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Aaron Details the Female Thor Debut, Simonson Talks Prior Changes

by  in Comic News Comment
Aaron Details the Female Thor Debut, Simonson Talks Prior Changes

Two and a half months after debuting on ABC daytime talk show “The View” — and attracting much more mainstream media coverage soon after that — the female God of Thunder is here, as the star of Marvel‘s new “Thor” series by writer Jason Aaron and artist Russell Dauterman which premieres with a first issue out today. While it’s not yet known exactly who this new Thor is, Aaron said it’s a character readers of the book will be familiar with — though it looks like it’ll be a while before her identity is revealed.

Much has been said in the past few months on what exactly a female Thor means to the Marvel Universe and the broader comics and pop culture landscape, and CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland spoke with Aaron this past Saturday during his talk radio show on the Los Angeles-based KFI AM 640. In the conversation, Weiland and Aaron talked how the new character connects to the broader history of Marvel’s Thor, the developing mystery behind the lead character and the impact of the heightened attention that the new series has already received.

Additionally, Weiland also talked with legendary “Thor” writer and artist Walter Simonson, whose mid-’80s run on “Thor” is considered one of the highest points in the character’s history. During his time on “Thor,” the character also experienced some notable changes — including becoming a frog during one story arc, which Simonson discussed in detail on air with Weiland.

The audio of Weiland’s entire show — which also features “Big Hero 6” director Don Hall and “Arrow” executive producer Marc Guggenheim — is available streaming online, and a transcript of the interviews with Aaron and Simonson follows.

Jason Aaron

Jonah Weiland: So, this is a big change for Thor.

Jason Aaron: Yeah, it is. If you are a long time Marvel Comics fan you know from time to time we have seen other characters pick up the hammer of Thor and swing it around a bit, but this is still a little bit different even from those stories. We have never seen a female character not just pick up the hammer [and] be worthy of it, but carry it for an extended period of time. So that’s what begins in “Thor” #1 — this is the very beginning of the new status quo for Thor in the pages of the Marvel Universe.

A lot of the reaction, at least from comics fans, was, “Oh this is going to be a two, three issue thing,” but if you read the first issue, it’s clear you are setting up something very, very big here. How long is this planned out at this point?

For the foreseeable future. I’ve been writing Thor for about two years now — the previous guy, the Odinson, the Chris Hemsworth version of Thor, so to speak. I’ve been laying down a lot of story track for the course of those two years. This is not me throwing all that stuff out and starting over, this is a continuation. I’ve got lots of big long-term plans, and for the foreseeable future — not just in the pages of “Thor,” but really in the Marvel Universe in general. When you see Thor, when you talk about Thor, we’ll be talking about her, this new version of the character. Now the other guy is still around, he isn’t dying off, he is not disappearing. He is still a part of this book and has his own story to tell, his own challenge to deal with — that he is not worthy anymore. But the center of the Thor universe will be a woman for the foreseeable future.

For our listeners who haven’t picked up a comic book in a long time whose interest is piqued by this, do they need to know anything to get into this, or does that first issue kind of set everything up for them?

Yeah, you should be able to dive right into “Thor” #1 and get everything you need to know from that issue. Like I said, I have been writing that character for a couple of years, so if you have been reading that stuff, there are stories and characters that feed into the new book, but you shouldn’t have to go back and read any of that. If I did my job correctly, you should get everything you need to know in the pages of “Thor” #1.

When this idea first came to you, was it at all difficult convincing your editors at Marvel to go this way?

No, not at all. We pay respect to the characters that we have. Clearly, these characters have been in continuous publication for 60 years, they have huge fan bases built up around them. All of us who work on those characters, we started out as fans, that’s why we are doing this in the first place. But at the same time, you can’t be shy about making changes and telling stories that haven’t been told before. So to me, that’s what I’m doing here. This is a story we haven’t seen before in the pages of “Thor,” but at the same time, in my mind this is something that harkens back to the very first appearance of Thor back in 1962. That inscription on the side of this magical hammer — there has always been this promise of transformation that goes along with that hammer. It’s been a core part of Thor’s mythology. And this new story, this new Thor, is very much the evolution of that promise.

But with this new Thor seems to come a big mystery because we don’t know who’s picking up the hammer, do we?

No, nobody knows, even the characters in the book don’t know. So Odin — the All-Father, omnipotent Odin — even he doesn’t know. It’s a mystery at first.

I’ve said all along it is a character we know, it’s a character we’ve seen before. It’s someone from Thor’s neck of the woods, from his corner of the Marvel Universe, but we’ll play with the mystery for a little bit initially.

I think our listeners who have seen the movies, and seen Thor’s father, Odin, they know he is not a man who holds back his opinion much — he is a very brash man, a very loud man, in the comics I’d say he’s even more aggressive than he is in the movies. I would imagine there would be some pretty amazing consequences to come in these pages, and we’re going to see them within that family — it sounds like it’s going to really rock this royal family of Asgard in a big way, doesn’t it?

Yes. You’ve got a lot of family drama, you’ve got political unrest in Asgard these days. In the comics, Odin has been away for a while and now he’s back to be the All-Father again. But you’ve also got his wife, Frigga, who has been ruling in his place as the All-Mother. You’ve got them doing some political wrangling. And then of course with Thor there’s always family drama — with his dad, and of course with his brother, Loki. So you can imagine all those characters being very interested in finding out who is this new Thor; who is running around with the hammer, who is underneath that mask.

All this extra attention the book is getting — you’ve been in comics for how long now, about 10 years?

Yes.

And you’ve worked on some pretty high profile projects, but in terms of media attention, in terms of outside attention — not just from comics press, or even entertainment press, from mainstream media — this is more attention than you’ve ever received before for your work. Does this give you a bit of a pause? Does this make you nervous at all?

Not till you start putting it like that, Jonah. [Laughs] Certainly, I’ve never been on “The View” before. I’ve never had a story announced on the “The View,” so that was a first time. But, no, of course the attention and the coverage is great. None of it really changes what I do. I still sit down and write stories that I want to read, and send them out into the world and hopefully people dig ’em. I think I would be worried or nervous about all the attention if I didn’t feel strongly about the story I’m telling. This was never about doing this change for the sake of a sales gimmick, or just to write a press release and have the story on “The View.” This really started with me wanting to tell this story, to tell the story of the character underneath that mask. So what’s happening now, and in the first few issues, will be about introducing this new Thor, and teasing the mystery of who she really is underneath that mask. But for me, really the fun stuff is when we get past that introduction, once we find out who she is and what her story is — that’s the real meat of it. So it’s not just about the initial surprise and the mystery, it’s really about where the story goes from there.

I can’t see many people not continuing to read the book — if they picked up “Thor” #1 as their first issue of a comic in a long time, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t want to come back next because Jason gives you some answers, but there’s a lot of questions to be answered. And before we go we have to give some credit to your artistic collaborator on this, Russell Dauterman.

Yeah, Russell is doing awesome work. He is a newer guy, this is one of the biggest books, and I kind of hit him with a bunch of stuff right out of the gate. He’s having to draw the Frost Giants invading Earth, so he’s gotta draw hordes of icy giants, but I think he is probably doing my favorite Frost Giants ever. Not to mention the way he draws the new Thor. It’s a gorgeous book to look at.


Walter Simonson

Jonah Weiland: Walt, you know why I want you here. You’ve crafted some really nutty stories, for one, there was an alien who looked a bit like a horse who was Thor for a while — but the story I want you to tell our audience is frog Thor. At one point Thor was a frog, but there was a bigger story to it all. I want you to start back in 1983, ’84, whenever this happened, when you went to your editors and said, “I want to make Thor a frog.” What was their reaction?

Walter Simonson: Nobody batted an eye.

Really?

Really. At that time when you were given a book to work on, mostly you had a lot of freedom to do what you wanted to do. I started doing my work on “Thor” in ’83, ran for about three and a half years, and when I write a book regularly, I’ll have ideas. I write them down; some will be actual plots, some will be just a simple idea, some may be no more than a notation — and somewhere in there I jotted down an idea to do story as a tip of the hat to Carl Barks.

When I was a kid, I read “Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories,” and “Uncle Scrooge,” and Carl Barks was the writer/artist who did the Donald Duck stories in “Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories.” He did the Uncle Scrooge stories in “Uncle Scrooge.” He wrote and drew them. He invented Uncle Scrooge. He invented Gladstone Gander, he invented a ton of the guys that go along with those comics, and he was really brilliant. He wrote great all-ages comics. I loved them as a kid, I love them as an adult, and I wanted to do my tip of the hat to him.

So I wrote this note and I didn’t know what it meant, somewhere along the way in the course of my story I got to a point where I thought, “I could do something like that, that would actually be a tip of the hat to Barks, just as an appreciation.” I thought about doing a duck, and I thought, “Well, I can’t do ducks, because Disney really has the lock on ducks, or it’s Howard the Duck,” and I didn’t want to go in that direction. I thought about it and I decided that in most fairy tales when the handsome prince is turned into something, he is turned into a frog.

Right.

So I thought about where I could do a frog story. I did talk to my editors, Mark Gruenwald; probably Ralph Macchio was the editor on that staff by then. I don’t know what Ralph thought about it privately, he didn’t get back to me, he just said “Yep, go right ahead,” and I did a two-part story where Thor got transformed into a frog through magic, through the evil machinations of his stepbrother Loki. The frog lived in Central Park for a while — actually my wife and I used to live near Central Park West, so it was our neighborhood where the Thor frog story took place. It was really kind of a parody of my own stuff.

It was an epic story in two issues where it was the rat/frog war in Central Park. It probably borrowed a bit from Aristophanes, the animal plays that he wrote, and I did a story where I had the epic hero Thor frog show up, helped the frog princess, did all the stuff he had to do and kind of rode off into the marsh on his own — but he then had to go back and deal with Loki. He managed through magic to transform himself. He tried to get back to being Thor, but he ended up a 6-foot-6 tall frog who could carry the hammer and was dressed more or less as Thor. And the story went from there. It was a three-part story in the end. At the time I did it, mostly back then it was all snail mail. This is before the Internet really got going. The mail you got on most books was really positive, “Oh I love this stuff.” It was very nice. Didn’t say a lot, but people enjoyed the stories. Every once in a while I’d get a crabby letter, but really not very often.

In the frog story, with three issues, probably 50 percent of the letters were positive, 50 percent were from people that went, “Gee I don’t know if I’m supposed to take this story seriously? Is this supposed to be funny?” They weren’t unhappy about it — a couple letters were crabby, but most were really not –but they were ambivalent. They didn’t know what to think of it. The funny thing about it now is 30 years later, of all the stories I did, I have two or three stories that people will mention when they come up and talk to me at conventions, and the Thor frog story is one of those three stories.

“Thor” #1 by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson is on sale now.

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