Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Thor: God of Thunder 1-3, originally released November 14th, November 28th, and December 19th, 2012.
Shelby: We often praise Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman for its creative inclusion of the Greek pantheon in the cast of characters. In that universe, the gods are real, tangible beings who walk among the people, but we don’t see them doing much of anything. As far as I can remember, the only god in Wonder Woman we see actually invoked to do his job is Eros; most of the time, the rest of the gods scheme and plot to get what they want. Thor is different; he fights at the side of the Vikings and answers the prayers of those who need his aid. Writer Jason Aaron takes it one step further; for every weird and wacky universe Marvel has got, Aaron gives us a new set of real, tangible gods for it. He then asks the question, “If the gods are real, why can’t they be killed? What would happen to these civilizations if all their gods were dead?” It’s a heady question to be sure, and one that Thor has to face as he confronts the God Butcher at three distinct points in his life.
Aaron has taken a really interesting approach to the telling of this story; each issue occurs when Thor was an impetuous and arrogant youth, in the present time when he’s got a steadier head on his shoulders, and when he is an old man. I’m going to recap in chronological order. Back in his Viking war days, Thor first encountered the God Butcher when the severed head of a Native American god washed up on Iceland’s shore. Ever the cocky bastard, Thor figures it’s nothing he can’t handle, and heads East with his Viking horde to challenge the gods of the Slavs. Except the other gods are no-shows, because they’ve all just been slaughtered. Thor battles the God Butcher, and very nearly loses; once he comes to, he tracks the God Butcher to cave and is dragged into the darkness. Flash forward to the present, when Thor has to answer the prayers of a child for rain on some distant planet. When he investigates why the child’s own gods didn’t answer her prayers, he finds them all skewered on meat hooks, and he knows he is once again seeing the work of the God Butcher.
Thor heads to Omnipotence City, a sort of godly parliament / records hall / general clubhouse for all the gods in all the worlds, to do some research. He’s appalled to discover the number of gods who’ve gone missing, and the apparent indifference of the rest of the pantheons. He begins to track the Butcher, finding plenty of bodies but no killer. Finally, Thor enlists the help of Tony Stark to help him find the cave where he had his first horrifying confrontation with the God Butcher. He finds some sort of god creature hiding there instead, who tells him this whole rampage is his fault; because of what Thor did in this cave those thousands of years ago, this horror has been unleashed. Finally, we see Thor as an old man, the King of Asgard, and the last god remaining. A pack of the God Butcher’s dogs scratch at his door, and Thor decides if he’s going to die, it will be a warrior’s death, and the last we see of him is as he is consumed by darkness.
As intrigued as I am by the concept of killing gods, I am more intrigued by the reaction of civilians. When present Thor asks why the girl didn’t pray to her own gods, the answer is “we don’t have any gods.” To the creatures of that planet, the gods had become mere stories told to children, not real beings who watched over them. So, how exactly does that transition take place? After the gods are physically killed, does that flip some sort of switch so then no one believes in them anymore? Or is it merely that their non-presence eventually causes their followers to lose faith, and that is when they are truly dead? In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, the gods exist as long as people believe they do. Even if the god is physically killed, they still kind of exist; it’s only after they are forgotten by man that they truly die. So what exactly are the mechanics of the death of a god and the faith of its believers? More importantly, what are the implications of a truly godless universe? If the gods are real and actually watching over us, what does it mean for us when they are gone? How would it affect me if I one day discovered somehow that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were murdered up in Heaven, and now the world is just drifting aimlessly through the void? I gotta say, this is the closest I’ve come to existential crisis when reading a comic book.
The execution of this story is really top-notch, both in writing and in art. I love Aaron’s choice to show us Thor’s encounter with this being at three points in his life. It makes for a really easy way to show the character’s growth from the god equivalent of early-20s, privileged, partying frat boy to early-30s responsible member of society with a job and mortgage, to tired old man. Each step shows us Thor reaping what he has sown and paying for the mistakes of his past. Artist Esad Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina employ a very painterly style that’s almost classical in nature, which is both beautiful and appropriate for the character. My favorite panels are those that show multiple versions of Thor: past, present, and future.
This book has surprised me from day one. It’s horror and action rolled up into one neat little package, tied with a bow of character development. Even more surprising to me are the questions it raises in my mind of the nature of faith and belief. What about you Patrick? I know you like this title as much as I do; what was it about this book that hooked you?
Patrick: Oh, I’m totally hooked based on the strength of the central conceit. The three-Thors-in-one approach affords Aaron a lot of interesting opportunities. Neatly, I see three distinct opportunities that this series takes full advantage of. The first is that, since we see points in time separated by hundreds (possibly thousands) of years, there is no upper limit to the size of the uber-pantheon being explored here. I mean, the only place that’s going to have information on all these characters is called Omnipotence City. Jesus. The trail of god-corpses is so varied as to occasionally include deities from real-life Earth religions, but there are also creatures totally invented for this series. Check out Falligar the Behemoth – Ribic gets to draw this fucking thing and WE GET TO SEE IT.
The second opportunity is sorta tied into this first one. It’s the old “superhero stories as modern myths” theme. Not to compare this title to Wonder Woman too many times (I’ll try my best to limit it to 800 or 900 more times over the course of 2013), but this is series shares that quality of literally mixing these worlds. In issue 3 of Thor, Thor enlists Tony Stark to help him confront the God Butcher, and the thunder god makes this connection explicit by saying: “You are as much as god as any mortal I have ever known, Tony Stark.”
And the third is that we can see Thor’s values shift as he ages. Shelby, breaks it down pretty well, so I won’t do it again. But it’s fascinating to see a life-cycle dramatized through an immortal god. I don’t know if these eras will carry over after the conclusion of the God Butcher story, but I know Aaron intends to keep up this method of storytelling as long as he’s writing on the series. Wouldn’t it be fun to see three other eras from Thor’s life? Actually, on that note, I kinda wish there was a little more of old-man Thor in these issues. Certainly, knowing what we know about that version of the character does take a little mystery out of the present-day stuff. BUT, man it’d be fun to see more grizzled old shit.
Weird little connection: over in All-New X-Men, they’re exploring a similar idea of a single character reacting to the same situation differently depending on their age. There’s time travel involved (because: X-Men), BUT that series gives us an extra-special inside look into the evolving value-system of Scott Summers just as this series does the same for Thor. That’s only two examples, so it’s hardly a pattern, but I don’t see anything like that in DC’s offerings.
Shelby, I love that you identify the horror elements of this story. Outside of Batman or Animal Man, I don’t read anything that makes me as consistently uneasy as this books. Maybe I’m also freaked out by the idea of an entity whose only job is to butcher gods, but check out how cool (and unsettling) young-Thor’s fight against the G.B. above the foggy lake is in issue 2. Even when the fight is going well, Thor ends up on this scary-looking hell-steed.
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