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Thor soars above the superhero crowd in Thor and Uncanny Avengers

Each week, Big Issues focuses on newly released comic-book issues of significance. This week, two Thor titles: First, Thor: God Of Thunder #7, written by Jason Aaron (Wolverine And The X-Men, Scalped), and illustrated by Esad Ribic (Loki, Uncanny X-Force). Second, Uncanny Avengers #6, by Rick Remender (Captain America, Uncanny X-Force) and Daniel Acuña (X-Men: Legacy, New Avengers). These two issues show why Thor is one of the most thrilling superheroes in comics. 

With the Thor film, Marvel Studios accomplished the incredibly difficult task of making Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s hybrid of Norse mythology and superhero fantasy accessible to the general, non-comic-reading public. Both Thor and The Avengers used the God Of Thunder as comic relief, emphasizing his otherness to make the sheer silliness of his character a little more plausible. Here’s an immortal blonde hunk with a big hammer that shoots lightning, who comes to Earth via a rainbow bridge from his mystical god-land in another dimension. Somehow, Marvel was able to make that work, while Warner Bros. couldn’t get “intergalactic space cop” right for Green Lantern that same summer.

While the Marvel movie-verse has focused on the fish-out-of-water elements of Thor’s story, the comic-book version of the character is far past that, now serving as an outlet for creators to tell rich fantasy stories in a superhero universe. With the hero’s newfound cultural prominence, Marvel’s Thor-related titles have been at a consistently high level of quality since the film, with Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen doing impressive work in Asgard before the Marvel Now! relaunch. (Last year’s “Everything Burns” crossover was one of the most riveting Thor tales put to paper, with incredible Alan Davis artwork.) Jason Aaron’s Thor: God Of Thunder has become one of the standout titles of Marvel Now!, and this week, Uncanny Avengers jumps on the Thor train with an issue that flashes back to the god’s younger years to set up a new storyline. 

One of Thor’s most valuable aspects is that he’s immortal, allowing writers to tell sweeping stories in any time period with an immensely powerful character who can’t be killed. In Thor: God Of Thunder, Aaron is using Thor’s immortality to structure an epic narrative with Thor in the past, present, and future, bringing the three gods together for the new “Godbomb” arc. It’s fitting that T:GOT is the acronym for this book, as Aaron is writing high fantasy in the vein of Game Of Thrones, combining sex and violence with introspective character development and breathtaking visual splendor. And as he tells the tale of a brutal god-butcher building a bomb to kill the universe’s deities, Aaron doesn’t forget to inject humor into the proceedings. This week’s #7 begins with past-Thor in bed with two Asgardian shieldmaidens, waking from a nightmare of Gorr the God Butcher looming over him. When he grabs his axe to survey the surrounding area, one of his partners joins him and says, “You should know I make war like I make love. Naked and in a berserker rage.” The small touches of comedy help build a sense of comfort that are broken when Gorr’s shadows are revealed just above the couple, waiting to strike. 

The fact that Marvel has artist Esad Ribic on a monthly title is impressive in and of itself, and after Butch Guice’s standalone story last issue, Ribic returns for this new arc with his spectacular Moebius-meets-Frank Frazetta artwork. That combination of sleek science-fiction design with intricate fantasy detail in Ribic’s artwork is indicative of the way Thor stories balance genre elements to create a tone distinct from other superhero titles. With its alien pantheons and heavy emphasis on time travel, Aaron’s Thor has a definite science-fiction bent, but the story’s heightened narration and mythological foundation keep it on a fantasy track. What Thor doesn’t feel like is a superhero book, especially with Ribic’s art, which avoids the traditional look of American superhero comics. The present-day Thor appears in the title, but there’s no connection between what’s happening in Thor and the rest of the Marvel Universe, which gives Aaron the freedom to tell his story his way, without having to tie into Age Of Ultron or Avengers

That’s where Remender’s Uncanny Avengers comes into play, putting Thor in the middle of a supervillain plot uniting time traveler Rama-Tut and X-foe Apocalypse. Uncanny Avengers is a book for longtime Avengers and X-Men readers, which doesn’t make it the ideal title to launch Marvel Now!, but provides a good middle ground between two of Marvel’s biggest properties. The first story largely dealt with the fallout of Avengers Vs. X-Men, and this new arc picks up on story threads from Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, as Apocalypse returns to harass a young Thor and one of Wolverine’s ancestors in the year 1013 A.D. New readers without a prior knowledge of Apocalypse, Rama-Tut, or Kang the Conqueror will have some trouble diving into the issue cold, but at its core is a familiar story: Proud, brash Thor is manipulated into making a decision that will have considerable consequences down the line, and he fights a whole bunch of people in the process. 

Aaron’s title hasn’t spent much time in Asgard, and Remender brings the character home for a more conventional Thor tale incorporating his father Odin and mischievous half-brother Loki, who is actually Kang in disguise. Asgard is the main location for superhero fantasy, as when the title is dealing with mystical weaponry and the personal dynamics of a royal family; the floating future pyramid carrying the time-travelling villains is the setting for superhero science fiction. The two genres collide in London, where Thor and his enchanted axe chop through Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen to save Folkbern Logan, the pagan soldier who has been targeted for elimination in order to end the bloodline that will spawn Wolverine. It’s an explosive superhero brawl in medieval times, ending with a hilarious spin on Wolverine’s catchphrase, as Folkbern’s friend comments on the carnage: “Folkbern Logan… you are the finest there is at what you choose to do. But what you do be not very kind.”

Uncanny Avengers #6welcomes new ongoing artist Daniel Acuña, who handles all aspects of the art, from linework to colors. For this flashback issue, he embraces the sense of grandeur associated with classic Thor artists Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson (who also created Apocalypse) to capture the scope of Remender’s story. There’s an enchanting glow to the Asgard scenes that highlights the characters’ fantastic nature, and he uses warmer tones to contrast the home of the gods with the icy interior of the villains’ pyramid base. Some of Acuña’s previous art has been a bit muddy, but he’s sharpened his linework and coloring to bring more detail to the page without sacrificing energy and fluidity. Whether he’s drawing a dirty Scandinavian bar or the flashy homeworld of immortals, Acuña creates fully realized environments that draw readers in, inhabited by characters with a real sense of weight. Acuña’s Thor has to get hit pretty damn hard if he’s going to get knocked across a room, and his artwork captures the full impact of a battle between two titans.

With Thor: The Dark Age hitting theaters at the end of the year, Marvel has been smart to strengthen the Asgardian corner of its comic-book universe. Beyond Thor: God Of Thunder and Uncanny Avengers, there’s Kathryn Immonen and Valerio Schiti’s delightful Journey Into Mystery, which follows Thor’s sometimes-lover Sif on a journey to self-discovery while slicing through classic Marvel monsters. Incorporating elements of fantasy, science fiction, and superhero stories, Thor’s world allows for a plethora of narrative possibilities set wherever and whenever the writers want. A lot of superheroes are godlike, but having an actual deity as the protagonist creates a bond with established folklore that fleshes out the character, a tactic also at work in Brian Azzarello’s new status quo for Wonder Woman. These characters were once worshiped by entire civilizations, and the stories created in the past have served as the foundation for a new mythology: that of the American superhero.