Jason Aaron is the 2010s’ Walter Simonson. He’s made his mark on The Mighty Thor and on his corner of 616. I feel like this is as close to being objectively true as it is possible to be. Even if you, personally, don’t like his writing or the way he’s done things, you cannot deny that his run has made a huge impact. It certainly made an impression on me.
In any case, he’s finishing writing Thor this year, culminating six years of an arc that is being bookended in War of the Realms, starting on the third of April. Marvel were clearly so impressed with his Thor that they’ve given him his own universe-wide event based around it.
And so, to celebrate this momentous event (and to emotionally prepare you for WOTR), I’m listing five things that made the run so impactful.
As an extra challenge, I promise to not put Jane Foster on this list. I already wrote a whole article about her. I run a Let’s Talk account on Twitter. You all know how I feel about her – I might be getting a little repetitive, and there’s a ton of other things to talk about in his legendary run. So she will not be one of the things on this list.
Though, just so’s we’re clear – she’s the best thing Jason Aaron accomplished on Thor.
@ me. I dare you.
5. Great Villains
I’m concerned at how well Jason Aaron writes Thor villains. They’re either so gleefully, creatively evil that I think someone should like… check up on him? Or they like… have a good point? In the case of Gorr the God Butcher, he’s a vindictive, angry atheist who literally wants to kill gods for pretty relatable reasons. His vengeance ends up with him eventually becoming a god – the same sort of god that he claimed to hate. That’s an anti-hero arc in any other circumstance.
If only he weren’t also a genocidal murderer. His impact on Thor is to make him unworthy and, eventually, make a new Thor. Someone who also suffered because the gods either meddled in her life or abandoned her when she needed them most – who also became a god, but one who like… saved lives.
Okay, I promise you, no more direct Jane mentions (hah, lol, that’s a lie) – but Jane is the anti-Gorr. Just saying.
Then there’s the nightmare duo of Malekith and Dario Agger. Malekith is so deliciously disgusting and terrible, I almost admire the ridiculous lengths he goes to make people suffer. He cuts off Thor Odinson’s arm and then wears the severed limb like an goddamned scarf, like he’s Hannibal Lecter via Cruella DeVille via the Joker with magic.
He’s basically become an existential threat at this point. He only wants the Realms to continue an almost childish game of control, where only he knows the rules. He’s like a vindictive yet worryingly clever child. The one who brings a knife to school but can pick you apart psychologically.
And I kind of love him. Wouldn’t want him anywhere near me, though.
Dario Agger also goes to ridiculous lengths to gain power and control, but whereas Malekith does it out of a kind of psychotic glee, Agger does it out of spite. He sold his soul as a child and ever since, he doesn’t see anything as having any kind of intrinsic value. It’s all just resources to him. He’s mostly calm and calculated, full of patience and forethought… until he loses his temper. You can always see the minotaur under the armani suit.
Plus… he did this to the pirates who murdered his family.
Jesus Christ, Jason. That’s
There’s also the rest of the Dark Elves, Frost Giants, Amora, the Angels, and Sindr, a great supporting cast of villains if ever I saw them.
Aaron’s Loki is… interesting. Can’t trust him, obviously, but he never crosses the line in the same way Malekith does… mostly. He’s pushed it though, dancing the line as only the best kind of Loki can. I know some people are not happy with the way he writes Loki, especially after establishing his more anti-hero stasis in Young Avengers and Agent of Asgard, but… gotta say. I dig it.
But his best villain, or worst depending on how you look at it, one that I kind of enjoy hating – is Odin.
He returns out of the blue to push a competent woman out of the way and return Asgardia to a time when he ruled without opposition – to when it was Asgard, though that time will probably never come again. All the while he is locking people up without due process, ignoring a huge existential threat that gets closer and closer to his front door and deliberately undermining the women who are trying to fight it. Whilst also being a dick about mortals because he thinks them beneath him. He also keeps talking about how powerful he is and brings in unqualified family members who may well make things a hundred times worse. He also projects harder than IMAX.
You could say he’s um… trying to uh… Make Asgardia Great Again?
Though at least his children and wife are a hundred times better than him.
People have accused Aaron of “nerfing” Odin by casting him as a angry, incompetent, old misogynist clinging to power and nursing his own fragile ego over, like, saving his people from a looming threat. Who also treats his supposedly favourite son like garbage in a way I’d call borderline abusive.
To which I say: nah mate.
Yeah, Aaron’s not the first writer to depict Odin this way, but he is probably the first to point out how terrible Odin is by extension of his abuse of power. To be fair, he’s not a villain per se, more like an antagonist, but he is a compelling part of the puzzle and hammers home Aaron’s theme throughout his run: faith.
