The end of War of the Realms was very similar to the end of God Butcher, it felt cyclical… because Thor’s lesson is a constant one- he’ll always have to work hard to be worthy… and that’s okay. It means he’s a better God because of it. It’s similar to the cycle of Ragnarok- things have to end to begin again. The Gods have to be able and willing to change.
And accepting this is how he becomes worthy again.
Ragnarok and roll
It’s a constant in Thor’s story, since day one with making Thor a disabled medical doctor, which is what helps Thor to become a better god… but it’s a lesson he has to learn again and again. Ragnarok is literally a never ending cycle of war, death and starting again. That the struggle itself is worthwhile. No matter how bad things seem, no matter how far you fall, if you’re willing to change and grow- you will be worthy.
I mean, if it worked for Thor in Endgame, it definitely worked for him in Jason Aaron’s run. Thor has to go back to the past, in order to find himself again (though that wasn’t the point of his journey into the past, it’s what he needed).
(Any one else hoping for Frigga to come back for Thor: Love and Thunder? Cause I am. Maybe when someone wakes up in Valhalla? Can we finally see Valhalla in the MCU?!)
Moreover, if you think about it- this theme actually dates back to the early 2000s, with the more solid establishment of a Ragnarok cycle for the Asgardians. This is a more personal Ragnarok for Thor Odinson specifically, but War of the Realms is a more… actual Ragnarok. A long, creeping invasion of the other realms has already happened by this point- either by alliance or by conquest- and Malaketh has brought the war to Midgard.
The War itself is expansive and has a lot of tie in issues, but I’m going to focus on the main event and the penultimate issue of Thor. Plus they are part of the theme I’ve been banging on about for like… thousands of words by now.
What is Love? Jason don’t hurt him… no more
For the final confrontation, Malaketh has retreated to StoneHenge, and has captured both Odin and Freyja. Malaketh’s ultimatum is that only Thor is allowed to confront him, otherwise the All Parents will both die.
Thor’s solution comes at the cost of a very painful lesson- because that’s how he learns… though I am pretty tired of Thor constantly hurting. Guys, can we please just let him live. He doesn’t deserve this.
Anyway, Thor realises he has to literally find himself- just like at the end of The God Bomb. The run has come full circle, only this time- alongside Thor’s younger and older selves, is Jane. It’s these sides of him- young and reckless, old and cynical and the platonic example of worthiness- that teach him the lesson Nick Fury was trying to impart.
Change is good. Learning from your mistakes is what makes you better. More importantly, never stop learning, never stop changing, because that willingness to be better is what makes you worthy. The tie-in issue to Thor further expands on this theme, going back to something that’s not quite as obvious, but very much present as a less prominent, but still important theme of Aaron’s run.
Love is what drives you to be better. Love for those close to you and for people over places and objects, specifically, rather than romantic love. It is there but not a driving force behind everyone’s actions. Young Thor’s first and most painful lesson is from the first woman he falls in love with.
Odin intends this to be a way for Thor to learn to hate humanity- but it does the opposite. He learns to accept the transience of existence that most mortals just live with in that moment and love humanity all the more for it.
This is one step closer to being worthy.
Jane’s love for humanity- not just her own species- but the qualities she loves in humanity that she sees in others, is what makes her a good doctor and what makes her worthy.
It’s not a lesson she needed to learn, or maybe she already learned it so long ago (watching her mother die from cancer) at this point it’s just something that she is. She loves and cares for humanity because she knows how precious and fleeting life is.
And Thor realises this about her. It’s what makes her a good god, a god he can aspire to be.
The Mind Killer
But there’s something else- all the main villains of Aaron’s run are undone by fear and self-loathing. Gorr, Malaketh and Loki. Self loathing is what keeps Young Thor from being worthy (we’ll get to that) and what drives a lot of Unworthy Thor.
It’s learning to value yourself, to love what’s good about you, that’s part of that same struggle. If you believe yourself a lost cause, where do you even go from there? It’s finding love, from others and for yourself, that sets up back on the path to healing.
Gee golly gosh if only the idea of people over things were a driving theme for a previous Thor movie and love most likely a theme for the next Thor movie with ‘love’ specifically stated in the freakin’ title.
Pieces of Thor
Remember when Thor loses Mjolnir back at the beginning of Jane’s run and then loses an arm? He has to lose literal pieces of himself- it’s a painful lesson both emotionally and physically.
In Unworthy, he is caught by the collector and tries over and over again to break free. He fails each time- until he finally has people there to have his back- Beta Ray Bill and Thori the Hellhound. He seeks a new hammer- but at the moment he tries to reach it, he decides for himself he isn’t worthy of it. It’s not his. He might well be worthy of that hammer specifically, but maybe he doesn’t want to face another rejection or maybe he realises he isn’t… ready. Not yet, but perhaps he will be one day.
It’s worth noting he doesn’t know that the new Thor is Jane and when he returns, he doesn’t take the news well. A lot of his old, rather unpleasant tendencies from his youth bubble to the surface again.
But seeing her being Thor and her sacrifice the hammer, and herself, in order to save everyone… Can’t help but think that’s something he needs to learn, which is probably why Jane gives him the last piece of Mjolnir.
Thor’s time with Gorr the God Butcher taught him the gods are not worthy, but his time with Jane taught him that it’s possible to start again. That he deserves a second chance. Her giving him the piece of Mjolnir means he has a means of reassembling the hammer, but he still has to learn how. Jane is the anti-Gorr. She believes in the gods because they are all too human. If humanity is worth fighting for, then the gods are too. If humans can change, then gods can too.
Although for Thor Odinson, he still needed to be nailed to a giant tree and like, charbroiled in the sun before he got the message.
Thor – medium rare and extra crispy
Is it a logical or even sensible way of going about things? Nope, but like I said- the gods of Asgard are people. People are not rational actors. It’s not a logical lesson- it’s an emotional, personal and some might say spiritual one.
The whole nailing to a tree thing- that’s specifically how Norse gods do things. Odin sacrificed his eye in a similar way in both classic Norse mythology and in Marvel comics version of Norse mythology- it’s a kind of vision quest. You have to be willing to lose something, sometimes something important, in order to learn.
Although in Thor’s case, it’s not just the eye the tree wanted. The tree wouldn’t let him go, wouldn’t give him an answer… until he let go of the last piece of Mjolnir. He’s been carrying it around like a token, like he used to carry Mjolnir but this time as a reminder of his unworthiness. His new hammers, cool as they all are, just aren’t the same. He wouldn’t let it go, the one last piece of his old beloved Mjolnir, until the very last minute… but it pays off in a huge way.
That’s why the inscription is different as well. He is worthy, but by implication, Jane still is as well, so it needs to have that more neutral pronoun in the enchantment.
At the start of War of the Realms, Thor’s still struggling to reclaim his worthiness and it’s pretty clearly because he’s still holding onto the last piece of Mjolnir Jane gave him. He’s literally unable to let go of the past. This ties back into the theme- the gods are unworthy because they are incapable of changing and letting go. It’s Thor’s act of finally learning to let go that reforges the hammer- but the reforging in and of itself is not what makes him worthy again. The Thor makes the hammer- not the other way around. He is worthy because he lets the hammer rebuild and change to suit him as he is. He’s changed so much he could never lift the Mjolnir he once had, but this new rebuilt one?
It’s also a new beginning in that he now realises what makes him worthy- being unworthy. That lesson he seems to have to learn over and over. If he doesn’t learn, he doesn’t change and he won’t become better. He’s now the god of the unworthy- those of us who struggle.
Going back to the idea of ‘love is part of what makes you better therefore something that is vital to worthiness’, we see it in action here. The tree makes Thor realise that he’ll need more than one Thor in order to finally confront Malaketh and find a loophole in the whole ‘only Thor can confront me’ thing.
Thor 4: More Thor!
In Thor #14, the tie in issue to War of the Realms, Young Thor is shown scared and helpless, since he’s the only person there who’s not worthy. We’ve seen snap shots of him throughout Aaron’s run, whenever Thor Odinson is the central protagonist, and he’s trying everything he can think of to be worthy of the hammer. But that’s the thing- he’s trying too hard. It’s the wrong approach, he’s being the version of worthy he assumes involves being straightforwardly heroic.
He’s the most vulnerable in the final battle against Malaketh, since if he dies then he’d take all the older Thor’s with him. He’s also only got Jarnbjorn, which didn’t pan out well the last time Thor faced Malaketh. He was very much like his younger self then- armed with just a goat and an axe, his mind of bluster and hurt and wounded ego… and he almost ends up dead.
Jane questions, understandably, why he should even be there but Thor Odinson points out that he’s the first step on his own journey to worthiness. That’s what the new World Tree is trying to teach him. He has to confront this rather unflattering version of himself- a sexist, brash, bull headed young man- in order to learn how to be worthy again. But Young Thor has a lesson to learn as well.
Not only that- the last time Young Thor confronted an evil megalomaniac empowered by The Symbiote of Knull, declaring himself a ‘butcher’… it was particularly unpleasant for him.
It’s important to remember that Young Thor was the one to kill Gorr in the end. Gorr went for Young Thor too, because he was the most vulnerable. Seeing Young Thor be the one to finally end him was the most cathartic end because the trauma was the most fresh for him. He now has to face it again and… he’s scared. Jane ushers him to safety, which perhaps is a good chance for him to recuperate- but he’s ashamed. It’s only a brief moment, but in that moment, he refocuses away from the hammer… and onto something that matters.
What actually makes him worthy, Young Thor that is, is seeing his mother in danger and leaping in without a second’s thought. His conquers his fear because he has to. He wants to protect the one person who has stood by him and supported him… and that love gives him the means to get over his own self loathing (for now) and away from over focusing on the hammer. Allowing it to come to him.
Letting go, remembering the people who love you, learn from your mistakes.
Thor’s come full circle. Twice in one ending.
Part of that story is left to tell, concerning King Thor- but that’ll be in Jason Aaron’s last Thor story, due out soon.
Thor Odinson has a new hammer and is worthy again. He’s a new, changed Thor and yet… he’s still him. He’s still Thor. That’s the best way to write him; he has to learn to be a better god by learning humility. Humility involves loss and pain and unlearning assumptions. It involves self examination, especially what power (privilege) you might hold over others. It also means finding the people who support and love you, who bring out the best in you. Finally, it means still accepting yourself, warts and all, and realising how far you’ve come and why that makes you worthy.
So, the war ends, Malaketh gets a terrible punishment… and we’re left with an aftermath.
There’s an epilogue, where things have ended, people move on and the future looks… very interesting.