By Molly Jane Kremer. Thor has gotten quite a bit of attention lately. You might have heard why; July’s announcement that the wielder of mighty Mjolnir will soon be a lady caused quite the internet-stir. This new femme-Thor makes her debut next month in a relaunched Thor #1, with the current Thor comic coming to a close. The issue that’s out this week, Thor: God Of Thunder #25, serves as both epilogue and capstone to this (relatively) short but (massively) great series, and as a tease of things to come.
Jason Aaron’s run on Thor: God Of Thunder has been consistently one of my favorite titles since it began in November of 2012. (Which I didn’t exactly find surprising; Aaron is one of the most prolific writers of our day, and somehow has the ridiculous ability to write practically every genre, and write it horrifyingly, off-puttingly well.) This was Thor as though he’d strode off the pages of Heavy Metal magazine, his footfalls timed to a soundtrack of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song and The Sword’s Age of Winters. Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina’s gorgeous painterly art only enhanced this effect, hints of Frazetta perfectly complementing these darkly fantastic tales of the gods of the Northlands.
The idea of trinity, or the three-in-one, is so oft-used in myth it can border on cliche. But mythology is like comics – in SO many ways – and the recurrence of such themes becomes lyrical in its every echo and reiteration. From issue one, Aaron split Thor’s story between three different-yet-the-same protagonists: Young Thor, the brash Viking god as-yet unworthy of Mjolnir; present-day Thor, the Avenger we all know and love (and in my case, oh how I do mean love); and one-armed, one-eyed King Thor from the far far future, the golden apple not falling far from Yggdrasil in so many respects. King Thor is also grandsire to the Girls of Thunder, three wonderfully bad-ass shield maidens of Asgard (who happen to be three of my favorite new Marvel characters of the past few years).
The Girls of Thunder feature in the bookend sequence of Thor: God Of Thunder #25, which, like so many good and beloved things in fiction, is also split into three parts. While Jason Aaron writes the issue in its entirety, Ribic and Svorcina illustrate the story that weaves between the other two timelines and features Atli, Frigg, and Ellisiv (the aforementioned Girls) regaling each other with tales from a few select tomes in the great library of future-Asgard.
The first story told is an origin story of the evil dark elf Malekith. I’m used to seeing R.M. Guera’s gritty, dry and Leone-esque lines gracing the pages of the dark crime drama Scalped – a comic I love, so full of villainy and moral-gray areas that even the heroes had a twinge of malice about them -so I shouldn’t have been surprised he’d mesh perfectly with this little venom-laced narrative. Though the scenery change from a corrupt, modern-day Indian reservation to the “dark and dreary realm of Svartalfheim” is drastic (if apt), Guera manages with decided aplomb. It descends into shadows and grime as deep as most bloody and grisly high-fantasy ever tends to go. Giulia Brusco’s colors keep everything within dingy greens and blues, as a dark elf would prefer it; bright lights might scare off the many creeping things lingering just out of sight.
Malekith’s beginnings are just as twisted as one would expect: the youngest of thirteen sons (the thirteenth son of a thirteenth son, in fact), all his brothers are slain in battle before his mother sells him to undertaker elves to keep their slavering hounds fed. He becomes a corpse-burner, clearing bodies (dead or alive) from the fields of war, before he befriends the wizard who becomes his mentor. Only after teaching Malekith everything he knows, and after they’ve conquered most there is to conquer, does the wizard realize his folly. At his mention of peace – and the possible end to the wars that have outlined and defined Malekith’s life – Malekith kills him in a rage, swearing he’d never allow the end of war. (“Without war…what am I?”) Before dying, the wizard marks Malekith’s face with the dark scarring we all know so well.
The next sequence, Simon Bisley’s illustrations on a tale of Young Thor, is the first we see of the God of Thunder in this issue. Bisley draws him with the barest of peach-fuzz beard, apparently unable to grow a full mustache yet; but while youthful, Thor never looks any less the ice-eyed paragon of a Viking god. He is accompanying a viking army, off to fight a legion of frost giants that have been razing “every human village along the coast” with the aim – unbeknownst to the vikings or to Thor – to resurrect their late king (and father of Loki), the great Laufey. The coloring is striking, never subtle, and suits the in-your-face story, in which at one point Thor toasts his men using a giant’s frozen-eyeball-and-viscera as a cup for mead. (A decidedly good way to keep one’s drink cold in an era long before refrigeration, I’ll admit.)
Cutting an eerie silhouette, the frost giants wear what look like dinosaur and mastodon skulls as helmets into battle, and their scale compared to the viking warriors is absolutely massive. But there’s nothing like seeing Thor use his axe Jarnbjorn (this is before he was worthy enough for Mjolnir, remember) to cleave through their crystalline heft like butter, sending ice shards flying: “… they die the same as anything. Their insides just aren’t as warm.” While Thor and his army of brave Northmen seemingly interrupt the giants before their blood-spell can run its course, Laufey’s skull is left to simmer under icy seas, and seems to have begun some sort of transformation unbeknownst to the humans and their thunder god. I’m guessing this portends of things to come…
Even more teases and hints abound in the final portion of the bookending sequence. There are callbacks to both Malekith and to Laufey’s skull languishing in the seafloor. We’re also shown a glimpse of the new Thor, but with her face-obscuring helmet still on, of course. She is, however, shown surrounded by many of Thor’s best-known foes, a few of whom haven’t been seen in years, and some who simply are yet to enter Jason Aaron’s telling.
While I’m very much looking forward to the new Thor #1, replete with Russell Dauterman on pencils (fresh off his uh-mazing stint on Cyclops with Greg Rucka) I’m going to miss – just as much as I’ll miss seeing the Odinson swinging Mjolnir – Ribic’s and Svorcina’s beautifully realized art. From the towering spires of Asgard down to the curling tendrils of King Thor’s beard – all lovingly rendered – they, along with the ubiquitous Mr. Aaron, have truly left an indelible mark on this character and his 52-year history. A mark is also left, as I like to think of it, on the centuries-old Norse traditions, the sagas and eddas that served as the original inspiration for Messrs Kirby and Lee to continue telling the further adventures of the God of Thunder.
Written by Jason Aaron.
Art by Esad Ribic, R.M. Guera, Simon Bisley.
7 out of 10.