For many devotees, religion pushes a person against a wall of doubt. As someone who grew up within the Christian faith, I’ve heard time and again that these times of doubt act as little trials. They test your mettle, your strength to carry on. The truth, though, is that doubting sucks. We mere mortals look to the sky and pray, then wonder if anyone heard us. Some can make it past this seemingly faceless deity. Others turn their backs entirely on any faith. Before you click away from this page, trust me when I say that this is not a testimony or a conversion dialogue. Rather, I want to point out something that seems rather unfair. We don’t physically see a god working in our everyday lives. However, in the Marvel Universe, you need only look up to see Thor floating through the skies.

It seems strange, doesn’t it? How isn’t everyone in the Marvel Universe devoutly religious? Thor, after all, isn’t the only deity passing through the streets. In fact, he isn’t the only deity that appears at the local shopping market. For a time, Thor Odinson shared an apartment with Hercules. Literally, two gods from two separate pantheons shared a Manhattan flat. However, no writer has fully explored the meaning behind this phenomenon. The people of the world carry on, day after day, and ignore the fact that the Norse God of Thunder just stopped the world from exploding. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Asgardians more closely resemble high-tech super aliens than honest to goodness deities. The comic books have never once doubted the celestial origins of everyone’s favorite blond bombshell.

So what gives? How does the world react to Thor, to Hercules, and to Zeus and Loki prancing down the sidewalks of New York? Luckily, there are some answers. One of the strongest explorations of Thor’s role in Marvel comics came out in 2011. In the first two volumes of THOR: GOD OF THUNDER by Jason Aaron, Thor must face a killer of gods named Gorr in three different places in his life. Through this conflict, Gorr explores the paradox of a god on Earth, the utter contradiction. However, THOR: GOD OF THUNDER is not the only example of this phenomenon. Through CIVIL WAR and the early days of Thor, we see that humanity doesn’t always connect with the God of Thunder. Despite all of this, Thor still stands worthy to lift Mjolnir through protecting these nonbelievers.

THOR: GOD OF THUNDER

Thor
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

The 2011 run on THOR: GOD OF THUNDER followed the titular Norse god at three different points in his life: his past, present, and far future. In the past, we see a young, brash Thor charging into battle alongside the Viking hordes. After a successful raid, Thor and his fellow Vikings sit down for a feast and debauchery until one of the guards pulls the head off an Indigenous American god from the ocean waters. While shaken, Thor presses on to the next battle. However, more gods fall dead on the battlefield as Thor’s forces go to war, falling from their flying steeds to the ground. When Thor goes to investigate, he encounters Gorr, the God Butcher, for the first time. Gorr, a being robed in shadow and the blood of gods, simply revels in his hunt for gods. He has found new prey. Thor barely defeats Gorr but does not kill him. Instead, Gorr slinks into the shadows of the battlefield to continue haunting Thor.

In the present day, Thor has aged and matured greatly. Now wielding Mjolnir, he visits a distant planetoid. A young alien has prayed for aid from Thor. The people of the planet are dying due to a planet-wide drought. When Thor asks why the girl called on him, she says that their gods have not come to the planet in years. When Thor investigates, he finds a beast, built from shadow, devouring the remains of these gods. After defeating the beast, Thor travels between the various celestial planes, finding that they have all become slaughterhouses. Gorr has returned.

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Meanwhile, in the distant future, the elder Thor has become the All-Father. Rather, he has become the last god of Asgard. The city lies in ruins around him, besieged by Gorr’s Black Berserkers daily. As far as he knows, he is the last remaining god in the universe.

Through a number of events involving mystical time-travel and temporal paradoxes, the three Thors meet to confront the God Butcher. But when they do, they find he has enslaved all of the remaining gods to build a god killing bomb. Gorr will not rest until the scum deities of the universe have all perished, and the God-Bomb will do just that.

The God Butcher

Thor
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Gorr didn’t start out as the God-Butcher. In fact, he started as a young child on a distant desert planet. His mother raised him to be a devout follower of the gods, but she was eaten by a monster at the foot of an altar. His wife begged him to pray. She died of thirst, withering before Gorr’s eyes beside the corpses of their children. Only one of their children survived, though he was soon for the grave. His son prayed that they would soon find the shade of a forest and the raging, mythological waterfall. Gorr buried him in the desert sand.

