On November 8th, Thor: The Dark World arrives. Many think lightning will strike twice, and the Marvel movie machine will give us another great flick. I was more than a little skeptical of the first movie. Thor was never one of my favorite characters growing up. First, he talked funny. All “thou,” “thee,” “verily” and whatnot. Second, well, he just wasn't accessible to me as a reader. I couldn't identify with him—he was a god, after all. Truth be told, I enjoyed the alternate Thor versions Beta Ray Bill and Eric Masterson (Thunderstrike) in the comics more than I did Thor himself. But the movie converted me. They stripped away all the things about Thor I didn't care for or identify with. They brought his humanity to the forefront and made the character likable and accessible, without losing the core of who he is and what drives him. Yes, they changed up his backstory (Don Blake became a one-liner joke), but in this situation, I was actually for those changes. With that in mind, I offer up five graphic novels featuring Marvel's God of Thunder, Thor, to get you ready for The Dark World.
Thor and Loki: Blood Brothers
Written by Robert Rodi, and painted (yes, I said painted), by Esad Ribic, Blood Brothers tells the sordid history between Thor and his half-brother, Loki, through Loki's eyes. Collecting Loki #'s 1-4, the story begins with Loki, at long last, taking the throne of Asgard for himself. His brother, Thor, is chained and humbled before him. He finally has everything he has ever wanted. So why is there no satisfaction? Hela, goddess of death, arrives to interrupt his musings and demand the immortal soul of Thor be given over to her. But what is Loki without Thor? Every coin, every strife and struggle, has two sides. Can darkness continue without light to balance it? This collection comes in a hardcover edition (Kindle and paperback versions are also available) and it is absolutely gorgeous. The art looks like it belongs in a museum: The detail in the paintings is just incredible. Seeing the immortal struggle between these two iconic characters through Loki's eyes is interesting and compelling. The hardcover includes character sketches, individual covers from the comics, the written pitch for the series, and Journey Into Mystery #85 and #112, featuring Loki's first appearances, and a short from Thor #12 “Diversions and Misdirections,” also featuring the more recent version of Loki.
Thor Vol. 1
Ragnarok. Odin is dead. Asgard has fallen. The cycle is broken. Thor, and all the heroes and gods who fought to protect Asgard and the nine worlds, are gone. Or are they? Donald Blake, doctor, once bonded to and forced by the Odinspell to live a dual life with the Norse god Thor, has entered the Void and woken Thor. The world needs the Asgardians, Blake argues. The world needs Thor. Bonded once again, they return to Earth, where Thor brings Asgard back. The city hovers in the skies over Oklahoma, empty and quiet. Thor begins the task of finding the others—all trapped in the hearts and minds of mortals—and freeing them. But the world has changed, and heroes fight amongst themselves. Worse, Thor accidentally frees Loki, who immediately begins to plot with mortals to overthrow Thor, and take this new Asgard for herself....This is the beginning of a new, ongoing monthly series. Written by J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5), there are lots of threads and underlying currents in Thor. Thor is carrying a lot of guilt over the role he played in Ragnarok and anger over how the world has changed in his absence. Most notably is the erosion of his relationship with The Avengers following Iron Man cloning Thor to further his political agenda. The art here is done by Oliver Coipel and follows the usual Marvel style with little variation. The reintroduction of the Thor/Donald Blake relationship is an interesting one, and you can immediately see Blake's influence on Thor's actions and thoughts when Blake frees Thor to stop a civil war in Africa. Also interesting is when the victims of that war ask Thor to leave so they can solve their own problems.
Thor has been banished from Asgard by his brother, Balder. Loki has the trust and ear of this new king of Asgard. But Loki's allegiance has ever been fleeting, and he has found new and different ways to cause mischief as an ally of Norman Osborn. Loki convinces Osborn that Asgard, hovering over a patch of land in Oklahoma, poses a threat to the security of the United States. As director of H.A.M.M.E.R., Osborn is in a position of power, and arranges to frame Volstagg, one of Thor's oldest allies, for murder. With the fate of Asgard itself on the line, Thor must determine the truth and rally his people before it's too late.
This was part of a massive crossover event at Marvel, and as such, it suffers. The story feels disjointed. A lot is going on and, in the cacophony of it all, you lose what was building in Thor above. As an example, an issue of The New Mutants is slammed in at the end, and it feels (rightly so) like a completely different book with different art and styles. You sort of need this book to move forward, but you have to take it with a grain (or six) of salt.
Thor: The World Eaters
Loki is dead. Again. Asgard lies in ruins. Again. Balder, brother to Thor and Loki, sits upon the throne of Asgard, but heavy is the head that wears the crown. His people have been battered time and again. Now, a new threat looms. Asgard has lost its place among the Nine Worlds, and that absence has been noticed. A new evil known as The World Eaters are attacking the branches of Yggdrasil, the world tree, and Thor must work with his brother, Balder, to defend Yggdrasil. Worse, Thor may have to retrieve his father, Odin, from limbo.
This one is much more coherent. There is a lot going on, and Matt Fraction, who took over the reins from J. Michael Straczynski, really shows his ability to pull it all together and provide a compelling story. The World Eaters are a great new threat for Thor, who is forced to make some tough decisions. The art is quite epic, as are the twists and turns this book takes. And Loki? Well, when has death ever kept an Asgardian down? This story is well worth your time.
The Mighty Thor Vol. 1
When Asgard fell for the second time, Odin was reawakened and claimed his throne once again. Thor drew the Odinsword and split Yggdrasil, the world tree, in two, and pulled from its roots The Worldheart. The rainbow light of the world bridges now burns brightly over the American plains. Unknown to Thor, the light acts as a beacon. The Silver Surfer, Herald of Galactus, has seen this light and believes that The Worldheart may, at last, satisfy the relentless hunger of his master. But to even try such a thing, the Surfer must obtain The Worldheart from Asgard, and that means he must convince Odin to release it, or fight to win it.
This one puts Thor in a rough spot again. On the one hand, he could possibly save untold worlds from Galactus' insatiable hunger. On the other, this is a seed of Yggdrasil, the world tree. A relic of his people. And there is no guarantee it will work. The story is strong, and who doesn't want to see Thor and The Silver Surfer duke it out (which they do)?
One complaint: Somewhere between Straczynski’s and Fraction’s Thor tales, Donald Blake vanished. Not sure what happened to him, but there are some gaps among the five graphic novels I chose for this piece, so it could be explained somewhere in there.
Throughout all of these books, there has been an underlying story of the relationship between Asgard and Broxton, the small town in Oklahoma near where the city hovers (and falls). It's a nice little contrast sprinkled here and there. But fair warning, nothing can prepare you for seeing Volstagg attend a town hall meeting....
Marvel's Thor is an iconic character, and he has grown on me thanks to the movies and these great books.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal). He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012 and a 2013 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.