In 2007, writer J Michael Straczynski, known to his fans as JMS, reintroduced Thor and his fellow Asgardians to the Marvel Universe. The mythic cycle of Ragnarok had led to the destruction and rebirth of the Asgardians, but when JMS brought the gods back from the dead, some things had changed - Asgard, the home of Thor and his fellow gods, was now floating over Broxton, Oklahoma, for example. JMS's seventeen issue run on the series came to be characterized by that juxtaposition of the mythical and the real world. Another hallmark of the writer's run was the political intrigue and machinations of the villainous Loki. All these elements combined to make JMS's "Thor" a top selling title, with a devoted fan base.
So it was with some trepidation that writer Kieron Gillen ["Phonogram," "S.W.O.R.D."] agreed to follow JMS's run on Thor. The English writer is determined, however, to have his six issue run on the series be something equally compelling and epic. "Thor" #604, the first issue in Gillen's run, is in stores now and it's an eventful issue that sets the stage for a climatic confrontation between the title character and Doctor Doom. CBR News spoke with Gillen about his plans for "Thor," which include a tie-in to the upcoming event story "Siege."
Near the end of JMS' run, Loki had manipulated events so that the Asgardians had relocated from Asgard to Latveria, a country ruled by Loki's ally Doctor Doom. Once there, the Asgardians discovered that they had walked into a trap - Loki had led his people to Latveria so Doom could murder, kill, and experiment upon them. In "Thor" #604, Gillen kicked off a new three part arc titled "The Latverian Prometheus" which brings the Asgardians' situation in Latveria to a head.
"It's about the collision of science and the supernatural, a theme that was kind of running through JMS's run anyway, which was about the mortal and the divine. I've sort of picked that up and expanded it with the darker setting of Latveria," Gillen said, "I ran with that a lot. Plus a lot of the imagery in this arc is associated with Marry Shelly's 'Frankenstein,' which is also titled 'The Modern Prometheus.' You've got the lightning and we're using Doom in the role of Frankenstein. So we went with that and made it literal. Doom is experimenting on the divine. So we're looking at the limits of science and the supernatural in this arc."
In "Thor" #604, The Asgardians arrived at Doctor Doom's castle to confront the villainous monarch about what he had been doing to them. Doom reacted by unleashing his experiments upon the Asgardians and, suddenly, the gods found themselves under siege by the reanimated, cybernetically augmented corpses of their brethren. The Cyborg-Zombie-Gods are a convenient tool for this battle, but ultimately Doom wants something different from the Norse Gods; the part of their being that makes them immortal.
"In his pursuit of the Asgardians' immortality, Doom has created weapons that will be interesting and useful against them. Some of the Asgardians have fought Doom before, so they'd expect him to use Doombots. Here's something they won't be expecting," Gillen remarked. "Fighting the reanimated corpses of their fellow gods is not comfortable for the Asgardians. The idea is that they're gods and they're being treated with ignobility. They're being used as guinea pigs - just hunks of meat to be taken apart and put back together while Doom tries to work out what makes them tick. That's really difficult for them to process; so Doom has thought very carefully about the psychological effects of turning dead Asgardians into weapons."
Getting the Asgardians to move to Latveria wasn't the only bit of treachery that Loki orchestrated during JMS's "Thor" run. The god of Mischief also concocted a scheme that resulted in Thor being exiled from his people. The God of Thunder has abided by that exile, but at the end of issue #604, he came to his people's rescue nonetheless. The final page of the issue had Thor raising his hammer, promising to teach Doom a lesson.
"Doom very much believes that he's in control. At the end of the issue, the Asgardians are on the ground fighting these debased cyborg monsters. Then we pan up and you've got Doom overlooking them all, suggesting the idea that he's deliberately elevating himself and looking down on them. Then we pan back and Thor's coming down at Doom with his hammer. I did that to show how all these characters perceive each other," Gillen explained. "Thor looks down on Doom because he thinks Doom is contemptible and a monster. Doom is bitter. You'll see he's angry at the Asgardians. They have this quality and their selfishly keeping it. It's like, 'How dare you be immortal! That's not right. You're keeping an unearned privilege.'"
"Of course Doom's now set them up to try and take their immortality. In his mind, his methods feel justified. He believes he's a champion of humanity, and that's why this arc is called 'The Latverian Prometheus,'" Gillen continued. "So Thor and Doom have done the moral calculations required to turn each other into monsters. Doom views the Asgardians as an evil elite. They're selfish in guarding this thing they have. And Thor looks down on Doom because he's doing monstrous things. Doom doesn't have that real sense of nobility, which is key to Thor."
Another major character in the 'Latverian Prometheus' arc is, of course, Loki. In issue #604, it appeared as though Loki had dissolved his partnership with Doom, but no reason was given--at least no true reason. Last week's "Siege: The Cabal" special takes place after "The Latverian Prometheus" arc and in it Doom appeared to harbor no animosity towards Loki. Many readers are wondering just what the state of Doom and Loki's relationship is, and that's exactly the question Gillen wants them to ask.
