In 2007, writer J Michael Straczynski began his run on Marvel’s “Thor” series. His Eisner-nominated stories brought Thor and the Asgardians back to Earth and featured the Machiavellian machinations of the title character’s brother, Loki. In September, JMS finishes his run on “Thor,” but Loki’s intrigues are far from over. November’s “Thor” #604 marks the beginning of a six-issue stint by writer Kieron Gillen and artist Billy Tan, who put the Thunder God on the offensive against his brother’s latest scheme. CBR News spoke with Gillen about his plans for the series.
Kieron Gillen is no stranger to magical and mythological elements like those found in “Thor.” The writer is best known for his acclaimed Image Comics series “Phonogram,” about a mage who uses the medium of Britpop music to interpret magic. Gillen’s also writing the “Dark Avengers: Ares” miniseries for Marvel, starring another god of myth.
“Abstractly, those are all fantasy books and that’s what people mainly know me for; even though the fantasy we did in ‘Phonogram’ is very much the other end of the scale,” Gillen told CBR News. “Everyone references Shakespeare with ‘Thor,’ but it’s also very much a modern fantasy epic. It’s probably the closest thing Marvel has to something like ‘Lord of the Rings.’ That’s the way JMS crafted it. It’s all about these characters and this very clear conflict in character and interest.”
When editor Warren Simons offered Gillen the ‘Thor’ title, the writer was both shocked — because he’s still a relatively new name at Marvel — and a little intimidated at following in the footsteps of JMS. Once he considered the offer, though, Gillen’s interest in the project grew. “I’ve read what JMS has done and is doing. It’s a fascinating and brilliant place to leave off,” Gillen remarked. “I think of it as a chess game. Before me there was this grand master chess player moving some pieces around and then he essentially left the table and now we’re in an end game situation. I’m playing moves from a really interesting position and I’m set up for checkmate in about four moves. I’ve just got to choose those moves really.”
Making those moves allows Gillen the chance to explore the many interesting facets of Thor. “You can talk about Spider-Man and the X-Men being the public faces of Marvel, but as a working setting the Marvel Universe spins on the axis of three characters: Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor,” the writer stated. “Those three characters show you different aspects like what it means to be human and heroic, and in the case of Thor he’s historically been one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful characters in terms of heroism.”
“What I find interesting about that is he’s a Norse god. Thor’s not like us and doesn’t try to be like us,” Gillen continued. “He’s marching to the beat of his own drummer. There’s this disconnect between who he is and where he operates and it doesn’t tear him apart as much as other characters who’ve been in that situation. And the fact that he’s not like us and doesn’t pretend to be makes him an interesting person to show you problems on a larger scale. That’s what fantasy does and that’s why he’s fundamentally a fantasy character. Fantasy expresses fundamental human concerns on a much larger canvas. Opera would be the word. It’s one that I tend to over use when talking about Thor. It’s not the idea of a fat lady singing, but of these enormous emotional scenes. In writing those scenes I’m stopping just short of melodrama.”
Gillen thinks part of the reason “Thor” is packed with emotional scenes is because the Thunder God has to deal with problematic family members like Loki or his deceased father, Odin. The character also has to regularly tackle dilemmas that arise from the way the mortal and the divine world intersect and interact. “You saw that in the relationships between Thor and the Oklahomans in JMS’s run [when Asgard was brought back at the beginning of JMS’s run, it floated above a small town in Oklahoma]. That lead to some of the gentler and touching moments in the series,” Gillen said. “Now that the Asgardians have relocated to Latveria things have changed. The mortals in that area are very different from the mortals in Oklahoma, especially Doctor Doom, who has a much different relationship with the divine.”
Indeed, Doom finds the very idea of gods to be offensive. “To him it’s like, ‘If you’re a god then who am I?’ He’s brilliant beyond all belief but he’s perhaps not as good as he wants to be and rubbing him up against gods like the Asgardians means you start talking about things like hubris,” Gillen explained. “I don’t think Doom would view the Asgardians as gods. He’d view them as some people he’s playing host to in his country. Doom is not a guy who bows.”
