Over the years, a great number of top-tier heroes have undergone changes of ownership, if you will. Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson have been Captain America, even while Steve Rogers walks the Earth. The sobriquet Ms. Marvel has been used by Kamala Khan with the blessing of Carol Danvers, the now Captain Marvel. Few, however, have been so powerfully reinvented as Thor. Since she first gripped the hammer Mjolnir in 2014, Jane Foster has anonymously worked as Thor, Goddess of Thunder, fighting the gods and enemies of Asgard alike to prove herself worthy of the power given to her, all the while knowingly hastening her own death every time she wields it. In the third collection of The Mighty Thor, the team of Jason Aaron, Steve Epting, Russell Dauterman and more create a gorgeous depiction of Thor and her fight to maintain peace amongst the realms in both her forms. And it takes a true hero to tell both cancer and Cul, god of fear, to kiss off. Let’s see the Good, the Bad, and the Asgardian. Actually, I’m not doing that this time, because there is so little not GOOD in this book. Here’s a recap.
Issue #13 opens with a beautifully haunting juxtaposition of Thor, flowing blonde hair trailing as she flies into the midst of the Dark Elf army occupying Alfheim, and the frail Jane Foster having her head shaved in close detail, an attempt to gain a bit of dignity as the chemotherapy racks her body. Those are the first two pages of this volume. Let that one sink in for a minute.
Storywise, the unofficial heroes of the realms are gathering in defiance of Cul, current leader of Asgard in the Odinson’s absence. He is firmly in the “Girl Thor is a thief” camp and wants her to give up Mjolnir. She, of course, refused outright several stories ago. Back to the renegades, what an awesome group of characters to put into an adventuring party: a dwarf, a troll, an exiled angel, the Lady Sif, a wood wizard, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Roz Solomon, and a literal mountain giant. Roz gives us the line of the issue, calling the group “Tolkien’s Avengers.” The next page completely pulls apart any disagreement as to the badass nature of this group. Simply standing behind hero-pose Thor, they present a formidable opposition to the Dark Elves and any others who threaten the ten realms.
Malkeith is a dick, by the way. Even Loki hates himself for being beholden to him. He disfigures the Queen of Alfheim with some kind of mouth laser before having Loki throw her off a balcony. The Queen, unable to even draw her hands from her ruined mouth stands weeping in the rain as Thor echoes the words spoken to Jane Foster as the clippers robbed her of her hair. “You are stronger than this.” SO GOOD!
The Asgard/Shi’ar War is begun in issue 15 with Gladiator whipping the Hel out of Heimdall. It’s a good start to a bad war. Meanwhile, in the Halls of Asgard, Cul demands Jane Foster resign from the Congress of Worlds or cure her cancer, whichever is more convenient for her. Thankfully, Mjolnir knows when Jane needs to smack somebody in the face with a giant hammer forged in the heart of a sun.
A few smacks to Gladiator’s skull and a wish for hammer-based wi-fi later, Thor is transported to M’Kraan palace to meet the gods of the Shi’ar face to glowing-mask-wearing face. Turns out Sharra and K’ythri have decided to teach Thor what it means to be a god. This should end well. Threatening Thor has never been a good idea. Continuing the long-running connection between Thor’s physical strength and the emotional strength of the dying Jane Foster, Thor lets the pair know that she held a dying woman in her arms and no god answered her prayers. If the gods of the Shi’ar had not already shown themselves to be vain and petty, their lack of any meaningful response, save to threaten Earth with destruction and then beat Gladiator into the ground when he dared apologize to Thor for the inconvenience, showed their true colors.
Side Note: Thor actually says “Aye, so begins the kicking of thine hindquarters.” Out loud and everything.
Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Lady Sif standing toe to toe with Cul, goading him into war with the Shi’ar in response for their invasion and kidnapping of Thor. Lady Sif has always been a badass, but teaming with the new Thor has given her some new agency. Having a god of fear who can’t seem to instill it in anyone around him only helps matters.
Predictably for this type of heroic narrative, the gods of the Shi’ar are terrible. Their challenge of godhood centers mostly around causing natural disasters and murdering millions of their own worshippers while Thor flies around saving the day. Again, artist Dauterman does a wonderful job of demonstrating the enormity of the situation and the beautiful strength of Thor, showing her juxtaposed against a page-high tidal wave.
Side Note: Having one of the saved Shi’ar ask “Didn’t she use to have a beard?” is really funny.
Round after round, Sharra and K’ythri unleash plagues, bloodthirsty giants, supernovae and more upon world after world and Thor works to stop every one of them. At the same time, Cul and the armies of Asgard have come in their flying space boats with their space arrows (I don’t know, I’m just rolling with the imagery) to free Thor and take revenge upon the Shi’ar. Hildegarde takes a bit of a leading role in the battle, showing her as a more than adequate substitute for the missing Volstagg. As an unabashed fan of opera, it’s good to see a Wagnerian soprano kicking some real alien ass.
Back in the challenge, Thor finally has enough, starting a fight with the day-glo gods for real this time. And, just as Cul finally arrives in about three seconds after the nick of time, the small god refereeing the challenge receives a message that the Ultimate Judgement has been released. Thor and Cul put aside their differences momentarily in favor of kicking some deities in the face.
Here is the one place I felt like things got a bit unnecessary. We’ve got the ending we could see coming from a mile away: Asgard beats the Shi’ar and Thor wins the challenge of the gods by inspiring other gods to fight at her side. The Shi’ar themselves, led by Guardian, see their gods for the wastes of celestial space they are and become agnostics, I guess. What is it called when you know gods are real but refuse to worship them? So, everybody’s good, right? Nope. The Ultimate Judgement was called and cannot be stopped by anyone. That’s right, it’s The Phoenix. Luckily, Kid Guardian and Quentin Quire, the future Phoenix, know each other and the “pink-haired Earth whelp” ends up on the back end of space to negotiate with the destructive force that he eventually will merge with.
Gods, this book is pretty, though. The colors on Phoenix in both the space battle and in her white room dreamscape interactions with Jane Foster are outstanding. The juxtaposition of Phoenix’s physical manifestation up against the dying Foster is done so well. I feel every wrinkle, every bone showing through the thin skin right along with the fire and destruction Phoenix promises. Seeing Foster hold Mjolnir though, as herself, not as Thor, shows where the real power in her lies: it is in her fighting spirit. It’s not in Thor, it’s in Foster herself. Thor is the outer manifestation of her inner strength. And we get a true god moment as Thor demands the right of every warrior of Asgard: she will not die in her bed, she will die like a god. She stands in defiance of the Phoenix Force and the cancer riddling her body and she is Thor, goddess of thunder.
The combination of Thor, negotiations with Quentin Quire, and the return of the Odinson, send the Phoenix back to whence she came, a bit of her left in Quire for the moment. Foster returns to the Congress of the Worlds to name Agent Roz Solomon as her replacement, fulfilling Cul’s demands while still managing to really piss him off. And, after all the speculation when she first picked up Mjolnir, Jane Foster seems poised to finally tell Odinson that she is the one wielding his hammer. We are left hanging with a final page picturing the next enemy seeking to take down the gods: Mangog.
So, I liked the book. Can you tell? The best thing about this collection, as with most trades at this point, is seeing the full range of covers and variants used throughout as well as the preliminary design sketches in the back of the book. This book is so, so pretty. And I hesitate to use that word around Thor, knowing the connotations when addressing the goddess of thunder, but it is. The colors, the page layouts, the detail, all of it is just beautiful. The team on this book should be proud. They should also be paid more and always work on The Mighty Thor. She deserves a team like this.