[SPOILER WARNING: THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR “THOR: GOD OF THUNDER,” #1 ON SALE NOW.]
Crime is something that can affect all the denizens of the Marvel Universe. Even gods and cosmic beings are susceptible to robbery and murder when faced with a being who is powerful enough. What would happen of a powerful and mysterious figure embarked upon a god killing spree?
Writer Jason Aaron and artist Esad Ribic began to answer that question in the debut issue of their new Marvel NOW! series “Thor: God of Thunder” in which past, present and future versions of their protagonist stumble upon the work of a cunning killer known as the God Butcher. Comic Book Resources spoke with Aaron about the events of the issue and his plans for Thor.
CBR News: Jason, it could just be something I bring to the story since I’m a big crime fiction fan, but “Thor: God of Thunder” #1 felt like a generation spanning police procedural. There was the cocky rookie meeting a killer for the first time, a seasoned detective encountering that killer in the present, and finally a haunted veteran having a final confrontation with that same killer in the future. Is that a fair comparison? And is that what you were aiming for?
Jason Aaron: It’s not exactly what I was aiming for, but I would say that’s a fair comparison. I certainly wanted to tell a different kind of Thor story and I think you can see that tone wise this is very different from a lot of the stuff I’ve done at Marvel. It’s certainly very different from what I’m doing in “Wolverine & the X-Men” right now.
It’s darker and grittier and in some ways it’s maybe the closest I’ve gotten to something like “Scalped,” which is the only real crime book that I’ve ever done. Thor of course has things like gods, flying horses, and crazy new worlds in deep space. I like that we can do a crime story with those trappings. There will also be some horror and, of course, fantasy elements as well, and I think at the end of the day this is a story that stays true to what the character of Thor has always been.
Since this is a generation spanning saga one of the things you’re dealing with is memory as it applies to immortal beings. What’s your sense of how a god’s memory works?
That’s a good question and it’s actually something that I’ll be addressing in the coming issues. In issue #3 we get a little bit of Thor telling us what memory is like for a god.
One of my favorite things to write in this book so far has been Thor’s narration. So in issue #1 we get a little bit of narration from all three Thors. We set them up and introduce each version of the character. As we go forward, each issue will focus in a little more on one specific Thor. Issue #2 focuses mainly on young Thor. Issue #3 is mostly present day Thor and he tells us what it’s like to have been alive for thousands of years and had so many different adventures. He also tells what it’s like to have known so many different people, especially mortals, whose lives to him are like the length of a candle. They burn for a little while and then are snuffed out. So how do you keep all that straight, even in the mind of a god?
Let’s move on and talk about the three interlocking tales in this issue. You start off with the young Thor who is very cocky and self-assured, but who still appears to care about the people that worship him. Is that accurate?
He’s certainly brash, arrogant and fun-loving. He craves combat a little more than the older and wiser version of Thor, but he’s not a bad guy at heart. We still see the glimmers of the great hero he’ll eventually become.
So he’s the cocky prince of Asgard and when we see him he’s on Earth where he is literally a god to these people. So that’s going to inflate your ego a little bit, and young Thor loves that. He loves going down to Earth and interacting with the Vikings; fighting by their side, drinking their mead, and making love to their women. He eats that up, but deep down he’s still got something to prove. He still can’t pick up that hammer or please his father. He’s still not what he wants to be.
As you mentioned Young Thor is without his signature weapon, the uru hammer Mjolnir. Is it fair to say this younger version of Thor isn’t as powerful as he’ll eventually become?
He doesn’t have the enchanted hammer and can’t fly, but he’s still the God of Thunder. It’s not the hammer that allows him to be the God of Thunder. The hammer helps channel that and certainly makes him more powerful, but he’s still a pretty sturdy opponent. We’ll be exploring the power of that giant axe he carries, which is a pretty formidable weapon in and of itself.
We don’t get to see what sort of weapon the God Butcher wields in this story, but in the young Thor story we do get to see the decapitated head of one of his victims and it looks like said victim is from a previously unseen Native American pantheon of Marvel Universe gods. Is that correct?
Yeah. When you look at the gods that have been introduced in the Marvel Universe over the last few decades there have been legions of them, especially the ones centered around Earth. Obviously not all of those pantheons are still active. I like the idea that some of those gods have gotten lost in the shuffle.
