When Jason Aaron’s monumental run on Thor finished, pretty much everyone saw Donny Cates, Marvel’s next superstar, as the heir apparent to the book. And everyone was right! Cates took over right on the heels of Aaron’s conclusion, promising something equally magnificent yet wholly different from what we got before. If you’ve ever read a Cates book, you know he does not do anything low-key. Everything he writes is filled with bombast and epic-style narration, and Thor felt like the perfect big book for him to flex this style on.
Unfortunately, what results instead is something that feels exactly like everything Cates has already written, and is tiring from the get-go.
Right from the beginning, Cates’ narration takes center stage atop gorgeous visuals by Nic Klein and Matt Wilson. And it’s good narration, don’t get me wrong, but it feels like more of the focus of the book than Thor himself does – like a D&D Dungeon Master talking over all the players. When I first read this book in single issues as it came out, it felt fresh and new and unlike what we’d seen prior. But now that the paint has dried a little bit, it just feels lackluster. It might not be like what we’d just seen on Thor, but it’s exactly like what we’d seen from pretty much every Donny Cates book before it.
The arc started off with promise: Galactus crashes on Asgard and claims that a threat bigger than even he was coming. This threat was revealed to be the Black Winter, an entity that eats entire universes like Galactus does mere planets. And this would be a pretty good setup, one that provides a natural escalation of Galactus as a concept, if it were actually allowed to be what it promised at the start. But instead, we get a villain who makes Thor hallucinate, and then is defeated because Thor’s so powerful now.
In fact, the entire arc is basically a showcase for just how powerful Thor is. We get a montage of the destruction caused by the Black Winter, and a montage of the power Galactus absorbs, but neither end up mattering because Thor, imbued with the power cosmic, is just so extra strong that he can beat them both. I’m not a big fan of “who would win” type discussions, and this arc feels like a big part of its existence was to add more fuel to that kind of debate. Ultimately, the book ends on a big reveal of what the Black Winter revealed would be Thor’s death, and it was something so repetitive and tiring that I groaned out loud and regretted reading the arc at all. It feels like Cates just has one well he returns to, and struggles to do anything new.
This volume isn’t all bad, though. For one, it’s gorgeous from start to end. Nic Klein and Matt Wilson put out some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen on Thor, and that’s an incredibly high bar to begin with. Klein’s able to depict the scale of things in a way that’s honestly impressive — a lot of the time when Galactus shows up he doesn’t feel as gargantuan as he is, but in this book he’s a true presence. This is even better depicted in the issue where Thor has a hallucination of all of his iconic villains – The World Serpent is so much larger than everything else, and it makes Thor feel tiny in comparison. Wilson’s colors are fantastic in their own right, too, bringing a vibrancy and sense of wonder to the world of Asgard and giving the rest of the story the tone it deserves. If there’s anything to buy this trade for, it’s the art team.
Overall, though, this book is a real disappointment. It doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything that Thanos and God Country weren’t already doing, and it leads me to wonder if this book will ever really feel original. I hope the book does get better, because it seems like Donny Cates is in this for the long haul.
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