Where have all the gods gone? In a world where the Norse pantheon lives in a field in Oklahoma, this must be one of the most prominent theological and philosophical questions on the minds of ordinary people. If Odin and Thor and Loki exist, then why not others from humanity’s many varied beliefs? What happened to them? It is a question Jason Aaron answers in his run on Thor, God of Thunder.
As if this idea wasn’t intriguing enough, Aaron multiplies it by three. We follow our eponymous Thunderer at three points in his lifetime — his overconfident youth, his more level-headed present, and his battle-weary old age — as each time he investigates the deaths of several powerful gods at the hands of a madman known as the God Butcher.
“Madman” is perhaps too simple a term. Gorr the God Butcher is a man with a purpose. In this cosmic-fantasy detective story, Aaron slowly and effectively builds to Gorr’s reveal but paints him as, well, a butcher. A slaughterer, a torturer with no regard for life, and the power to take down gods. But when we do meet Gorr, he is eerily calm and focused on his goal of total deicide. And yet it is far creepier than the bloody build-up.
That build-up is still another of the book’s strong points, though. Aaron creates an old-style Thor fantasy, with magnificent alien vistas illustrated beautifully by Esad Ribic, and lofty (but not confusing) sci-fi concepts as well as down-and-dirty battle scenes. That he uses a chilling murder mystery to show these skills does nothing to take away from them; in fact, only adding to their shine. While another Avenger does make a guest appearance, this is very much a self-contained Thor story.
The depiction of young Thor is perfectly bull-headed; rushing into battle without thinking, and unwittingly dooming others as a result. Old Thor is similarly portrayed; a disgruntled old man tired of fighting, who just wants to go out in one last blaze of glory, but will hang on to protect his realm. Ribic’s art also adds to their character, via facial expression and body language; strongly conveying their emotions in any scene without going over the top.
Unfortunately, the characterisation of present day Thor is a little lacking. Over-use of narration captions makes him silently bland most of the time. I know we can’t have him talking to himself all the time, but there are other ways around this. Perhaps in an attempt to make him the “halfway point” between past and future Thors, the present one is also a little more stoic, albeit still capable of handling a fight.
Regardless of this, Aaron and Ribic have crafted the perfect old-school Thor story, without resting on nostalgia. Gorr the God Butcher is one of the most interesting and frightening villains in recent years, and the plot so unique I have no idea how it will all end. Ultimately, I’d say that they’ve hit the nail on the head.