From mice with swords to a god with a hammer, Harvey Award-winning writer Bryan J.L. Glass swings the mighty Mjolnir and rains down lightning into comics shops everywhere this September with “Thor: First Thunder,” a brand new miniseries from Marvel Comics re-exploring the origins of the God of Thunder with a modern twist.
First appearing in “Journey into Mystery” issue #83, Thor brought a completely new area of super heroism into the Marvel Universe – one filled with Norse gods, chain lightning and “I say thee nays.” In his original appearance, the hammering hero resided within the consciousness of the mortal doctor Donald Blake, banished to Earth by his father Odin and unaware of his past godly life. Through chance, Blake stumbled across Thor’s mighty weapon disguised as a simple walking stick while vacationing in Norway. Upon striking it against a rock, Blake was restored once more to his godly visage. The upcoming five-issue miniseries teams writer Glass with artist Tan Eng Huat as he returns Thor to these days of yore and explores the golden-tressed god’s first year on Earth, with a few tweaks here and there to make the classic tale fit better with a modern setting.
As the coming comic storm approaches, Glass spoke with CBR News about the brand-new miniseries, re-imagining the character of Doctor Donald Blake and the importance of a petulant god needing to learn a lesson in humility.
Marvel editor Bill Rosemann first approached Glass about the origin-based miniseries as the writer was wrapping up a “Valkyrie” one-shot. The request came as quite a surprise to Glass, mostly known throughout the comic community for his “Mice Templar” series. As Rosemann explained to the author, the miniseries looks to somewhat coincide with the release of the “Thor” film slated to hit theaters next year directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Chris Hemsworth as the titular titan. “They want there to be a series that explores the origin that isn’t entrenched in the 1960s,” Glass told CBR News. “Those 1963 Stan Lee, Jack Kirby classics will always be there for the purists, but for a brand new audience being introduced to Thor, some of those 1960s early sensibilities of storytelling seem a little foreign to today’s audiences. That is why they are doing these. They’re not truly reboots, but my instruction was to go back to the original – they gave me the first 12 issues of ‘Journey into Mystery’ – and cherry pick out of here what leaps out and what strikes your fantasy and give us the defining first year of Thor’s existence.”
Being an avid Marvel reader during the ’70s and ’80s, Glass said he was already relatively familiar with the history of the character. However, going back and reading the early issues of “Journey into Mystery” now proved an “exciting and eye-opening” experience. “There’s truly a feel at the very, very beginning that there was nothing special about Thor, and I want to be real, real careful. Don’t quote me out of context there,” laughed Glass. “He was just one of many characters that they were trying. And you can tell when you’re reading those early issues at what point they realized, ‘Wow, we’ve stumbled upon to something really exciting here. The audience has taken to this guy.’ You see when Stan Lee takes over the series and Jack Kirby’s art just explodes and goes from being six-to-nine panel grids per page to the big amazing Kirby imagery that everyone thinks of when they think of the early Jack Kirby Thor. That’s the element that was surprising – to see how subdued the storytelling was early on.”
While the upcoming miniseries does draw from those early Stan Lee and Jack Kirby issues and sticks rather closely to the overall events from the original origin, Glass said he strived to add far more rhyme and reason to the seemingly coincidental actions that took place in the original story. “It’s not presented this time quite so randomly as ‘An American guy just so happens to be in Norway and he just happens to go into this cave because a rock monster from Saturn is chasing him,'” said the writer. “As the entire series unfolds, you’ll realize the Norse Fates are interjecting in the life of Dr. Donald Blake. It’s not a series of random happenstance that this guy is at the right place at the right time to find the right thing. The classic Fates are Norse in origin, so that fit in quite nicely in tying up all those somewhat coincidental aspects of Thor’s origin. There’s a plan to all of these events occurring at the same time to guide this mortal on the path he needs to take to undo a centuries old curse.”
