At the end of the last volume of Thor by Jason Aaron: The Complete Collection, we saw Jane Foster battling cancer while also going up against the gods of the Shi’Ar, the ongoing opening volleys of the War of the Realms, and a very mopey Odinson. All of these things are escalated in volume 4 of the series.
The book kicks off interrupting Jane’s narrative, which ended in the last volume with Jane approaching the Odinson to tell him the truth of who had his hammer. While we don’t see that conversation, The Unworthy Thor follows perpetually shirtless Sad Odinson on a quest to find a new hammer. Well, a used hammer, but a hammer new to him (as to the universe itself).
This is a plot thread picked up from the Thors miniseries, a Battleworld book that isn’t exactly key reading for this Complete Collection (and thus excluded); essentially, the hammer of Ultimate Thor (or a Thor very much like him) survived the collapse of Doom’s Battleworld, jumping into the 616 universe and crash landing on dead Asgard.
The reason The Unworthy Thor is shoehorned into the first quarter of this book is that The Mighty Thor takes a surprising turn away from focusing on Jane, instead preferring to finally begin illustrating the horrors of the coming War of the Realms. It does this by traumatizing Volstagg with the gruesome and firey deaths of a handful of innocent children; the horrors of war lead Volstagg to pick up the hammer Odinson neglected, transforming him (against type) into The War Thor.
To those of us who already feel that she got too little time as the Goddess of Thunder, this twist away from Jane might feel like a tragic misuse of our time. The truth, however, is that the narrative needs a sudden depth and consequence as both the War and Jane’s departure near. It feels sudden if you’re reading only The Mighty Thor (or picked up this volume of the Complete Collection directly following the last), as the book has just spent a somewhat lighthearted and low stakes time in Shi’ar space.
Further, the crunch of time is now upon us, as the book also begins to double down on Jane’s cancer narrative; while the War becomes more real to the reader, so too does Jane’s fragility. Where the implication of Jane’s mortality contrasted with the godhood of Thor by means of commentary in the preceding Complete Collection, here the juxtaposition becomes unbearable as Jane draws nearer and nearer her death — with each conflict as Thor, Jane gets closer and closer to her final moments as herself.
Indeed, the whole of Jason Aaron’s run here becomes fraught with peril and pressure. The War Thor, Mangog, the return of Odin and Freya, all of these become added gravity to a narrative rapidly accelerating toward its conclusion.
This doesn’t prevent the book from celebrating both Jane and itself as it hit its Legacy number 700. That issue hops around the narrative, taking beats to make nods to beloved types of Thor stories, viewed through the lens of Aaron’s continuity.
Most importantly, book four of the Complete Collection delivers one of the most powerful deaths — and immediate resurrections — of a character of recent Marvel history. That breakneck pace the book has taken on leads us, inevitably, to the last moment from which Jane might walk away from the hammer and have a chance at beating her cancer, but the circumstances — both in the moment, as Mangog devastates Asgardia, and ultimately, with the oncoming War — prove themselves to be too strong. Jane picks up the hammer and provides the most epic as hell self-sacrifice imaginable.
For all of its pacing issues — it feels, as it ends, as if pressure from on high to get Jane out and put Odinson back in his commercially permanent role overtook the narrative itself — the book never once misses an opportunity to love its world and characters; that 700th issue celebration feels baked into every issue leading up to and following.
This is — excuse the pun — hammered home by the endless barrage of incredible artwork that is handpicked for each sequence of story. No panel is wasted in terms of narrative utility or subpar artistic prowess, and the reader can feel the care that has been taken to pair the right artist for the right issues (and, in #700, pages). Unworthy sees Thor heavy Olivier Coipel return, with the final issue of the mini allowing more recent landmark artists of the main book — Ribic, Irving, Jacinto, and Dauterman — to provide stylized flourishes for their corners of the larger narrative.
Issue #700 provides the same room for other artists to do the same, bringing back icons like Walter Simonson or inviting creator-owned heroes like Headlopper‘s Andrew Maclean to play in the celebratory sandbox.
All in all, this volume of Thor by Jason Aaron: the Complete Collection feels like a celebration of not just Jane, but the very idea of Thor, all while dragging us closer and closer for the devastation implied by the coming War. It’s powerful, and even if it’s not my favorite portion of Aaron’s run it captures all of the reasons I love the corner of the Marvel Universe these characters have always inhabited.
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