Call me a sucker for marketing if you will -- I am, and I've been called worse -- but I've been pretty excited for the Marvel Now! initiative ever since it was announced. I'm already a fan of most of the creators involved, and it's always fun to see them tackling new projects, especially when it's something you never expected. Like, say, Jason Aaron taking a crack at Thor.

Aaron's one of my favorite writers and Thor's easily one of my favorite Marvel characters, but I never would've thought that the guy who wrote the best Ghost Rider comics ever would be particularly suited to chronicling star-spanning cosmic godhood in an epic that takes place over several thousand years. I would've been wrong. Not only is Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic's Thor: God of Thunder #1 one of the best first issues of the year, it's also got one of the most thought-provoking premises I've read in a while.On the surface, it's Ribic's art that might be the strongest selling point for this book, and with good reason. He's an incredibly solid artist, and like a lot of readers, I'm mostly familiar with him from another Thor comic, the Loki mini-series from 2004 that was written by Robert Rodi. That book was incredible, and ended up being a sleeper hit that year for good reason. Rodi told a story that still holds up as one of the better treatments of the title character, and Ribic's beautifully painted art was just a joy to look at. I don't want to get too over the top with the praise this early in the article, but the only way I can think to describe it is that it had a majesty to it.

What can I say? I'm a fan.

In God of Thunder, Ribic's switched his style up a little from the lush painting he did on Loki, which I imagine is part and parcel with doing a book every month (or however often Marvel feels like putting their books out, which I think is approaching hourly at this point). Even so, Dean White's coloring still has the same muted palette, and it looks good. The fundamental elements of his art that I like are still there -- the expression, the energy, that kinetic feel where even a shot of Thor standing in the foreground of a panel looks like he's only a split second away from jumping into action.

He also pulls one of my all-time favorite tricks by lettering the sound effects into the art. I love that stuff, and seeing those big, cartoony KRA-KOOMs and BOOFFs popping out of Ribic's otherwise photorealistic art, partly obscured by hammers or blown away by blasts of thunder, is just crazy fun.

Also, it's nice to see Thor's arms again. Seriously, I don't know if it's just my affection for the original Kirby costume or what, but as far as I'm concerned, Asgard is a 24/7 gun show. Thor needs those pythons free to flex on trolls and giants, brother.

It's a beautiful comic, but it's once you get past the surface to see the structure that Aaron and Ribic are building that you see why it's one of the best books of the year. Even at its most basic level as an adventure story, Aaron's script still introduces a level of complexity by telling three connected stories set at three different eras of Thor's life. But that's not the element that makes it interesting.

For all that I didn't have him pegged as a guy who'd be a natural fit for a comic about a god, Jason Aaron is a guy who very clearly thinks about religion and belief a lot. It's a recurring theme in his superhero work at Marvel, from the battles between angels, demons, serial killers and truck drivers in Ghost Rider to Logan's journey through Hell in the pages of Wolverine. He always does an amazing job with it, especially when you consider that he's using pretty heady topics to form the foundation for the deceptively complex high-concept action stuff that's become his trademark.

The idea of religion in comic books has always been fascinating to me as a reader, because it's so undeniably prevalent. Believing in God or the afterlife or the supernatural here in the real world requires at least a little bit of faith, but in the Marvel Universe, those things are demonstrable facts of life. There is no debate over whether ghosts or magic exist, and actual Roman Catholic Hell has been unleashed on New York City multiple times. Reed Richards, a character who embodies science and rational thought (well, thought at least) more than any other, literally built a machine that took him to Heaven when his best friend died.

These things are facts of life in that universe that pop up on a pretty regular basis, whether they're explained as being cosmic forces or extra-dimensional beings with inexplicable Shakespearean accents or constructs of the human collective that are sustained by faith or not. That means that their universe has entirely different ideas of what faith and religion and mythology actually mean. I mean, is it even mythology anymore when those guys are actually on the Avengers stopping your soul from getting snatched up by Mephisto?

That's the kind of stuff that's really interesting to me when it's done well, and Aaron does it better than most. This issue is a prime example, kicking off the story thread in the present with Thor showing up to answer a prayer on an alien world without gods.

There's a hell of a lot (or in this case, a Hel of a lot, I suppose) to like about that scene. The idea that Thor is known on other planets because of his superheroic exploits and Earth's fame in the Marvel cosmos is a pretty solid concept that goes beyond the usual scope of his adventures, but more than that is his reaction to the idea of a totally atheistic planet. Regardless of how you'd react to such a view in our world, the fact of Thor's existence, and Hercules's, and the Skrull Gods, and all the other titans and pantheons that we've seen in these comics over the years, means that something is Capital-W wrong here.

And it's wrong in a way that we don't usually see, but is still kind of that perfect blend of what makes Marvel's Thor -- Kirby and Simonson and Thomas and Buscema and DeFalco and Frenz and Fraction and so on and so on's Thor -- so distinct from his mythological counterpart. It's got everything that's engaging about the character. There's a sci-fi element to it, a mystery, a superheroic adventure, and as you might expect from the title of the story, it all comes together with that huge over-the-top action involving bashing things with hammers and threats of Ragnarok that make Aaron's comics so fun to read.

It's a great way to kick off a series, and if Aaron and Ribic's past work is any indication, it's going to pay off in a way that's every bit as compelling and beautiful as its start.

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