Image: Marvel Comics. Art by Russell Dauterman, Matt Wilson.

The Phoenix Force is one of the deadliest entities in the entire Marvel universe, a roiling mass of pure destruction that leaves nothing but cinders in its wake. Usually, it’s associated with the iconic Phoenix sagas in the pages of X-Men, but now the entity is back—and playing its part in a totally unexpected story.

For the past few issues of Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matt Wilson, and Joe Sabino’s The Mighty Thor, the gods of Asgard and the might of the Shi’ar empire have been at each others throats. The alien race abducted Thor to participate in a challenge requested by the obnoxious god-rulers of the Shi’ar, Sharra and K’ythri. Although the pair handily beat Thor in several of their trials, what they didn’t expect was a very angry bunch of Asgardians sailing across space in their space-viking-longboats to come beat the snot out them in an attempt to rescue the God of Thunder.

It’s pretty damn awesome.

Today’s Mighty Thor #20 saw the culmination of Asgard’s rescue attempt, as Cul, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, and other Asgardians broke through the Shi’ar defences to finally reach Thor, Sharra and K’ythri, and a smackdown of the ages commenced. Despite the fact they’re two of the most powerful entities in the universe, it does not go well for the Shi’ar gods.

The fighting is only stopped because the results of the Challenge of the Gods is ready to be decreed, and amazingly, despite getting drubbed by the two Shi’ar gods, Thor is announced as the victor—even to her own surprise. The reason? The fact that the gods of Asgardia itself (some of who outright detest her, like Cul) united to rescue her, an act of unparalleled divine inspiration unmatched by Sharra and K’ythri’s victories in the trials.

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Naturally—and because they’re assholes—the duo are extremely pissed that they managed to lose a challenge of their own creation (and one heavily stacked in their favor) to an “unknown” like Thor. So they embrace each other and activate the nuclear option: a combination of their powers and passion that revives the full might of the Phoenix Force, and embodiment of the Shi’ar gods’ bountiful rage and arrogance. Once unleashed, the Phoenix’s judgement is indiscriminate, destroying Asgardian and Shi’ar alike.

Although elements of the Phoenix force have come into play in the last few years—the Guardians of the Galaxy found a bomb containing a separated fragment of its powers at one point, and before Secret Wars kicked off, Cyclops re-merged with the entity in an attempt to stave of the destruction of the multiverse—this is the first time in a while that it’s re-emerged as a prominent, deadly threat to the universe at large. In fact, it seems like the Phoenix’s return might even have impact beyond the pages of Mighty Thor, considering we know that the upcoming solo series for the young Jean Grey will see the teenage telepath faces with a question of destiny as she receives a portentous vision of the Phoenix that consumed her older self.

And as the Asgardians prepare to fight it in a do-or-die battle (even recruiting future Phoenix force host and omega-level mutant Quentin Quire to aid them), it seems like they’re going to need a little help. Thanks to the cover art of Mighty Thor #20 revealed at the end of the issue, we know at least one form that help will take:

The Odinson and Jane Foster are getting ready to go into battle together. Considering his own recent journey in Unworthy Thor has put the Odinson on a path to believing that his fellow gods are vain and unworthy of the adoration they command, I bet he’s going to have a thing or two to say about Sharra and K’ythri unleashing one of the deadliest entities in the Marvel cosmos in the universe’s most destructive temper tantrums.