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Donny Cates' Thor Dons His Crown in the Blackest of Winters

During writer Jason Aaron's seven-year run on Marvel's Thor, the thunder god weathered several seemingly impossible foes and life-changing challenges, such as the loss of his enchanted hammer Mjolnir, and the attempted conquest of the Ten Realms by Malekith the Accursed's Dark Council. That run ended with the Odinson facing his toughest challenge yet, by claiming his birthright.

The rule of Asgard's new king begins in January with the launch of a new volume by writer Donny Cates and artist Nic Klein. CBR spoke with Cates about his planned multi-year saga for Thor and the challenges the king will face, which include adjusting to the lonely life of a ruler, a monstrous new foe, and a multitude of bloody battles.

CBR: Your Thor run comes after Jason Aaron's multi-year stint which redefined the realms of Asgard and Thor's place in them. So what do you see as your sort of marching orders for this world when you pick it up?

Donny Cates: It's no secret that Jason Aaron is my favorite writer in comics. His Thor run is one of the greatest of all time, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel some pressure following my favorite writer on one of my favorite characters. [Laughs] I followed Jason on Doctor Strange though, too, so I've dealt with this before. I know people are coming in with preconceived notions, but that frees you up to say, “I'm gonna go and do what I want to do because that's what Jason did.”

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That being said, what is my run about? I can't really get into overall specifics, but I will say the theme running throughout the entire thing is me steering into the “Jason” of it all. Because Jason's run ended with Thor becoming king of Asgard. So my run starts off with him looking at his new kingdom and at the culmination of his life that was Jason's run and saying, “Are all my best stories behind me?” [Laughs] Which is me leaning into walking into Jason's shadow.

People treat Thor differently now and he's looking towards the end of his time as the strong headed prince. He now has to be the man in charge. So, what does that mean?

From Marvel's Thor #1, by Donny Cates, Nic Klein and Matthew Wilson

A huge part of Jason's run was Thor learning to be “a good god.” Does that necessarily mean he knows what it's like to be a good ruler?

No. I've always joked that what I love about Thor is that he's Superman, but he's a dick. [Laughs] He's so incredibly fallible. He's still a young god, and still makes all the mistakes that young, hot-headed guys do. Now he's been forced into this spot where he has to be king and everyone is looking to him. His friends and drinking pals all bow to him now. That makes him really uncomfortable.

I was talking to my wife, Megan, about the huge plans I have for Thor with epic battles and all these other crazy things. She asked, “If he can do all that where's the drama? If he can't be hurt where's the intrigue?” I said, “The intrigue comes from thinking that he's not worthy of this title. It comes from him being able to fight all these things and being worthy of the hammer, but realizing he hates being king and is ashamed to say it.”

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EXCLUSIVE: From Marvel's Thor #1, by Donny Cates, Nic Klein and Matthew Wilson

So, he's a divine being suffering from the very human phenomenon of imposter syndrome?

Yeah, that's a really good way of putting it. He's always looked to his father, and his father's throne as this pinnacle of what he should grow up to be and this title that he was meant to have. We readers known though that Odin is just as messed up and hasn't got it all figured out either.”

That's kind of all of us too. My peers at Marvel right now are Jonathan Hickman, Jason Aaron, Mark Waid, and all these other incredible creators. I look at them and I'm like, “What business do I have being here at Marvel and writing these books when all these great writers are in the room?” You get to know them though and you discover we're all thinking the same thing. None of us has it figured out. Hickman might have it figured out. [Laughs] But the rest of us are trying to figure it out as we go.

I'd be wrong if I didn't say that there wasn't a piece of me in everything that I do. And I think me being on Thor is very much that imposter syndrome. I'm looking down the barrel of the first A-List hero book I'm writing and asking, “Am I worthy of this?” Everyone seems to think I'm worthy of this title, but I don't know that I am. That's me going into this book, and that's Thor going into his throne.

EXCLUSIVE: From Marvel's Thor #1, by Donny Cates, Nic Klein and Matthew Wilson

Thor is sporting a new look courtesy of Nic Klein. What can you tell us about the suit? And What sort of input did you give Nic for the design of Thor's new costume?

I know a lot of people have a lot of questions about the new costume and the lack of a number of things including a severed arm. [Laughs] There are natural reasons for all of that though. The new costume comes very organically out of the events of Issue 1. You'll understand why when you read it.

I loosely described what I had in mind for the costume in the script. Then Nic turned in layouts and a few designs and he nailed it really quick.

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When we started casting for who we wanted to be on Thor I told my editor, Wil Moss, that what I wanted on the book was my Thor version of Ryan Stegman. I wanted somebody who gets it, and will be there for the entire thing. And Nic has been that.

He's so perfect for the look of the book, and working with him has been an absolute dream. We talk every single day and he's into things as much as I am. That's always what you want.

From Marvel's Thor #1, by Donny Cates, Nic Klein and Matthew Wilson

What can you tell us about your plans for the other Asgardians?

My run on Doctor Strange had Loki all over it. He was one of the first characters I wrote at Marvel and he's incredibly hard to write because every word that comes out of his mouth has to be able to be taken four different ways. Is he telling the truth? What games is he playing?

So I definitely wanted to do something with this new dynamic of these two brothers who have warred forever and are now both kings. What does that look like? You'll begin to see what that looks like in Issue 1.

I also really fleshed out found Hugin and Munin. They were Odin's ravens and now they're Thor's ravens. Everywhere that Thor goes in the book his ravens are always there. We're utilizing them not just as storytelling devices. They're also used as armor. They make sort of a protection belt around Thor. He can wield them in some attack scenarios too.

As for the rest of the cast? Sif plays a really cool role in the book. I can't say much more besides that, except you'll understand more when you read the first issue.

I love her, Volstagg, and Balder, but There's a big difference between their relationships with Prince Thor and King Thor. That's something that Thor is learning throughout this book. Prince Thor was able to be everyone's friend. He was able to ride that line between being a nobleman and a man of the people. King Thor can't. King Thor has to think about all of Asgard and the realms. That often puts him at odds with his friends and family.

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So there's a sense of isolation?

Yes, he's very alone in this title. Sometimes he has to piss people off that he cares for deeply because certain things have to be done for the whole of Asgard. That won't go very well for him though when he crosses paths with a certain Korbinite with a big, golden hammer.

That happens in Thor #3, guest starring Beta Ray Bill, and Bill was part of your Guardians of the Galaxy run. So, what's it like returning to him for this title?

I never really left Bill. I have big plans for the guy. I pulled him into Death of the Inhumans, and I've been consistently writing him since then. I've kind of cordoned him off for my own purposes. That's partly because I love him so much, and partly because I've known I was going to be on Thor for almost three years now.

So, almost every Marvel book I've done has been leading to Thor. Especially the cosmic stuff like; Thanos Wins, Death of the Inhumans, Silver Surfer Black, and Cosmic Ghost Rider.

Thor won't be all about the symbiotes and Knull though. I'm not going to say that those things will never intersect, but Thor begins a new chapter of the stories I'm writing at Marvel. Yes, it's a culmination of my Cosmic stuff, but don't expect it to tie into the Knull saga. That's a Venom plot line.

From Marvel's Thor #1, by Donny Cates, Nic Klein and Matthew Wilson

Speaking of new things, who or what is the, Black Winter, the new antagonist you're introducing in Thor? What do they want? And how big a threat are they?

I can't tell you. [Laughs] You're going to have to find out for yourself in Thor #1. This is an idea though that I've had for a very long time and has required a lot of research.

Essentially, the idea of this villain goes back decades in Marvel lore. I found a little piece of untouched territory in old Jack Kirby stuff, and it blew my mind that no one had ever touched it before. So, I called Tom Brevoort as soon as I thought of it. I was like, “Is it possible that no one has ever explained this thing?” He was like, “No.” And I asked, “Can I do it?” He said, “Yeah, totally.” So, this has been gestating in my head and it ended up being perfect for Thor.

This first arc really sets the stage for the ongoing run. Then every arc gets bigger. And in the first issue you'll see three or four different mysteries that are questions raised by the first issue. We'll answer those questions over the course of a few years.

So, if people tune in and love the first arc stay tuned! Because things keep on getting bigger and and badder.

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Will your Thor run touch on books like Valkyrie: Jane Foster and Avengers?

Yeah! That's one of the cool things about Thor. I was at a Marvel retreat where I was talking about a scene where Thor was off in some other realm, and editor Nick Lowe chimed in and said, “I really like it when Thor is on Earth. Do you have any plans for Thor on Earth?”

I said, “I don't know because Jason [Aaron] is doing that in his book, and I don't want to step on his toes.” Then it dawned on me, “Wait! I can write that too!” I can write Thor hanging out with Iron Man. So it opened a whole new door for me and the introductory pages of my first issue has Thor dealing with this new status quo of how he splits his time being a king and being on the Avengers.

My second arc will have a lot of Valkyrie things and some other familiar touchstones. That arc was going to be my first one, but we decided it was maybe a little too shocking and hardcore to lead out of the gate. So it actually worked out being great. The first arc that we have right now is a great way to blow the doors off this thing. The second arc though is horrifying. It's a story that whenever I tell it in the room everyone is like, “Jesus dude! You're actually going to do that?.”

Finally, It sounds like the story you're telling in Thor is one you'll tell over the course of a few years. Is that correct?

Yeah, Thor is the book to do that kind of stuff on. It's the book to build mythologies and do long form storytelling. I've also had the freedom and time to put together a multi arc story, and it's been really nice.

A lot of the material that we've released for this book is of this shining god Thor in this beautiful new costume with his long flowing hair, and the Rainbow Bridge. That's us trying to get across the grandeur and epic nature of the book. But I think It's important for me to tell people that this is not a book about how pretty Thor is. [Laughs] This is a brutal, bloody book that fights in the mud while hurricanes rage and thunder claps in the background.

It sounds like there will be a lot for heavy metal fans like me to love.

Hell yeah! A while back Matt Fraction said when you read a Thor book it should sound like Led Zeppelin. And while I completely agree I want my run to sound like Norwegian Black Metal.

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