One of the themes we’ll be exploring with this entire arc, really, is the idea that gods come and go and that there are so many of them and sometimes the new ones don’t necessarily care what happened to the old ones. That all ties into the theme and questions that Thor begins to ask himself, “What does it mean to be a good god? And am I good god?” Those are questions he’s dealing with in a very real way as he starts to follow the trail of the God Butcher.
That’s a good segue into talking about the exploits of modern day Thor, who in this issue who tries to be a good god by answering the prayer of a girl in deep space. It seems like regardless of what time period we find him in Thor is dutiful when it comes to answering the prayers of his followers.
Sure. In this case he’s not really responding to worship, though. It’s more that he’s responding to a young girl on a world without gods who prays for help. She’s heard of Thor because of his renown throughout the cosmos as being one of the greatest heroes of the universe.
So I wanted to show that there was still a little bit of that brash warrior inside him from young Thor, but he’s become a hero known in every corner of the Marvel Universe.
It is interesting that you don’t often see stories where Thor responds to prayers for help.
Yeah. When you start dealing with the god aspect of the character it gets a little touchy. You don’t want to offend anyone’s actual religion.
The movie version of Thor has sort of leaned away from that a little bit and basically made Thor some sort of alien or other dimensional being that those of us on Earth perceived as a god. Coming into this book though, I definitely wanted to lean into the idea that Thor is a god. I think when you take that away it takes away a little bit of the magic of the character.
Stan Lee brought Thor into the Marvel Universe in the first place because he had this feeling of where else can I go? What other characters can I bring in? And what struck him was the idea of having a god become a super hero. I’m definitely leaning hard into that idea and everything that comes with it. Thor sees himself as a god. So it makes sense that he would respond to prayers. What kind of god would he be if he didn’t? That will all tie back into the theme of what does it mean to be a good god in the Marvel Universe?
Going forward, I think leaning into that idea raises lots of interesting questions when you start introducing so many different pantheons of gods. It’s already been established that there were loads of gods just on Earth in the Marvel Universe. So it stands to reason that you would have just as many on other worlds in the cosmos. We’re looking at a whole universe cluttered with different pantheons of gods and we’ll be exploring those going forward. We’ll be meeting lots of new gods; some living, some dead. There will be lots of new pantheons, new worlds of gods, and new cities of gods. And in this first issue we visit a world without any gods.
Again, I think having all those elements makes for some interesting questions. Every one of those gods has a different story about how the world was created and things like why the sky is blue. They can’t all be right either, and of course in the Marvel Universe we clearly established an ancient pantheon of Elder Gods. That’s all stuff I want to play with.
I love the idea of different factions of gods across the universe. I love their different histories going back billions of years to the creation of the universe and going many millennia into the future to the end of the universe. When you fully embrace the idea of doing a story about gods it opens up a lot of possibilities. You can see from this first issue that the scope and scale of the story will be huge.
I’ve written “Wolverine,” which gives you a big scale because you’ve got a character who’s been alive for a hundred years or so. Thor blows that out of the water instantly. Suddenly I can play with the entirety of creation, from that first moment to the very end, because the history of the gods is intertwined in it all. I’m excited to be given the chance to map out some of that history and that future.
Your story also deals with someone who targets and murders gods, and in the portion of issue #1 that follows present day Thor you return to the mystery of the God Butcher. We don’t see the killer in this issue, but we get some interesting clues as to who he is and how he operates in these scenes. It sounds like the reason Thor hasn’t been hunting the God Butcher all these years is because he believed him dead after a confrontations in the past. Is that correct?
Right. In this issue we’re introduced to three distinct versions of Thor in three very distinct eras and we’ll eventually meet the God Butcher in all three of those eras as well. And just like the different versions of Thor, [the God Butcher] is very different in all of those eras. Plus the encounters he has with Thor in each of those eras are very different.
The God Butcher will evolve as he conducts his millennia-spanning campaign of murder. His methodology will evolve and his objectives will change in some sense. So we’ll see different versions of him along with Thor.
This suggests to me that the God Butcher is the type of killer who learns from his mistakes in the past. Is that true?
Yes. He’s different from most serial killers in that his killing spree lasts for thousands of years. So he has lots of time to evolve. As I mentioned, there are a lot of gods in this universe. So that’s a lot of gods for him to track down and kill, which means he’s been at this for a long time and will certainly learn from his mistakes.
That also raises some interesting questions about the God Butcher’s motivation and dedication to his mission.
Right and we won’t know that motivation for quite a while. It will remain mysterious, but at some point further down the road we’ll get his full origin and see why he’s doing this.
