By Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson
Welcome to the indisputable best comic of the All-New All-Different Marvel relaunch. There are other pretty great installments like Vision, Captain America, and Hercules, but none are more epic in scope yet grounded and human in emphasis than The Mighty Thor. Written by Jason Aaron, one of the best while also most mercurial authors in comics today, the story follows what could very well end up being the last days of Jane Foster as she’s dying from cancer while simultaneously saving the planet on a daily basis as the mighty Thor. Meanwhile, dark forces align to form a sort of ‘Thor Revenge Squad’ intent on sowing chaos across the 9 realms and bringing war to the realm of the Norse Gods now that Odin has been rightly removed from power.
Probably the most interesting thing about The Mighty Thor from a critical perspective is its bizarre relationship with the Thor mythos and history. Jason Aaron has always been a seriously odd duck when it comes to where he draws his inspiration from and what kind of stories he likes to tell. Unlike Jonathan Hickman, who’s more defined by a weird sort of nihilism and obsession with genre blending, or Dan Slott, who loves diving deep into the ignored aspects of a character’s identity, or even some of Aaron’s compatriots on the indie circuit like Brian K. Vaughan with his major obsession on the human side of genre infused mega-conflict, Aaron is a bit of an unknown. He’s most reminiscent of Ron Howard in that he’s a supremely talented storyteller with a lot of great ideas and work like Southern Bastards or his Thor comics, but there’s not really any kind of unifying thread to be described through his stories and ideas. That’s not necessarily a bad thing just a curious one and I don’t think there’s a better example of his odd grab bag of influences and ideas than The Mighty Thor, a story that could only exist by grabbing hold of Thor’s oldest concept while grounding the rest of the visuals in a blend of modern affects and the work of Walt Simonson.
To clarify; the core thesis of The Mighty Thor is a twist on the very concept of Thor and even the idea of power fantasies that he embodies we haven’t seen since Marvel’s silver age. Firstly, the idea that the emphasis of this comic is actually more on Jane Foster, cancer patient, rather than Thor, God of thunder, is incredibly gutsy as Thor hasn’t played on the whole “human host” angle for what feels like decades. Ever since the film came out and we all realized having Thor swap places with human dead weight was a majorly dumb idea, Marvel has done its best to pretend that never happened, till this comic came along. Here, we spend the bulk of this book with Jane Foster, not Thor, Norse God of thunder. Luckily, Jane is incredibly compelling, especially thanks to the very tricky core idea of her character. As mentioned, Jane is suffering from cancer, the tricky thing is that her chemo isn’t working because whenever she turns into Thor it purges the chemicals from her system, but the cancer remains. That’s right, the powers of the mighty Thor are literally killing her.
Aside from the tragically inspiring idea that Jane is a woman who would give her life to do the right thing and save people, this is actually a pitch-perfect update of the classic power fantasy inversions that used to be Marvel’s bread and butter. Back in the ‘60s basically every Marvel hero was a twist on a major power fantasy: Hulk got to become the ultimate physical ideal, but it made him a big dumb monster; Spider-Man gets all the power he ever wanted, but it cost him the only person he ever cared about; Iron Man has super armor that will kill him if he ever takes it off. In recent years those elements have decidedly fallen away, much like the idea of Thor swapping places with a human host, so it’s great to see this return to a classical Marvel ideal in the modern age. Marvel initially put together those ideas as a way of distinguishing themselves as a company that told stories for older readers. The idea was that if you wanted pure fantasy that’s what the DC Comics were for, over at Marvel they know that this is the real world: all dreams have a price and all achievements have consequence. The idea of upping that core idea to the level of “the powers that let me defend the world are literally killing me” is a really great way to raise the stakes, but also helps make this more of an adult story. It also fits perfectly with the story of Thor within the Marvel comics; after all, if Jane Foster wasn’t willing to lay down her life to help others she wouldn’t be worthy.
The artwork and coloring are both excellent as well. Russell Dauterman has an amazingly unique sensibility for the Norse mythos that seems most reminiscent of model building in a cool way. It’s a sci-fi/fantasy blend that reminds one of Warhammer or Darksiders without ever slipping into that level of overdesign. There’s an especially great council sequence where he really gets to strut his stuff in visual designs for the nine realms. Colorist Matthew Wilson does a very good job with integration. We’re dealing with big colorful characters like Thor and Volstag stomping around in the human world, so it helps that Wilson knows how to color them to actually look off and more spectacular. The difference is most pronounced between Jane and Thor. When she’s Jane everything is a shade duller, paler, more washed-out, but when she becomes Thor the world lights up with vibrant colors and visuals. The artistic duo’s real triumph, however, is Mjolnir. They’re visualization of Thor’s hammer is stupendous, it’s never had more weight or power than in The Mighty Thor.
For a franchise that’s given the Marvel Cinematic Universe so much grief that they’re now bringing in the Hulk and Valkyrie to tag team the third film, it’s incredible how well Thor is doing in the comic landscape. Maybe there’s a lesson in that, maybe Thor, as a character, is better left to the lofty worlds and visual language of comic book superheroes rather than the limited scale and scope of blockbuster cinema. Then again, it’s not the dark elves or the frost giants that sell this comic, it’s a solid center built on a well written and endearing main character who embodies the first truth of Marvel comics: that with great power comes great responsibility.