Thor Or Less: Aaron & Dauterman’s New ‘Thor’ #1 Has Lots Of Thor, But Not Enough Thor [Review]
If you're picking up Thor #1 this week, by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman, to see the much-hyped new Thor in action, you're going to be a little disappointed. While it's a very good comic that promises great stories to come, the new Thor herself only appears in two pages that you might already have seen floating around online.
Rather than launch straight in to the new Thor's adventures, this first issue teases her arrival, leaving the action for next month -- presumably in an effort to hold as much of the first issue readership as possible. As a result this issue feels more like the end of the last Thor title than the start of a new one.
Series writer Jason Aaron might even argue that this isn't truly a new title, despite the renumbering. As he notes in the letters page, this issue marks "the next act of what I still hope will be a very long run." Two villains from previous arcs play key roles (one an individual, the other an organization), and Aaron promises that old Thor will continue his adventures in these pages. It's a new act, but it's definitely not a first act.
The double-the-Thor status quo gives this book an unusual problem. It's always tough for the new holder of a superheroic title to establish themselves when their predecessor is well liked and better known. That's why legacy titles for minority heroes typically feel like a poison chalice; because the original guy is almost always going to come back and retake the crown. If the new Thor has to share her book with her predecessor, she may find it especially hard to emerge from his shadow. (We're supposed to start calling the old Thor "the Odinson", to avoid confusion. I prefer 'Man-Thor'.)
This first issue almost exaggerates that problem; the new Thor appears on two pages. Man-Thor is on twelve. That might give the impression that Thor #1 is more about the old Thor than the new, but that's not really accurate; Man-Thor is a largely inert presence, rendered unworthy to wield his godlike power thanks to still unexplained events in Aaron's Original Sin series. When Thor does take action, artist Russell Dauterman minimizes him on the page or pushes him into the background. It's not about him. This is an eighteen-page interregnum between Thors; more an interval than an event.
Rather than establishing Thor, this issue serves to set up two things. First, the world and challenges that the mysterious new hammer-wielder will face -- and she is mysterious; the issue offers no clue to her identity. Aaron has already built out a fascinating corner of the Marvel universe for his Asgardian intrigues and muscular myth-building, and it's a relief to know that he's not done with it yet, and even exciting to see a new protagonist thrown into it.
Second, the issue establishes new series artist, Russell Dauterman, who recently came off a short run on Marvel's Cyclops with Greg Rucka. Dauterman is quite a contrast to Esad Ribic, the lead artist on Aaron's previous Thor title, Thor: God of Thunder. Ribic's painted pages evoked a classic fantasy world of macho barbarians and smoky orcish taverns. Dauterman, self-inked, and colored by Matt Wilson, offers a more high-contrast pop aesthetic, with a welcome touch of Adam Pollina in his line work.
A few crowded pages suggest Dauterman and Aaron are still finding their rhythm -- and those are the pages where colorist Wilson really proves his mettle. Still, there's a lot of hubbub; a scene towards the end of the book that would have been a splash-page cliffhanger over at DC is played very differently here, perhaps to give more weight to the final page reveal (and perhaps also to make it seem less like something that would happen at DC).
Still, I'd like to see Dauterman given more room, because his take on 'epic' has promise. We've yet to explore his version of Asgardia, but the way he plays up the cartoonish scale of the Asgardians -- especially a fabulously pompadoured Freyja -- suggests it'll be worth waiting for. If Ribic's Thor: God Of Thunder was classically Wagnerian, Dauterman's Thor feels more like Mozart.
Yet the promise of Dauterman's Thor makes it all the more frustrating that we haven't really met the title heroine yet. If ever there was a right time for one of Marvel's weird numbering contrivances like a zero issue or a "point one", this was it. But then again, there really isn't a right time for that nonsense. This is secretly Journey Into Mystery issue blabbety-hundred, and Thor #2 will be the first issue of this new character's story.
The new Thor is in excellent hands. Aaron knows adventure, and Dauterman is a star in the making. The only concern is whether the new Thor will get the time and attention she needs to establish herself as a hero. Based on this first issue... we'll have to wait a month to find out.
Thor #1 goes on sale this Wednesday.