Gillen finds Doctor Doom to be an interesting foil for Thor and almost any superhero because, he said, the Doctor is the dark reflection of characters like Batman and Captain America. “There are these characters that are seen as the pinnacles of what humanity is all about and if you’re a more cynical person you might say Doom is one of those characters,” Gillen said. “Doom may be brilliant and incredibly capable but he’s also a very nasty portrait of humanity. He’s greedy, jealous, and overbearing. The fact that he is a darker paragon of humanity makes him my favorite Marvel villain.”
The other main villain of Gillen’s arc is of course Loki, who the writer sees as being motivated by rage and hatred. “He’s pretty petty for a god isn’t he? There’s a sense of an enormous grudge with Loki. He feels slighted and one of the best things about JMS’s run has been Loki’s slow burn plot to zap everyone in the world and bring it down in flames,” the writer explained. “‘Loki would like his revenge paid in full and that revenge is also very important to him. Some people if they could remove that from their lives they would. They have a sense of, ‘I wish I never hated in the first place.’ Not Loki though. He’s glad he hated in the first place. That hate defines him and makes him very pure. He often hides his motivations but when Loki really wants to show how he feels it’s primal. We return to idea of the opera in that Loki’s feelings are primal and dark things. It’s like his feelings are this black hole that the rest of the universe revolves around.”
Loki’s hate may drive him, but it’s also made him a bit shortsighted. “He knows exactly what he wants, but whether that will make him happy is another question,” Gillen said. “Without that hate, I’m not sure what Loki would be like. It’s not like he’s got larger plans. He’s all about the family drama. He wants to supplant his father. It’s not about what his father was able to do. It’s about the power play in that structure as opposed to the structure in larger society.”
In addition to Thor, Doom, and Loki, the other important character in Gillen’s story will be Asgard’s current ruler, Balder the Brave. “The core of this story is the interactions between those four characters,” the writer said. “And I think putting Balder on the throne is very interesting because he’s not Thor. Thor would have done things differently and Balder being on the throne moves the series in a more interesting direction.”
Gillen is also fond of several Asgardian supporting characters. “I think the romance between Kelda and Bill is fantastic. It gives the series real heart,” the writer stated. “And I really like Heimdall. I think I’m going to use him a bit more in my run than JMS did. The way JMS used him made Heimdall a fantastic lingering image and made me want to see more of him.”
One difference between Gillen’s and JMS’s run on “Thor” is pacing. “I couldn’t move as quickly as I plan to move if JMS hadn’t put all the pieces where they are. I suspect if he had continued his next issues would have been quick as well,” Gillen said, adding, “What I don’t want to throw away from JMS’s run is the sense of grandeur and one of the ways you equate grandeur is panel space. You need more room for images to linger. You don’t play punk rock guitar, which is usually what I’m prone to do if left to my own three issue devices.”
To help capture and convey the power and grandeur of “Thor,” you need an artist with a fantastic visual flair and Gillen believes his collaborator, Billy Tan, is just such a talent. “There is a grace and clean line to his work but there’s also this angry side, which I think is found in my favorite work by Billy,” the writer said. “The first three issues of my run are very dark. I’m playing scenes with this Eastern European dark fantasy vibe. We’re in a pretty dark place and that’s what I think Billy is going to be really good at. Plus I hope he likes drawing rain.”
The action in Gillen and Tan’s “Thor” run will be both visceral and emotionally resonant. “I’m going for large scale fantasy. I want this to be a very emotional book. There’s stuff that I want to do at the end of this book that had me tearing up when I was plotting it out yesterday,” the writer stated. “When I say that I don’t want to imply that it’s just going to be everyone sitting around holding each other and crying for days. This is the end game. It feels like an end of days situation. As the plot flips and resolves, emotions will be felt at enormous intensity. Physical and emotional conflict abound.”
Kieron Gillen’s story has an ending, but when asked if he’ll set the stage for a larger “Thor” tale, like the rumored “Siege of Asgard” crossover, the writer was cryptic. “All I can say is that I want to leave the book in as interesting a state as it was when I arrived. I want whoever comes after to me to have the same dramatic and interesting possibilities that were given to me.”
“Thor” is Gillen’s most high profile comics project to date, and the writer intends to make the most of it. “It feels fantastic to be on this enormous stage. These are very big characters in a situation with enormously high stakes,” he said. “I should be scared to death, but I’m just cheerfully intimidated because this is a fantastic opportunity to do some really interesting stuff and that’s what drives me the most these days.”
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