by Taylor Anderson and Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Taylor: When I’m teaching my students about tone and mood in class, my go-to lesson involves a Marry Poppins trailer. First I show them the original trailer for the movie and then I show them a trailer that Christopher Rule cut together, which makes the classic film look like a horror movie. It’s a great way of showing the kids that the same content can have a drastically different tone and mood based on how the artist presents the story. I was thinking of this as I read Thor 1, because the issue shares the same characters, settings, and even the same writer as the Mighty Thor, but it feels drastically different. It’s a textbook example of how a skilled writer can shift the tone of a story, and in this case, that shift is a refreshing change of direction for the Thor series.
Of course, this isn’t a knock against Mighty Thor. I love that series and can’t wait to reread it now that it has concluded. However, it is heavy, what with its themes of sacrifice, duty, and the cost of war and all. It’s great and epic, but I welcome the thought of a Thor title that isn’t a variation on gloom and doom each month, just in the way I welcome a sugary dessert after eating a savory meal. In this way, Thor 1 is welcome change from what we’ve come to know about a Thor series.
One way writer Jason Aaron accomplishes this refreshing shift in tone is making all of his characters extremely likable. Throughout the issue, everyone has witty dialogue and an airiness that I find magnetic. Even the Juggernaut, never one who wins people over with his personality, is enjoyable as he banters with Thor while they fight over an ancient artifact. The best example, though, of how the characters shift the tone of the story comes when Jane Foster talks to Thor while he’s on Earth for a spell.
The way Jane and Thor discuss their extraordinary lives here is wonderful. Having both been the God of Thunder, they have a common reference point when discussing things. Jane’s casual mention of a new lead to an infinity stone, her wanting to know if Thor’s new hammer drifts to the left when thrown, and her referring to Thor’s heroics as a job make it all seem just that — a job. Essentially, this is two Thors talkin’ shop in the same way you might discuss office happenings by the water cooler. This makes it easy to connect with these characters more than in the Mighty Thor. I don’t know what it feels like to punch a frost giant, but I do know what it’s like to casually discuss my job with a fellow teacher. This shifts the tone of the series by making these characters more accessible than they’ve ever been in the last couple years.
Mike del Mundo’s art also helps to make this Thor series feel immediately different from its predecessor. To start, del Mundo’s art is more elsastic that anything the artists on Mighty Thor did. This at once gives the issue a feel that is more lighthearted and not quite as cosmic and epic what came before it. While that shapes the tone greatly, what I appreciate more is the fun, little things del Mundo adds to his work to lighten the tone and make it buoyant. As with Aaron’s writing, he does things which endear us to the characters, like drawing Volstagg too big for his hospital bed so his feet hang off the end.
That’s a light way to hint at Volstagg’s sheer size and godliness. More than that though, it makes him likable. Most people have the tall friend or family member who is so damn big they can’t fit in a normal bed, car, or pair of pants. Volstagg is the same way — he’s huge. Shown with his feet hanging off the bed here, we can know Volstagg and also pity him a little bit.
Earlier in the issue, when Thor is fighting the Juggernaut, our hero is having a hard time landing hard punches against a strong enemy who is pumped up on the power of a cannibal god. Del Mundo hilariously shows Thor’s inability to hurt the Juggernaut by animating his punches with happy, smiling stars.
Juxtaposed with the hard hitting stars of the Juggernaut’s punches, these stars are a cute way of showing that Thor isn’t hurting his foe in the least. These stars are whimsical and funny, helping to make del Mundo’s artwork, even during a fight, endearing. While Russell Dautermann’s artwork is amazing, I’m not sure I would ever call it endearing, which is just another way the tone of mood of this first issue is different from the Mighty Thor.
Patrick, I really enjoyed this first issue of Thor. I think it’s a smart idea on Aaron’s part to take the series in a tonally different direction than his previous Thor series. It’s new and instantly enjoyable. Do you feel the same way? What do you think about the promised adventures of Loki and Thor in Hel? Also, I didn’t mention the coda at the end of this issue with Old Man Thor. Any thoughts on that?
Patrick: Oh, man, I love seeing the return of King Thor in the back-up story. I usually try to write about individual issues specifically and singularly, making a point to stick to the content of the issue itself without being withholden to the issue’s place within the context of a great narrative (or meta-narrative, as the case may be). But this issue of Thor prompts those long looks back in the Aaron’s past with the character. Taylor talked a lot about how del Mundo’s weirdo art style and cotton candy color palette (with an assist from colorist Marco D’Alfonso) set this issue apart from its predecessors. He’s not wrong to make those comparisons: and the presence of Jane Foster bonding with Thor over wielding the hammer keep drifting the chronological focus of the issue to the past.
