As a fan of Gillen’s work, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to properly try his Thor run – not least because of his recently-established reputation as one of Marvel’s top writers of assorted Gods – but having not read a word of Straczynski’s run, found his first arc a little too difficult to get into. Tying more directly into Siege, however – and requiring much less in the way of background context, to the extent that even if you didn’t know your Norse Mythology you’d still get a good sense of most characters’ usual purposes – the first issue of his second (and final) arc is a much more accessible and appealing prospect.
And what impresses, really, is that for someone who’s still written relatively little for Marvel (although it’s a volume that’s growing by the week), Gillen works with such confidence and sure-footed-ness. He slots comfortably into Marvel’s current setup as if he’s been doing it for ages (although it can’t hurt that he has existing ties with contemporaries of such importance as Fraction), and on a job that was so significantly redefined by a previous incumbent, it’s no mean feat to pick up the characters and setting and work with them so naturally. His trademark wit, though, is evident throughout – most notably whenever the Asgardians have cause to mention Volstagg (“only a serious threat to roasts”, apparently), although it’s also no mean feat to turn in a laugh-out-loud reference to Twibbons (not to mention using Youtube as a plot device) in a book so heavily based around characters and customs around a millennium old. Meanwhile, his aforementioned and distinctive flair for Godly dialogue continues, with the speech patterns of the assorted Asgardians flowing in a way that just feels right without ever lapsing into “TO BE CONTINUETHED”s and the like.
Plotting is strong, too, with the decision to centre the story around Volstagg a wise one – in Gillen’s hands, he’s a truly delightful character (if a slightly cliched likeable bumbler), and you feel genuinely sorry for him as he tries to deal with the mess he’s been unwittingly thrown into. Notably, too, a potential major slipup in Siege‘s own plot is averted – just how can you surprise attack Asgard when Heimdal’s around? – and I don’t know if this is part of the overall plan or if it’s simply something that Gillen’s sought to address, but it’s deftly handled, with a cunning bit of scheming given to Loki. The countdown to “Ragnarok” (another neat juxtaposition of a very modern and film-esque storytelling device with a word so resonantly classical) also turns out to be a neat feint, even though it subsequently leads to an appearance of someone/thing that we’d all probably rather forget even exists.
All in all, though, this is strong work – not even hampered that much by employing two different artists, each quite different in style – as Billy Tan sticks to Volstagg’s scenes (and imbues him with appealing character expression), while Rich Elson gives a lusher, more classical feel to the Asgard pages. Speaking as someone who’s never had a huge interest in Thor as a title (I get my Norse mythology from Neil Gaiman, mostly), this is a surprisingly and immediately engaging read. And while I’m sure Matt Fraction’s got plenty of big ideas lined up for when he takes over, there is a slight disappointment that Gillen’s only around for such a short time.