2014 was a year to remember for fans of Marvel Comics. That was the year in which Thor Odinson became unworthy, with his ancient hammer Mjolnir left abandoned on the surface of the Moon. In a twist that's sure to go down in comic book history, we soon found Mjolnir wielded by a very different Thor; a female Thor, who was eventually revealed to be Jane Foster!
The years haven't been kind to Jane Foster. She's been diagnosed with breast cancer, and her chemotherapy isn't going well. There's a reason; every time she transforms into Thor, she undoes her treatment, as the magic of Mjolnir cleanses her of the impact of radiation. Jane Foster's illness has been a slow-burn plot since 2014, running in the background of Jason Aaron's run of The Mighty Thor. However, it's about to come to a head, as Marvel released a disturbing teaser image, a GIF that plays homage to a classic cover.
This shocking image is a homage to the iconic cover of The Death of Captain Marvel, a classic graphic novel by Jim Starlin in which the titular hero dies of cancer. The story transformed the comic book industry, bringing superheroes face-to-face with the reality of death in a powerful and dramatic way. It was one of the first comics to actually deconstruct the superhero genre, climaxing with an emotional vision in which Captain Marvel and his old nemesis Thanos, an agent of death, walk into the light. There's a sense in which this graphic novel redefined comic books, with Alan Moore's Watchmen following in its footsteps.
There's a key difference, though. Captain Marvel had never been the most popular of superheroes, and it was his death that made him noteworthy. In contrast, Jane Foster's Thor has become a cultural icon, a symbol of Marvel's Legacy Heroes. To place her in the position of Captain Marvel, even if only on a cover, is a startling move for the House of Ideas. It promises a conclusion for Jane Foster's story, and in so doing it raises, the emotional stakes beyond anything we've seen in recent comics. This is a book that simply must deliver.
Putting The Death Of The Mighty Thor In Context: 'Marvel Legacy'
The last year has been a difficult one for Marvel. Sales have been dropping, in part because of strong competition from DC's Rebirth line, and Marvel is under intense pressure to fight back. The publisher seems to be betting the house on nostalgia, revealing #MarvelLegacy: a range of comics whose covers will pay homage to the classic comics of yore. The goal, it seems, is to remind fans of what they used to love about Marvel, in the hopes they'll give the current books a try.
Unfortunately, Marvel over-hyped the announcements. They promised something that would revolutionize the comic book industry, changing it forever. This nostalgia-driven marketing strategy, with most comics simply continuing their ongoing plots, really doesn't fit the bill.
The Death of the Mighty Thor is the exception. In this case, the homage cover feels entirely appropriate, and works on a thematic level. The Mighty Thor is one of Marvel's strongest-selling titles, and this cover promises that this extended arc is drawing to a tragic close. The latest issue, The Mighty Thor #20, saw Jane admit to her old lover Thor Odinson that every time she picks up Mjolnir she's tempted to never put it down again. Moments later, Mjolnir arrived to summon Jane to action. Instead, she collapsed before she could even get to the hammer. The plot twist just upped the ante, promising that the story was coming to an end, and a cover like this feels like an ominously well-timed masterstroke.
I don't think many fans can claim to be overwhelmed at the Marvel Legacy announcements over the weekend, but this is the exception. Marvel fans will see this cover as a promise; that a dearly loved story is drawing to a close, that tragedy may be attendant, and that we're in for one of the most emotional plots in years. The question is: can the creative team possibly live up to that promise?