I have to admit, I was never really into Thor. Sure, like any other red-blooded comic book reader in the early nineties, I loved The Asgardian Wars (anyone who doesn't find an Art Adams drawn Loki watching Storm pummel Frost Giants in a crystal ball on top of some intricately detailed, Terry Austin-inked Mountain-Throne is kind of missing the point of comics in general), but as far as his regular series went (in its many, many incarnations) they just never landed with me.
Looking back on it, I'm not sure what the problem was. All the primary characteristics are the same; the mythology, the character, switching from hobbled doctor to nigh-invulnerable god; so why, after years of indifference to the essence of Thor, is Straczynski's take on the title one of my favorite books in recent memory?
Well, for starters, Olivier Copiel never drew a Thor title before. He's the latest in moderately sized cache of artists who have evolved from a reliably great artist to a truly superb one. His style is incredibly well suited to subtle but significant changes in design for Thor and rest of The Asgardians. He's able to handle to broad strokes of every character's "godliness" while at the same time bringing a richness of detail and almost softness to them. It's the perfect compliment to Straczynski's approach.
Of course, that approach is also the main contributing factor to the title's appeal. One thing I always love when a character gets a new title with a new #1 is when the creators actually have a vision for what they want the book to be. This happens a lot less than you'd think. All too often, a character gets their own title because they're popular, or they're relaunched with a new #1 just get back in the limelight for a spell. But sometimes you get an "Immortal Iron Fist" or a "Booster Gold" -- a new title that sets out to do something new and interesting with an established character. In this case, Straczynski seeks to bring the lofty Asgard into the American Heartland. It's the kind of ground you've probably seen Neil Gaiman tread more than a few times. I don't know for sure what it is specifically, but what I find kind of predictable and uninteresting about Gaiman's work, in this title I find absolutely captivating. Maybe you just have to be American to really sell a Diner scene? Whatever it is; the naturalness and lack of hokiness with which Straczynski illustrates American life, the much-appreciated luxuriating pace of the book, the ability to balance a pretty vast set of protagonists; Straczynski tells a story about the fantastic among the mundane much better than a lot of other people.
And he also can be pretty damn witty when he needs to be. Volstagg and Heimdall are at one point pontificating on what their purpose is in this new home (urged on by the scheming [and now female, in case you missed it] Loki). Volstagg asks, "What do you know of a gathering of powers called -- The Avengers?" "Which ones," answers Heimdall. "Where once there was but one, there are now as many as there are sunsets." "The original one, then. Does that still exist?" "After a fashion."
And speaking of Loki's scheming, thanks to the pacing of the book, we're given plenty of room to see her plans unfold not in broad strokes, but in the subtle psychological pressing with which she manipulates every major figure in Asgard. At this pace, her true motivations may not bear fruit until like the 20th issue, but I wouldn't mind in the least.
There is also plenty of action, also given weight by the new approach and its surroundings. (After all, imagine if a Frost Giant really was brutally slain in front of you and your kid.)
And or a title called "Thor," you see precious little of him in this issue, but that is also one its great strengths. The opening page shows him leaving Asgard on unspecified business, leaving Balder behind and giving Loki just the splinter of jealousy and doubt she needs to exploit. I'm sure this will bear critical fruit in the future, if the last page is any indication.
So, I suppose maybe I should give those Walt Simonson trades a shot now that I like Thor so much, shouldn't I.