Beginnings can be rather dangerous. When you're just setting foot on a new path, it's easy to be led astray or make a catastrophic mistake, and your lack of experience and knowledge about certain things makes you vulnerable and open to exploitation by your enemies. And when you're one of the gods of the Marvel Universe, because of your vast power, a slight mistake could destroy yourself and perhaps all of creation.
In "The Mighty Thor" #8, writer Matt Fraction and artist Pasqual Ferry put the Norse -- or Asgardian Gods, as they're called in the Marvel U -- in that precarious position when they had them begin rebuilding from the destruction of "Fear Itself," which saw a forgotten member of their order return to menace the world. Making things even more dangerous for the Asgardians is the fact that Thor, their chief defender, has vanished, replaced by an impostor with an ominous agenda.
The destruction of "Fear Itself" hit Odin, the King of the Asgardian Gods, the hardest, costing him two members of his family. In the final confrontation of the event, Odin's brother, The Serpent, and his son, Thor, perished while fighting each other. After the battle, Odin retreated from Earth to the dimension where Asgard was originally located, leaving the All-Mother, a triumvirate comprised of the goddesses Freyja, Gaea and Idunn, to rule in his absence.
"The female Asgardian and the female Vanir characters have always been weirdly short-shifted in the Marvel Norse myths. I wanted to start reconciling that, and part of it involved changing and growing the myth. As the Norse cycle has rebooted in the Marvel Universe post-Ragnarok, why not reinvent and rewrite things? That's the tradition of the book and it gives us a chance to do new Thor stories," Matt Fraction told CBR News. "I've done my Odin story; now I've got a chance to do something new and fun with characters we haven't seen in this kind of role. The goddesses that make up the All-Mother are all vital characters. Each one has their own personality, perspective and style, which we'll see more and more as things go on."
Freyja and Idunn have always been part of the Asgardian pantheon, but Fraction's All-Mother marks the first time Gaea has been an official part of the pantheon. She's had an unofficial connection in the past because she's Thor birthmother, but she's actually part of a much older collection of beings known as the Elder Gods.
"She's got a lengthy and interesting backstory, but for me, the thing is keeping it simple and accessible without necessarily invalidating anything that has come before," Fraction said. "Essentially, I want to grow her story and grow into what has come before. I want to tell stories that make sense within their own context. A lot of the god characters had these built-in reboots after Ragnarok; they can reinvent themselves, and we've been having fun with that. It's been a part of my Thor stuff since the very beginning. This is a chance to explore that a little bit more."
Gaea and the other goddesses comprising the All-Mother aren't content to sit back and rule in the same fashion as Odin. In "The Mighty Thor" #8 they announced their intention to rebuild the ruined city of Asgard, transforming it into the city state of Asgardia.
"We've been heading this way for a very long time; it's just been a crooked path. We're reinventing what an Asgard without Odin looks like. How does Asgard work without its established royal structure? And the nine worlds are all here, now, because the World Tree is permanently fixed here. So, what does it mean for all these people to be living together?" Fraction said. "I don't want to turn the book into too much of a political drama, but it's a fun backdrop to kind of work out how all this stuff comes together and present Asgard a little bit like Deadwood. What does the community look like as it establishes itself?"
Establishing the new community of Asgardia will be no easy feat. The All-Mother are dealing a population of diverse beings from across the Nine Worlds who are not used to living together. They're also asking this populace to embrace a new idea, that of government as a republic.
"Asgard was traditionally a patriarchy, and now, there're three women in charge who want to set up a system where everyone is in charge. That seems particularly perilous, from a political stance," Fraction said. "The All-Mother are dealing with a volatile populace. They're going to be fighting for their survival, the survival of their way of life and the survival of Asgardia itself in their notion of reinventing the Nine Worlds as a republic rather than a monarchy."
The reinvention of the Nine Worlds as republic affords Fraction even more opportunities to have the mythical world of Thor and the Asgardians to brush up against the mundane world of the nearby city of Broxton, Oklahoma and beyond. "I don't want the book to become a civics lecture or anything, but a gigantic, pastel-colored, three-eyed elephant walking down the thoroughfare. Broxton is a place where three-eyed elephants walk down the street, and for a reason. That elephant is a senator and has things to say," Fraction said with a laugh. "I want to keep that element of the book. How do you serve someone like that at your diner or serve them at your hardware store? That's what I want to explore with Asgardia and Broxton."
Places like Asgardia and Broxton need heroes, and in the wake of "Fear itself," they lost their greatest one when Thor disappeared. To make matters worse, Thor's memory was stripped from the minds of everyone on Earth, replaced by memories of a new hero named Tanarus. In "Mighty Thor" #8, Fraction kicked off a new arc by revealing that Tanarus is not the hero everyone believes him to be. Indeed, he's actually Thor's old foe, the troll warrior Ulik, who has used a magical charm to disguise his identity.
"I love Ulik and his knuckle dusters, so I knew I wanted to do a Ulik story. I wanted to bring him back, and the idea of the ugly troll getting to be the handsome prince of Asgard felt like a fairy tale. The charmed necklace, the masquerade, the deception of the spell and the forgotten king all felt very mythic," Fraction said. "Ulik may be masquerading as a hero, but he's an ass and a blowhard. He eats like a monster. There's a bit a couple issues from now where he's basically proposing to Sif and eating like a Klingon. She wants nothing to do with him; he still has those troll qualities, but there's something to the ugly troll wanting to have blonde hair, blue eyes and that kind of roman nose that Olivier [Coipel] gave Thor. Ulik wants to be that guy. Now, he gets to live that role. Of course, it corrupts him. Immediately."
Ulik's desire to live role of the golden hero also makes him the perfect agent for a conspiracy that wants to overthrow Asgardia's rulers, a conspiracy composed of Ulik's people, the trolls and the strange, sinister witches who live in the deserts between Broxton and Asgardia. The leader is Karnilla, the Queen of the Norns.
"The Norn Queen and the trolls have teamed up and were able to take advantage of the events of 'Fear Itself' to initiate this conspiracy and have cast a spell over everybody. It's caused everyone to replace Thor in their memories with Tanarus. Odin is gone and, politically, the Nine Worlds are unstable. Now's the time for the Norn Queen and the trolls to make their move to take control of things," Fraction explained. "This story is about casting her as the queen of the outcasts. She's someone who's willing to burn down eight of the Nine Worlds if it means she gets to sit on the throne of the ninth. She's the classic evil queen and she's making her power play at long last. It's not enough for her to be Queen of the Norns, anymore. We'll see how far she goes to make that happen."
So far, Karnilla's plan seems to be working perfectly. Thanks to her magic no one remembers who Thor is and almost everyone in Asgard has embraced Tanarus as their defender and hero. There is one fly in the ointment, however; the youthful god of mischief Loki doesn't believe Tanarus is his brother and will stop at nothing to prove that.
"Of course, everybody dismisses him because he's Loki. They think he's crazy and he's up to something. He's not though," Fraction remarked. "Nobody understands, likes or believes him. Everyone thinks he's still his evil, older self. So, at first, he can't find anyone who believes him that something is wrong with Tanarus."
Loki's determination to uncover the truth will eventually win him one unlikely ally -- the Silver Surfer. "At the end of our 'Galactus Seed' arc, the Surfer chose to stay in Broxton. We saw him briefly in issue #8 and he's back in issue #9, too. He becomes Loki's confidant, so you get to see Surfer and Loki try to unlock the riddle of who Tanarus is, together. If there's ever a buddy book waiting to happen, it's Loki and the Surfer trying to solve a mystery," Fraction laughed. "Ultimately, it's Loki's love of Thor that works like a beacon in this story. It's Loki's steadfast belief that Tanarus is not his brother and his brother is someone great and somewhere out there. That's the engine that propels this entire story."
While Loki searches for answers in Asgardia, his true brother, Thor, is indeed still out there. He may have perished in his battle with the Serpent at the end of "Fear Itself," but Thor still fights on. In a recent battle with Galactus, the Thunder god received a gash in his side that cut a hole in not just his flesh, but reality itself. At his funeral, Thor's body vanished into the rift in his side. In "Mighty Thor" #8, the Thunder God woke up in a strange, new reality.
"Not to put too fine a point on it, but 'Fear Itself' was meant to be a statement about 'death' in comics. It's not real. No one is ever really dead in comics. In comics death is about the resurrection. Characters always come back. That's the story. The story doesn't make the death meaningless. All death in comics is meaningless," Fraction said. "It's fiction. It's going to outlive all of us. It's legend and myth. It's the stories that we're going to tell ourselves for years and years. Hercules will forever have his Twelve Labors whether it's my grandfather reading them to me or me reading them to my son. It's that kind of stuff.
"So 'Fear Itself' was my chance to say my two cents about that," Fraction continued. "This story was never about Thor is dead, but how are we going to bring him back? That's the story. It's not about a meaningful death. What matters is a meaningful resurrection."
In "Mighty Thor" #8, readers were given a hint of the place where Thor starts his journey to resurrection. It's a bleak realm where shriveled, forgotten deities are dumped into the maw of a massive and monstrous being known as the Demogorge. "What does death mean to a god? To me, it means you get forgotten about," Fraction said. "We establish this as place where gods go when they die. They're put onto these arks where they're fed to this giant Demogorge that eats them. It seemed as weird and existential a prison as you could come up with for a god; trapped on a boat outside of space and time where they can't even remember their own names."
The Demogorge made its debut in 1982's "Thor Annual" #10. Since then, the monstrous god-eater has appeared in numerous books -- especially those with ties to the mythical corner of the Marvel Universe like "The Incredible Hercules" and "Secret Warriors." Fraction has read and enjoyed all of the Demogorge's appearances, but for "Mighty Thor," he's harkening back to the earliest incarnation of the character.
"There are different representations of Demogorge, and I didn't want to negate any of them, especially the God Squad stuff from 'Incredible Hercules.' In 'Thor Annual' #10, though, the Demogorge is this giant, massive thing that's literally eating gods. Half of the story takes place in Demogorge's body; it's this crazy being. That's the Demogorge I want to get back to," Fraction remarked. "Demogorge is the primal Sun God Atum ,as well, and I've decided that's the version of Demogorge that moves around and interacts with characters like Hercules. For this story, Demogorge as a notion or an entity is kind of an Eternity-level cosmic concept of the end of godhood."
The story of Thor's battle for resurrection and the conspiracy to overthrow Asgardia continued in "The Mighty Thor" #9. "We've got an 'as above, so below' situation, where Thor and these two other lost gods are struggling to return to some sort of meaning. We get to see Thor stripped of everything that makes him Thor, yet somehow still being the very essence of what Thor is. Just because he can't remember things doesn't mean his character can be erased," Fraction explained. "Then, we've got Loki on Earth, trying to remember what's going on and unlock the mystery of Tanarus. Plus, we have the conspiracy to overthrow Asgardia and the story of Asgardia's ascent all happening at once. So, it's a dense ride. It's a bunch of stuff happening all at once."
For this most recent arc of "The Mighty Thor," Fraction has been reunited with the artist who helped him kick off his ongoing Thor run, Pasqual Ferry. "It's nice to be back working with Pasqual. I felt that he had completely reinvented the book from where Olivier Coipel had taken it, and I think Olivier felt the same way. When he came back for 'The Galactus Seed' arc, Olivier had to completely reinvent the book again. Now, Pasqual is back, and these guys are constantly trying to one up each other," Fraction said. "This arc will show off Pasqual's knack for spacey/cosmic landscapes and his genius character work. We see Thor with this kind of skinny, desiccated look because he's losing his deific power and qualities. He's becoming this emaciated guy. Pasqual did such a great drawing of Thor when he's a skeleton of who he used to be."
The story of Tanarus' deception and Thor's resurrection will continue in the new year, just one of a host of exciting "Mighty Thor" stories Fraction has planned for 2012. While these tales will feature plenty of the title character, Fraction will also take time to focus on several of the book's important supporting players. "In the new year, we get to see more of the love triangle between Jane Foster, Don Blake and Erik Solvang, the cosmologist, while all this stuff is going on. In fact, Don Blake takes center stage, next," Fraction said. "What does he mean to all of this stuff? To who Thor is? And what's Tanarus' involvement in that dynamic? Also, we'll get a chance to bring back one of my favorite Thor villains, who I haven't had a chance to do much with."