Holding the Hammer: JMS Talks Thor
by Chris Arrant
Date: 17 October 2008 Time: 06:24 PM ET
Holding the Hammer: JMS Talks Thor
In a land of superheroes and mutants, it takes a lot to stand out. Fortunately for Thor, he's a god.Thor has been a fixture in the Marvel universe for over forty-five years, as a founding member of the Avengers and star of his own title throughout the years. And today he is at the height of his powers, with his series hitting the top of the charts and talk of a major motion picture in the works. It's a big jump for Thor because if you turn back the clock two years he was reportedly dead, with no series, no Avengers membership and no movie in the works. Thor's road back to top started in September 2007 with a new series helmed by writer J. Michael Stracyzinski and artist Olivier Coipel. After a 3-year absence, this new series found Thor reviving Asgard after the mythical events of Ragnarok – setting up shop in Oklahoma. Yes, Oklahoma. Ten issues have been released so far, and after a brief hiatus the book returns on October 29th with Thor #11. J. Michael Stracyznski acts as writer and shepherd, navigating it to new heights and through crossovers, tie-ins and special events. As the new issue nears release, we talked to JMS for more. Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Joe. Over the course of the ten issues released so far, you've firmly put the Asgardian in the top comics sold each month. What's your secret to making Thor work this well? J. Michael Straczynski: It's been amazing to watch, because for Thor, which was always a mid-selling book, to be in the top ten for every single issue since the reboot is just a great compliment. I don't think even Marvel can quite figure that one out, because there's very little action, no cross-over material (which I think may be one of the contributing factors to it doing well, you don't have to read 15 other titles to follow what's going on), and it's set in Oklahoma. If there's any one element to point to, in addition to Olivier's amazing artwork, it's that it's an honest story, with a strong character, on a journey that's designed to feel appropriately mythic. NRAMA: There's been a delay between issues #10 and #11 of several months. Can you tell us what's the cause of this? JMS: The responsibility is mine, and I'll take the rap for it. I got sideswiped by a bunch of feature film deadlines that were supposed to fall in a nice, orderly fashion and ended up all landing at the same moment, time-on-target. My goal is to get the book back on a more regular schedule ASAP. NRAMA: The solicitation for Thor #11 promises to see Thor going out into the modern world more and Loki's machinations beginning to bear fruit. What can you tell us about this issue? JMS: One of the problems with Bad Guys is that they invariably tend to lose. I want Loki to win from time to time...and s/he's being very, very careful and very precise in unraveling this newest scheme. It's subtle and it hinges on the fact that s/he's telling the truth all the time. It's just in how you phrase or frame that truth that the evil slips in. Loki travels to Vegas to meet someone we haven't seen in a long time, and sets in motion the final phase of the plan. NRAMA: One of the more striking turn of events in your remaking Thor in the Marvel universe is recasting Loki as a woman. Freed from the shackles of being a male trickster, she's more dangerous and elusive than ever. What brought you to the decision to go this route, and how to do you think it colors the Asgardian mythos in Marvel comics? JMS: Not at all, because Loki has always been a shape-shifter, both in the comics and in mythology. He's a trickster, and is not above appearing as anyone needed to get the job done. We will get a big hint about how s/he was able to pull off this transformation in the next couple of issues, and when Thor finds out he's going to go right up the flue. Let me put it this way: who's the only other Asgardian who didn't make it through, and whom Loki may be holding prisoner for reasons of his own? And what happened to that person's body? NRAMA: Loki's had her hand in several things behind the scenes, but foremost has been bringing to light the fact that Balder is a son of Odin and prince of Asgard. Was this inspired by some Asgardian stories, or where did it come from? JMS: That comes right out of the mythological foundation of the character. Balder was always represented in myth as being one of Odin's sons. So I thought it was appropriate to bring this element into the book. NRAMA: Balder's new status has put his relationship with Thor in a new place, especially on Thor's part. What's Thor's take on the new developments? JMS: He's cautious about it. On one level, Balder is his brother, literally and figuratively...he trusts Balder implicitly and would do anything for him. But when it comes to the responsibilities of princedom, Balder is a bit of a naif, he's inexperienced, and can be more easily swayed if he's not very, very careful. NRAMA: We can't forget the impact of Asgard as it sits in the plains of Oklahoma – and it's neighboring town, Broxton. We've seen the residents here and then, most notably (for me) with an Asgardian/human romance a couple issues back. Where do you see the Broxton – Asgard relationship going? JMS: There's a change coming in the not too distant future that will turn all of Asgard upside down...a schism that will affect its relationship with the town and one another for a long time to come. NRAMA:When writing gods, it can be hard to humanize them but you've done so by placing them in the modern world – trying to come to grips with the new status quo. Will we be seeing more of their interaction with normal humans? JMS: Definitely. Loki is nudging Balder toward opening Asgard to the outside world (or vice-versa). S/he's going for the bird in a gilded cage scenario...and there's a lot of truth in that argument. So yes, that process will now accelerate quite a bit. NRAMA: Re-reading over the issues so far in preparation for this interview, I'm amazed at the slow-burn approach you used to reintroduce Thor into the thick of things; it's utterly classic and gripping. You're no stranger to fast-pace storytelling, so what led you to this approach? JMS: I wanted the book to have a regal sort of feel to it. It has its own pace, its own voice that's just not like much else out there. My theory going in was that comic book readers have the patience for a strong, detailed character story that doesn't need to blow stuff up every day. Yes, there's a time and a place for that, and there's a heck of a big blow-up coming very soon, but there's room for variation. When the Seinfeld show said it was going to be a show about nothing, everybody said it couldn't/wouldn't work. It did. Thor is about something, about that character finding his destiny, but it's not doing what was expected...and yet it's doing very well. NRAMA: For the most part, you've carefully avoided the wider Marvel universe and all the wars and invasions to focus on Thor's own attempt to recreate Asgard. Why is it so important to focus on this rebuilding for Thor and the cast? JMS: So that they all have the proper amount of gravitas, and so we can really get into the characters in a way that you can't if you're running from one crisis to the next and doing crossovers that steal story time from the main book. My theory on crossovers, in general, is that you do them to promote the characters that appear in it so that readers check out the individual books. Now it feels more and more like the individual books are put in service of the crossovers...and that has the potential to kill any chance for long-term, unaffected storytelling with a single, clear voice. Every time I got Amazing Spider-Man or Fantastic Four or another book firmly on the rails, we got pulled into some big event book or crossover and it cost momentum and messed badly with the pacing and structure of the book. I was very clear that I wanted to keep Thor out of the rest of the Marvel universe for no less than the first six issues. And the success of the book, I think, speaks well to that decision.