Mild-mannered reporters by day, Greg Phillips and Nick Duke share an intense love of comic books that has made them the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. Over the course of their travels through comicdom, they have encountered numerous stories via the wonder of trade paperbacks and graphic novels. Once a month, Nick and Greg will review one of those collections in The Longbook Hunters.
Nick: We are back, dear readers, for another dig through our longboxes, and this time we’ve pulled out quite a doozy. Today, we’re taking a look at Thor: God of Thunder, specifically the series’ second collected volume, “Godbomb” by Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic and Butch Guice.
Greg: Following the heels of volume one, “The God Butcher,” this collection includes issues 6 through 11 of Aaron and Ribic’s already epic run on the Marvel’s favorite Asgardian. It includes a brief-but-handy recap of the goings on in Vol. 1, for those unfortunate enough to have missed that trade.
Nick: Ah, and that’s a good place to start. Having reread the story recently to brush up for this column, I was wondering about that. The first issue of “Godbomb” begins with a young Thor having nightmares about his encounters with Gorr the God Butcher. For those who hadn’t read “The God Butcher,” I was worried the story might throw them in a bit too quickly. Greg, what was your knowledge of Gorr coming in? Had you read the first arc, and if not, did you think the recap was enough to catch readers up?
Greg: I had indeed read the first volume, which introduced me to Gorr, one of the coolest new Marvel villains in ages. Driven by a searing rage to destroy all the deities across the Marvel Universe, so as to leave sentient life to fend for itself, Gorr has clearly defined motivations and a crazy power set. His shadow weapon seems to be able to take out any god he encounters, no matter how powerful. Only Thor as an angry young man was able to contend with him.
On its own, the recap would not be enough to make sense of this one. However, one thing that helps tremendously is that this volume begins with Gorr’s origin story. Drawn by veteran artist Butch Guice (who I know primarily from Mike Baron’s run on The Flash), the first chapter explains Gorr’s tragic origin story, the building blocks that lead to his overwhelming hatred of Thor and his kind.
This helps establish Gorr’s character so that, when we delve into the main plot, we understand just who this guy is and why he’s a threat to three different iterations of Thor.
Nick: That’s good to know, as in the single issues, “Godbomb” itself doesn’t begin until issue 7. So yes, Gorr, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is essentially a disillusioned being who blames the gods for all his misfortunes. He spent his life enduring starvation, other forms of suffering and the loss of all his loved ones. Throughout all of that, his people insisted that he leave offerings of food to the gods and constant prayers. Gorr eventually rejects these beliefs, and is shunned for it, excommunicated from his people. During his exile, he comes across two gods wounded after battle. One of them has a strange black weapon, not all that different from a Marvel symbiote alien, albeit much more powerful and capable of creating virtually any shape. Gorr takes the weapon and slays his first two gods. From there, he cuts a path of deicide across the galaxy, eventually running into a young Thor, who deals him his first defeat.
It is this experience that drives Gorr into the events of “Godbomb.” He has tormented Thor throughout eternity. Young Thor has been pulled from the timestream and forced to labor on the Godbomb, a weapon designed by a God of Bombs to kill all Gods throughout eternity. The modern Thor has attempted to follow Gorr through the timestream, but landed many centuries later in an Asgard that is deserted, save for one man — Old King Thor, the last of the Asgardians.
Avenger Thor and King Thor then set off to wage war against the God Butcher and stop the Godbomb.
So, since you’d read the first volume, I’m sure you were familiar with the Thors three and how they differentiate from each other. However, this story is the first to bring them all together. Does the idea of having three versions of the character work as well for you as it did for me?
Greg: It works a hell of a lot better in practice than it does reading summaries of it, that’s for sure. Time travel in comics is often a slippery slope of confusion and contradictions, but Aaron handles it cleverly and makes sure it never stops being fun. Most of the time, I stopped even thinking about the time travel elements and simply viewed the Thors as three different characters.
When you’re reading descriptions of this story, it can seem labyrinthine, confusing and even hokey. I can assure any new readers, though, that it’s an absolute blast from beginning to end. Each Thor (at a different point in his life) has a distinct worldview. Young Thor is selfish, aggressive and prone to the base instincts that consume us all in our youth. Modern/Avenger Thor is the typical superhero you’d expect. And Old King Thor is a bitter, lonely man at the end of his rope, clinging to one last chance at redemption.
Nick: It certainly is one of the more “because comics” concepts out there, but as Greg said, it works far, far better in execution than it does in description.
But with the three Thors, did you have a favorite?
Greg: Hmm. It’s a tossup between Young Thor and Old Thor, but I think I have to go with brash, bratty Young Thor, who appears to both speak and look (deliberately on the part of the creators?) like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Conan the Barbarian.” His impetuousness comes through on every page, and there is a sense of satisfaction when he gets the crap kicked out of him, or when he finally learns some lessons along the way.
And hey, he’s just plain entertaining.
