Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thor: Ages of Thunder Hardcover Review

With the announcement that Matt Fraction will be taking over the Thor ongoing title, I think it is a good time to look back at what probably got him the job in the first place. Fraction, now a current Marvel darling like Bendis or Millar before him, was joined by an ensemble of talented artists and delivered four critically acclaimed Thor one-shots in 2008. How will they read now that they are all together in one nice oversized hardcover? Hit the jump to find out.

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Patrick Zircher, Khari Evans, Clay Mann, Dan Brereton, Doug Braithwaite, Mike Allred, and Miguel Angel Sepulveda, with covers by Marko Djurdjevic.
Collects: Thor: Ages of Thunder, Thor: Reign of Blood, Thor: Man of War, and Thor: God Size Special

Like I mentioned above, this collection is made up of four differently named one shots, that while take place at different part in Thor's timeline they continue (for the most part), the same story threads. It is a strange publishing method, one that we do not see often, and probably lead to less people reading it. Throughout the first three chapters what anchors the book, besides Fraction's writing, is the art of Patrick Zircher, who contributes a good portion of the art and brings a unified look to the collection (although I should note that he does not contribute to the fourth chapter).

In the first chapter, Ages of Thunder, we are quickly introduced to some of the main players of Asgard, concepts such as the Nine Worlds, and the people that inhabit them, such as Asgards' oldest foes, the Frost Giants. If this is your first time reading Thor, it will give you a crash course in the relationships of Odin and his sons Thor and Loki. Thor is the prodigal son, responsible and reliable when called upon, powerful and fearless, while Loki is always scheming, amoral and treacherous (although not downright evil), and for all his wits, his plans always end up back firing on him. Odin, as the All Father and protector of Asgard, and thanks to one of Loki's plan, finds himself in a situation where he has to call upon Thor to help. Hinted in this first chapter, is the idea that Thor is becoming full of his pride, developing a cold heart, and a sense of superiority over his peers, which would all eventually erupt later.

Also introduced in this chapter is the Enchantress, as she plays a pivotal part to this chapter and the ones after, but her role is usually as a object of desire or trade wager, her beauty works against her as she is wanted by the foes of Asgard. Long time readers will know that she eventually becomes a villain, but in this collection you can't help by feel sorry for her: everyone wants her for her beauty, but the Asgardians dismiss her natural ability to obtain golden apples (the source of nourishment for the Asgardian gods) and this almost brings their downfall. Until Thor has to fix it.

In the second chapter, Reign of Blood, time has passed and a cold, long winter is now striking all Nine Worlds. It is caused by the daughter of one of the Ice Giants that were killed in the previous chapter. This triggers a series of events that causes the winter to end, but a new curse to strike the world: the dead rise up from their graves as skeletons in Midgard (Earth), threatening to overtake and destroy it. And who put the curse? None other than the Enchantress, who was once again treated like a piece of flesh by her fellow Asgardians (most notably by Odin), and she finally leaves the Asgardian pantheon. Once again, it was all because of one Loki's plans and Thor is the one that has come to the aid of humans to defeat the hordes of undead soldiers.

It is a long and bloody battle, and Thor has to use a giant metal machine called Blood Colossus to destroy the undead faster (Yes, it is as metal as it sounds. Play "Reign of Blood" by Slayer while reading this for the ultimate metal experience). Unfortunately, humans did something while Thor was battling the undead that angered him very much, and causes the Thunder God to give in to his anger and start causing as much damage as he could manage, attempting to anger his father and destroying as much of his creation as possible. This leads to the next chapter of the collection.

In the third chapter, Man of War, Thor has been destroying and pillaging the nine worlds to the best of his abilities. Odin finally decides to do something and sends Brunnhilda (also known as Valkryie) to deal with his petulant child. Thor and Brunnhilda face each other, in a epic battle that awakens a giant monster. The two former foes unite in battle against this dangerous foe, and are also eventually joined by The Warriors Three. Angered by the fact that Thor's behavior has not been curved, but rather encouraged by his new companions, Odin is forced to deal with his son by himself. To do so, he wears the Destroyer armor and faces his son in a brutal and prolonged battle. Two of the strongest being in the universe, and each hit is portrayed in long vertical panels that give each strike the impact it deserves. At the end Thor is defeated, and Odin casts him out of Asgard and forces him to live inside a human being, so he could learn valuable lessons in humanity and humility.

