HAMMER TIMES PAST: Fraction & Zircher on “Thor: Ages of Thunder”

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is the apocalyptic final battle between the Gods of Asgard and their rivals, the giants of Jotunheim and Muspelheim. The conflict destroys both sides and their realms. In the Marvel Universe, Ragnarok isn’t the final battle between the Gods and the Giants, it’s merely the last stage in an endless cycle that’s been repeating over and over again for countless centuries.

In the one-shot “Thor: Ages of Thunder,” in stores this week, writer Matt Fraction (“The Immortal Iron Fist,” “Uncanny X-Men”) and artist Patrick Zircher (“Cable and Deadpool,” “Terror, Inc.”) chronicle some of the tales of Thor and his fellow Asgardians from past Ragnarok cycles. CBR News spoke with both creators about the project.

“Ages of Thunder” came about when Fraction had a sudden revelation about Thor after years of never knowing how to approach the character. “I had a Thor breakthrough. I suddenly got it,” the writer told CBR News. “It wasn’t just that I got it. I got really excited and started to nag my editor, Warren Simons, who edits 'Thor,’ about it. I just started throwing out these images and ideas for Thor. In the middle of a discussion about 'Iron Fist’ or 'The Order’ I’d be like, 'Hey Warren. You know what would be awesome in Thor?’ I couldn’t shake it. But than the stars finally aligned and Warren said, 'Why don’t you stop being an annoying prick about this Thor stuff and we’ll put something together.’”

InSimons didn’t have to do much convincing to get Patrick Zircher to draw the project that would become “Ages of Thunder.” Explained the artist, “While Warren and I were working together on 'Terror Inc.,’ there was a fair bit of 'sword & sorcery’ material in the origin and flashbacks. Barbarians and sorcerous knights. I really love drawing that stuff and I guess it showed. Warren liked the sequence a lot and asked if I wanted more work like it. Well, Warren edits 'Thor.’ He of the golden hair and mighty hammer. He who did taketh my lunch money every time I passeth the newsstand on the way to school. I think the first issue I picked up as a kid was actually Kirby's last. John Buscema followed on art, and John was one of Marvel's all-time great fantasy artists.”

Fraction believes Thor’s defining personality traits depend on what era of the character one is looking at, but believes there is one character element which links all the eras. “What came to me in my breakthrough was that I finally understood the epic quality the character has to have,” he stated. “It’s that colossal power that comes from a god like character.”

Zircher sees Thor as the perfect melding of Marvel hero and mythological warrior. “Thor's a different man than Daredevil, Wolverine, or Iron Man, with a different body language and mannerisms,” he remarked. “He's a hero from an age of barbarism. Confident. Iron-willed. Dangerous. That's how I like Thor and it's the kind of Thor I want to draw.”

In “Ages of Thunder,” Thor is dangerously overconfident. “He’s the brash warrior of 15 Ragnaroks past,” Fraction explained. “The grand story is about Thor’s arrogance and disconnection from humanity. We see him as a god who doesn’t believe he needs other gods or man. So this is ultimately a story of how Thor’s arrogance was his undoing set against a very heroic and very traditional backdrop of Norse mythology.”

Fraction’s depictions of traditional Norse mythology in “Ages of Thunder” are inspired and informed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “Tales of Asgard” back-up stories, which appeared in early issues of “Thor.” “That’s the template,” Fraction stated. “We’re taking these, great epic stories, folding them around the Marvel characters and remixing and reworking them. We’ll borrow bits from one story and put them in another. So we’re taking the stories from this traditional cycle and building a new narrative out of all the parts.”

The tone of Fraction’s story in “Thor: Ages of Thunder” is as big as the title character. “It’s epic and colossal,” he said. “These are huge stories with lots of thundering action. Everything is turned up to the god scale of things. It’s god-sized, in a way.”

