Immortal Thor #1 Review: Lightning Strikes Twice for Al Ewing's Undying Marvel Heroes

Marvel's new Thor series is a must-read debut.

Al Ewing begins his next "Immortal" run by teaming with Martín Cóccolo and Matthew Wilson on Immortal Thor. As the title suggests, Immortal Thor proves as much a conceptual and spiritual successor to Ewing's acclaimed Immortal Hulk series (with Joe Bennet and others) as it is a follow-up to the recent, partially aborted Thor series. Despite the return of Thor's classic Jack Kirby-designed costume, fans of Ewing's Marvel work know better than to expect a retrograde "back to basics" approach. Instead, this opening chapter offers something more foundational, elemental, and compelling.

The oversized Immortal Thor #1 spends much of its first half restoring a semblance of Thor's "typical" status quo. The classic costume is back, Midgard's rainbow bridge has been repaired, and Loki has abdicated Jotunheim's throne and returned to the shadows. The latter half sees Thor reveling in this newfound lightness after years of darker stories; once again the smiling god who is more than a hero that Ewing recalls first being exposed to while reading the original Secret Wars in his essay included at the back of this issue. But new challenges will inevitably present themselves, and one of greater magnitude than even the Mighty Thor is accustomed to reveals itself before the issue's end.

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(Photo: Marvel Comics)

Immortal Thor invites comparison to Immortal Hulk with its title, obviously, but also with the opening, bold text page, and Alex Ross's cover (he provided Immortal Hulk's covers previously), done in a more expressionistic than usual take on his painted style with deliberately unorthodox lighting. Thor appears as if he's escaping the page toward the reader, which becomes a recurring motif in this issue. The layouts repeatedly frame Thor as if looking out from the page. In one of these instances, Thor points outward, saying, "I am speaking… to thee." At another point, he seems to soar upward out of the page.

This framing hints at the themes at play. Most Thor fans are familiar with the world tree and its Ten (née Nine) connected realms. Ewing approaches Thor's origins from a different mythological point of view, that of other Norse tales that name three realms: mortal Midgard, divine Asgard, and Utgard, something that exists beyond even the gods. Utgard and the idea of Utgard gods have been used elsewhere in Norse mythology and the Marvel universe. Ewing recontextualizes those instances before positioning the three realms in the mode of Plato's Cave, the gods of Asgard being but lesser shadows cast by the inhabitants of Utgard. The mortals of Midgard are something even smaller still. In another echo of Immortal Hulk, which concluded by answering the question "What if God had a Hulk?," Immortal Thor opens by posing the question, "What if the gods had gods?"

Ewing and Cóccolo employ a technique used effectively in Immortal Hulk #1, back-to-back two-page splashes, to introduce the Utgard-Thor, Toranos, a wheel-clutching thunder god lifted from Celtic mythology. Toranos's instant transition from distant and looming to taking up all of the space the comic book has to offer, all while towering over Thor, conveys the Utgard-Thor's titanic stature. Further double-page spreads and splashes communicate the scale of the two Thors' meeting.

The setup isn't simply Ewing reaching for a greater-than-ever threat to pit Thor against. Toranos loudly declares the need for change, damning Thor's dual homes of Midgard and Asgard as illusions imitating the real while other gods in the realm of Utgard conspire to see Thor become what he must or perish.

But even before the Utgard gods make themselves known to the reader, Loki's appearance sets the stage for a story about self-determination and potential. While the narration muses on the duplicitousness of stories, Loki, now fully owning their beyond-the-binary identity, declares themselves "the Skald of all the Realms." They then restore the Bifrost as the narration wonders aloud what might be possible if we only went beyond what the boundaries and limitations forced upon us might allow. Would that "bridge to anywhere" look like the Rainbow Bridge that Cóccolo and Wilson render in bright splendor? Thor touches it and describes it as "fragile as joy" and later basks in the fact that, as Asgard's All-Father, only he, not his father, can determine whether or not he is worthy of the power of Thor—his power—contained within the recently reforged Mjolnir. If all that subtext goes over the reader's head, Thor takes the bridge to Midgard, flying joyously over the New York City skyline. After saving a mutant, Marvel's all-purpose stand-in for those unfairly discriminated against, from Orchis, Marvel's fascist faction, Thor celebrates by partying with young people beneath a transgender pride flag, clearly marking Immortal Thor as a story about identity and everyone's thunder-god-given right to self-determination.

Despite its page count, Immortal Thor #1 never feels like it's overstaying its welcome, which is a credit to the issue's dynamic and easy-to-read layouts. The narration isn't overbearing and never gets in the way of Cóccolo's artwork, which visually tells the story of Thor coming out of a dark period and rediscovering the joy in his life. Wilson's colors are stellar and will remind longtime Thor readers of the excellent Jane Foster-fronted The Mighty Thor series from not long ago. Joe Sabino largely sticks to Thor's established lettering tropes—bluish tint for the Frost Giants, ornate font for the Asgardians—but does it well. When Thor emphasizes a point, his words don't simply appear larger but with an even more pronounced flourish, and the use of white letters on a black background for the Utgard succinctly highlights their shadow existence.

Marvel fans have come to expect great things of Al Ewing, and perhaps he'll under-deliver one day. Today is not that day. Increasingly, the "Immortal" adjective seems not to describe the title character but the staying power of the work at hand. Ewing called his shot by allowing this series to be titled Immortal Thor, and the first issue gives readers every reason to believe he's got the story to support that bold statement of intent. Immortal Thor seems all but destined to become Marvel's next big thing.

Published by Marvel Comics

On August 23, 2023

Written by Al Ewing

Art by Martin Cóccolo

Colors by Matthew Wilson

Letters by Joe Sabino

Cover by Alex Ross