time, they are rarely executed this skillfully.
Straczynski rebuilds Asgard and its pantheon with a storytelling style that utilizes both the nuances and structure of Norse mythology. Thor’s fork-tongued brother Loki returns from the dead as a woman, reexamining the theme of death and rebirth. Asgard, home of the gods, takes its place high in the sky above Broxton, Oklahoma. And in a twist pulled from the father/son dynamic between Thor and Odin, Thor’s grandfather Bor returns to life only to be tricked into waging war against his own grandson. There’s a villainous alliance between Hela, Loki, and Dr. Doom as well as a grudge match with Tony Stark and a battle royal between Thor and Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers. With Olivier Coipel turning in a good portion of the pencils in these stories, Straczynki’s Thor run is one of the most entertaining and poignant additions to the character in recent memory.
The Galactus Seed (Matt Fraction, Olivier Coipel)
I absolutely love this particular genre mash up. Here, Fraction mixes a little fantasy, a bit of creation myth, some science-fiction, and a hint of space opera to craft the story of what happens when Galactus – the devourer of worlds – comes to eat Asgard. Olivier Coipel beautifully renders armored Asgardians soaring into space to do battle with the unstoppable cosmic entity.
Thor faces off against the Silver Surfer while Odin takes on Galactus himself in an epic battle of wills. Mythic god vs shiny, crackling sci-fi deity. It’s one of those moments comic books do better than any other medium. Of course, the newly reincarnated kid brother Loki gets up to some well-intentioned shenanigans that end up causing Thor more suffering than good, but that’s par for the course isn’t it, dear Thor? The Galactus Seed is a great example of how well Thor can coexist with Marvel’s other concepts, and if you are interested in seeing the character thrust into the universe’s more cosmic side, surely you’ll enjoy this one.
The God Butcher/God Bomb (Jason Aaron, Esaad Ribic)
These recently published stories are actually two separate tales, but they form a longer narrative that works so well that I put them in the same entry. Focusing on Gorr the God Butcher, Jason Aaron gives us a villain who is so embittered by his own tragic circumstances that he has become a serial killer of gods. As he tears a wide, bloody gash across the universe with his strange shadow-based weapons, we get to gaze upon gods from all over creation, visit Omnipotence City (gotta love that name), and meet Thors from the past and future.
In a cross-time team-up, the Odinson joins forces with a younger, more brash and impassioned version of himself as well as a much older, bearded future Thor who has become more akin to his father Odin than he would like with his one eye and his three wild, violent daughters who have obviously played a quite a role in turning his hair white. While these arcs touch a bit on the idea of faith and its place in human lives, their collective strength lies in old school epic adventure and the great sense of personal danger to Thor and his kind. In terms of the artwork, Esaad Ribic is responsible for ten issues of awesome illustrations that really strike that visceral tone needed in a story about flesh, blood, and lightning. This is just one of those great reads that you will be revisiting over and over as the dynamic art and subtle character moments allow the reader to discover new tasty morsels each time.
Thor is definitely one of those characters that can be a challenge to write. He’s not only a superhero; he’s a god who was actually worshipped in Northern Europe during the Viking Age, which means there are some well-established notes that need to be hit. Period. But when writers and artists are able to strike a balance between the mythic and superhero/science-fiction elements, you get stories with a sense of wonder like the ones above, which take me back to sitting on the floor in my parents’ house flipping through stacks of comics. So if you’re looking for more Thor, this is where I’d start. Hope you find something you enjoy.