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Thor: God of Thunder, Vol. 1: The God Butcher Hardcover – June 11, 2013
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About the Author
Jason Aaron is an American comic book writer, known for his work on titles such as The Other Side, Scalped, Ghost Rider, Wolverine and PunisherMAX. He currently lives in Kansas City
Esad Ribic graduated from the School of Applied Arts and Design in Zagreb as a graphic designer. He started making comics in the early 90s, doing shorts strips and illustrations for the Croatian Plavi magazine and German Gespenster Geschichten. Ribic also worked for Zagreb Film as a film animator on such series as The Little Flying Bears and Lapitch the Little Shoemaker.
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First, on the collection itself. This is one of the best hardcover collections I've encountered that wasn't an "Absolute" or "Omnibus" or other special edition intended to focus on art or that included extensive extras. This is an over-sized (relative to the comic book page, and relative to the five-issue hardcovers) collection with glossy pages. As you can clearly see in the image here and elsewhere, the dust cover uses Esad Ribic's cover to issue 3 on the front and #4 on the back, with the covers to issues 1 and 2 on the front and back cover, respectively, of the book itself. All are reproduced beautifully. This edition doesn't call itself a "Deluxe" hardcover or anything like that, but because Marvel's released the shorter-length hardcovers, there was clearly some incentive to make this an especially nice edition for collectors. And so it is. There are some bonus features, including a gallery at the end of variant covers to the first few issues, Esad Ribic's design sketchbook, and pencils for a few pages and pencil/ink comparisons for a few others. This is everything I want in a hardcover collection - it's exactly the right size and format to really read a story from beginning to end, it gives some insight into the artist's process, and it reproduces the original comics (which I own) beautifully. All I could hope for from a better collection would be notes from writer Jason Aaron, perhaps an introduction from someone famously associated with Thor, preferably in the comics industry, maybe even a full script for one of the individual issues. And I'd be willing to pay more for something like that. And to be clear, this is a book worthy of a much more extensive collection that includes all that and more, which I'll say more on now.
Because the story of the God Butcher, and the way it is presented through these eleven issues is one of the great Thor stories. In terms of the story itself, it takes the idea of godhood and considers whether it is good or bad to be a god, and whether or not religion is worthwhile, given all the bad things that happen while the gods attend to their own affairs. It shows Gorr to be a sympathetic character, someone who has suffered greatly through his culture's belief in gods, or so he thinks, and who can see no recourse but to save all the universe from the lie (from his perspective) that faith in gods is to all living things, and how it adversely affects us. But Gorr isn't the hero of the story, and Aaron uses Thor not only as a protagonist, but as three separate protagonist at three points in his life, the young brash god not yet worthy of Mjolnir, the battle-tested Avenger confident and mighty, and the future King of Asgard, Thor of the distant future. This perspective on Thor in multiple aspects gives us a great deal of insight into what a god is and can be, and by the end we may see that there's some room for religion in the world, even if gods like Thor aren't perfect.
Or you might gloss over all that allegory and just think that it's really cool as Thor solves a mystery, fights a bad guy all across time and space (yeah, there's time travel!), and we get to see Volstagg as a thin man and Thor's granddaughters of that distant future. Lots of action, drama, and suspense. It's an awesome good time.
The art, too, is worth your time. If you like the cover, you'll love the book. Esad Ribic's style feels extremely fluid, which serves the action well, but it also allows so much room for your imagination. This is one of the first Thor stories I've read, and I've read decades' worth, that made Asgard and the affairs of gods feel like it was in a land beyond the knowledge of men, like it was something I couldn't quite comprehend with my own eyes. A great deal of the credit for that is undoubtedly also due to colorists Dean White and Ive Svorcina. It always feels like there's something subtle happening in the shadows, there's always something magical emanating from Mjolnir. As much as I've loved Russell Dauterman's work on the new Thor series, I really miss how Ribic made Asgard and Thor feel majestic in a way I hadn't experienced before, even with my favorite Thor artists.
But above all, this is just a beautiful collection, getting the whole story of Gorr in one collection, including the entire vision of writer and artist (with the fill-in issue of Butch Guice and company in issue 6, well done but not as spectacular) in one book, with fantastic extras and a format that reads like no other. I've just acquired the second volume in this series, and I'm looking forward to it, but I know it can't possibly be as fantastic as this given that it doesn't have as cohesive an art, story, and design aesthetic as this volume. This volume has instantly become one of my favorite editions of comic art. Well done, Marvel.
The book opens in 893 AD, as Thor is carousing with some Norse warriors after defeating a Frost Giant when a gruesome discovery is made - the decapitated head of a god. This is Thor's introduction to the God Butcher. The book then jumps to the present where Thor has answered the prayer of a child on a distant planet; he is confused as to why she didn't call upon her gods. Then he discovers they have all been killed. The Butcher is on a mission to wipe out every immortal. The story jumps between the past, present and future as Thor in all three times contends with the monster. It keeps to the forefront of readers' minds that Thor is a thousand+ years old, with experience beyond what a mortal can comprehend.
Aside from a well-developed story with an original and challenging foe, I love how this Thor shows a maturity that is above false bravado. When Tony Stark helps him discover the place that Thor originally fought the Butcher and then prepares to depart and leave Thor to his "god business", Thor asks him for his help! This is the hero I admire but too often do not get. There is a lot of action in the story, much of it gory, but all in support of a riveting plot.
My one minor quibble I have with the series is the art. I'm not a fan of Ribic's style. I prefer my art to be, "pretty" I guess and this looks unfinished and unglamorous. Never-the-less, it is not so off-putting as to ruin the story (as it nearly did for me in Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers) and many readers no doubt like it. Overall, this is an excellent start for the God of Thunder and I can't wait to start volume 2 - highly recommended!
p.s. I do not like these new hardcover editions. I much preferred the hardcovers with a dust jacket over a leatherette binding. These books with the art printed on the covers look and feel cheap but cost more for less material. Not good, Marvel, not good.