"Obviously there's things going on with Doom and Loki that we don't talk about in issue #604. We know that Loki's claim that he tried to stop Doom's experiments is a lie, because we've seen what really happened, but did he have a schism with Doom over something else? Does he think Doom can't win? Is that why he suddenly appeared to the Asgardians? Or is it something else more complicated?" Gillen remarked. "'What's Loki up to?' is one of those questions I always liked about reading Thor, especially during JMS's run. And in between all the fighting, 'The Latverian Prometheus' is a personal-political court story. We set up a sizable conflict, especially in the next two issues, but this story is essentially a political piece about people who want to get something out of a situation and how they can best maximize it with a minimum risk."
"The Latverian Prometheus" is also something of a political story involving two rival kings, Doctor Doom and Balder, the current ruler of the Asgardians. "Another major theme of this story is responsibility," Gillen explained. "I know that sounds like an 'After School Special,' but we're examining how these two kings respond to their perceived duties and what it is they're actually looking for. So it's an interesting contrast between them."
Balder's body language and expressions in "Thor" #604 seemed to indicate that the one thing he's looking for is to give his crown to someone else. "I think Balder is in a really interesting emotional position in that's he's been put in charge and he's really more of a soldier. He's never really been a leader, and he's trying to come to terms with it," Gillen said. "He got 'questionable advice' from Loki, and now he's led his people into this situation where they're being turned into reanimated corpses and used as weapons. He feels it's his fault, because when Thor was in charge, this didn't happen. So there's a feeling of 'What do I do now?' And that will be a thread across all six of my issues."
Like all kings, Balder has a number of trusted advisers, including the Asgardian sentry Heimdall and Tyr, the Asgardian god of War, who Gillen reintroduced in "Thor" #604. "I wanted a foil for Heimdall. With Thor now exiled, Heimdall is an interesting advisor in one way, and Tyr is an intriguing contrast against him," Gillen explained. "In the scene where I reintroduce Tyr, there's a back and forth between him and Heimdall, which is essentially each of them saying, 'This is what I think we should do.' So I wanted to create a a small court of advisers around Balder. Tyr is temperamentally opposed to what Heimdall wants and vice versa."
The final two chapters of "The Latverian Prometheus" set the stage for January's event story, "Siege," in that they bring to a close the Asgardians' time in Latveria. In February, Gillen begins his second three part arc on "Thor," which ties directly into the Avengers storyline.
"This is the first major event I've been part of at Marvel, and one of the interesting things about this job is that you get to see everybody's scripts. I've always been curious as to how the tie-in books circulating a main event story spin-off and add greater depth to that main tale," Gillen said. "So I looked around at what else was going on and tried to craft an interesting story that was a more symphonic piece. I think the best crossovers add to the symphony that is the Marvel Universe. So, when I started reading Brian Bendis's scripts for the 'Siege' mini-series, I was asking myself, 'What kind of story can I develop that will both stand on its own as a three issue story and add something for a person who wants to read all of 'Siege' and its tie-ins?'"
"Siege" is a story that involves both the Asgardian Gods and the Avengers, and Thor's association with both groups means he'll be a major player in the story. So for his "Siege" tie-in arc, Gillen is putting the spotlight on the book's supporting players. "Thor casts a long shadow. His choices have consequences for a number of characters that are sort of in his gravity well," the writer stated. "So for the 'Siege' arc, I'm looking at Broxton and the area around it. I'm interested in the emotional arcs of the supporting cast of 'Thor.' There will be scenes with Heimdall and the Warriors Three."
One of Gillen's early comic projects was "Phonogram," a series that was about magic and music, so it's little surprise that the writer is fond of using musical metaphors to describe the work of his "Thor" collaborators, artist Billy Tan and colorist Christina Strain. "I think it's interesting seeing Mr. Tan's work, because that's when you first start to hear the sound of big riffing guitars. You imagine someone standing on stage with their foot on a speaker. Billy really rocks in that way," Gillen remarked. "Christina colored my first story I did with Marvel. It was about Dazzler, so it had energy and a modern pop sensibility. With Thor, her work is about Metal. It's about atmospherics, power and energy, and she really nails it. Her work isn't overwhelming, but it still has personality. It's like if you bring a guest guitarist into a band. It doesn't take away from the larger sound, and you can still tell which guitarist it is."
That Heavy Metal feel will continue to be part of the overall tone of Gillen's run on "Thor," especially when it comes to the fight and battle scenes. "Metal has an unstoppable quality to it. It's about power not grace. That's how the combat scenes feel to me," the writer said. "And Metal can have a certain campiness to it... but these stories are not campy. You could step back and say yes it's overblown... but why would you do that when you can submit to this greater glory and watch all these powerful contrasts clash and interact?"