written by J. Michael Straczynski
illustrated by Marko Djurdjevic and Olivier Coipel
With his reboot of Thor, J. Michael Straczynski successfully kicks it both old school and new. He brings comics back to their roots in classical mythology, while dropping that mythology uncompromisingly in the lap of a starkly modern world with real consequences (and even zoning regulations). He allows the god of thunder to be as strikingly human in his uncertainty and crises of conscience as he is unquestionably immortal in his might.
This story picks up in the wake of Thor: Disassembled, wherein all Asgard, celestial home of Thor and the rest of the Norse pantheon, was destroyed by Ragnarok, the prophesied Norse battle at the end of all things. This has left Thor, Odin, and all other residents of Asgard dead. Thor is "called from the darkness" by Donald Blake, his old mortal counterpart. Originally, Thor’s father, Odin, had banished him from Asgard and trapped him in the mortal form of Blake, a crippled medical student, to punish him for his legendary arrogance and teach him a lesson in humility. Blake persuades Thor to "come out of retirement," as it were, and take up the hammer again as well as a shiny new coat of chain-mail armor and a belt with a runic clasp instead of the campy old "T" (that's "T" for "Thor," in case there was any confusion). Thor uses the power vested in him as the new king of the Norse gods (having succeeded his father Odin in this capacity) and rebuilds Asgard where we always knew it should have been in the first place: Oklahoma.
This juxtaposition yields some hilarious results, including a town meeting wherein a sanitation and safety code inspection is scheduled for Asgard, and a love affair between the Norse goddess Kelda and a guy named Bill who runs the local greasy spoon. Thor then sets about tracking down and reawakening his fellow Asgardians, whose spirits have bonded to those of mortals. This is one of the places where Straczynski really shines. In his former incarnations, Thor was one of the more "cosmic" heroes of the Marvel Universe (like the Silver Surfer or Dr. Strange), pitted more often against demons from other dimensions and intergalactic warlords than against crime kingpins or terrorists. But some of the first conflicts Straczynski has him dealing with here are against all
too real and mundane (though no less malevolent) forces of evil. In hisquest to find the lost spirits of his brethren, Thor must face the despair left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the vicious ethnic cleansing taking place in "Dahran", a war-torn African nation clearly meant as a reference to Darfur, and the atrocities committed there.
J. Michael Straczynski has a true gift for taking characters that seem aloof and untouchable in their power and majesty, and bringing them down to earth so that ordinary readers can identify with them and feel touched by their stories rather than just marveling from afar at their feats. He does this with Thor just as he did with the Silver Surfer in Requiem, by giving him human struggles, by showing him at his most conflicted and vulnerable, by telling the smaller, more personal stories rather than the flashier, galaxy-spanning ones. The title change in this reboot, when viewed in this context, is thus perhaps more significant than one might initially suppose. As opposed to being The Mighty Thor, the book is now titled simply Thor.-- Aaron Greenberg