Nick: Solid choice, though I’ve got to go with Old King Thor. His weary sarcasm when speaking to his younger selves is pretty amazing. When informed that Avenger Thor has consumed all of their ale, OKT responds with “Hela’s Pale Bosom, boy! Polish thine hammer or practice growing a beard before I cast thy ass overboard!” Simply amazing. On a related note, I hereby nominate The Rock to play OKT in any film adaptation of this story.
Greg: A wise choice on your end. Certainly the Thors old and young enjoy the lion’s share of the comedic moments throughout, but we must give some attention to Thor’s three granddaughters, who also provide a great deal of levity at times in the story.
Nick: Yes, before the three Thors are united, we are also introduced to three of the book’s supporting characters — the Goddesses of Thunder, Atli, Ellisiv and Frigg, the granddaughters of Thor. These characters wound up being some of may favorites in the story. How did you take to them?
Greg: Thor’s granddaughters certainly brought some needed humor to the story’s most dire chapters. It’s funny, yet a bit creepy, that one of them has a crush on Young Thor. Don’t worry, though, she had no idea his identity at the time!
It also helps to expand Thor’s mythology through the eons. We know these characters will eventually be, but we’re not sure about their parents or … any other details, really. It’s a clever piece of world building by Aaron and Ribic.
Nick: Indeed it is. And while we’re talking about world building let’s take that term a bit more literally. It turns out that Gorr’s home planet is actually of his own creation. As he has killed gods, his black shadow weapon has gained power, giving Gorr himself godlike abilities.
It can be argued that Gorr has the most character development of anybody throughout the story. How did you like the journey Aaron takes Gorr on? As it turns out, Gorr has become what he hated the most, which is a tragic twist on the story, even for a character as irredeemable as Gorr.
Greg: Gorr is fantastic. It would’ve been easy for Aaron and Ribic to introduce Gorr as sort of a Doomsday to Thor’s Superman — an unflinching, unstoppable force of nature with no real need for character development. Instead, Gorr often feels like the real star of the book. His voyage, both physically and psychologically, is one of the biggest reasons this book works so well. He’s not exactly sympathetic, but he’s not entirely beyond understanding either. Even Thor finds himself understanding some of Gorr’s reasoning.
Yet, importantly, we never lose sight of the fact that Thor is a hero and Gorr is decidedly not. Without spoiling anything, it’s difficult to describe, but Gorr’s journey proves to be a deeply satisfying one, at least for me.
Nick: I couldn’t agree more. As you said, we don’t want to spoil anything, but to say that the Thors succeed in stopping the Godbomb isn’t much of a surprise. How they do it and how they each react to their victory is better left for the reader to enjoy, however.
Well, we’ve broken down most of the story elements in play, but we haven’t touched on what could be the book’s strongest element — the art. Esad Ribic brought an almost painting-like look to this book. It was like a cross between a medieval battle painting and a crazy ’60s cosmic space adventure comic. I absolutely loved it to the point that I consider Ribic to be one of the premier Thor artists of all time. Your thoughts?
Greg: I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t read many Thor comics. I wasn’t a fan of the character growing up, so my primary exposure to his stories have been through the Avengers, the Ultimates and occasional single issues from time to time. But I can safely say Ribic is my favorite Thor artist.
The entire story feels as if it’s taking place inside a painting depicting Norse mythological creatures. It’s surreal, yet it’s entirely engrossing from beginning to end, and the storytelling never suffers. The highest compliment I can pay Ribic is that I honestly can’t imagine anyone else drawing this story. That’s how utterly essential his stylish work is to making this whole thing work. There’s never any question which character is which, as happens too frequently in some modern comics. Ribic makes sure each character is defined.
Nick: I have read many Thor comics, pretty much all of the character’s solo issues from his creation through the mid-1980s, as well as most of his stories from 2006 until now. So, Ribic’s place as one of the all-time greats is without question in my mind.
The real question here isn’t whether I’d recommend this book — it’s where this ranks among the greatest Thor stories of all time. On first read, I thought it was the best, above even the Walt Simonson classics of old. On my recent reread, however, I was SURE of its place. When combined with “The God Butcher,” which I honestly think should be grouped with this as one 11-issue epic, there’s no doubt in my mind that Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic have created the greatest Thor tale of all time. That may seem hyperbolic to some, but I implore anyone who hasn’t read this story or any other Thor story to find these two stories and read them immediately.
Greg: I can’t disagree with any of that. It’s kind of unfair to compare it to previous runs, especially Simonson’s, because it is so vastly different in tone (and, let’s face it, comics can get away with a lot more today than they could then). Both runs are groundbreaking, and it says a lot that we’re even having this conversation about a trade paperback that was just released this year.
If you’re still not sold after Nick’s appeal, let me put it to you thusly: if you’ve never read a Thor comic, this will make you a fan. It’s flawless storytelling from beginning to end, and it’s not only one of the great Thor tales of all time — it’s one of the best superhero stories I have ever read. Period.
Well, that about does it for this week. Be sure to come back next time, as we go Off the Page to take a previously promised look at the live action Spawn movie. Should be… interesting.