Thor Annual #1

Though it may seem premature to release an Annual for a series that's only five issues deep, "Thor Annual" #1 is a stellar, utterly enjoyable effort. Collecting three stories from various points in "Thor" continuity -- King Thor, present Thor and young Thor -- this Annual takes full advantage of Asgardian mythology and the character's transitions in the past year. It's by no means required reading, particularly with this price tag, but readers who love the Asgardian corner of the Marvel Universe will be delighted. None of the stories is a clunker, despite some overly neat or amateur elements, and all of them are splendidly celebratory.

Jason Aaron, Timothy Truman and Frank Martin start the issue on a more serious note with their King Thor story. In the far future, King Thor's beloved Midgard has been reduced to a lifeless "garden" through which he wanders in grief. Seeing his sadness, the king's granddaughters -- Frigg, Atli and Ellisiv -- set out to give him a powerful birthday present. Artist Timothy Truman matches the tone of Aaron's script with detailed armor and dramatic settings that give this story a sense of decayed grandeur. He is less adept with facial expressions, however, and the girls often look wooden or strange.

Strangest of all, though, is the girls' wardrobe. It's difficult to imagine a climate where King Thor is as comfortable in his full plate armor as the women are in bikinis and crop tops, and I'd have appreciated seeing them in real clothes. Still, it's utterly enjoyable to watch them huddled "Macbeth"-style around a broiling cauldron, cooking up flying sharks and butterfly-winged zebras. Their trouble-making and creativity are a joy.

In the second story, Noelle Stevenson and Marguerite Sauvage show present-day (Lady) Thor turning the Warrior Three's challenge back on them. They create a gorgeous feminist fairy tale, all pastels and pranks, and Sauvage's art alone is worth the price admission. Her inking shifts to match the colors, so that the whole affair has a subtle storybook magic about it, and her elegant, imaginative character designs bring everything from hydras to elf queens to life. She's a phenomenal choice of artist, and I hope we get to see her version of the Nine Realms again.

Stevenson's script is characteristically comic and clever, turning a delightful romp through the Nine Realms into a sly feminist statement. The Warriors Three think this day is all about them and their agenda, but Thor is actually doing it all for herself. It's an understated, necessary look at how the hero of a story gets defined and how to take control of a narrative.

The last story in the issue, CM Punk and Rob Guillory's take on young Thor, is one big debauched Saturday morning cartoon. Boorish and vain, young Thor sets out to prove his worthiness in a series of epic drinking contests, and Loki can't resist adding mischief to the mix. CM Punk's script is rough around the edges and a little obvious, but it moves well enough. When combined with Guillory's artwork, it's actually a lot of fun. Guillory's characters are all jutting chins and exaggerated faces, drooling and barfing and wailing long "whyyyyy"s. The whole story is very over-the-top but, when parodying the already hyperbolic Thor, one probably should be.

I find Annuals to be very hit-or-miss, and "Thor Annual" is a definite hit. It's not related to continuity, so unless you're already a fan of this corner of the MU, it isn't a must-read, but it's a blast.

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