By Don Alsafi. Maybe you’ve been away from Marvel Comics for a while. Maybe you were chased away by too many crossovers, too many changes in too short a time, and the next time you looked at the comics racks the state of the Marvel Universe felt unrecognizable. And even when you’ve heard great reviews for this title or that, you’ve wondered how to even find your footing in this current Marvel age. Do you need to start back at the beginning? Can you jump back on board with the newest issue, or would you find yourself lost in a status quo you couldn’t possibly understand?

In theory, Marvel Legacy would be the kind of line-wide relaunch positioned to allow new or lapsed readers to pick up the newest titles regardless of how well-versed they were in the Marvel of today – but of course the gap between ideal and execution can sometimes seem a boundless gulf.

With The Mighty Thor #700, Marvel Comics has an opportunity to win over readers who may have been skeptical of this new Thor. It’s all a matter of whether their efforts prove worthy…

The Mighty Thor #700The Mighty Thor #700

Written by Jason Aaron

Art & colors by Walter Simonson, Russell Dauterman, Daniel Acuña, James Harren, Becky Cloonan, Das Pastoras, Chris Burnham, Andrew MacLean, Jill Thompson, Mike Del Mundo, Olivier Coipel, Matthew Wilson, Dave Stewart, and Ive Svorcina

Letters by VC’s Joe Sabino

Marvel Primer Pages by Robbie Thompson, Valerio Schiti & Rain Beredo.

A star-studded cast of creators. Writer Jason Aaron has been chronicling the stories of Thor for five years now, and has featured longstanding supporting character Jane Foster as the current incarnation of the God of Thunder for the past three. As radical a move as that may have seemed at the time, this week’s 50-page epic shows that he has an investment in and a love for the entire Thor mythology throughout the ages, and his Jane is instantly understood as complex, inspiring, and powerful. In a word, she is mighty.

Meanwhile, the visuals for this issue are provided by a positively staggering number of artists, as astonishingly talented as they are varied. Current Thor artist Russell Dauterman illustrates the scenes centered on the Unworthy Odinson (i.e., the Thor readers have known for decades), while other artistic luminaries – some of whom have never before drawn for Marvel – are tapped to give their interpretations of Asgard and its associated realms. Daniel Acuña illustrates a massive knock-out tear-down between Thor and the current Hulk (“They used to call you the She-Hulk, yes? Aye, I would still be angry about that as well.“), while indie artist Andrew MacLean, lately of Head Lopper fame, depicts a post-skirmish interlude starring Loki and his frost giant father, King Laufey.

The high point, however, might be Jill Thompson’s pages chronicling the thrilling exploits of Throg, Frog of Thunder. Yes, you read that right: Not only does this over-sized comic tell the story of an affecting and tragic war of the gods, but it also makes room for a talking, hammer-wielding amphibian.

If the artistic assemblage found in the recent America #7 was a pictorial feast, the creative superstars here on display make for nothing less than a god-sized banquet.

Interior panel from 'The Mighty Thor' #700. Art by Jill  Thompson/Marvel Comics

Interior panel from ‘The Mighty Thor’ #700. Art by Jill Thompson/Marvel Comics

A truly mythical and wide-reaching tale. Jason Aaron has been writing Thor for over sixty issues now, and heshows no sign of slowing down, even if the current title of this new storyline – “The Death of the Mighty Thor” – would indicate that his long-running tale is approaching some sort of climax (if not necessarily an endpoint). And yet at the same time, as the only Marvel title to have its Legacy renumbering coincide with a massive anniversary issue, it’s incumbent upon him to nevertheless make this installment as new-reader friendly as possible. Those two drives would seem to be at cross purposes to each other – and yet, somehow, some way, Aaron makes it all work.

The Dark Elf Malekith is waging furious war upon Asgard and the other nine realms, and to this end he has sent his vast and ever-growing army to attack the base of Yggdrasil, the World-Tree, where live the Norn sisters who write the fates of all men, gods and more. In between these scenes of their bloody battle we’re treated to other stories from across time and space, from a terrifying meeting between the cosmic nihilist Thanos and Hela, once-queen of Hel, to the impetuous adventures of a young Thor Odinson overly eager to prove himself, to a grandiose struggle at the end of time between a dark and corrupted Galactus and Ego the Living Planet.

What’s most impressive about these varied scenes and vignettes is just how much Jason Aaron makes them work in the context of the greater story. One of the frustrating elements found in the Marvel Legacy one-shot was that, although that comic endeavored to show readers snippets of various characters across the breadth of the Marvel Universe, there was no in-story reason or point to these scenes. By contrast, Karnilla the Norn Queen tells us, “If today we must bleed, then let us do so as Norns. Aye. And Norns… bleed stories.” And while the occasional episode (like the far-future epoch showcasing an All-Father King Thor and the destined line of man and gods) might feel largely disconnected from the narrative, they’re more than made up for by the other threads, which are both on-point and surprisingly emotional.

The oversized Volstagg, in particular – long a one-note buffoon ever characterized by his obsession with eating and jokes focused on the same – has been given a complexity and pathos previously unthinkable. The fact that readers are left uncertain as to whether he makes it out of this issue alive only renders his present trial all the more heartbreaking.

Interior pages from 'The Mighty Thor' #700. Art by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson/Marvel Comics

Interior pages from ‘The Mighty Thor’ #700. Art by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson/Marvel Comics

An ongoing epic, and the perfect place to start. This 700th-issue anniversary extravaganza is not a beginning, nor is it an ending – fitting, perhaps, for a mythos that has existed for eons, and which incorporates into its cosmology a never-ending cycle of devastation and renewal. The pivotal battle taking place in these pages is clearly the culmination of plans long set in motion, yet never once does the new reader feel lost or clueless as to the stakes. By story’s end, the onslaught is over, but the outcome is less about the forces of good overcoming evil and more a case of desperate damage control. Even this, however, is but prelude, as the final pages show the arrival of a threat so massive as to make Malekith – heretofore the harrowing Big Bad responsible for all these woes – appear as little more than a troll king. You think this was costly? the comic seems to ask us. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Regardless of who holds the hammer, the mighty Thor has always been a larger-than-life figure – undeniably one of Marvel’s most awe-inspiring icons – and the success or failure of the title has always hinged on whether or not the comic could effectively evoke those mythic heights. That Jason Aaron’s long-running saga can convey such grandeur and glory is remarkable. The fact that it can do so in a climactic chapter which is nevertheless accessible and indisputably new-reader friendly is nothing less than a massive achievement in superhero storytelling.

This comic is a triumph, and the clearest sign yet of how bright Marvel can shine when they’re truly at their best.

10 out of 10