Thor: God of Thunder Volume 1: The God Butcher (Marvel Now)
This review is for the 2014 hardcover edition that collects issues 1-11 of Thor: God of Thunder.
First, on the collection itself. This is one of the best hardcover collections I've encountered that wasn't an "Absolute" or "Omnibus" or other special edition intended to focus on art or that included extensive extras. This is an over-sized (relative to the comic book page, and relative to the five-issue hardcovers) collection with glossy pages. As you can clearly see in the image here and elsewhere, the dust cover uses Esad Ribic's cover to issue 3 on the front and #4 on the back, with the covers to issues 1 and 2 on the front and back cover, respectively, of the book itself. All are reproduced beautifully. This edition doesn't call itself a "Deluxe" hardcover or anything like that, but because Marvel's released the shorter-length hardcovers, there was clearly some incentive to make this an especially nice edition for collectors. And so it is. There are some bonus features, including a gallery at the end of variant covers to the first few issues, Esad Ribic's design sketchbook, and pencils for a few pages and pencil/ink comparisons for a few others. This is everything I want in a hardcover collection - it's exactly the right size and format to really read a story from beginning to end, it gives some insight into the artist's process, and it reproduces the original comics (which I own) beautifully. All I could hope for from a better collection would be notes from writer Jason Aaron, perhaps an introduction from someone famously associated with Thor, preferably in the comics industry, maybe even a full script for one of the individual issues. And I'd be willing to pay more for something like that. And to be clear, this is a book worthy of a much more extensive collection that includes all that and more, which I'll say more on now.
Because the story of the God Butcher, and the way it is presented through these eleven issues is one of the great Thor stories. In terms of the story itself, it takes the idea of godhood and considers whether it is good or bad to be a god, and whether or not religion is worthwhile, given all the bad things that happen while the gods attend to their own affairs. It shows Gorr to be a sympathetic character, someone who has suffered greatly through his culture's belief in gods, or so he thinks, and who can see no recourse but to save all the universe from the lie (from his perspective) that faith in gods is to all living things, and how it adversely affects us. But Gorr isn't the hero of the story, and Aaron uses Thor not only as a protagonist, but as three separate protagonist at three points in his life, the young brash god not yet worthy of Mjolnir, the battle-tested Avenger confident and mighty, and the future King of Asgard, Thor of the distant future. This perspective on Thor in multiple aspects gives us a great deal of insight into what a god is and can be, and by the end we may see that there's some room for religion in the world, even if gods like Thor aren't perfect.
Or you might gloss over all that allegory and just think that it's really cool as Thor solves a mystery, fights a bad guy all across time and space (yeah, there's time travel!), and we get to see Volstagg as a thin man and Thor's granddaughters of that distant future. Lots of action, drama, and suspense. It's an awesome good time.
The art, too, is worth your time. If you like the cover, you'll love the book. Esad Ribic's style feels extremely fluid, which serves the action well, but it also allows so much room for your imagination. This is one of the first Thor stories I've read, and I've read decades' worth, that made Asgard and the affairs of gods feel like it was in a land beyond the knowledge of men, like it was something I couldn't quite comprehend with my own eyes. A great deal of the credit for that is undoubtedly also due to colorists Dean White and Ive Svorcina. It always feels like there's something subtle happening in the shadows, there's always something magical emanating from Mjolnir. As much as I've loved Russell Dauterman's work on the new Thor series, I really miss how Ribic made Asgard and Thor feel majestic in a way I hadn't experienced before, even with my favorite Thor artists.
But above all, this is just a beautiful collection, getting the whole story of Gorr in one collection, including the entire vision of writer and artist (with the fill-in issue of Butch Guice and company in issue 6, well done but not as spectacular) in one book, with fantastic extras and a format that reads like no other. I've just acquired the second volume in this series, and I'm looking forward to it, but I know it can't possibly be as fantastic as this given that it doesn't have as cohesive an art, story, and design aesthetic as this volume. This volume has instantly become one of my favorite editions of comic art. Well done, Marvel.