February 17, 2014 | 10:00pm EST
Marvel is commonly considered as lighter, more fantastical, and at times even sillier than the only other comic book publisher that rivals its titanic size, namely DC. However, the company’s relatively new (2012) NOW! imprint (Superior Spider-Man, All New X-Men, Hawkeye) possesses both a darker tone and an exceptionally sophisticated writing style unheard of for Marvel since the beginning of the “adults only” MAX imprint back in 2001. The blonde-mained, Norse god of thunder Thor of recent movie fame was one of the first characters to get his Marvel NOW! reboot with the start of Thor: God of Thunder on November 14, 2012. The New York Times best-selling series is now on its twenty-first issue, published this past Wednesday. This review, however, will focus only on the first five issues, which were collected in the paperback graphic novel released earlier this month titled Thor: God of Thunder, Vol. 1: The God Butcher.
Simply put, I was completely blown away by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s fresh take on a character that has been a Marvel icon for over half a century. Aaron’s multi-dimensional writing and Ribic’s beautiful illustration combines to form a gripping, intense comic book reading experience I never expected from a Marvel book. The story revolves around Gorr the God Butcher, a seemingly unstoppable killing machine, who is striving to rid mortals of the chains of worship he perceives as having been thrown upon them by the gods of the universe. Three different timelines, which include young Thor in the late 800s, present day Thor, and old, bearded Thor of the far future (with a fourth small episode taking place at literally the beginning of time thrown in towards the end of the novel), run side-by-side cataloging Gorr’s relentless pursuit of immortal genocide. The mysterious Butcher’s deeds left me awestruck, and the whole plot remains masterfully unpredictable throughout, never letting up on the ever growing sense of absolute doom.
The visceral drawing lends the appropriate amount of dramatic heft to horrific events, such as the killing of the first god who created life and the torture of Thor by Gorr, while simultaneously being careful not to go overboard. To give you an idea, Ribic’s illustration resembles Alex Ross’s painting, exhibited in novels such as Marvels, Kingdom Come, and Justice, and yet somehow still seems to stay true to the character’s old school roots. Ribic is really one of a kind and Thor: God of Thunder is his most eye-catching work to date.
In addition to being the best start to a series I have ever read, The God Butcher is one of the best graphic novels ever in my book. I recommend it to readers new to the genre as well as “comic book nerds,” to use an amiable term. However, I feel obligated to warn you, the novel ends right in the middle of the larger story, which really is the only predictable thing about it. The soul-crushing cliffhanger works on a maddening amount of levels, dangling in front of the reader’s nose the team-up of all three Thors in a godless future, the story of the origin of Gorr, and the start of the Butcher’s “new age of freedom” after 900 years of work. Never have I been more compelled to buy the next installment of a series after such a desolate and depressing ending; you’ve been warned.