Marvel Comics writer Jason Aaron has been telling a Thor story so grand and epic that it’s taken over seven years to complete. While it doesn’t reach its grand finale until the end of 2019, it’s already been deemed one of the best comic book runs of all time, superhero or otherwise. Its narrative strength comes from a complex structure that allows the story to unfold across multiple timelines and its overall meditation on what it means to be worthy. As we all know, Thor is a mighty god and bold hero who smashes armies and saves worlds, all because he’s worthy to wield a weapon of astonishing power. But what if something happens that makes him unworthy to lift his trusty hammer, Mjolnir? What is left of the character when his worthiness fails? This is the question at the core of Aaron’s story that he explores to deliver the most brutal, honest and epic Thor tale of all time.
The God Butcher
From the very beginning, the focus of the series has been on Thor’s godhood. In the first leg of this comic run titled Thor: God of Thunder, Aaron and artist Esad Ribic introduced Gorr The God Butcher, a villain who, you may have guessed, was bent on the slaughter of all gods. Violent, dark, and existential, this was unlike any Thor comic Marvel had produced. It was deeply medieval while still embracing Kirby-level cosmic madness—and it involved a time-bending plot that saw Thor team up with his younger and older self. Crazy as that may sound, the most shocking thing about it was that Gorr, the butcher of gods, gave compelling justification about why he was right in his quest to rid the universe of what he saw as its cruel and useless ancient gods.
In their first battle, Gorr struck a young Thor from the sky and while the hero plummeted to the ground, Gorr screamed, “That sense of helplessness as you fall? That is how it feels to be mortal.” In that moment, Thor was like us, which was exactly Gorr’s point. In giving the God Butcher such a sympathetic quality, Aaron cast doubt on the very nature of gods and, by association, Thor. As a series, Thor: God of Thunder was less a superhero adventure and more the beginning of a classic fantasy epic that would call the very role of the title hero into question.
Thor, The Unworthy
Thor eventually put a stop to Gorr and some sense of normalcy returned to the title until the launch of the Marvel crossover event Original Sin. Aaron penned this event and it had a profound effect on Thor–a moment that became pivotal to every issue of his series that would follow.
Original Sin followed a band of heroes who attempted to hold Nick Fury accountable for some of his past transgressions. But Nick Fury, always prepared, had a way to take out the do-gooders. In the case of Thor, all it took was a whisper of the simple phrase, “Gorr was right.” After hearing this, Thor was unable to wield Mjolnir. He was rendered unworthy, because in his heart he believed what Fury said was true. In effect, Thor knew “how it feels to be mortal” and in his mind mortals are unworthy of Mjolnir and the powers of Thor.
It’s important to note here that Thor’s unworthiness was of his own design. It was because he believed to question his nature and to be vulnerable was to be unworthy. He was feeling that sense of helplessness as he fell, but he didn’t realize that vulnerability was actually his greatest strength… but more on that later.
No longer able to raise Mjolnir high to wallop Frost Giants and such, Thor started going by his surname of Odinson and basically spent a lot of time wallowing. However, Mjolnir did not lay dormant and was soon taken up by none other than Jane Foster, who then became the new Thor and proceeded to kick all kinds of ass across the Marvel Universe. Aaron and artist Russell Dauterman spearheaded Thor: The Goddess of Thunder and the series was less dour Asgardian drama and more superhero action adventure. The focus was still squarely on the theme of worthiness, although this time Aaron would flip the narrative.
Unlike Thor Odinson, who believes himself unworthy and therefore is, Jane Foster knows she is worthy and therefore is. She accepts her mortal failings and this allows her to muster the inner strength required to wield Mjolnir. Her hurdle is that no one else believes she is worthy, which is the exact opposite of the challenge facing Odinson.
The list of Jane Foster’s detractors grew to include not only Odinson but Loki and Odin himself. Character after character and god after god told Jane she was not worthy of the hammer or the title, but nevertheless she persisted. Those looking for proof of Jane’s worthiness need only look to the battle she waged in her human form as she went through chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. That’s where her true heroism was made apparent. Whenever she transforms into Thor, the magic hammer cleanses her system of impurities, which is normally a beneficial effect, but in Jane’s case it was removing the chemicals and radiation that were supposed to be curing her. Every time she became Thor, it effectively pushed her closer to death, and she still did it. She still fought. It’s hard to imagine anybody being more worthy than that.
Jane’s time as The Mighty Thor is the inspiration for the upcoming Phase 4 movie Thor: Love and Thunder. Here’s a deep dive video on everything you need to know:
One of the most significant aspects of Jane as Thor concerns her bond with Mjolnir. To Odinson, Mjolnir was an extension of his manhood, a way to prove that he was the toughest and most worthy of them all. He usually used it to hit stuff really hard. With Jane, Mjolnir became much more and the weapon’s unexpected history was revealed. The hammer was a partner to Jane’s Thor, demonstrated by how she could control it in battle in ways Odinson never could. Once used as a blunt instrument, in Jane’s care the hammer showed a graceful energy in how it soared around eliminating foes and in new abilities it displayed to help protect her in other ways.
Eventually, Jane Foster relinquished the title of Thor and Mjolnir was destroyed, or rather, it was sacrificed. In a way, destroying the hammer proved Jane’s worthiness, because it also doomed her. Without the magic of Mjolnir, the cancer would consume her. This is central to Aaron’s overall story, because it again showed that worthiness was not based on the ability to pick up a weapon, but rather the courage to sacrifice everything. Jane had learned that lesson. And thus ended the second chapter in this epic saga.
Odinson again became Thor, although he was hammerless and still suffering from the inner turmoil of being unworthy. This eventually led into the biggest display of worthiness and heroism in all of Aaron’s run—and all it took was a massive war that engulfed the entire Marvel Universe.
War of the Realms
Aaron and Russell Dauterman culminated years of storytelling in the monumental War of the Realms event series. This event featured longtime Thor villain Malekith invading Midgard in a quest to conquer the 10 realms (a new realm was revealed a few years ago, because comics). Malekith was an ever-present force of antagonism throughout Aaron’s run; the Dark Elf constantly contested both Odinson and Jane Foster’s worthiness. He even cut off Odinson’s arm and wore it like a scarf. But more than anything, his relentless mocking got to Odinson and made him question his worthiness even more.
War of the Realms featured just about every Marvel hero rallying together, armed with magical Asgardian weapons, battling trolls and giants. But the outcome of the entire conflict rested on Thor’s shoulders. In the final issue, as all seemed lost and our heroes were beaten down by the forces of darkness, Thor’s worthiness turned the tide, but not in the way anyone was expecting.
In the climactic finale, Mjolnir returned and Thor Odinson picked it up to become a powerful god once more. He was not, however, worthy. Instead, he recognized that pain, humility, and humanity was what made him strong. Holding Mjolnir, he proclaimed himself the God of the Unworthy and said, “It’s only the struggle that counts.” That line, in a profound way, sums up Aaaron’s entire run and his examination on worthiness.
What makes Thor a hero isn’t his godly status, but his willingness to fight and his willingness to suffer for those who cannot fight. It’s knowing that gods, ruling on high and treating mortals as playthings, was not strength; it was weakness. It’s knowing that Gorr was right about that much. That’s why Jane Foster could wield the hammer; she too was a fighter who was willing to sacrifice.
Jason Aaron is not done with Thor quite yet, so we’ll see what else he has in store, but for now it is safe to say that War of the Realms was his grand climax for years of storytelling. It’s where Thor realized that there was power in being unworthy, in embracing the struggle. That moment alone makes this run worthy of celebration.