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Despite being a big Marvel fan, my only previous experience of Thor is through reading Avengers issues, and seeing the occasional appearance of the God of Thunder to save the planet from evil. With the upcoming latest in a string of Marvel films being Thor, I felt it necessary to brush up on Marvel's take on the God of legend, despite this being a second volume and picking up a story halfway through.
Usually, I can't pick things up in the middle, and was initially worried that I'd be lost. However, what Michael J. Straczynski does with this volume is give us enough of a recap all the way through that there's no way we'd feel floundered in the current story. Things pick up just after Thor, Lord of Asgard, has restored his people to their full strength, and needs to regain his energy by entering a coffin designed by his forefathers to restore their power.
Throughout the volume, there are various different plot threads, involving romance, deceit and deep characterisation, as characters who have no doubt been involved for a long time get some frame time. While Thor is restoring his powers, he enters a sort of netherworld, where he is reunited with Odin, his father, and they discuss existence and death and all things related. It gets quite deep and philosophical, and this is where Loki, Thor's adoptive brother and eternal nemesis, comes into the picture.
Loki is a character I have only ever heard about through mentions in the aforementioned Avengers issues, and here, I get to finally understand what the character is all about. Adopted by Odin after Odin killed his father, Loki is a different humanoid race, and of the most devious and sinister Marvel villains I have read. Despite being a 'brother', he is conniving and ultimately seeks to rule and gain revenge for his father's death, fulfilling his hatred of humans and Asgardians alike. The strange thing here is the form that Loki takes: now in a female's body. Not sure why this happened, although it was quite interesting to see how this impacted on other characters in the volume.
Alongside this is the appearance of Thor in the form he uses to walk around amongst us, blending in among the crowd. In this form, he is searching for his lost love, Sif, in the different form of Jane Foster, although all is not as it seems, and Jane no longer houses Sif. Loki appears in this thread, too, and although it's somewhat complicated when you try to understand how things work in the two different forms, the storyline is as compelling as the main one.
The artwork here mirrors the more modern trend of fancy glossy colours and irregular frame patterns. I do like it, and while I much prefer the simplicity and explanations of more original artwork from 40 or 50 years ago, this modern style does lend itself to more 'out there' storylines and characters, as well as fight scenes and intricate detail in the sketching. Loki is the most impressive character, although at times there are some inconsistencies with Thor's artwork. I find that the character occasionally has brilliant artwork, but other frames are rather poor. This I just don't get.
Starczynski has authored this very well. Between him and Brian Bendiss, they are really taking control of modern Marvel storytelling, and I find that their stories are always enjoyable, and very hard to put down. The pace is just right here, and Thor is now a character I feel I have a good understanding of. I don't appreciate things on a deeper level, but I now know that when I watch the Thor film, I'll at least have an idea of who some of the characters are, and his role in the Marvel universe. I'm looking forward to it, and if you want something to kick start you in the world of Thor, then this series is a good way to go. I'd probably recommend reading the first volume before attempting this, but it's still something I highly recommend, and not reading the first volume didn't completely spoil it for me. Well worth a read.