4. A Question of Faith
Jason Aaron is an atheist. He makes no secret about it, but that doesn’t stop him writing about faith and belief. In fact, speaking as an atheist (with a little ‘a’ because I’m not an obnoxious, self-righteous arsehole*), the really committed ones are often fascinated with religion and gods, especially if they grew up with faith like I did. Aaron explores how faith and belief drive the gods and the people who worship them. They are just another group in a superhero universe – they are just people. Just like mutants or inhumans or people who gain powers through science or magic. They are people who screw up, try to be better, love and lose… they just also happen to basically live forever and control the elements… and create/destroy whole worlds.
Thor Odinson is undone because he realizes just how much power he holds, how much control over the mortals who worship him he could potentially have, and it… scares him. He knows he is a good god because he can pick up a hammer that tells him he is worthy.
Then one day… he can’t.
The journey to find oneself through humility and love, regaining self awareness in the process, makes Aaron’s run on Thor just that much more meaningful. In fact, it’s actually a story of why you need to believe in something or even someone to keep you on the right path. Malekith believes in nothing, except that he should be on top of the pile. Agger thinks of everything as a means to an end. Loki’s faith is shaky and scattershot, constantly undermined by his own deep self-loathing. Gorr has no faith, no love or belief in anyone, and he ends up becoming something dark and twisted through his use of the necro-sword. Thor has to find himself, literally, and almost become that same dark creature – but knows when to stop. Though the journey ultimately costs him and requires a lot of soul searching in the aftermath, Thor has to regain faith in himself and in his fellow gods. Guess who helps him do that?
A mortal being willing to die to help the gods. Someone who, despite seeing so many reasons to not have any faith at all, had so much it made her worthy.
But… I won’t go into that because I promised I wouldn’t. You know my feelings on it, but here’s a link to an article that does go into it in a much better way than I can anyway
It’s a love letter to how humans tell stories, how they think, how they form beliefs, and how we use faith, belief, love, and stories to find ways to keep going even when everything feels really really bleak.
3. HEAVY METAL
I don’t just mean the music – though I can’t be the only one who hears mad guitar licks every time someone lobs a hammer – I also mean the aesthetic and I mean the French magazine. There’s something inherently metal about everything Aaron writes, but it’s very much on display in Thor. I mean, naturally? It’s about Norse gods and high fantasy mixed with, like, magic powers, cool-as-shit weapons, epic battles, last stands against impossible odds… it’d be weird if it wasn’t also metal as fuck.
Every artist who’s worked on the run has produced something you need airbrushed on the side of a van yesterday, but they’re bringing those words and ideas to life. The canny pairing of Aaron with high fantasy, highly detailed artists like Esad Ribic, Russell Dauterman, and Olivier Coipel – to name but a few – has brought that high concept, cool but extremely nerdy in all the right ways storytelling to life. Thor needs to be epic. That’s his jam. He needs to look like he stepped off the album art for a Swedish power metal band. Aaron brings that shit in spades.
Then again, y’know what? Aaron’s still not afraid to bring it back to earth sometimes. Some of the best and most meaningful moments of his run are when things are calm, thoughtful, peaceful, and bittersweet. Those moments are usually on or around Earth. When Thor’s visiting a prisoner on death row or some nuns or… a friend with cancer. Or when he’s old at the end of time, he seeks solace in Midgard once more, regrowing it and nurturing life there.
But… it’s still really metal. Y’know.
2. This Woman’s Work
Okay – going to say something kind of controversial here, but I say it with love.
I… am not always a fan of how Aaron sometimes writes women individually? Especially romantic relationships?
Before you @ me, I’ll clarify – that’s more of a niggle than a deal breaker, but it’s a big niggle. One that’s kind of put me off reading his Avengers run just a little bit and made me not enjoy Thor #9 very much.
Am I just bitter that Mariko Tamaki didn’t get to continue her run on She-Hulk? That Aaron seems to drop Jane and Thor’s budding relationship after building it up for like four years so he could do yet another Thor-as-lothario story that undermines his characterization that’s been building up in his run and Jennifer Walter’s recovery from trauma a teeny tiny bit?
Guess you could say that.
It’s not like Jane literally gave him her last dying breath or anything-
No. Nope. Sorry. I’ll stop.
Though, to be honest, most men in comics can’t write romantic relationships either. So.
However. What makes his run on Thor so good, and gives it some deserved feminist cred, is that Aaron writes women teaming up, working together, taking charge, and getting stuff done better than I could have ever hoped. Plus he gave us this scene:
He gives each woman he writes a voice, a character arc, and solid motivation. Moreover, he seems to get that the reason why Asgardia falls is because Odin would rather nurse his ego than let a hyper-competent woman do his job. He’d rather beat his own son than admit fault in any way. Toxic masculinity is the cause for so much ill in Aaron’s run. The amount of terrible father figures amongst the gods is almost comical.