Thematically, this event (the beginning of Thor's modern adventures) should have been this ending of this collection, but there is an extra chapter in it, the God Sized Special. While there is a continuation in themes, this next chapter takes place in the current continuity of Thor: Asgard is floating above Oklahoma, Odin is dead, Balder is king of Asgard, and Loki is a woman. This, and the lack of Patrick Zircher handling the art duties makes this chapter stand out from all the other ones. This is not to say that it is bad story in itself, far from it, but it is obviously collected for the sake of completing all of Fraction's Thor one-shots. This story calls back to one of the most beloved Thor runs in the past, that of Walt Simonson, as it centers heavily around the character of Skurge The Executioner and the Enchantress (the common thread with the other chapters).

I think of the most important elements of this story is the change that these characters go through as time passes. They are not characters set in stone, never bound to grow past their original conception, but rather fluid and ever evolving by the events that happen in the story. Fans of mythology will be also happy to know that the gods in these tales are presented as emotional, moody, petty and selfish, much in the same way they are presented in older tales. In other words, they are very much human. They quarrel and commit mistakes, they have flaws and it helps the reader relate to them.

I cannot praise the art enough, as it helps give it an epic feel that Fraction was trying to achieve. The creatures and inhabitants of the Nine Worlds have a vibrant and unique feel, complimenting perfectly the grandiose and almost flamboyant narration that Fraction uses. This heavily detailed narration is obviously done in purpose, since it is very different from his other work, and one can't help but think of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien when reading about all these fantastical creatures and exotic worlds.

Verdict - Must Read. A perfect combination of the art and story, Ages of Thunder works both as a great introduction to the character and a treat for long time readers. Even if the last chapter is a bit of a misstep, this hardcover features one of the greatest Thor tales.

Interested in reading this book? Purchase Thor: Ages of Thunder through Amazon and help support The Weekly Crisis.

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Ivan said...

Nice review. I haven't read anything Thor in a long time, and I'm definitely considering this one.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Could not agree more with this one, Matt. Fraction surprised me by being able to make the writing, and story, grand and sweeping in all aspects. He got the tongues just right and the first 3 one-shots were fantastic when I picked them up. Recently re-read them when I bought this HC for my brother, and they're still great.

And I am not a massive Thor guy but this was well done and self-contained.

Brandon Whaley said...

I love Fraction, and I love Thor. This just seems like a no brainer.

Anonymous said...

The first one of this seris was the best one but the only thing that I hated was that Fraction went back to the lame Thee's and Thouest garbage of fake Shakespear. I prefered JMS's take on Thor's speech.

Kirk Warren said...

@Anonymous - I don't mind the faux Shakespeare for Thor, but only a handful of writers make it work and it typically only flies when he's not interacting with the rest of the Marvel Universe, such as with muchof Simonson's run. They fit this tale from the past much better than plain English due to the fact its a period piece. JMS got away from it with the new era, though Bendis seems to be blending the two with the speech of THor in Siege (use of milady and other odd dialogue).

Sleepy Eyed John said...

Kirk, you oughtta know you can't mention Simonson when you talk about new issues of Thor. The vague interest I had in Ages Of Thunder instantly evaporated and I find myself reaching for my Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson paperbacks...

Matt Ampersand said...

@Ivan / @Ryan: I was never much of a Thor guy either, but the one-two combo of Fraction doing these one-shots and JMS on the ongoing series certainly turned me into one.

@Anon: I agree with Kirk. I see this as a "period piece", so the thees and thous don't really bother me. Also, in Agents of Atlas they explain that the Gods (be them Nordic, Greek, etc.) in the Marvel universe speak "God", a language that everyone understands. It's not really Shakespearean English, we (and everyone else apparently) just hear it that way, haha.

@Sleepy Eyed John: The last one shot in this collection is basically a love letter to the Simonson era of Thor.

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