To give “Ages of Thunder” the appropriate “god-sized” feel, Fraction and Zircher experimented with the book’s layout. “The entire story is laid out in double-page spreads. But the story still has plenty of panels and content,” Zircher explained. “It's not just a series of gratuitous splashes. It was Matt's idea-- and it's been exciting, challenging, and a bit of a bitch. Multiple panels have to fall into the space right or left of the fold, those panels that do cross the page have that ever-present fold in the center to contend with, and the whole thing has to feel like a natural read. If it hadn't worked, I'd have cursed

Fraction for making an already difficult job even harder. Okay, actually I was cursing him. That's why 'The Order’ was cancelled.”

Stylistically, Zircher went with a different approach than he originally intended for “Thor Ages of Thunder.” “Originally, I was going to emphasize the 'fantasy’ aspect, add a touch of what Michael Kaluta and Charles Vess bring, ornate and dreamy. Unfortunately, that may be too serene for Thor,” Zircher said. “Fortunately, Matt was 'jonesing’ for something visceral and violent. So it's a bit darker. I'm inking my own work and adding grays, but I'll probably lay down more blacks and shadows as I go along.

“June Chung, who also colored 'Terror Inc.,’ brings something special to these pages,” Zircher continued. “She really understands her choices of color, and knows what makes a horror book look like a horror book and what looks great on sword and sorcery pages.”

The supporting cast of “Ages of Thunder” features almost all the Asgardians. “This is very much about the pantheon,” Fraction said. “Loki is around. Balder is in it. The Warriors Three are in it and so is the Enchantress. And you’ll see lots of Odin.”

“Ages of Thunder’s” setting in a previous Ragnarok cycle gave Zircher the chance to tweak the character designs of the cast. “Loki was probably the most challenging, resisting the temptation to draw his sweeping golden-horned helmet. Most of his scenes are scheming, close to home,” Zircher said. “I wanted something courtly, rather than aggressive. All in all, I wanted to create an impression of Thor and his fellow Asgardians as characters who wear clothes or armor, not superhero costumes--at the same time, keeping an aspect, some of the 'geometry,’ of design that Kirby brought them. That's what makes it Marvel's Thor. That said, I think Thor looks great in black.”

For Zircher, bringing to life Thor and the Asgardians was a labor of love. “As an avid fan of Robert E. Howard's Conan, Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings,’ Michael Moorcock’s Elric, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' 'Mars’ novels, having read and re-read them over the years, and having grown up with Marvel's Conan, Kull, and Warlord of Mars, epic fantasy is ingrained in my head,” Zircher said. “And it's ingrained in a lot of Marvel's characters; overtly in characters like Thor, Namor, Ka-Zar , and Hercules but present in the Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Killraven, and Adam Warlock, too.”

“Ages of Thunder” is bound to appeal to fans of Thor and epic fantasy, but Fraction hopes the book grabs the attention of other readers as well. “You don’t have to have been reading 'Thor.’ There’s nothing you need to worry about continuity-wise,” the writer stated. “In fact I’m hoping to reach out to people like me who have felt cut off and alienated from the character, and myth and Tolkein style fantasy stories in general.”

Fraction enjoyed collaborating with Zircher on “Ages of Thunder” and is astounded by the way the artist brought his script to life. “I loved 'Terror Inc.,’” Fraction said. “It was what made me want to work with Patrick. And his work here is somehow even beyond that. It’s breathtaking. You have to see it to believe it.”

Zircher also found working with Fraction to be an exceptional experience. “Matt is terrific. He's talented and he's modest about it,” Zircher stated. “He finds the humor in adventure without making it farce. The real appeal, as an artist, is that he gives me something to draw: great scenes that I find myself looking forward to.”

The duo loved working together on Thor so much that they’re doing it again. Their next collaboration, “Thor: Ages of Thunder-Reign in Blood” is in stores June 25, and Zircher promises he and Fraction are doing their best to make the story a worthy follow up to the first “Ages of Thunder.” “'Reign of Blood,’ while also set in the past, is still several centuries later, all things being, more or less, eternal in Asgard,” Zircher explained. “Aspects of it are right in step with 'Ages of Thunder’, others are darker. Much darker. I mean, hey, it is called 'Reign of Blood.’”

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