According to Marvel Comics lore, only someone deemed worthy by the Norse God Odin can wield the hammer Mjolnir. That was the story passed down from the first appearance of Thor in Marvel Comics way back in 1962, and both in-story and in-life only a select few have picked up the proverbial hammer to pen the stories of the Asgardian god. In recent years, J. Michael Straczynski has successfully re-invigorated the title and the character, literally bringing him back from the dead. But like all things, change must come. Coming in to be the new scribe for Thor beginning with issue #604 is writer Kieron Gillen.
Gillen has been a fresh name in the pages of Marvel Comics as of late, with work on several one-shots and miniseries, and the newly announced ongoing S.W.O.R.D. Gillen is perhaps best known for the creator-owned series Phonogram with artist Jamie McKelvie, but he has been working with gods in the past such as the Dark Reign: Ares and Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter miniseries. Now as he steps into the title of Marvel’s most prominent god, Gillen and artist Billy Tan have some ambitious plans.
Newsarama talked with Kieron Gillen from his home in England for more.
Newsarama: How’d this gig come about, Kieron?
Kieron Gillen: The secret architects of all reality gathered in a Luxembourg hotel on the 13th of July this year. After hours of debate they came to two decisions: that it is not yet time for the people of the moon to invade the people of the Earth. It is time for Kieron Gillen to write the ongoing adventures of Thor.
More seriously: [Marvel Editor] Warren Simons called me to suggest me it. I accused him of drinking in the office again, but said yes before he came to his senses.
Nrama: I know it’s a bit early to talk specifics on what you’ll be doing since JMS hasn’t wrapped up his run, but I can ask this : how do you envision the character of Thor?
Gillen: Not being awkward – i.e. Totally Being Awkward - there's about half a dozen ways I could take that question. How do I see Thor? A god in the modern world, and unashamed about it. Thor is Thor. The conflict is without, not within. The human and the divine, a burst of operatic-pitch slicing through the marvel universe, the... oh, I could go on.
But twisting the question a little, making the “Thor” be not the superhero but the book itself, what I find most interesting about the character of the book JMS crafted was it being a genuine Fantasy Epic. It was Thor's book, but it never treated its supporting cast just as people to fill in the crowd-scenes. That's striking, and certain something that's at the heart of what I want to do with it.
Nrama: Has Thor been a character on your radar as someone you’d want to write?
Gillen: Well, it's not something I've been actively thinking about. I don't tend to crush on people who I don't think I'm going to get a chance to slink up to and whisper flirty nothings. As such, the idea that I'd be able to play with the Thor ongoing is something I really hadn't considered. I am humble and lowly. To even write the adventures of Thor's all-powerful toe-nail clippings would be somewhat hubristic, y'know?
Nrama [laughs] If you say so.
This run on Thor seems like a follow-up of sorts to your recent miniseries Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter. Could someone read that to get hints about the kinds of stuff you’ll be doing here?
Gillen: Only indirectly. You may get a sense of how I like to run with thematic elements, but Thor and Bill very different comics. I wrote Bill as a Space Opera, getting most of its strength from the contradiction between a character whose greatest power comes from the (irrational) divine despite being set in a (rational) science-fiction universe. Thor, as JMS has been writing it, is primarily a fantasy comic - a fantasy comic with the interest between the conflict between the mortal and the divine, but a fantasy comic nevertheless.
I suppose that's a good way of explaining the difference. Beta Ray Bill was about Science Versus Belief. Thor is about the mortal versus the divine, the transitory versus the eternal. And if it's not a good way at explaining it, it's certainly a good way at sounding right poncy.
Nrama: And will Beta Ray Bill be in your Thor run?
Gillen: Well, that'd depend on whether Bill survives his time harrying Galactus in Godhunter, I suspect. Find out in the final issue, available in all good comic shops now.
That's Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter.
Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter.
Nrama: Hey, this isn’t QVC.
Getting back on subject, have you had an opportunity to talk to JMS about his run, or are you coming into this fresh?
Gillen: I'm coming to it fresh.
Which is my preferred method. Despite being friendly with him – or at least as friendly as anyone is with the slaughterer of southend-on-sea - when I did the 1959 special for Warren Ellis' newuniversal, all I had to develop was the concept and Warren's scripts. I like picking apart what's been written, and looking for what's interesting there. What's unspoken. What potential there is. Actually talking to the writer, I suspect, would curtail my imagination. While I'm following what comes before, I have to write my story.
Nrama: Looking over your other work, this seems like a culmination from the announcements of your other titles, Dark Reign: Ares and the aforementioned Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter – namely, “Gillen Does Gods”. Does it feel that way to you?
Gillen: Yeah, It does a bit.
I feel that between that and Phonogram, I'm increasingly defined as a fantasy writer. I'm fine with that. Fantasy is metaphor. I love metaphor. Especially metaphors involving hitting things with ancient weaponry. Those are the best of all the metaphors. And gods... well, they're the ultimate metaphor. In Phonogram, when I reach for an actual deity, I'm talking about ideas in its purest state. Thor and Ares (and, to a lesser degree, Bill) all are about putting flesh on these concepts and letting them loose, letting them have fun, letting them bleed. That said, I'm not sure culmination is the world I'd use. It's a crescendo, sure, but “culmination” sounds like an ending of things. I hope I'll be playing with pantheons for some time yet.
I'm glad I'm doing S.W.O.R.D. to stretch those science-fiction muscles. I've never been someone who responds to being typecast particularly well.
Also, "Gillen does Gods" sounds like some manner of limited-run erotic film.
Not to discount your other projects, but this is a huge deal – writing a monthly title for Marvel, with Thor no less. And you’re following up JMS. Any butterflies or stage fright? What are you thinking, coming into this?
Gillen: There's surprisingly little nerves after the first fifteen minutes of screaming and weeping every day.
What I'm mainly thinking is the obvious: it's an enormously high pressure job. When Warren offered it me, I did a lot of hard thinking. Following a run like JMS' is the definition of a near-impossible task. Should I give it a shot? Could I really turn it down? I chewed it over a long weekend, annoying the living hell out of my nearest and dearest. After all the heart-searching, I had my moment of clarity. Nothing surrounding the job mattered. It really came down to the simplest, most important thing: do I think I can tell a good story?
I think I can tell one hell of a story.
I'm going to try and do that, sit back and keep the Internet turned off for six months.
Nrama: And lastly, given your musical tastes as seen in Phonogram, will we be seeing/hearing some Asgardian music at some point?
Gillen: I'm manfully resisting the urge for Heimdal to play Of Montreal's "Heimdalsgate like a Promethean Curse" on the Gjallarhorn.