As J. Michael Straczynski's run on "Thor" reaches its penultimate issue, things heat up as Loki continues to collaborate with Doom on a plot to eliminate Thor once and for all, while Thor and Sif try to fit into the human world, and Bill, the human who went to Asgard for love, works to help Balder by discovering exactly what Loki is up to. Throw in a scene featuring the Warriors Three taking over a diner and this issue is a brisk, fun read that seems to be heading for a great conclusion in the "Thor: Defining Moments Giant-Size" issue.
Despite it being Thor's comic, he gets very little panel time in this issue, but you hardly notice because Straczynski builds the Loki/Doom and Bill plots so well. Since Loki and Bill have received so much focus during the entire run, the shift to them here doesn't feel out of place. The interactions between Loki and Doom, though, are labored as Straczynski tries to maintain each character's sense of superiority, which could be fun, but is annoying here as it sometimes delays the scene so each character can further establish that he is better than the other without offending the other too much. Normally, that sort of scene would comedy gold, but neither Loki nor Doom banter well, so their discussions drag.
As well, Bill's conversation with Kelda are overwrought with melodrama, particularly Kelda's speech about human curiosity and how Asgardians don't possess it since they believe they've seen everything over their long lives. Again, an interesting idea that's killed under mountains of purple prose and overwritten dialogue. Straczynski's biggest weakness is that he tries too hard in this issue when half the words would be much more effective.
The plot is very interesting as it moves to the big payoff in the giant-size special. The endgame of Straczynski's run has been a long-time coming and loyal readers will appreciate seeing how past actions are built on here as Loki's plans look like they may just happen as he wants. Straczynski's Loki has been one of the best features of his tenure and it doesn't look like he'll disappoint in the finale.
Anyone who picked up "Dark Reign - The List: The Avengers" no doubt saw Marko Djurdjevic's art in a new light as he delivered cleaner, clearer work than his past interiors on "Thor," apparently in only nine days. Thankfully, he continues his new, cleaner, stronger work in "Thor" #603, his strongest issue as interior artist on the series yet. While past issues were mired in over-detailed art reminiscent of '90s Image work, those scratchy lines are kept to a minimum with blockier, more direct line work here.
Straczynski and Djurdjevic deliver a solid, good issue of "Thor" as it approaches the end of Straczynski's tenure on the book. Loki's intricate plot move towards killing Thor once and for all, and the issue ends with a cliffhanger that gives hope that all is not lost yet.