This is a milestone for me :). This piece is my 300th post on My Comic Relief!! I’ve been trying to figure out which comic was worthy of such a tribute since about my 256th post. Then, like a blinding flash of lightening it hit me. I adored Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson’s work with Jane Foster in The Mighty Thor. She’s become my definitive Thor. I’ve written several pieces exploring the brilliance of this run but I’ve never written about the end of Jane’s time wielding Mjölnir. To do so, I wanted it to be special. Instead of another analysis, I aim to simply pay tribute, to eulogize in the wake of “The Death of the Mighty Thor,” to talk about why I fell in love with this character and this comic. In short I want to explain why Jane’s time as Thor became MY FAVORITE COMIC BOOK STORYLINE OF ALL TIME. In my heart, she’ll always be who I mean when I invoke the name “Thor.”
When I was a child, comic books meant so much to me. They were magical doorways into worlds filled with costumed characters where good always triumphed over evil. They held humor and exciting adventures. They helped shape my morals and my world view. They taught me to love reading. They are the root of so many of my best memories, from reading with Mom to playing superheroes with my brother David. Then adolescence came and, with a driver’s license, the need for gas money. So I put comic books aside for seventeen long years. Then in 2014 something changed. Two things happened, two things that made me realize I needed to return to this world. After almost twenty years, I was going to pick up a new comic book again.
The first was Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel. As someone who’s studied theology for almost twenty years, the fact that G. Willow Wilson, Sana Amanat and Adrian Alphona had created this rich, layered Muslim hero was something I couldn’t ignore.
The second was the mystery woman now wielding Mjölnir as Thor, Goddess of Thunder. Learning Jane Foster was the one who had become Thor just made me want to read it all the more!
I was naturally interested in Kamala Khan because I’m a theology teacher. But I was excited for Jane Foster because I’ve always been a Thor fan. Second only to Spidey, Thor was always my favorite superhero. I needed to know what was happening now that Jane was Thor! It’s not an exaggeration to say if Jane Foster never became Thor, I may not be reading comic books again right now. Yes, it was Jeff’s urging to try the new Star Wars titles Marvel was publishing that got me to cross the threshold of my local comic shop once more. But those titles soon came to bore me. But I had to read about this Thor. I had to be a part of her journey! It was Jane’s adventures that captured my imagination and made me fall in love with this genre all over again.
How couldn’t I fall in love with stories like this?!? They held everything I loved about comic books as a child and everything I’ve come to respect about them as an adult. In this comic Jason Aaron does it all. You won’t find a more exciting, cosmos-spanning, monster-fighting, high stake-raising adventure story in any comic book anywhere. Simultaneously there was plenty of humor and heart to enrich the spirit and buoy the soul as you read. These were the twin features – wild adventure and heartfelt humor – that filled all my favorite comics as a child. But this Thor was more than just fun and adventure. Social justice issues – whether implicit like Jane Foster being the one to lift Mjölnir or explicit like the running call to environmental stewardship with Thor battling the Roxxon Corporation – form the foundation of her stories. You don’t need to focus on this to enjoy the stories but they are made so much richer when you do. The best art always calls us to transcend ourselves, to be transformed, to become better. In Jason Aaron’s hands, Thor does this. And the theology! I say this with care and certainty – this is the most intelligent, intricate, thoughtful theological story I’ve ever come across in any comic ever. The whole thing is, at its root, a discussion of the nature of divinity and in Jason Aaron’s hands it’s handled with a precision worthy of the topic.
But it’s not just an incredibly strong, layered story that makes this the best comic book I’ve ever read. The art and colors are – by far – the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen in a comic book. Nothing else even comes close.
Russell Dauterman became my favorite comic artist of all time with this run. I’ll read anything he draws for the rest of his career. As a kid, my favorite comic book artist was always Mark Bagely. This was due, in no small part, to his work on The Amazing Spider-Man. Spider-Man was my favorite hero. His was my favorite Spider-Man. So he became my favorite comic artist as a result. But the torch has been passed! The worlds Russell Dauterman renders take my breath away while the characters he breathes life into – both human and divine – manage to look as real as they do magical. Perhaps that’s the best word for his work, magical. His images live and move with an otherworldly beauty. He renders power and pain, the incredible and the intimate, the human and divine, the heroic and the humbling with equal passion and care while making it all radiate the gravitas of the myths which first inspired these characters. He’s the only artist I know whose work literally stops me in my tracks, calling me to linger lovingly over the pages he draws. I can’t look away from the beauty of it all. Staring at his pages I feel, like all great works of art, it stir my heart, mind, and soul. If you want to know the true power and potential of comic book art, Russell Dauterman offered a masterclass with Thor and The Mighty Thor.
As to the color, well I’m embarrassed to admit this but before Matthew Wilson I never paid much attention to the colorists in the comics I read. As a child I tended to know artists, making a point to learn those who made my heroes look the way I most preferred. As an adult I focus more on the writer, the narrative being the biggest draw for me now. Somehow I’ve just always overlooked the colorists. I don’t know how I’ve never more fully appreciated their role. I’ve bought some of those giant, black and white collections of old comics and something is clearly missing reading comics that way. But knowing color is important is significantly different from seeing what color can do. And that’s what Matthew Wilson’s taught me. He made me appreciate color in a way no comic book ever has. Traditionally people are talking about visiting classic works in museums when they say things like this, but his colors are like a transcendental experience. I didn’t know colors could do this! He brings Russell Dauterman’s pictures to life with colors that seem to be a living thing, moving and swirling across the page. They pull me in and wash over me. The heavens of Asgard couldn’t look more divine. It’s as if he’s some sort of mystic, an alchemist capable of bringing gold from lead or leaving the ground to become the wind.
