The delayed "Thor" run by Matt Fraction and Pasqual Ferry finally begins this week with colorist Matt Hollingsworth and legendary letterer John Workman backing them up, and it was well worth the wait. Fraction's previous experience with the characters on four "Thor" one-shots and "Secret Invasion: Thor" made him the perfect candidate to follow J. Michael Straczynski on the book with Kieron Gillen bridging the two runs over the course and immediate aftermath of "Siege." This issue is bold and confident in establishing a new direction for the book that builds upon what came before, while also being new-reader friendly. It's quite the balancing act, but Fraction and Ferry pull it off ably.
After Gillen filled in some of the details immediately following "Siege," this issue picks up with an examination of what happens after every immediate threat and problem has been dealt with, leaving the rebuilding/clean-up of Asgard and Broxton and a question of what happens now. The biggest question posed is 'If Asgard is on Earth/Midgard and both Asgard and Earth/Midgard are two of the Nine Realms, what happens to the space that Asgard previously occupied?' It's a logical place to start, and the answer is provided before the Asgardians can even truly understand the question as a new race, Ano-Athox, is introduced, one that mirrors the Asgardians in many ways. Even though the Asgardians aren't aware of these new antagonists yet, their introduction is strong and compelling.
The issue is framed with a discussion between a scientist and Asgard's 'most brilliant scientific mind' about Asgard being on Earth/Midgard and, while amusing, it becomes somewhat tedious by the end of the issue. Too much time is spent explaining a concept that anyone likely to read "Thor" will be able to understand much easier than the off-panel Asgardian 'scientist.' Unlike the rest of the issue, these scenes come off as too forced as the issue progresses.
The focus on Thor, though, is strong. He's in a strange situation as the former ruler of Asgard and not entirely sure what he should be doing, wanting to brood over what happened. Fraction presents the Thor/Blake relationship in a similar fashion to the relationships that Rick Jones shared with the two Captain Marvels he was linked to, and it gives a chance to play the two off of one another, which wasn't explored much previously. His place within Asgard is in flux and the new status quo of an uncertain status quo is a surprisingly great place to begin.
Pasqual Ferry's art lends the book its tone more than the writing, I find. His cartoony, playful art imbues a sense of wonder and largeness. The sequence introducing the Ano-Athox is done in two-page layouts, setting it apart from the rest of the issue and giving the sequence a bigger, more spacious feeling that sells how important this new race is. Their look also plays a large part in how they come across: warlike, barbaric, but also posing numerous visual similarities to the Asgardians. Matt Hollingsworth's use of blue and red in that sequence makes for a fantastic contrast, making the point of the scene more obvious and easier to grasp.
Thor and the other Asgardians have a slightly cosmic twinge to them with Thor's costume altered slightly to have a sci-fi feel, while the starry skin of Heimdall is taken to the next step. The idea of the Asgardians being alien to Earth and not belonging here is a part of the story presented early on and Ferry makes sure to make that apparent visually.
One of the coolest parts of this comic is John Workman on letters. Any fan of Walt Simonson's run on the title will immediately recognize Workman's lettering and get a nice, fuzzy feeling inside. The lettering gives the book a feeling of continuity with what came before, but is contrasted with the art, which takes the characters and look of the series in a different direction.
"Thor" #615 has been a longtime coming and it meets expectations. Fraction introduces the key ideas for the initial story arc, while Ferry and Hollingsworth establish a strong visual look for the run. There's a tension in the comic as it pushes into new directions, while honoring the past and what came before, creating an issue that will win over new readers and satisfy the longtime fans.