Thor Annual (#1, 2021) – Aaron Kuder

5 out of 5

Who is this Aaron Kuder cat? he asks, naively, and then promptly gets wacked upside the head by the many Marvel and DC fans who’ve been loving Kuder’s artwork over the past several years. And so that’s the thing: the Big Two have housed and nurtured many amazing artistic talents, and I will sometimes take note of them… but generally only as a proxy of illustrating the book of a writer I’m following. I admittedly don’t follow artists on books, or rather, the ones that I would are very, very rare, and that’s not so much due to a lack of every-page-a-pinup creatives in the field, but more that those very, very rare ones tend to work on books I consistently enjoy, and I can’t say that for those who hang out in the mainstream superhero scene.

So Aaron Kuder is an amazing artist, very much of the European, fine-lined school of Quitelys, but with a more cinematic eye, and populated panel, that puts me in mind of some of Chris O’Halloran’s Ice Cream Man work and… and look who colored this issue…

But Aaron Kuder has also been a writer or plotter on some books, though, as of 2021, those instances seem sort of rare, and their art duties have been on exactly the kind of stuff I tend not to read. So while my wacked-head is still stinging, I protest that I just haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to his work. Which is why it pays to follow whims: flip through new #1s with new names on them, which is how I started checking out Jed MacKays work, which has led me to cross-annual Infinite Destinies jig he’s doing, which has now led me to this Thor annual, arted and scripted by Kuder. In short: I now have another list of books with Aaron as scribe to gleefully go check out.

The first thing I noticed was that, despite a wordy prologue, the opening didn’t feel wordy, and read incredibly cleanly. It takes place in ye olde Asgard land, where writers generally love to whip out overly poetic language, but Kuder effects a very mature tone without unneeded flourish. And it’s interesting, and well punctuated: an elf is overtaken by some unseen power, and while this could be the setup for any given comic book on the planet, the way this is paced and delivered actually makes you want to turn the page.

To: a celebration, post a Marvel event – The War of Kings. And what’s the good news here? There are no asterisks to fill you on the war. You don’t have to know anything about it for this book – you can get it all through context, and the same goes for this Infinite Destinies business with Infinity Stones giving randoms their power. I don’t demand we removed editorial “see (this issue)!” and sometimes they’re appreciated, and I think having sequence-heavy books is fine – comics where you really need to read the prior one to fully grasp the story – but I also think it should be possible to drop into any book, any comic, and film, and show, and be able to go with it. Okay, “any” is a bit rough, I’m positive I’ve made exceptions in my time, but the snapshot should be telling of the whole picture, and with the event-littered landscape of Marvel and DC, it sometimes just feels like the issue you’re reading is a litany of catch-up statements, and nothing too immediate. Not a problem here, at all.

The other big selling point: Kuder can land a joke. Nowadays, and especially with the MCU having cemented this as the default tone, nearly every Marvel writer does quips. Quippy quippy quip. Some are funny. But setting aside individual tastes in humor, it flattens the tone, and makes the “serious” parts of the book comes across excessively sappy (and / or the writer is escalating the dramaturgy to counter the quips). There’s a lost art, then, to actually setting up a punchline, and paying it off. Kuder does this. I laughed. And because he’s more patient with the jokes, that serious side of the book – when the Infinity Stone-corrupted elf tries to mind trip Thor into an alternate timeline of tragedy – hits with the same page-turning impact as that prologue.

Letterer Joe Sabino is very much to be commended for navigating Kuder’s wordy script around the page, and for choosing Thor-speak fonts that appropriately separate Midgard from Asgard dialogue without being distracting, but I’d also guess there’s a big assist in terms of spacing when the writer and artist are the same, and so they can remain mindful of leaving the right amount of room for word bubbles.

A truly great issue.

The “Infinite Fury” backup from MacKay and Ferreyra also continues to be worthwhile, though this time it’s more due to the art – ironic, given my spiel above – as Jed gives Juan the opportunity to do some turn-the-book-on-its-side layouts, and they are wild. But I do want to still couch that in the writing skills of MacKay: his script feels appropriate to the shift, and with letterer Joe Caramagna, they lead the eye appropriately through Ferreyra’s winding panels.