The Marvel Universe is full of fantastic places, but one of its most wondrous locales has got to be the realm of Asgard and its nine worlds. Home to the Asgardian gods and a host of other races including elves, giants and demons, Asgard can be quite a chaotic place. When the constant turmoil gets to be too much and the forces of evil threaten to take over Asgard, it’s up to the city’s chief defender, the Thunder God Thor, to step up and save the day. This September, in the six issue miniseries “Thor: For Asgard,” writer Robert Rodi and artist Simone Bianchi take readers back to one of Asgard’s darkest days, when Thor had to face a seemingly insurmountable challenge without the help of his father Odin, his brother Balder or his signature weapon, the hammer Mjolnir. CBR News spoke with Bianchi about his work on the series.
Bianchi had been waiting for the chance to draw Thor and his world for some time, so when his editor Axel Alonso offered him “For Asgard,” the artist eagerly accepted. “I was a huge fan of John Buscema’s run on ‘Thor,’ and I think fantasy style environments really suit my style,” Bianchi told CBR News. “Axel offered me the assignment when I was finishing up my run on ‘Astonishing X-Men’ and I got even more excited when he told me I would be working with Robert Rodi, who I knew from the wonderful ‘Loki’ miniseries he did with Esad Ribic in 2004.”
“Thor: For Asgard” marks Bianchi’s first fantasy style series since his American comics debut, the DC Comics miniseries, “Shining Knight,” something Bianchi is quite pleased about. “I think fantasy is a genre that comes more easily to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing science fiction settings and scenery, but I definitely think fantasy is a genre that suits my style the best. However, I can’t wait to get back and work on a pure superhero style project as soon as I can, because I love superheroes as much as I love fantasy,” Bianchi explained. “There are, of course, some differences between working on superhero books like ‘Astonishing X-Men’ and a fantasy series like this one. The good thing about working on this project was that right from the beginning, I knew that I was going to have total freedom from a creative point of view in doing what I was doing. I’m pretty much creating a brand new world from scratch; buildings, interiors, armor, weapons, all the little details. So it was a good chance for me to show off what I can handle the best.”
The creative freedom Bianchi was afforded also gave him the chance to do subtle redesigns on the titular Avenger and a number of his associated characters. For Thor, Bianchi kept many elements from the character’s classic costume, but also added some barbarian-style aspects. “When I started working on this project, Robert Rodi told me, ‘Simone, I want this series to look like something between ‘Conan the Barbarian’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’. So I took the classic John Buscema costume and I nipped and tucked some little details here and there,” Bianchi remarked. “As you can see, I added some fur on his cape. It’s nothing dramatically different. I kept his arms naked, which is different from the current Thor costume that Olivier Copiel designed, because I wanted to have the chance to draw as much anatomy as I could. The helmet is pretty similar, with the exception of a little skull that I added on his forehead.
“And since Robert’s story took a lot of inspiration from ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ it had to look a little different than the current ‘Thor’ ongoing series both in the costumes and the interiors; the settings and scenery,” Bianchi continued. “So, Asgard is a little different from the way we saw it in ‘Siege’ or the ongoing ‘Thor’ series. I’m trying to have a little fun and put something of my own vision into the characters and the settings.”
The other significant visual change to Thor in “For Asgard” is his signature weapon. Events of the series make it impossible for the Thunder God to use his hammer Mjolnir. “It was a little strange in the beginning, when I realized he wasn’t going to be handling his usual hammer, but in all honesty, I think he looks better without the hammer. I know the hammer is part of the character, but I’ve never been a big fan of it. So when I found out I was going to have the chance to change his main weapon, I turned it into an axe,” Bianchi revealed. “It was supposed to be a sword, but then I decided to give him an axe which was supposed to resemble the hammer that Ultimate Thor has in the ‘Ultimates’ book. So I started from there and ended up giving him a completely different weapon.”
Bianchi knows that some fans might find the idea of Thor wading into battle with a new weapon a little strange, but feels that ultimately the character of Thor is more than just his hammer. “It was a little bit of a shock before I started working on the project. Then I realized while working on it that Thor is about a hundred different things [other] than just his hammer. Like every Marvel character, he’s more defined by his attitude than his powers or weapons,” Bianchi remarked. “It’s all about his personality, and I think that’s something that can be applied to all other characters. A character like Batman may be defined by his costume, but he’s also defined by his attitude. So in the end, there are a lot of other things that make the character what he really is.”
Life without Mjolnir is just one of the many challenges Thor faces in “For Asgard,” also dealing with several major crises as the series goes on that will start to affect him. “I think he’s acting pretty much like the Thor we all know and love, but he’s in this unusual situation so you can see some instances where he really feels the weight of the so-called burden that he’s carrying. He’s got some pretty heavy things on his shoulders and he has to deal with them. That’s something we don’t usually see all to often with Thor, because he often comes off as this untouchable tough guy. Thor is a god, but in this series, Robert and I are trying to explore a different and human aspect to his character.
“Just like we did with his costume, we’re slightly changing the point of view of Thor’s character,” Bianchi continued. “Thor is still a god and the hero of an amazing empire, but in this story he’s experiencing a lot of troubling stuff. So every now and then, he may seem really lost in thought. It’s going to be a little change from the way we’re used to seeing the character.”