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Even then, Gorr did not hate the gods. He hated his tribe leaders, who used faith to drive people forward. Faith that was null and void because all evidence stated that the gods couldn’t exist. In Gorr’s mind, the gods were supposed to be good and care for the innocent, so ipso facto, the death of his entire family proved that the gods didn’t exist. Even exiled as a heathen, Gorr mourned his lost family but didn’t feel any hate.

It wasn’t until the day he went wandering, the day when two gods fell before him in battle, that hate was born in Gorr’s heart. Because the gods were real, and if they were real, if he could reach out and touch them, they could have saved his wife and children. They could have saved his mother. Instead, they were too busy bickering amongst themselves to notice or care. As if drawn to his hate, a black crystal fell to the sand behind Gorr. This crystal attached to him, growing into a great sword of shadows. At that moment, Gorr came to believe that all gods were as self-righteous and uncaring as these two angry fallen celestials. He vowed to travel the galaxy to slaughter these unworthy divinities, and he would stop only when the gods had released their hold on the world.

Gorr’s Vision

thor
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Gorr envisioned a world without gods. In his mind, they demanded nothing but fealty and rewarded their devout with nothing more than swift deaths. It seems like a crazy viewpoint, but can you blame him? My entire life, I have heard the phrase “God works in mysterious ways” as a reasonable response to the senseless death of innocent bystanders. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that the Christian God would allow a hurricane to ravage the homes of decent human beings. But we only have room to pray. There is no other response. We can’t go to the source and ask why so many people had to die. We can only have faith and carry on.

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Gorr, though, can go to the source. He can break down the doors of the heavenly host, place his sword against their pompous throats and ask why they have failed their people. Of course, the answer never matters. Gorr would just kill them anyway. However, this illustrates an interesting viewpoint: Gorr has a tangible, physical being to blame for the blind suffering in his life. More than that, he has the means of correcting what he sees as unforgivable mistakes in All-Black, the Necrosword.

To simplify this into metaphor, it is the difference between saying that the government has failed us versus saying that some specific congressman made a grievous mistake. In the prior example, the grand scheme of it all is just too big for the common person to act. In the latter, you’d better believe the common citizen will act, and they will act — in force. A tangible source of blame exists, and as such, people will latch onto it all the way to the pillory. But the question still remains: do the gods of the Marvel Universe deserve their slaughter?

The God Problem

Thor
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

When Gorr enacted the early stages of his plan, he solely focused on killing the gods of his own world. He wanted nothing more than to avenge his wife and children. But as he went from planet to planet, he saw the same problems: the gods were too obsessed with themselves, and their people suffered beneath them. But not all gods fell into this hateful image. Many deeply loved their people. Others may have given up but had still vowed to lend their aid. And yet Gorr killed them all.

Looking at the Thors of the past and future, you can see from where Gorr’s hatred stems. Past Thor is abrasive, foolish, and bloodthirsty. His only motivations are to eat, drink, battle his everlasting life away, and then find a woman to spend his nights with. He only chooses to help the Vikings because they provide him with these surface desires. Past Thor only seeks to help himself and prove he is the strongest of the many Earth gods.

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Future Thor, while less self-centered, expresses a wholly separate problem. He’s given up. He sits on his throne, venturing out only to do battle with Gorr’s Black Berserkers. Future Thor sees no reason to act anymore. Essentially, he fights for his own honor, for the good of Asgard. He hasn’t set foot on Earth for centuries. Thor gave up on the pitiful humans and allowed his world and many others to fall to ruin.

These are but two examples of the problems Gorr found in the gods, but his slave camps are filled with many more examples. Of Thor’s own granddaughters, who are the leaders of the slaves, two are blindly destructive and self-centered, much like their grandfather in his early days. The third, the newest god of thunder, is the only one who wishes to help. These three are the only new gods to be introduced to his distant future, and 2/3 care little for their people. The end result seems to point a finger at the failures of the gods, showing that they are no longer worthy to aid us. But is that their fault?

Faith in the Modern World

Thor
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

At the end of Gorr’s story, present day Thor defeats Gorr and saves the gods of the universe from total annihilation. It’s a superhero story, so you can’t necessarily expect much else. More on this defeat later. The end theme, then, seems to be the prevalence of belief. That no matter where we as a society go, we will always believe in something. Happy ending, fireworks, and confetti.

