by Matt Fraction (writer), Pasqual Ferry (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and John Workman (letters)

The Story: A new age for Thor and Asgard begins, as an ominous threat fills Asgard’s void and rages across the metaverse.

What’s Good: Thor fans can breathe a sigh of relief; Matt Fraction arrives and his first issue is a great one.

While it’s difficult to make sweeping judgments after only one issue, I think that it’s fairly clear that Fraction has a very good understanding of the characters and how to use them.  Thor is appropriately brooding and stoic; his bittersweet feelings about Loki, summarized this month in a kind of informal quasi-eulogy, are a highlight of the issue and are very well written and minimalist enough so as to be affecting.

Yet, Fraction also seems aware of the character’s potential as a comedic straight man.  Fraction shows himself to have an incredibly strong handle of the Thor/Donald Blake connection and dynamic.  I had forgotten what a joy this element of the series can be, what with Blake having been absent for some time.  The chemistry between the two is light-hearted and very funny, with Blake even serving as an unlikely adviser.  A couple of his comments on Thor’s behavior even border on making the comic feel amusingly self-aware.  And I’m not even getting started on Fraction’s Volstagg, who can make even the most otherwise boring scenes funny.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of this first issue, however, is what it does generically, mixing sci-fi and high fantasy.  The issue feels like several things elegantly melded together that should be utterly disparate, but somehow come together to form a kind of fresh, sleek, and completely distinct whole.  You have scenes of blue-skinned evils battling sword-wielding demonic barbarians on a snowy plain transitioning to a discussion of “quantum cosmology.”  It sounds utterly insane, and perhaps it is, but it gives the book a unique life and tone that make it unlike anything else out there.

Then there’s the artwork.  Much like the book’s genre work, the art provided by Pasqual Ferry and Matt Hollingsworth is also truly unique.  It’s lush, shiningly bright, and generally glorious.  While some might say that Ferry’s art lacks detail, this simplicity never conveys a lack of polish or ability.  Rather, it lends the book a greater sense of scope and makes the world, and the characters, all the more iconic.  It also allows for Hollingsworth’s work on colors to truly shine.  He makes the book vibrant, radiant even, and it’s one of the best coloring jobs I’ve seen not done by Dave Stewart.

What’s Not So Good: While he has a solid grasp of the characters themselves, I think Fraction is still grappling a little with their dialect.  He clearly wishes to retain the more antiquated tone of the Asgardian characters, but at times, their dialogue ends up simultaneously including glaringly dissonant modern elements.  Thor says “shut up” just a little too much and the line “what the hell” should never, ever be repeated.  Fraction seems comfortable enough with the older style of speech and he needs to be more vigilant about keeping with that.

I also found the scientist’s discussions of quantum cosmology to be a bit overextended, tedious, and too transparent as a means for Fraction to basically tell us what the plot is.  While it was done in amusing fashion, it was also a bit lacking on the subtlety, as though the scientist were Fraction himself, essentially saying “here is the problem and here are who the bad guys are.”

Conclusion: Well worth the wait, this is a very promising start that has me eager for the next installment.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans