“It is the era of the Third Ragnarok…” intones the opening narration of THOR: AGES OF THUNDER, one of the greatest tales of Marvel’s thunder god ever spun. And you, dear reader, have probably never heard of it, let alone read it… jerks…
Oh, no need to apologize. It’s not your fault. You see, when the title was first released in the Spring of 2008 it was with minimal fanfare. Featuring a creative team that had very little in the way of a track record at the House of Ideas and a rather different take on the character than the one being presented monthly in the shiny JMS/Coipel reboot, it seemed Marvel had only a modicum of faith in the comic reaching an audience wider than those who were already converts of the God of Thunder. As a result, a book that received widespread critical acclaim upon release ended up selling roughly 45,000 copies, about half of the JMS title’s monthly take. Seems a pity as a great many readers missed out on something truly special. But not this reader.
Full-disclosure time. As a kid, I was all about Spidey and the X-Men. The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and all the rest were cool enough (I guess), but, as a young lad it just seemed as though there was a distinct layer of cheese covering those other titles that prevented me from ever picking them up. Obviously, I was a fool, and this precluded me from enjoying an avalanche of classic stories until later in my life. As such, Thor, the sparkly sci-fi Marvel character, never really appealed to me, which was weird, because that kid loved Spidey and X-Men? He also loved ancient mythology, particularly anything dealing with the Norse pantheon. Sadly that wasn’t the Asgard Marvel was offering.
I was waiting for something that gave me the Thor I read about in those old tales before I dropped my hard earned ducats into the Harvey’s grease-covered hand of my local comic shop owner (now out of business for reasons other than greasy hands… but that didn’t help). The Thor that gave Odin and the other Asgardians shit on a regular basis and was cast out of the Golden Halls multiple times as a result. I wanted to read about a Thor who’s clothes were made from the pelts of honoured beasts he killed following a glorious hunt, not woven from some magic loom that pulled threads from the gossamer strands of the cosmos. Y’know, the ornery, angry sonuvabitch we saw for five seconds in the Lee/Kirby Thor origin? That guy. I didn’t want a complete reboot of the character Marvel had given us for the past 50 years, I just desired a Thor that had been returned some of his earthier and more “realistic” elements. Someone who made Conan the Cimmerian look like a pussy.
For the 25 years I had spent on this planet I never got the Thor I wanted… and then I read this:
Holy sweet mother of fuck! Just read the narration in the image above and tell me craggy tones of the forever bad-ass Mako don’t come to mind as the words wash over your brain.
Did you ever wonder what would be the storytelling result of Marvel’s Thor having literary bone sessions with Game of Thrones and Robert E. Howard all in the soil and blood of the original Norse myths? This. This is the lovechild of all that awesome.
What writer was responsible for giving me the book I never thought I’d see? That’d be Matt Fraction. And this is Matt Fraction 2008, mind you, not MATT FRACTION MARVEL ARCHITECT!!!! At the time, no one really knew what to expect from the dude but the work he did here, along with the Immortal Iron Fist, was what truly put him on the map for me. Before AOT was originally released, I felt it was possible that Fraction could be a fluke. A flash in the pan. A blip on the radar held aloft by the co-writing shoulders of his far more famous IRON FIST collaborator Ed Brubaker. But on the strength of his narrative-heavy, mythology savvy, blood and bone version of Thor, Fraction earned an unexpected lifetime pardon from me. No matter how many times he may stumble with future books I’ll always give him another chance. And hey, when you combine the excellence of Fraction’s pen (word processor… whatever) with the amazing art of Patrick Zircher, as Marvel did here, you end up with a comic that impregnated ever fourth woman who read it… and every sixth man. Yup, this comic is that good.
Originally published as three over-sized one-shots, Thor: Ages of Thunder (or The Ancient Asgard Trilogy) features six independent tales that take us from some of the earliest days of Thor as a young Viking god, waging a one-man war on Frost Giants in an attempt to slake his ever-burning anger, to a place that dovetails almost seamlessly into the Thor we met in 1962. The structure of the writing here is interesting in that the six yarns can be read individually as totally satisfying self-contained episodes, or as a whole for an even more rewarding grand feast of epic narrative.
During the course of the saga Thor faces rampaging Frost Giants, a wrathful mason who is more than he appears, a vengeful daughter, the Enchantress, an enraged Storm Giant, Valkyrie, and his own father, and while those dissimilar elements may seem like they’d make for a disjointed experience they only serve to illustrate how vast the storytelling possibilities are for ole Wing-Head.
Thor’s character development is what binds these six seemingly disparate tales together, rather than a singular threat from a grand villain or obstacle, and I think that’s one of the other reasons that I love this collection so much. We’re getting “canon” growth. These things “happened” to Thor and it makes him a richer character as a result.
Thor, as he exists in the current Marvel Universe, can only change so much due to the “business of comics”. Conventional “wisdom” tells us you can’t have a monthly, episodic comic title based around a character that frequently strays too far from why people like them in the first place. You’ll lose money, they say. That’s why, so often in comics, we’re given the illusion of change rather than actual change when it comes to the heroes of our favourite books. In the old days, writers were able to play a bit more fast and loose with who Thor was, how he behaved, and what he was about, as he enjoyed a modicum of popularity but wasn’t exactly on the tip of comic readers tongues when asked who their favourite characters were. Obviously, that’s changed ever since Chris Hemsworth unleashed his flowing, golden locks and roguish sort-of-beard on the populace.
AGES OF THUNDER gave us a Thor Fraction was able to screw with a bit. It’s not a DC Elseworlds-style tale, or a Marvel Ultimate U story, or some other multiverse variant. This is mainline Marvel 616 Thor. This is canon. This is the Thor who goes on about Surtur’s sweaty orbs in Avengers, single handedly saves the universe on a regular basis, is currently kicking the hell out of a Butcher of Gods (in an amazing comic that owes a lot to THIS story), and loves us snuggly little Midgardians. But y’know, for a bit there, Thor was a murderous dick. And that’s okay, ’cause he got better.
You’re so WEIRD, Multiverse!
…and that’s why I love you.
THOR: AGES OF THUNDER is currently out of print, BUT if you’d like to read it you can pick it up on COMIXOLOGY or via a book re-seller who will gouge you mercilessly.
NEXT WEEK, in honour of Marvel Films’ big Phase THREE announcement, I’ll be taking a look at what I feel is the greatest DOCTOR STRANGE tale ever told… that you probably haven’t read.
Until then, remember, if you’re gonna GEEK OUT, GEEK HARD!
To See Kris’ comic work, visit www.bizarrecomicsonline.com
Follow Kris on Twitter @krisjjohnson