Fans of Marvel’s Asgardians may be quick to assume that the source of all of Thor’s troubles in “For Asgard” is his villainous brother Loki, and while they may be right, the Asgardian God of Mischief doesn’t play a huge role in the miniseries. “I would have loved to draw more of Loki. Loki is one of my favorite characters. In the whole Marvel Universe, there are two villains that I’m really crazy for. One is Loki and the other is Doctor Doom,” Bianchi stated. “So, for issue #2 I got to draw a cover and a couple of pages featuring Loki. I redesigned his costume a little, as well, because at the beginning, I thought he was going to show up more often in the series. It turns out, though, that he wasn’t in it that much.”
Thor’s allies, the Warriors Three, on the other hand, are pretty important supporting players in the series. “I love both Hogun and Fandral, but I’m not a huge fan of Volstagg. I’m a big fan of drawing anatomy and I have a proper anatomical background thanks to my studies. So this huge, chubby guy was a little weird for me to draw,” Bianchi told CBR. “All in all, the Warriors Three were a lot of fun to draw, but at the end of the day, though, the character I enjoyed the most was Thor himself. I tried my best to give him a real clear characterization throughout the whole miniseries. I used a really close friend of mine who went to high school with me as a model. He’s a really great musician and plays keyboard in a lot of European heavy metal bands. After we left high school, we remained really close friends and, to me, he was the perfect model for Thor and we took a lot of reference pictures. So again, especially because I found the perfect model, Thor ended up being the character I enjoyed the most.
“Sif is in the series as well, and that was a great excuse to take some pictures of girls, which is always good,” Bianchi said jokingly. “Plus, it was just great to have total creative freedom to draw these characters. I came up with some strange looking armors and stuff that I spread throughout the whole miniseries. It was a lot of fun.”
Another reason Bianchi enjoyed his time working on the series was Robert Rodi’s “For Asgard” scripts, which the artist felt contained both a clear artistic vision and a distinctive voice. “Thor needs a good writer to make him sound the right way without being boring, and at the same time, he has to speak with his own voice. I think Robert did the job more than right. When you read the dialogue and the way Thor and the other characters speak, you’ll realize that Robert found the perfect balance to handle all of that,” Bianchi said. “I also I have a tiny complaint about Robert, and I will never give him enough shit about this. He puts so many characters in every single panel and every single page. So sometimes drawing this book was like a living nightmare [Laughs].
“There are dozens and dozens of characters everywhere, as well as horses and winged horses. So this series has been a lot of work. I would say I’ve had to do more work on this series than ‘Wolverine’ and ‘Astonishing X-Men’. It’s become a running joke for me and Robert,” Bianchi continued. “He’s been to Italy three times now, and every time he comes here to Tuscany, I show him the pages I’ve done and we always joke about how his scripts are complex and difficult to draw. All in all, though, I couldn’t be any more satisfied with his writing.”
Rodi isn’t Bianchi’s only collaborator on “Thor: For Asgard” as the artist also worked closely with his assistant Andrea Silvestri and colorist Simone Peruzzi. ” They’ve really outdone themselves with their work on this series, especially Simone. This time around he came up with some amazing color palettes, and [Peruzzi’s] trying to give a different look to every scene,” Bianchi said, praising his artistic partners. “We’ll jump from buildings to crazy landscapes and Simone always came up with something different, defining and very beautiful. So I want to give him full credit for the amazing job he’s done so far.”
“Thor: For Asgard” #1 and #2 both ship in September, and at the time of this interview Bianchi was hard at work on issue #5 in order to ensure that the series ships on time. “Simone, my assistant, and I are working on speeding up our output so we can put out eight issues a year instead of six, but you can’t have a lot of detail to your pages in a short amount of time. If you want painted pages with a lot of details, the only way to get that done is to work a lot on those pages. And I’m not wasting time,” Bianchi explained. “I work every day and most weekends. While I’ve been working on this Thor miniseries, I’ve done a lot of covers for books like ‘FrankenCastle,’ ‘Dark Wolverine’ and ‘Wolverine Origins.’ So I’d love to find a way to speed up a little bit, but I just don’t know how, right now.”
Since he’s currently finishing up the penultimate issue of “Thor: For Asgard” Bianchi is also working out what his next Marvel assignment will be. “After six issues of something, I love to move on and do something completely different. I would love to get back to some X-characters, of course. I don’t think this is going to be my next project, but sooner or later I’d love to have the chance to work on Spider-Man. He’s one of the company’s iconic characters and I haven’t had a chance to do a story with him yet. I did some covers, but I haven’t been able to do interiors yet. So that will be another great chance, but it’s not going to be my next project,” Bianchi remarked. “Another group I’d love to draw is the Inhumans. I love those characters. I remember the miniseries that Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee did a few years ago. Daredevil is another character I’d love to do. There are too many characters to list them all.
“Currently, Axel Alonso and I have narrowed down that list to three or four different projects for me to do next,” Bianchi continued. “I can’t reveal what they are, but I would be happy to work on any of them. So whatever it ends up being, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“Thor: For Asgard” #1 and 2 hits stores in September. For more of Simone Bianchi’s art, visit his website simonebianchi.com.