Every single facet of this comic run was perfect and it all came together perfectly as well. As with all transformative moments, here the total was so much more than the sum of its part. How could it not become my favorite of all time? I was not ready when Marvel Legacy announced the story arc to run through The Mighty Thor was to be “The Death of the Mighty Thor.” I knew Jane was battling cancer and I knew using Mjölnir was allowing the cancer to ravage her body. And of course I always knew the Odinson would eventually return. All good things must come to an end. But I wasn’t ready to let her go. Not yet. Like all her adventures before it, “The Death of the Mighty Thor” moved me deeply. I cried with joy and with sadness. It was so beautiful and so bold yet, ultimately, her time as Thor felt too short – much like the best moments of our lives.
As “The Death of the Mighty Thor” begins, Jane has been nothing but Thor for quite some time, battling Malekith’s attacks in Vanaheim, Jotunheim, Alfheim, Niffleheim, Nidavellir, and Heven. While she does her best to hold back the War of the Realms, it allows the cancer to progress unchecked. Each transformation with Mjölnir purges the chemo from her body, whether it’s because the hammer’s healing abilities sees the cancer as natural and the chemo as poison or because all magic comes with a price is unclear. Either way, being Thor and defending the realms is literally killing her. Jane finally relents, heeding the Odinson, Falcon, Doctor Strange, and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Roz Solomon’s pleas and lets go of Mjölnir to focus on her treatments. But then the Mangog rises to bring death to all the gods. Knowing her body is too weak to survive one more transformation back from being Thor, Jane takes Mjölnir anyway and flies to Asgardia to defeat the Mangog.
I am not ashamed to admit I wept. The issue where she picks up the hammer for the final time was one of the most emotionally affecting stories I’ve ever read. The entirety of her final battle was just as affecting. As she throws Mjölnir and the Mangog into the sun, destroying the hammer, freeing the Mother Storm, and willing releasing the only thing keeping her alive we see her transform back into Jane Foster, the 90 lb woman who’s been battling cancer all while battling gods, dark elves, and monsters. We see the most human and heroic of characters. In Jane I’ve always seen the loved ones I know who’ve battled cancer and won as well as those who’ve battled it and lost. In this she personifies strength, bravery, grace, and sacrifice. And as the Odinson cradles her body in his arms when she falls to the moon after saving them all, I wept again.
I knew this was coming but I wasn’t ready to let her go. Not yet.
It’s fitting Jane’s story as Thor begins and ends on the moon. Through all of human history the moon has been the most consistent and important symbol of the Divine Feminine, the female face of God. The Divine Feminine has always been essential to balance the masculine side of God, to show humanity the road of compassion and intimate communion with creation. Every healthy theology (even the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions which we often inaccurately associate solely with the language of God as “Father”) has a feminine face of God. We can’t intimately know the Divine if we limit ourselves to the masculine side of things nor can we fully experience our humanity. Just as the Divine Feminine is essential for balance and a full humanity, so too did Jane’s time as Thor offer the same grace, blessing, and lessons.
The moon has always been our brightest, boldest, and most ancient symbol of the Divine Feminine and while Jane Foster held Mjölnir Thor shown with the same light.
Over the course of “The Death of the Mighty Thor,” it is Jane who sees the interdependent relationship of all things and calls the gods to compassion and, ultimately, to creating peace. It is Jane who literally brings the Divine Feminine back in the form of her bringing Freyja, the All-Mother, back from a near-death coma. It is Jane who embodies faith – the belief in the possibility of the impossible – when she takes up Mjölnir one more time, knowing it will kill her, and goes to face the Mangog. It is Jane who believes she can win when the All-Father, All-Mother, and Odinson have failed. It is Jane who tells the Mangog it will lose because it is she who fights and dies for love while it does so only for hate. It is Jane then, who shows us what love can do. What can be more divine than that?
The fun and excitement, the elegance and inspiration, the thoughtfulness and the care – all of these elements played out across every issue of Jane’s time as Thor, from Thor #1 (2014) through The Mighty Thor #706. I’ve never seen a story like it before and I doubt I ever will again. While I’ve always been leery of Marvel’s endless crossovers, you can bet I’ll be signing up when “The War of the Realms” begins in April and Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson reunite. But regardless of what happens with that story, Jane Foster will always mean the world to me. Thor, the Goddess of Thunder, has inspired me as only the greatest works of art can – she has shown me what love can do and inspired me to try and do the same.
If you’d like to read Jane’s adventures as Thor for yourself, I’d suggest you start with either the trade paperback Thor Vol. 1: The Goddess of Thunder where she first picks up Mjölnir or The Mighty Thor Vol. 1: Thunder in Her Veins which picks her story up after the reveal that Jane Foster is Thor.