Review – Thor: The Saga of Gorr the God Butcher

The Thorwdown You've Been Waiting For

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Overview

Synopsis When Thor discovers a host of slaughtered gods across the universe, he follows the trail to the genocidal culprit: Gorr the God Butcher. But the Norse God of Thunder of today cannot stand against Gorr alone--he will need to rely on the Thors of yesterday and tomorrow to keep the God Butcher from slaughtering all pantheons.

Author Jason Aaron

Artist Esad Ribic, Jackson Guice
Publisher Marvel Comics
Genre Superhero fiction, Fantasy

Length 272 pages

Release Date January-December 2013

The year is 893 A.D. A young Thor has recently slain a Frost Giant terrorizing an Irish village. The Thunder God and his followers revel in their victory, clinking mugs heartily and rejoicing in a fresh kill… until a piercing cry unexpectedly freezes their festivities. Thor and his Vikings investigate, discovering the head of a god, eyes wide in fear at what it beheld moments before death.

Millennia later, a somewhat more experienced, mature Thor hears the prayers of a child on a distant planet. Her cries have long gone unanswered. It seems as if her planet’s gods have abandoned her people. Again, Thor plays detective and, like before, discovers the planet’s gods… slaughtered like so much beef. “Butchered,” you may say. Their bodies form the first stones paving a path of celestial carnage.

Thousands of years after this, a much older Thor sits on the throne of Asgard alone. Like his father Odin, he’s missing an eye and sports a full beard, but his kingdom is in shambles. He stews in this charnel house, expecting an end. There is no need to investigate any longer. He knows his enemy.

Since ages unknown, Gorr the God Butcher has stalked the starways, ending pantheon after pantheon. And if he completes a devastating weapon, here at the end of time, all the gods who ever were, currently are, or will ever be shall fall victim to Gorr’s brutal mission statement:

“All gods must die.”

Gorr the God Butcher
Gorr: Blood and Thunder

Content Guide

Violence: We either witness the brutal deaths of gods or see them after death. Gods, men, and monsters alike are hacked, slashed, stabbed, burned, or beaten. A few characters are crucified. Limbs and heads are removed often. A few folks are whipped or tortured.

Sexual Content: Thor is seen in bed with a few women and references bedding others. A woman entices her husband to bed. Someone jokes about a brothel.

Drug/Alcohol Use: Thor is seen at multiple parties, usually with a mug in hand. Even when he isn’t drinking, he makes liberal references to alcohol.

Spiritual Content: The tale is, naturally, filled to the brim with elements from Norse mythology: Asgard, Frost Giants, Odin, Valhalla, the Nine Worlds, Mjolnir, Ragnarok, etc. Someone mentions an “afterworld.” Various gods reside in “Omnipotence City.” The entire story is predicated on the existence of multiple pantheons of gods, strewn across the multiverse, and their relationship to their believers. These gods are often depicted as selfish, uncaring, and/or negligent. Characters often pray and, depending on their faith, either trust these prayers will be answered actively or not at all.

Language/Crude Humor: Several uses each of d***, a**, b****** and one unfinished “son of a…” Characters use the Norse version of “Hel” as a profanity. Someone makes a crude joke.

Other Negative Content: A character lies about their identity.

Positive Content: Thor and his companions are genuinely heroic as they stave off Gorr and his forces; characters grow as the narrative unfolds. Thor offers at least one god a touching burial.

Falligar
Falligar the Fallen

Review

“What does it say about the gods of this universe,” present-day Thor wonders after stumbling on yet another dead deity, “that no one has ever even noticed or cared?” The God of Thunder does his best Batman impression by examining a centuries-old mystery, following a bloody trail of death, decay, and deicide. Gods are dying, ruthlessly and intentionally tormented and toyed with, by an unknown mass murderer. Those already dead have gone undiscovered, whole systems of deities discarded like a toddler’s trampled toys.