Part of the title’s remit also involves updating the character of Donald Blake. Glass said he really wanted to give the Blake in the new origin a more distinct personality, one similar yet philosophically contrary to his godly alter ego. “He always pushes himself and challenges himself to go to extremes. He has sailed all five oceans. He has been to all seven continents, into the poles, both of them. He’s climbed Mt. Everest. He’s a world-renounced surgeon, but he’s lame – he has a bad leg and walks with a cane. He has what the world would consider to be a limitation and he is always pushing that limitation. He’s seeking to prove something,” explained Glass. “You learn, as this incarnation unfolds, that he has a troubled family past. One of the first sympathetic connections he makes with Thor is that both he and the Thunder God have daddy issues. Thor has chosen to deal with those issues in anger, while Dr. Blake has channeled those issues into more of a Zen approach of keeping himself even-keeled and seeking to prove his father’s condemnation against him wrong – that he’s not good for nothing and that he will amount to something.”
Though Blake carries a calm and peaceful demeanor, Glass revealed that when readers first see Thor, they quickly get a sense of the power and personality behind the character when he immediately blows out the side of a mountain. This might seem a bit extreme, but as Glass explained, it all ties into the reason Odin banished his son to Earth in the first place. “The difference is that this Thor is a very, very, very angry Thor. When he awakens for the first time when Donald Blake taps the stick, Thor is literally, in his mind, just one second removed from when Odin banished him from Asgard in disgrace. And he’s not a humble god humbly accepting his punishment. He is infuriated that his father would dare treat him in this fashion,” he said. “So, over the course of these five issues, where the series is chronicling the first year of Thor on Earth, we were always told he was banished to Earth to learn humility. Well, he’s not learning humility in issue #1. We are introducing the Thor that was required to be banished to learn humility. So, he’s angry, he’s arrogant and you should learn by the end of issue #1 where the wisdom was in tying him to Dr. Donald Blake.”
Glass also revealed that part of the lesson in humility involves Thor’s encounters with and learning to respect some of the other heroes from the Marvel Universe. “He will be meeting Tony Stark in this series, but one of the great little twists is that Tony Stark is not Iron Man yet. So the Tony Stark that Thor meets is the Tony Stark that has not learned his own lesson, yet. It puts an emphasis on how the world is responding to when knowledge leaks out that there is a god on Earth and what does that mean,” the writer teased. “A lot of this series is exploring that [in the] way the original, the 1960s incarnation, did not. They kind of accepted that, ‘Thor is here. He’s the Norse god. He’s alive and real today. He’s in 1960s Manhattan and he’s fighting the commies.’ In this version, you actually see how the world preliminary responds to how you deal with a god on Earth. What is the response? And how does Thor in turn deal with a humanity that automatically fears him or automatically wants to worship him.”
As mentioned earlier, the miniseries does technically coincide with the release of the upcoming movie. However, Glass emphasized that the comic does not tie in directly to the film. “To my understanding, Marvel Comics are one universe and the Marvel movies are another universe. What is making the movies so good is that they are respecting the original source. But as good as ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Iron Man 2’ were, they were not based beat for beat upon comic stories that already appeared. They were wonderful synthesis of stories that already saw print. That’s why they resonated so well – because every ingredient was drawn from an established source,” said Glass. “Same thing [with the ‘Thor’ movie]. There are things they are obviously going to have to change or gloss over, but I’m sure they’re doing the same thing the ‘Iron Man’ creators did, and that is take snippets from what already exists for Thor so that for you Thor fans seeing the movie, everything will strike familiar, but you’ll see it in a new way. My assignment was to take those first 12 issues of ‘Journey into Mystery’ and cull from them elements to recreate the origin of Thor without actually changing any of the details.”
Admittedly, Glass did need to change some minute details. After all, when updating an origin to the modern day, the advancement of technology necessitates certain acknowledgements. “Today we are living in a world were cell phones are rampant. The internet is rampant,” said Glass. “Ways for people to stay in touch and communicate with others, for people to gain instant communication action to things, the ability to do research. With cell phones, if a person is in jeopardy, you have to account for why they just can’t use their cell phones. To just ignore it brings a modern unbelievability to it because we are living in an age were just about everyone has a cell phone.”
And of course, with cell phones comes cell phone cameras and video. And if you’re wondering if that means the God of Thunder might be hitting Youtube sometime in the future, you bet your weather-controlling hammer of Uru it does. “In fact, toward the conclusion of issue #2 is where he is first seen by the public, and I literally scripted that if there is a New York crowd gathered around him, you’re going to see people holding up their little pocket recorders,” laughed the writer. “Everyone is recording Thor trouncing Loki’s butt all down Manhattan.”
Look for lightning to strike when “Thor: First Thunder” issue #1 hits stores September 15.