In the wake of “Fear Itself,” Asgard has become Asgardia, Tanarus has replaced Thor as God of Thunder both in actuality and the memory of everyone save Loki, and Thor finds himself about to be eaten by the god-eater Demogorge. Each of these stories could be dragged out and advanced in small increments; instead, Matt Fraction speeds ahead, establishing the true identity of Tanarus right away, transforming the political landscape of Asgardia, and returning Thor to his prime. It’s a story where what’s coming is a little obvious and that feeds into the pacing. There’s pleasure in watching a fake Thunder god stomp around alienating the Asgardians while Thor slowly regains his memory and his power. The way that Fraction is building this story, only three parts in, is one where the inevitable confrontation is something that readers will relish.
Almost immediately, Tanarus was set up as a character to dislike, embodying the most brutish and unlikable elements of Thor’s character: arrogant, brash, base. The revelation that he’s actually Ulik in disguise was surprising and made sense, firmly making the character a villain. It wasn’t a simple twist of fate where the dead Thor was replaced by the living Tanarus; it’s a plot against Asgardia. In this issue, Fraction sets Tanarus up as an even greater threat when the edges of his deception continue to wear, allowing Heimdall to perceive that something is amiss. This coincides with Thor’s growing awareness of his identity and powers, showing that, perhaps, there is a deeper relationship between the two than previously thought. If not, it’s a nice bit of symmetry in the story.
What’s beginning to impress most about Fraction’s writing is his handle on the characters. More and more, scenes that are ostensibly driven by plot necessities seem like they are character-driven. It’s necessary that Thor regains his identity, but the way it’s presented is as a force of will on his part, combined with the belief of Loki. Tanarus’s deception doesn’t simply slip because the story demands it, but rather because his behavior sets him apart. He doesn’t fit into the world around him naturally and that becomes easier to see the longer he’s there.
With Pasqual Ferry absent, Marvel did a good job of finding an artist whose art is in the same style. Pepe Larraz has the same soft, angular look to his art that Ferry does, albeit a little rougher in places. He favors a thicker line than Ferry that gives the art a more cartoony look. The way he stages scenes is dynamic, particularly a scene where the attempts of Loki and the Silver Surfer to lift Thor’s hammer causes him to remember its existence and mentally call for it. The Surfer chasing the hammer while Thor waits for it is presented in a quick-paced fashion that builds to the moment he grabs it well.
On the surface, it seems like Fraction is rushing through “The Mighty Tanarus” and, while there are areas he could explore further, the quicker pace makes for a more entertaining read. So many stories take a long time to play out and, since this one has a somewhat predictable end point, getting to the point sooner rather than later seems wise. Fraction has really found his groove on this title.