From a narrative perspective, much of what makes Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s 11-issue story arc so engaging is its slow burn approach. We’re handed a mystery that, chapter by chapter, is unfolded and deepened. Time bounces between three different versions of the Thunder God – “Young Thor” in the past, “Avenger Thor” in the present, and “King Thor” in the future – unpacking Gorr’s systematic erasure of all godly collectives. Thor’s own unintentional culpability in Gorr’s plot becomes clearer, giving the Norse god a deeper sense of purpose as he strives against the God Butcher. He’s not just ending the present assault on the pantheons of the universe; he’s righting a wrong he inadvertently caused centuries before.

Thor inquires "Where is the butcher of gods?"
“I’ll do you one better: WHY is the Butcher of Gods?”
Thor-oughly Engaging Characters

Titular villain Gorr becomes the highlight of this arc. Taika Waititi did well to select Aaron’s inventive antagonist for Thor: Love and Thunder. Though the movie doesn’t wholly translate Gorr’s philosophical fanaticism, it grasps at the villain’s core: a man, seemingly spurned by his gods, coming into possession of a weapon enabling him to slaughter not just the deities who failed him but all gods everywhere. One Love and Thunder review I read considered Gorr an “atheist,” calling him the “ultimate millennial icon” for that trait and others. Another writer discussing this comic arc questioned if Gorr was a reflection of Aaron’s own atheistic beliefs.

Yet both writers slightly backtracked their statements immediately after making them. The first writer conceded Gorr isn’t really an atheist, per se, as he knows gods exist and spends literal centuries hunting them down. The second wondered why Aaron would voice atheism through his antagonist – doesn’t it harm your narrative to share your viewpoint with your mass-murdering madman? “No,” I say. Not when your hero and villain simultaneously fill the roles of protagonist and antagonist.

Gorr and the gods
The deadly Gorr-igins of the God Butcher

What makes Aaron’s narrative so complex, from a Christian perspective, is the complicated way in which both Gorr and Thor are presented. I criticized Neil Gaiman’s Eternals series for portraying the Celestials – one of Marvel’s many cosmic stand-ins for God – as aloof and one-dimensional. Gaiman’s narrative is heavy-handed and shallow in its criticism of God and organized religion, primarily because the writer says “God” is aloof and one-dimensional and has his Celestials act as such. He crafts a narrative self-fulfilling prophecy.

Aaron’s saga is more compelling. We are shown a man, Gorr, who finds faults in his gods, lambasts their negligence, spits in the idea of belief, and then spends centuries torturing and terminating them. Simultaneously, we are shown Thor, a worshiped deity who has faults of his own.  It seems like no coincidence that three aspects of Thor join forces – Thor the Son, Thor the Father, Thor the Avenger – and have flaws and failings highlighted. Young Thor gives into wanton debauchery too easily; present-day Avenger Thor cannot escape the shadow of his father; King Thor is heavy-burdened with the crown of a ruler without a people.

The three Thors
The Thors know when it’s hammer time
Less Love, More Thunder?

And yet, as the story progresses, we are offered the promise of change as the three Thors meet at the end of time to battle their shadowed foe. Can Young Thor learn the heroism necessary to finally be worthy of Mjolnir? Can Avenger Thor recall the mistakes of his youth and avoid the errors of his later years? Can King Thor learn to reclaim the honorable kingdom and title he held long ago? These gods, much like the gods of ancient myth, are fallible yet flexible. They are not perfect nor omnipotent. They face consequences for their actions. And they learn. Or they should.

Aaron does not condone Gorr’s desired eradication of the heavenly hosts. As Aaron appears to view it, the problem isn’t that lower-case “g” gods exist or that even an upper-case “G” God exists, at least as they pertain to the Marvel Universe. The issue is that these gods routinely fail in their divine duties – answering prayers, providing sustenance, wrenching the faithful from the grasp of hardship, hunger, disease, death. Gorr sees these failures as reason enough for wholesale slaughter. “Gods have never created or cared for anything,” the God Butcher sneers. “Except themselves.”