Freyja sees why the gods are not worthy and why they are losing. She’s willing to accept responsibility for it even though she hasn’t actually done anything wrong. She sees her privilege and position as a goddess and why it means she is removed from certain experiences that mortals know on a daily basis.
He writes women in leadership roles as making tough but necessary decisions and being resented by men for it. He writes them as brave beyond measure, even when they’re hardly in a physical position to be. He gets misogyny as something both cartoonishly loud and insidiously damaging. He also shows that men often betray the trust that women put in them. Freyja is betrayed by Loki because she wants to trust the boy she raised so much and that hurts her so much she casts him out for good
His best writing has been with Jane, to be sure, but also with Freyja. She’s been a pillar of leadership, kindness, bravery and wisdom, not to mention good old-fashioned badassery. His characterization of Odin, Malekith, and Agger highlights just how much we need women like Jane and Freyja. They’ve had to fight to gain their positions and they will hold onto them despite how much they’re undermined by the men they’re trying to save. That’s something I’m sure we’ll still be talking about in Aaron’s run – maybe in the same way we talk about Claremont’s writing?
1. Long Game.
Okay, we’re all pretty sick of big comic book events. We complain about them non-stop because they seem to happen non-stop – Marvel has four this year. FOUR. That’s exhausting. They throw everything up in the air, interfere with otherwise good runs, and needlessly complicate stuff… but we know why the Big Two have to have them. Even the age of the superhero, comic book sales are struggling because all print is struggling. Received wisdom is that Big Events drive sales, at least in the short term. They probably do, but that’s not sustainable. Who knows when the tipping point might be.
It might be just me, but we as fans seem to be measuring how good a run is by how it can weather these events – more often than not, in terms of how well they can just ignore events completely. Funnily enough, Aaron’s Thor run seems to be able to do that so long as you just read Thor – you’d probably never know Secret Empire or Civil War 2 were happening at all (I did buy the Civil War 2 tie in story, naturally). The times they did acknowledge it and Aaron did tie-in issues were pretty fun! The major tie-in to Generations was great! The Secret Wars tie-in title Thors…. eh? Whilst it was good in some respects (Throg the Forensics Thor! Beta Ray Bill the Partner! Old Man Thor the Chief! Groot Thor! Homeless Informer Loki!), it also made me watch my favourite character get gruesomely murdered over and over. So. Didn’t appreciate that at all, Jason.
However. War of the Realms, to me at least, is different.
This event was originally just going to be confined to Thor comics, but clearly the editorial staff saw an opportunity to create a much more organic event that wasn’t a rehash of a past event (Secret Wars, Civil War 2) or something that felt like it had been rushed out in a hurry without anyone stopping to like, think about what they were doing (Secret Empire). It doesn’t really rely on nostalgia either (Generations). It’s something that’s a long time coming. Moreover, it has been building on a thematic level since Aaron first started, especially since Malekith entered the picture in 2013. It started properly in 2015, so there’s been at least four years directly building this up, if not almost six.
That at least feels like this event is earned. I have listened to and read a lot of interviews with Jason Aaron, and whilst I can’t tell if he had any kind of meticulous planning involved, he certainly had a plan for where his Thor books were going to go. He was lucky enough to see it through to the end, and so are we. Especially in the current state of the comics market, anyone getting to end their run naturally, without cancellation or being booted or leaving in frustration? That’s… sadly, very unusual.
He’s done his time and worked on enough books – more importantly, those books did really well, commercially and critically. The setup to WOTR is now deep-rooted enough to have it be part of the whole Marvel universe, involving pretty much everybody, according to C.B. Cebulski. There’s also a kind of zeitgeist interest in high fantasy, that kind of Heavy Metal aesthetic that’s definitely influenced Thor’s run written by Aaron and Thor: Ragnarok, to its benefit. Why not use a well established, highly anticipated event to spread that across the whole universe? It’s already worked well in Champions.
It also helps that Aaron is one of their best writers and that Jane has gone down as a surprising but presumably welcomed success! Thor in particular has been such a success that Marvel literally got the team behind her part of the run back together for the main WOTR storyline. Which, y’know…. s’pretty cool.
So, yeah, Jason Aaron’s Thor run has been a success by pretty much every metric and I, for one, am sad to see it end. It’s been a huge part of my life for like, five odd years. I’m going to have to move on somehow… but maybe it’s good to end on a high note. Plus, Aaron’s still writing Conan, Avengers and now a new Valkyrie series, along with his own indie projects, Southern Bastards and The Goddamned for Image. He’s going to stay busy for a while.
I feel confident in predicting that his Thor is going to be career marker for many years to come.
Here’s to you, Jason.
* Okay I am mostly, but not because I’m an atheist.
I’m a thirty something British nerd-mum and wannabe author, fueled by tea, poor decision making and a need to be distracted. Cursed to watch favourite characters die and ships sink.