I have a different interpretation. While present Thor does win out, Gorr manages to shake his resolve. He manages to point out the many failures and wrongdoings of the gods. Thor does prove him wrong, showing that there is yet hope for the divine, but at the end of the day, Thor is beaten again and again by Gorr, a mere mortal. A mortal that has risen to the power of a god.

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Gorr has evolved into the very thing he so hated. Not only is he immortal, capable of surviving eons without aging a day, but with the power of All-Black, he has the power to create. After crushing the gods of Asgard beneath his heel, he managed to recreate his wife and son. More importantly, he created them with free will. They weren’t automatons or artificial intelligence. The sheer fact that the son betrays Gorr to aid the gods proves that they have the capacity to think for themselves.

This may seem like a non-issue. In fact, it may seem to only highlight that Gorr is a hypocrite. However, this mortal godhood stands as the crux of my interpretation of events. THOR: GOD OF THUNDER vol. 1 and vol. 2 seem to suggest that the modern human being has killed any need for the old ways.

The Human Solution

No matter your belief system, whether that be devout Muslim or wholehearted Atheist, we all believe something about the state of the world. Early human beings came to trust in gods to help explain the mysteries of the world. Before we learned that rain stems from the accumulation of evaporated moisture in the atmosphere, believing that a god of thunder called rainstorms into being probably made a lot of sense. Even today, there are mysteries about the state of our universe that baffle even the most brilliant scientists.

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In the grand scheme of things, Gorr took divinity for himself, but are we any different? At this very moment, some scientist somewhere is attempting to master cloning techniques. We can modify the very genetic structure of the foods we eat. Mankind has taken the role of god in our society. We are slowly evolving to the point where any sense of the old traditions is dying. In this metaphor, we are Gorr. And every day, with every new explanation for the way the world works, we have killed the need for any god.

Now, I liken the use of god in this case as old ways or traditions. Someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of any god can still adhere to certain traditions and values that have defined societies for generations. Some values do deserve to die out, while others have a place in our society. For example, the family has always been a necessary and potent value in our society, but as time has passed, that value has evolved to include a number of new and equally important variations. I’m not advocating for any traditions in particular. I simply believe that this is the primary theme of THOR: GOD OF THUNDER.

Don’t believe me? I could very well be wrong. Literary interpretation isn’t a perfect science, after all. But THOR: GOD OF THUNDER is not the only place where I have seen this theme expressed.

Thor: CIVIL WAR

THor
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

To top off a discussion of human adaptation or destruction of traditional ideals, there is no better example than Mark Millar’s CIVIL WAR. Though Thor doesn’t actually appear in this iconic event (on the basis of being canonically dead at the time), a look-alike does make an appearance. This look-alike’s name is Ragnarok, and he is a clone of the God of Thunder infused with cybernetic implants. To better combat Captain America’s Anti-Registration Movement, Tony Stark believes that owning a god could only help. And since there were no gods readily available, he built one.

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Tony Stark is the perfect figurehead for this discussion. A futurist, Tony’s sole focus lies in leaving the past behind and determining what the future may need. By building his own god, Tony makes a claim that gods have always been a man-made construction. The old ways don’t truly exist except as a precursor for the events to come. Ragnarok is simply another piece of technology to surround himself with. Worse, Ragnarok becomes a weapon to be used against the old ways. By bastardizing tradition, making it a slave to Tony’s new form of superheroing, Ragnarok is sent to restrain and do battle with heroes that represent the old guard.

I use the negative connotation of “bastardization” intentionally. The cloning of Thor as a weapon is shown in the text as a thematically wrong move. In fact, his creation acts as one of the reasons that Spider-Man switches to the Anti-Registration Movement. Stark intentionally took the traditions, took a known deity, and attempted to improve upon him. And when Ragnarok murders a former Avenger, Tony has no one to blame but his own blatant disregard for tradition and human ethics.