Thor vs. Gorr
The God of Thunder remains a Thor-n in Gorr’s side

I do believe, or assume, this is a fictional application of Aaron’s worldview. If there were a God, Aaron seems to say, He’d be as selfish as the Asgardian, Greek, Egyptian, and cosmic deities which roam the Marvel Universe. He’d ignore us and let us wallow in misery. And maybe it’s high time somebody like Gorr told Him how unfair He is and got Him to change. Gorr’s ends are antagonistic, but his purpose, to Aaron, has merit. A god that changes, learns from his erroneous ways, and grows to better love his creations has merit.

Faith, in this story, is an unspoken contract. The believers believe, the worshippers worship, and the gods, ideally, rain blessings and swap out distress for ease. If life diverts into suffering, that must be a symptom of disbelief, wrongdoing, or heresy. Yet the knife twists deeper: it turns out, the gods of the Marvel Universe don’t need to hold up their end of the bargain, no matter how deeply one believes or worships. I mean, what are you gonna do? Kill ‘em?

Thor vs. Gorr
Oh, yeah, I guess, uh…I guess you’ll try
Hammering the Point Home

There’s comfort, I think, in this perspective. It holds the gods of the Marvel Universe – or the God of ours – responsible for hardship. It permits self-righteous indignation when circumstances go poorly, rampant imagination of a better existence if only we were writing the story, a deep longing for a paradisaical existence here and now. And I understand that. I get where that comes from. I could easily push aside Aaron’s denouncement of gods, chalk it up as something false. But that denies a core hurt or a deeper longing Aaron’s expressing. It’s a question asked by the narrative: why? Or, perhaps, the question is, “Why not?” Why couldn’t God always verbally answer how we want Him to when we want Him to? Why couldn’t we call Him out when we’re not released from suffering? I don’t agree with Aaron’s solution, but I cannot fault him for asking the questions.

So I ask readers, myself included, to sit in the pain and longing of the questions. Don’t push them away. Don’t dismiss them. The hurt is genuine, even if you don’t agree with the response. Though I’d argue Aaron’s gods are more complex than Gaiman’s Celestials, I still don’t believe they’re an accurate reflection of upper-case “G” God. I don’t think God should change for us; I think Scripture makes it clear we’re intended to change for Him. Perhaps it boils down to a conflict between perspectives, juggling the truth of the situation versus how we’d rather define the rightness of the situation. I don’t enjoy the waiting, the struggling, the hurting, the questioning, the uncertainty. But I also wonder if a God who always immediately removed every struggle, healed every hurt, answered every question, and eliminated every uncertainty is what we really want. What are we to learn from being broken if we’re mended without knowing how or why?

Thor brings rain
Thor brings the thunder…and the rain…and the lightning…

All told, there’s much even outside the realm of spirituality to enjoy in Gorr’s saga. There’s deep characterization here. Esad Ribic’s art provides the narrative an appropriately cosmic scope (and I haven’t even mentioned the space sharks yet!), with Jackson “Butch” Guice offering a closer inspection of Gorr’s origin in a flashback issue partway through the saga. A tiny coincidence concerning one character’s role splashes on some convoluted levels of comic-esque convenience, but overall, the story is strong. But your beliefs – particularly regarding who you believe God is and, perhaps just as important, who you would like God to be – will impact your perspective on the premise and how you choose to gather the pieces, scattered like leaves before a mighty storm.

Positives

+ Excellent characterization
+ Beautifully detailed art
+ Thought-provoking premise
+ Space sharks

Negatives

- A few instances of plot convenience

The Bottom Line

Fueled by time travel hijinks and the machinations of an eerie, memorable villain, Aaron and Ribic's narrative raises engaging philosophical questions that deserve pondering

 

Story/Plot 9.0

Writing 8.5

Editing 8.0

Art 9.0

9.0

Nathan Kiehn

Nathan has loved comic books and graphic novels for as long as he can remember, ever since his father handed him a digest sized volume of "Marvel Age: Spider-Man." He's dedicated a lot of time and effort to exploring the far reaches of the Spider-Verse, but he's also been known to dive into other corners of the Marvel Universe and maybe even stuck his nose in a Batman story arc or two (just don't tell Spidey).

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