The Mighty Thor #4

In Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman's "The Mighty Thor" #4, Queen Aelsa of the Light Elves makes a misstep in the war against Malekith while Freyja stands trial in Asgard.

The art team's collaboration is unusually fine or exceptionally complementary no matter the setting. It's hard to think of a better match for Dauterman's confident, fine, wire-like linework than Matt Wilson's palette of bright semi-translucent hues. The whole comic feels gem-like and breathlessly electric, especially for effects like the threads of lightning sparking off Mjolnir, the magenta and purplish-black tendrils flowing around Malekith and the firefly-like glow of the Enchantress' magic. Dauterman's page and panel compositions play with shape and proportion for dramatic effect without ever losing the reader. There's a sense of depth and lots of detail in every panel without any impression of clutter. Wilson's colors reinforce the shading for Dauterman's sculpted figures and backgrounds.

Aaron's writing, however, varies between the two halves. The war in Alfheim is stuffed with stereotypes: a dishonorable, lecherous bad guy; a beautiful, too-innocent good woman; and too-predictable treachery. Shallow characterization makes an already hackneyed setup of "Light Elves" vs. "Dark Elves" even more vapid. Dauterman's artwork makes the action easy and enjoyable to follow, but the forced marriage trope still made me roll my eyes. Aaron's usage adds nothing new, and Aelsa's colossal stupidity in agreeing to Malekith's terms for a tête-à-tête loses her sympathy points with the reader. No doubt Thor will return to Alfheim, and one hopes that the war of the elves will contain more surprises when she does.

While Aelsa and Malekith's characterization and dialogue are dressed-up boilerplate, the characterization and dialogue for Loki and Thor remain very strong. It's impressive how Aaron is able corral Loki. If Thor isn't as charismatic as Loki, she's able to command respect and attention and even stir up the reader's sympathetic indignation as she vows to remember Laufey's insulting laughter. Loki's lines are the most charming and original parts of Aaron's script in "Mighty Thor" #4, but the Trickster God doesn't hog the spotlight. As usual, Loki provides important comic relief, but Aaron doesn't allow him to make Thor look dull or slow in comparison.

The second half of the comic focuses on the trial of Freyja in Asgard. Aaron engages with and redefines Marvel's version of Norse mythology. Freyja's challenge to Odin's authority is foremost a rebellion against tyranny and bad leadership, but it's also a feminist revolt. She's challenges him as the queen but also as a wife. Odin comes off as an arrogant jerk, but Aaron's take on him is truer to the original Norse version than to the nicer, wiser version in older Marvel comics. When he refuses to change with the times, Odin is presented as the voice of intolerance and self-serving conservatism. Aaron successfully depicts Freyja's revolt against patriarchy and autocracy as courageous and admirable. Aaron's revisionist approach and progressive politics are more explicit than ever in this issue. This rearrangement of Asgardian rule and social norms is subversive and honestly feels overdue, but it also lacks nuance, as does the continued efficacy of the use of force over diplomacy.

The last page is prelude to an epic throw down. Thor's last line of dialogue is surprisingly irreverent and even juvenile, but it also preserves the feeling of Thor as a character of stalwart, clear-cut morality and muscle. By giving this Thor a line that could have been uttered by her predecessor, Aaron makes the point that they're not so different in character, spirit and approach, belying Odin's insistence that Jane Foster is a "False Thor."

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