In “God of Thunder” #1 we see that the God Butcher doesn’t always necessarily work alone. Some reptilian creatures either work for or with the killer. What can you tell us about these creatures?
We don’t really know anything about them in this first issue. They’re just these black, lizard-looking creatures, but you’ll get a much better idea of what they are next issue when we see the God Butcher revealed and we see how he does what he does.
Those creatures are also present in the final segment of the issue that focuses on the older King Thor. I know his portrayal is partly inspired by Dan Jurgens’ run on the character, so refresh our memory when we first met this version of the character in Dan’s run were things this bleak in Asgard?
No, it was a very different time period. The stuff that Dan did featured a much younger King Thor. This takes place thousands of years beyond even that. Essentially this is Thor at the end of time. He appears to be the last god left in Asgard. There’s no more Warriors Three, Sif, Loki, and certainly no more Odin. There’s just Thor and things seem to go horribly wrong. He blames himself, but we don’t know why yet.
So in this story we’re charting a whole new period of Thor’s life. It’s one we’ve never seen before.
Future Thor is a man with both physical and mental scars. Will we see how he got some of those scars?
Maybe. As I said, as long as I’m on the book I’ll come back to doing young Thor stories every once in a while and King Thor stories. So there are a lot of stories to be told. Will we find out exactly how he lost his arm and his eye? I don’t know. We’ll see.
We’ve spoken in depth about the story, so let’s start to wrap things up by talking about the art in issue #1. You’ve got the “Uncanny X-Force” and “Ultimate Comics Ultimates” team of artist Esad Ribic and colorist Dean White. What’s it like working with these guys? It feels like they’re really enjoying the variety of settings and characters that you’re throwing at them.
I hope so because there’s certainly more and more of that in each issue, and they’re amazing. I knew Esad was on board right from the get go, before I even had a story for the book. I think he was one of the first artists they lined up for the new Marvel NOW! books. Once I told [Editor-in-Chief] Axel Alonso I wanted Thor he mentioned that Esad was on board with the book. As soon as he mentioned that I was down for it.
I had worked with Esad just once before on the “Wolverine: The List” special, but I had always been a fan of his stuff. I loved the painted stuff he did like the Loki book from a few years back, which was absolutely jaw-dropping. And I had been happy that he had started to do more penciling stuff. The Wolverine book we did was one of the first jobs he took once he started to get back into penciling.
I didn’t have a story when I decided I wanted to do a Thor book, but knowing that it would be Esad drawing it opened the door where I could do anything that I could come up with. I knew he could pull it off; from those gritty character moments to the biggest, grandest spectacle that I could imagine. He can draw all of that. Then of course we wanted to bring Dean onto the book because he and Esad had done so much work together lately. We knew they made a beautiful team.
Dean is one of those guys who works like a madman. If you don’t have an appreciation for colorists just take a look at the work that Dean does and how much he brings to the art. He is just as much the artist on the book as Esad is. Together I think they make a pretty unbeatable team.
So art-wise the book is in very good hands, and going forward I’ll continue to throw more and more crazy stuff at Esad. He’ll get to design more new landscapes, cities and corners of the Marvel cosmos.
You leave future Thor with an apocalyptic cliffhanger and you leave the other two Thors in interesting places as well. So can you give us a “This season on ‘Thor: God of Thunder'”-style teaser about what happens in issue #2 and beyond?
[Laughs] Like I said, the next three issues will each focus in on one Thor. We’ll see all three Thors in every issue, but the bulk of these upcoming issues will focus in one guy. So next issue is young Thor where we’ll see his first encounter with the God Butcher. After that we focus in on present day Thor in issue #3 as he picks up the trail of the God Butcher in the present. Then in issue #4 we focus in on King Thor who is still waging that battle in Asgard against the armies of the God Butcher. Then in issue #5, the last issue of the arc, we focus in mostly on the God Butcher himself. We start to see what his grand plan is beyond the obvious. Like I said, his methods will evolve over the course of time and he’s got a pretty grand aim at the end of it.
I’m excited for people to finally read this book. The Marvel NOW! stuff has been in the works for several months. I’ve been thinking, reading and writing about Thor for quite a while now and I’m glad that people are finally able to read the book. Hopefully they’ll like it because I’m having as much fun as I’ve ever had on anything I’ve done at Marvel.
“Thor: God of Thunder” #1 is on sale now, with #2 on sale November 28.