The back-up story simultaneously draws the reader further into the publishing-past and into the far-flung future of the story itself. Drawn by Christian Ward of Black Bolt fame, “The Grace of Thor” ends up looking like a more stately version of del Mundo’s insanity. Part of that stateliness might just be in Ward’s subjects: Old Man Thor and his family. “Family” here is both literal and… slightly more figurative. Thor’s granddaughters are back, but perhaps more potently, the primordial woman that Thor created to repopulate Earth is also back. Of course, her name is Jane. The backstory here, and all of Thor’s emotional connection to Jane, are not explored in this short back-up story, instead asking the reader to bring as much Thor-knowledge as they can possibly muster to bear on this relationship. Ward keeps a respectful distance, letting the reader sit in the cold realities of their conversation.
There’s no big dramatic moment here: just a question about eternity, and a softly disappointing answer. That sets Thor off on a mission to the edge of space and time, where he encounters a figure that points neither forward or backward, but to a totally unrelated corner of the Marvel Universe: the X-Men.
I love this design. Ward commits to the monastic look of an immortal Wolverine in possession of the Phoenix. Even this line about “hope you brought some beer” sorta jukes our expectations. We’re at the solemn end of life in the Universe, but that doesn’t mean we’re out of levity.
So while all of these threads in the two stories point back to The Mighty Thor and Thor: God of Thunder, Aaron is also looping in some of the bigger questions coming out of X-Men Red and The Hunt for Wolverine. Aaron and his cohorts have repeatedly proven that they are prepared to tell personal stories about the God of Thunder, but this issue seems to insist that this Thor series matters more to the mythology than any before it. I loved the personal stakes of the previous series and stories, but, y’know, yeah, let’s blow this bad boy wide open.
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Taylor, did you really find MIghty Thor wall to wall gloom and doom? Gloom and doom was the last thing I thought of when I read Mighty Thor, despite the strong themes of sacrifice, was a story that provoked awe, heart and a vibrant, lively spirit long before it provoked doom and gloom. To me, the big loss as we move from Mighty Thor is that sense of living.
Though of course, the fact that we lost something doesn’t mean THor is a bad book, as that’s what happens in tone shifts. And I did greatly enjoy this. Aaron’s returning to a metal style for the Thor books again, but with del Mundo’s pen, it is a very different, much weirder metal. While there is a lot to praise about how Aaron writes the characters to lean into del Mundo’s art style, both in creating the sort of larger than life characters that fit del Mundo’s unreal art style and embracing the comedy inherent in del Mundo’s art, this really is del Mundo’s show to steal. Every little thing he draws is so perfect.
It is easy to talk about what del Mundo does for tone, but what really shows his talent is that despite the nature of his style being one that generally overwhelms you with its totality so that you can’t notice subtleties, all the subtleties are there. How well del Mundo has actually designed so that the subtler aspects also aid the story. Like Volstagg’s feet, though my favourite is THor’s little boat, designed perfectly as the absurd counterpoint of a Norse God. After Weirdworld being gone for so long, it is great to see del Mundo doing this sort again.
Though on some story notes. I love the new hammers approach, and interested to see how it evolves. Hopefully, we can have some fun with specialist hammers later down the line. Make everyone have a favourite hammer, instead of them all being disposable.
And as much as I love the end of Mighty THor, I still stand by some of what I said that while the climax was a great character climax, I wish there was a suitable plot climax so that the War of Realms plot that begun in Mighty Thor 1 came to an ending in 706 (even if the War of Realms continued into this book). I love the new status quo for Asgard introduced here, but I think Mighty THor’s ending would be stronger if these details had been better established at the end of Mighty Thor, so that the Mangog felt like an ending of more than just Jane’s story. On the topic of Jane and completely unrelated to this criticism, I do love Jane’s new status quo
And actually, I preferred the King Thor story. Thor’s granddaughters are always a delight, but it is the way Ward can so easily slide between cosmicness and personal. I disagree that Ward’s art can in any way be compared to del Mundo’s, as I think they are going for two different effects. This isn’t the more stately version of del Mundo’s insanity, but art constantly meditating between the infinite and the finite. You have the infinite cosmos, the near immortal gods and the very mortal humans, and Ward finds ways to constantly places two next to each other to show mortality in the face of immortality. Even in a dying universe, King Thor looks minor compared to the cosmos around him. But with Jane, King Thor looks immortal and beyond us. Ward’s art always creates this awareness of something greater, an awareness of how mortal we are compared to everything else. Which is perfect for a story all about how the most immortal thing, the universe, is finally dying
I think I could nitpick the characterization of Doom and Gloom if I wanted to, but I think what T was driving at was there was a sense of fatalism about the whole thing. It’s a celebration of life, and Jane finding a way to do what’s right with the life she has left, but her mortality does lend a fragility to the Thor franchise that isn’t even really present in the Godkiller arc.
I actually found there to be a lot of geometric and color similarities between Ward and del Mundo. The effects they achieve are obviously totally different, but totally as befitting these two stories. Do we know if Ward is coming back to do more King Thor stuff in the future?
Yeah, Ward’s coming back to finish the story this issue started, but not for a few issues, either 4 or 5 I think