By Molly Jane Kremer. It never fails: I can always tell when something comics-related has really hit mainstream America, because my parents will immediately, and excitedly, call to ask me about it. They don’t read comics (but thankfully, unlike others in their age-group they don’t call them “cartoons” either; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that) but they know that I read comics, and avidly at that. So I’ll often get questions like, “did you see that big article about your Comic-Con in Sunday’s Tribune?” or, “How was that Guardians movie? I heard the talking raccoon was funny.”

And like clockwork, after Marvel announced – on the View, of all places – that there would be a new Thor and that she would be a woman, my parents (my stepmother especially) were full of questions. Honestly, so was I: I had no idea who the lucky lady wielding Mjolnir would be, and I had no idea of the circumstances that would lead to the Odinson becoming “unworthy” of the hammer that so defines him. Thor is one of my favorite superheroes, and Jason Aaron’s God of Thunder run has been ever so close to my heart since issue #1 debuted, so I was more than curious as to how this would all unfold.

I wasn’t nervous about the writing. For every genre of comics the writer has tried his hand at, Jason Aaron has scripted as though he was born to it. And I wasn’t nervous about the art; I’d first learned of Russell Dauterman from his recent stint on Cyclops with Greg Rucka, and his work on that comic fairly blew me away. (And not just from his complete ease at and mastery of the, uh, female gaze. Because he definitely has that.) His grasp of fun sci-fi/action was nigh perfect on that book, and while I was sad to see him leave it, I’m glad he’s on Thor, and that the new lady-god is in capable and trusted hands.

The new Thor #1 (the book unceremoniously dropped the suffix God of Thunder with the relaunch) opens in the Norwegian Sea with a ROXXON submersible and underwater drilling station being attacked by frost giants. Dauterman’s skill is put on display here as he illustrates some pretty rad attack-sharks, right before he draws even more rad frost giants stomping them with their big, gnarly-toed feet. The double-page spread of the frost giants’ charge is both beautiful and frightening, the meticulous detail apparent in everything from the giants’ fur loincloths, to a chomped-up shark hanging out of a frost giant’s mouth like a candybar.

Asgard is now in space, freed from the earthly Oklahoman confines in which it resided for the past few years. It floats above the moon, site of much of Aaron’s Original Sin, and after the events of this summer’s crossover, its relevance is explained during a quick flashback. While I do think it would have been nice, as I’ve heard said, to have “Thor becoming unworthy of Mjolnir” to be a storyline within the pages of Thor and not within a crossover, there is a need for big events like this to happen within big-event-crossovers. Otherwise these yearly universe-wide events would be even more of a superfluous cash-grab than they already have a tendency to be. Plus it’s looking like the real story is going to be in how the God of Thunder deals with his unworthiness, and not just the whys and wherefores of the loss of his hammer.

Dauterman has a great grasp of the sci-fi/fantasy element, and adds Kirby-esque flourishes here and there: Freyja’s costume is particularly eye-catching, her massive valkyrie-esque winged headgear surrounds her towering Gibson-girl style hair. The panel placement is top-notch, wide-frame panels emphasize the huge cinematic feel of the material. The scenes on the moon are really suited for it too, and sweeping vistas of colorful Asgardians ornament those panels not filled by Thor Odinson’s epic moping.

Since Thor has previously been clean shaven in Aaron’s run, we can only assume that this is Thor wearing his depression-beard, and understandably so. The panel illustrating Thor’s remembrance of Nick Fury’s depowering whisper showcases yet again colorist-extraordinaire Matthew Wilson. His glorious colors already grace some of the best comics in the industry (The Wicked + The Divine, Wonder Woman, Secret Avengers, etc.) and he does no less in this book. The flashback panel shows, above a disconsolate Thor, the dream-like images of his memory fading into the starfield above, like ripples of aurora borealis against a night sky.

Jason Aaron writes Freyja terrifically in this issue. She stands steadfast in keeping her assumed mantle of All-Mother when Odin last left, even though he’s back and literally telling her to remember her place. Freyja’s wonderfully sardonic retorts to her newly-returned husband’s blustering pomposity are sparkling, while her compassion for and concern at her son’s plight are palpable. Dauterman excellently shows both her stoicism and her worry; you can plainly see that Thor’s heroics come from much more than just his father’s influence.

Freyja even gives a telling glance to Mjolnir, still in its inert state on the surface of the moon. Could she be the woman to wield the hammer…? My immediate thought is red herring – at this point, she’d be a little too easy a choice, and too obvious – but I’d have absolutely no complaints if she were to take over as the new Thor. (I’d like it even more if it were Jane Foster, but that’s just vain hope talking.)

The narrative returns to the bottom of the sea, as Thor heedlessly races off to combat the frost giants. He hasn’t rested in days and is carrying only Jarnbjorn, the axe he’d previously used in his youth to chop frost giants into ice shards. Little does he know, the dark elf Malekith is in league with the frost giants, helping seek out the sorcerous skull of certain frost giant royalty mentioned in the final issue of Thor: God of Thunder.

It turns out that Malekith, the cruel and merciless killer, has the best jokes in Thor #1, and, interestingly enough, he also has the best hair in the issue. (Sorry, Freyja.) The exquisite design that went into the swirling, art-nouveau flow of Malekith’s hair is a prime example of Dauterman and Wilson’s chemistry together; the dark elf constantly looks like a Mucha painting. (Nothing like admiring the beauty of a dastardly villain and giggling at his jokes as he gleefully dispatches a handful of people.) I can’t say I don’t love a villain who keeps his sense of humor during acts of unspeakable horror – who doesn’t?

In the ensuing fight between Asgardian and elf-mage, Thor is subdued by the frost giants and Malekith cuts off Thor’s arm with his own ax, bringing us that much closer to the metal-armed King Thor of the far future, who has been such a mainstay of Jason Aaron’s run up to now. It’s funny that such a defeating blow only reminds us that Thor will get Mjolnir back eventually; it’s our good fortune that we get to watch how it all happens.

It isn’t until the very end that the new lady Thor makes her appearance, and I have to say, seeing an “S” starting to glow in front of “HE” in that second-to-last panel (making Mjolnir’s inscription say “IF SHE BE WORTHY”) gave me honest-to-goodness chills. (Comics don’t give me that reaction often.)

I know some will be upset by the fact that we don’t actually find out which lucky lady it was who picked up the hammer to become Thor, and that she didn’t do so until the end of the comic. But Jason Aaron has said that he’ll continue to tell the story of Thor Odinson in the pages of this comic alongside the new Thor – showing how Thor Odinson reacts to being unworthy was a necessary part of that story. And personally I enjoy the fact that we don’t know who is holding the hammer just yet – I like a good mystery. Some tantalizing groundwork has been laid, and while some patience might be needed, this could be a Thor story for the ages. (Which is also what I’ll be telling my parents the next time they ask.)

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Jason Aaron.

Art by Russell Dauterman.

Colored by Matthew Wilson.

8 out of 10