Unlike the big blond guy who preceded her, the woman who’s wielding Mjolnir isn’t immortal. In fact, she’s fighting one of the worst fatal diseases to ever plague mankind. And being a superhero is complicating her treatment a whole lot.
The latest version of Thor has been in action since last October, ever since a mysterious utterance from manipulative super-spy Nick Fury left the Son of Odin unworthy to lift his magic hammer. A mysterious new woman was able to heft Mjolnir, though, and has since been Earth’s protector against a range of cosmic and mythological threats.
The secret identity of the masked thunder goddess was the most tantalizing secret in superhero comics for a few months. When it was revealed that Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster was the new hammer-thrower, the drama got even deeper. Jane was shown to be fighting cancer in a previous Thor series and her struggle against her body’s malignant cells continued even after she picked up the hammer. Every moment she wasn’t being a superhero, she was dying from a disease that’s killed millions.
Despite that grim reality, the new Thor appears to have burned off the rookie uncertainties that were part of her first few adventures. In The Mighty Thor #1—out tomorrow from writer Jason Aaron and artists Russ Dauterman, Matthew Wilson and Joe Sabino—there’s a quiet confidence in her superheroics while saving a satellite that’s crashing to earth. She’s a little aloof in her interactions with other Avengers but having to cut short her life-saving chemo treatment to fly off and make sure innocents don’t die would make anyone snippy. To make matters worse, there’s a moment in this issue that reveals a deep dysfunctional friction between Jane’s supernatural transformation and her chemotherapy.
The most chilling beat in The Mighty Thor #1 mocks the implied power of the series’ title and subverts the wish-fulfillment power fantasy that lies at the heart of most superhero comics.
The political melodrama from the last Thor series has gotten more extreme, too: Odin’s turned into a despot under the influence of his long-lost evil brother and the nine Norse mythological realms are at the brink of a war that could destroy them all. As a mortal woman, Jane’s an ambassador for Midgard (Earth and the known universe) on a cross-realm council trying to stave off conflict. The elves, dwarves and trolls can’t stop arguing enough to make any progress but a similar collection of evildoers is shown to be in perfect agreement in their shared goal of fucking shit up.
Marvel’s ongoing line-wide relaunch has readers re-encounter characters after an eight-month gap. In that time, Jane’s condition—metatstatic cancer that started in her breast—seems to have gotten worse. Aaron’s description of chemotherapy side effects—chills, feverishness and mental fog—makes her pain palpable through the panels. And Dauterman’s art is as great as ever, adept at showing both Thor as a majestically powerful goddess and Jane as a frail, frustrated human being staring at the possible end of her life.
This isn’t the first Marvel superhero to deal with cancer. The publisher famously killed off the first character to be called Captain Marvel after he got cancer from being exposed to chemicals during a fight with a supervillain. The new status quo for Thor harkens back to old-school Thor plot points, too. The original Thor’s first secret identity was that of crippled physician Donald Blake. The linkage between frailty and super-strength is more charged here, though, because Blake’s limited mobility wasn’t the same as the ticking clock that Jane’s facing down. The newest Thor has to grapple extinction-level problems on both sides of her life and, right now, the percolating celestial war looks like the easiest thing she’ll have to deal with.
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