When it comes to big mysteries and secret identities in superhero comics, Jason Aaron has become a master at building suspense and sticking the landing on the reveal, a winning streak that has carried through revelations including the current female Thor’s identity and what Nick Fury said to Odinson to make him unworthy. However, with the introduction of a new hammer wielder in this week’s issue of The Mighty Thor, Aaron and his collaborators Russell Dauterman, Valerio Schiti, Matthew Wilson and Veronica Gandini have decided to forgo the teases, revealing the identity of The All-New Ultimate Thor, or War Thor, right away. It's a bold decision, one that puts one of Odinson’s oldest friends in a whole new light.
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If you’re unfamiliar, the hammer War Thor carries is Mjolnir from Earth-1610 AKA The Ultimate Universe. Its wielder there became known to readers as the Ultimate Thor, but following the events of the Thors miniseries as part of Secret Wars, the hammer slipped through the cracks of the death and rebirth of the Marvel Multiverse and found a home in the empty space where Asgard once lay, in the Prime Universe once known as Earth-616.
The new hammer was the main prize everyone was vying for in the pages of Jason Aaron and Olivier Coipel’s The Unworthy Thor, which brought Odinson to the brink of regaining a hammer despite the attempts of The Collector, Thanos and The Black Swan to stop him. However, Odinson decided that he was not worthy of wielding it; that the hammer was best left where it lay, waiting for someone more worthy to come along and hoist it up to be a new kind of hero for the Marvel Universe. The miniseries ended with the tease that someone did indeed eventually lift it, and pointed to this very issue to find out who it was.
The Mighty Thor #20, mostly revolves around bringing Odinson back into the main storyline following his five-issue soujorn in his own miniseries. The bulk of the story highlights the effects The War of Realms is havingon innocent people trying to get by; the Dwarves of Svartalfheim have taken in Light Elf refugees from Alfheim, but their resources are running low. It’s a stark and bleak break from the high fantasy action that is no doubt based somewhat on current events in the real world. As part of the rescue efforts, the lovable Volstagg, Asgard’s senator in the Congress of Worlds, is on hand to entertain the displaced children, regale them with stories of his exploits and most importantly in this situation, feed them.
However, things turn ugly when the War of Realms reaches Svartalfheim. While you should read the issue to see exactly what happens, the crux of it sees Volstagg and the children at the epicenter of the attack, with only Volstagg surviving. This leads to the Lion of Asgard losing his trademark smile and good nature, instead wandering in a haze until he comes across the Ultimate Mjolnir. There, he picks it up to become a different kind of Thor, one for a different time: The War Thor.
Volstagg seems like a surprising choice for War Thor, but it makes sense within the story that Aaron and Dauterman are telling. The War of Realms is an analogy for the wars of man, and while Asgardia has gone to war many times over the millennia, they’ve never really experienced the reality of what war is. Volstagg had been on the sidelines as a senator, but coming down to ground-level to be among the people most harshly affected has changed him in ways that thousands of years of godhood never prepared him for. Volstagg represents the very best of Asgard, but by succumbing to war, he sacrifices his good nature, his family, his friends and potentially his future .
This places Volstagg in a very different place heading forward in the pages of The Mighty Thor, because it’s going to challenge his relationships to all of those closest to him. How will Thor react to another person using her name? How with Odinson react to one of his closest friend suffering a great tragedy and reacting with violence? How with The Warriors Three react to one of their number going solo with a hammer of his own?
While it’s likely most people won’t be happy with this new Thor, one person likely to be over the moon is the current regent of Asgard, Cul, AKA The Serpent. Odin’s brother and the God of Fear, Cul has been trying to oust the new Thor for a long time now, and The War Thor represents everything he could possibly want from a God of Thunder. If The Serpent sinks its teeth into Volstagg during this incredibly traumatic time in his life, he could be manipulated to do all manner of things which he may later regret, all in the name of Asgard.
Everything in Aaron and Dauterman’s The Mighty Thor feels like it is building to one great big showdown between the realms, with the Giants of Jotunheim on the brink of civil war, Hel ruled by an absent queen in Angela and the much-teased Queen of Cinders allied with Malekith in an attempt to take over the Ten Realms. It really feels like the arrival of The War Thor is one giant leap towards that inevitable point of conflict and sooner rather than later, things are going to kick off in a major way for Marvel’s godliest franchise.