Penciller: Olivier Coipel
Inker: Mark Morales
Colourist: Laura Martin and Paul Mounts
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
What's it about?
The Gods are dead. Destroyed in the last great battle, Ragnarok, Thor exists in the void. Called back to a shadowy dreamscape by Donald Blake, his human alter-ago, they consider their role in life, or even ifthey desire a life. To live, to return to earth, proves a sweet temptation for Thor and so he returns. The other Gods are asleep, trapped in human bodies and Asgard has to be rebuilt. As Thor travels the earth searching for his lost brethren he discovers the tragedies that have beset mankind in his absence, and comes across a few old enemies.
This is the first volume in a new (at the time) series written by J. Michael Straczynski, who did the screenplay for babylon 5 and did a great run on the Amazing Spider-Man.
What's good about it?
I first encountered Thor properly during the recent film. I really enjoyed the film and it's quite pleasing to see aspects of that reproduced in the book. For example, Thor spinning Mjolnir, the capes and the Destroyer. However it would probably be more accurate to say that aspects of the comic were reproduced in the film, seeing as this was published in 1997 and the film was only released in 2011. Nonetheless, it gave me a little thrill to see these aspects played out in the comic.
Before I bought this book, I was concerned that Thor would speak only faux-ancient language, or would rhyme, or refer to himself in the third person. Thankfully, he doesn't. Instead, we get reasonable prose, perhaps a tad on the heavy side, but after all, Thor is a God, he's got to be distinguished from the humans somehow.
The humans he meets as Donald Blake are characterised pretty well (especially the hotel landlady) and are some of the most fun parts of these stories.
It serves as a pretty good way to jump into the Thor story. It's a clear start to the mythos that easily summarises what came before and sets up for a good, lengthy ongoing series.
What's bad about it?
The Marvel universe is set very much in the real world. So, once Thor is back in the land of the living he ends up in New Orleans discovering (site of Hurricane Katrina) and Africa, working as a doctor in a Doctors Without Borders camp. These scenes in themselves aren't bad, but Straczynski does like making a political point, which is where it can get a bit much. He has this tendancy to make the people affected by whatever disaster it is, stoic, and noble, and paragons of virtue, presumably only because they've been affected by something awful.
My problem with this is that people aren't like that. Some are polite and stoic, others are cruel and angry. Most are inbetween. When you go to the trouble of creating a fictional world that so closely mirrors our own, bad characterisation, laid on for political points, jars greatly.
There's also a cameo by Iron Man which serves to give background on the rest of the Marvel universe, particularly with regards to the Civil War storyline. The exposition is fine. The obligatory superhero fight is a bit tired.
Having said that, this is a very popular run so I'm guessing that not everyone has my problems with it.
What's the art like?
The lettering is pretty nice, it's markedly different for Thor and Donald Blake. Thor has a more flowery script and Donald has a standard typeface. This, combined with the physical differences really does drive home the dual aspect of the characters.
Thor is drawn huge. Really big, rectangular with a wide face. Donald is smaller, but still big. He resembles your typical clean cut blonde American.
The rest of the characters are different, relevant and showcase a range of body and age types. There's some great panels where the character's personality, in this case a chattering, gregarious landlady, really shows through in the art. She has thick glasses and is drawn with her eyeballs filling the lenses. This is an unexpectedly effective and simple way to reinforce the character's history and background.
The rest of it is pretty standard superheroing posing and narrative. It's in no way bad, but it isn't anything special. Asgard is pretty nice though.
In regards to further reading, the story of Ragnarok (preceding this book) was told in this trade (I think). Amazon currently lists two more books in the series - volume 2 and volume 3. The inside and back covers of the book also have a list a lot of other Thor titles to keep you going.