THOR #411-412

Thor
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Dipping a bit into the character’s history, THOR #411-412 shows a powerful response against the God of Thunder’s superheroics. As the Juggernaut rips Manhattan apart, Thor is the only hero available to stop him. However, due to the machinations of the Masters of Evil, Thor suffers from seizures that lessen his amazing powers. Several times, Juggernaut smashes him with cars and sends him flying through walls. As the path of destruction increases, the people of New York take notice. And they turn on Thor.

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In some ways, this mirrors the beginning conflict that incited CIVIL WAR. The general public, believing the arrival of superheroes incited the birth of supervillains, turn on the heroes. However, THOR #411-412 carries with it an air of defiance. Every time Thor disrupts a New Yorker’s day, they call him a superhero. Not the God of Thunder. He is a superhero, diminished to the level of his fellow Avengers. Meanwhile, Hercules, a Greek demi-god, ignores the conflict completely because he is too busy listening to rock music. The new era has arisen and overtaken the old ways, leaving them helpless and treating them like they are a simple fact of life.

The fact that Thor needs the help of the New Warriors only drives a nail into this coffin. As young heroes, the New Warriors act as a foil to the traditions defended by Thor. They are highly technological (for the eighties), and they come with a focus on their own goals and motivations. Though Thor does eventually rise to defeat the Juggernaut, it is only because the new generation had to sweep in and save the old. In a way, this is a meaningful ending, proving that if the young can embrace the values of old, they can keep those values alive.

THE MIGHTY THOR vs. THE UNWORTHY THOR

Thor
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

At the crux of this argument are the two most recent additions to the THOR line up. As time has passed, Thor has become unworthy to wield his hammer. As he journeys to raise it again, another has risen to the challenge. Jane Foster is the new Thor in MIGHTY THOR, while the Odinson is the Thor of UNWORTHY THOR. While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read these series in full, I did have the chance to witness their characters in action in this summer’s SECRET EMPIRE event, and something struck me. As I watched the two Thors butting heads, I realized that this same battle between old and new was playing out again. However, the UNWORTHY was on a wholly different side.

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Jane Foster, though not my favorite legacy character, handles the role of Thor with a deep respect. She has become an advocate for the very traditions and old ways that Thor used to command. By donning the Thunder God’s mantle, she proves that new generations can uphold and strengthen the most important values of our society. Meanwhile, the Odinson has fallen. By forgetting the old traditions, Thor Odinson lost the right to stand up for them. For this reason, he decides to join Captain America’s Hydra regime, believing Steve Rogers to be the answer. He can learn to respect the old ways again through this mentor, not realizing that Steve has forsaken those ways himself.

Thor
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

There is a light of hope, though, at the end of SECRET EMPIRE #9. As Captain America nearly defeats the Resistance’s forces, Thor turns on the villainous leader. For a moment, he remembers the importance of those old ways and turns back. When he screams “NO MORE” while battering the battlefield with lightning, it is a cry of defiance against an age where people have forgotten the most important parts of their life: freedom and charity.

By Defeating Gorr: Final Thoughts

An argument can be made that tradition doesn’t matter in our society. That the old ways — the old gods — should have died a long time ago. Gorr the God Butcher certainly believed so. And some of those gods and traditions only harm the people of our modern society. For example, slavery was, at one time, valued by many world societies, and if there was a God of Slavery and Chains, I’d be damned to argue that that god shouldn’t die.

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However, the old ways aren’t inherently evil. Some have a definite worth today. Kindness to your neighbor. Family, no matter what form it takes. Charity. And Innovation. All of these are values that matter in our society but may die out if the new generations do not take heed. As a comic book character, Thor may seem little more than a macho blond warrior. But he (and now she) represents so much more. Embodied in that warrior is a fight for the old ways, for the values that keep our society from tearing itself apart.

Part of that fight is admitting where you have failed. As I said, Thor eventually defeated Gorr, but it was the Thor of the Present. The Avenger. But he only deigns to defeat Gorr after a serious bout of self-doubt. Listening to Gorr’s words, he hears a blip of truth. He looks back at his history. He looks at his fellow gods. And he sees failure after failure, times when the gods have wronged their people. Thor considers letting the God-Bomb explode and destroy the many pantheons. However, he then remembers a small girl on a desert planetoid who had been taught that praying was useless because the gods were dead. And she prayed anyway. She defied the new values, and she saved her people. So Gorr was defeated, and Thor vowed to become a better god.

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