by Kieron Gillen (writer), Rich Elson (pencils & inks), Jim Charalampidis (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters)

The Story: Thor journeys across hell on his quest for Eir-Gram while Tyr tries to hold the line.

What’s Good: In this issue, Kieron Gillen’s latest story-arc really feels like it’s come together into something really special.  There’s a greater sense of craft and purpose that leads to a thoroughly entertaining and page-turning experience.

Part of the reason for this is Gillen’s use of narration.  The narration only accompanies the scenes depicting Thor’s quest, but it lends it an epic feel that makes it seem all the more grand and Odysseus-like.  It makes Thor’s journey seem even bigger and more inspired.  It’s also proof of Gillen’s skill as a writer, functioning as an extremely clever way for him to condense Thor’s trek into only a few pages, without making the reader feel cheated or the material rushed.

Better still is how Gillen even goes so far as to bring humour and self-awareness into the book through this narration.  The narrator actually turns out to be a visible character in the comic whose sole function is, well, narration.  He’s actually narrating Thor’s quest for Mephisto as well as us, which somehow turns Mephisto into a reader much like ourselves, almost putting him on our level of experience.  Apparently Mephisto is so powerful, that he’s actually able to read, or listen to, the comic book that he’s in.  It gets even more fun when Mephisto even offers criticism of the narrator’s “writing,” and by extension, Gillen’s.

While Thor’s journey is certainly epic, Gillen also continues to strengthen Tyr as a character.  Gillen has not only brought Tyr back in his run, but also expands the God of War further, making him both conflicted and badass and more compelling than ever.  It’s easy to make a god of war a two-dimensional ass-kicker, and Gillen is doing anything but.  This is a Tyr forced to live up to, and negotiate, that very stereotype despite the fact that he is very capable of feeling fear.  There’s a great shame complex to the character that I love reading.

Gillen’s writing of Kelda is almost as strong, as she takes a possibly sinister turn that I think we all knew was inevitable.  Gillen has a good grasp of her voice and I can’t wait to see where this goes.

On art, while I was initially disappointed by Doug Braithwaite’s bowing out, Rich Elson certainly shines.  His depictions of hell and its various torments are stunning and very Dante-esque in their detail and twisted, fiery creativity.  While his style is essentially different, Elson also manages to maintain Braithwaite’s classic fantasy/swords and sorcery look.

What’s Not So Good: It’s hard when only one particular set of scenes, or one plot strand, is accompanied by narration where the others aren’t.  The frequent shifts between the grandly narrated Thor scenes to the comparatively normal Tyr scenes is a bit jarring as a result.

Of course, when the scene shifts way off to Valhalla and Kelda, that shift feels even more noticeable, not only due to the suddenly subdued tone, but also because of it’s complete lack of relevance to the rest of the issue.

The style in which Thor’s portions are written is just so vastly different from the rest of the book that at times, it feels like it wants to be a different issue were it not for how tightly it’s plot is linked to Tyr’s scenes.

Conclusion: The best issue of Gillen’s run since before Siege.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans