Kieron Gillen has only been writing Marvel's "Thor" series for six months, but in that time he's put his cast through Hell. He began his run by having Thor and his fellow Asgardian Gods battling to escape the clutches of Doctor Doom, who wanted to tear them apart and steal their immortality. Then, Gillen the effect Norman Osborne's "Dark Reign" had upon the gods of Asgard. That storyline ended with the Asgardians' home in ruins and many of their number dead. Now that Thor has endured all sorts of metaphorical Hells Gillen is ready to literally send the Thunder God to the infernal realms. In "Thor" #610, in stores May 26, Gillen sets the stage for a four-part story that begins the following month, sending Thor to Hell on a desperate quest to save the souls of his slain people from a terrible enemy. CBR News spoke with Gillen about the storyline.
Gillen took over "Thor" in December following J Michael Straczynski's run on the book, originally only slated to handle a small number of issues. "It was originally supposed to be five issues. Then it became six. Then it went up to seven when they added an extra issue after 'Siege,' which I'm doing with Doug Braithwaite. That basically wraps up 'Siege' and lays the groundwork for Matt Fraction and Pasqual Ferry's run," Gillen told CBR News. "Then Marvel decided to push their run back just a little bit to give Pasqual a bit more time to get ahead on the art. So they asked me if I had another four issue story I wanted to tell and now I'm doing issues #611-#614. The art on this story is divided between Rich Elson, who helped out Billy Tan with our 'Siege' tie-in issues, and Doug Braithwaite. They're doing two issues apiece."
"Thor" #610 takes place the morning after "Siege" #4, leaving the Thunder God little time to rest. "We recap 'Siege' #4 in the first couple of pages and then we tie up the plot. Deciding who will be king of Asgard is one of the major beats of this issue, because the theme of the last few issues has been Balder wrestling with [that role]. In the climax of #609, Loki essentially put the screws to him and said, 'You could have called Thor back any time you wanted, but you didn't. So you really wanted to be king.' Balder wasn't doing that consciously, but it puts him on a guilt trip anyway," Gillen explained. "So Balder wants to work out what is to be done with Thor, and the other major beat has to do with the fight against Ragnarok, who ends up reemerging from the ruins of Asgard. So it's a grace note to the Dark Reign of the Marvel Universe if you will."
In Ragnarok, the Asgardians face a single foe, but what makes the character so dangerous is that he's a clone of Thor who's motivated by a genocidal zeal and is attacking them at an extremely vulnerable time. "Ragnarok is annoyed that the Asgardians even exist. He was kind of the wild card in the 'Siege' issues of 'Thor.' He didn't come to Asgard because the siege was on, he came specifically because he finally wanted to act upon his disgust of Asgardians, which essentially came about when he heard about what happened with Volstagg," Gillen said. "He's the classic, mental dark mirror of a character, and he really sees himself as a hero. His ideas on what Asgard is and what it should be means he's one man standing against an army, but because he views himself as a hero, he doesn't really mind that he's outnumbered.
"And Thor, of course, views him as a mortal insult. Ragnarok is a character that has been around the Marvel Universe for awhile and obviously Thor is aware of him," Gillen continued. "Everyone remembers that face-off that Thor had with Iron Man over what happened in 'Civil War,' so Thor's not really happy either. Comics are really good at embodying grand philosophical debates in the form of fisticuffs. That's basically what's going on with Ragnarok and Thor."
Another important element of "Thor" #610 will be the title character questioning his decision to reestablish Asgard on Midgard AKA Earth. "I think almost everybody in Asgard blames the current situation on themselves in a lot of ways. All through my 'Siege' issues, people were wrestling with the facts and trying to be better Asgardians than they actually were capable of being. And Thor was sort of sidelined in those issues, because he was one of the driving forces of the actual 'Siege' miniseries," Gillen explained. "So we haven't really seen Thor's response to all that, and we see it in #610. You see how he feels about the part he played in the chain of events that lead to 'Siege'. As we go through the next arc, we get the sense that it's possible Loki was right when he said the natural order has been upturned and you are messing with things that you really don't understand."
In "Thor" #611, Gillen kicks off a four-part tale that spins out of developments involving the character that he previously wrote. " In my run on 'Thor' I've been making up a lot of stuff on the quiet. My natural instinct is to add new stuff which strikes me as interesting. JMS left so much stuff for me to play with, and I wanted to put just as much stuff in there for other people to pick up and play with. Then, when I was asked to do another four issues, I realized it's actually me who gets to play with these toys," the writer revealed. "These issues will explore the deal that was made with Hell in the 'Siege: Loki' special, and have a lot to do with Kelda. We'll even reexplore some of the elements I introduced in my 'Siege' tie-in issue of 'New Mutants,' like how Dani Moonstar was able to fight the Disir. So I've spun a lot of these ideas out to form this miniature epic. In these four issues of 'Thor,' I'm not playing off anything else other than my ideas of who the character is and what I think he should do. Which I know sounds arrogant, but it's not. No, really. It's more like this is the first time I can build something from whole cloth rather than having to weave into other tapestries."
The "Siege: Loki" one-shot Gillen referred to revealed a number of Loki's sinister machinations, showing that the trickster god was able to enslave the monstrous anti-Valkyries known as the Disir and offer their services to the infernal being known as Mephisto. In exchange for the Disir's services, Mephisto "leased" Loki's daughter, Hela, a portion of his realm for a long period of time. Hela is the Asgardian Goddess in charge of overseeing the unvictorious dead gods, and she had been without her own underworld realm ever since Thor reestablished Asgard on Midgard. As a thanks to Loki, she offered up her guarantee that if her father is ever slain, his spirit will not end up in her realm
"I'm not assuming everyone has read 'Siege: Loki,' but the arc that begins in 'Thor' #611 concerns the fallout of the deal Loki struck with Mephisto. The tentative title of the story is 'The Small Print,' and fundamentally it's about how you should read contracts very carefully. In this case, there are people who signed a contract and aren't aware of some of the implications of it," Gillen said. "The main implication involves the Disir themselves, who are now in service to Mephisto, and they become embroiled in a civil war in Hell which has broken out because Mephisto has given away land to Hela. The demons who live there aren't particularly pleased. So you've got a diaspora of demons thinking, 'Mephisto can't do this!' And fighting breaks out."
In the midst of this fighting, the Disir do something they shouldn't be able to do. "For a long time there was a rule that the Disir couldn't go into Hela's realm, Hel, but the patch of land that Mephisto gave Hela isn't Hel. It's just something Hela says is Hel. And the feeling among the Disir is, 'Why on Earth do we have to believe her?' So that's what this story builds from. The Disir charge into Hela's new realm to try and take the dead and consume them. Of course, Hela tries her best to stop this but ends up forced to call in help from Asgard, which leads to Thor eventually going to Hell," Gillen explained. "We've got what is an incredible tragedy. Asgard has fallen, Asgardian gods are dead and now it fundamentally gets even worse for them. The idea that they died is an awful and tragic thing, but now they're being robbed of their forevers. These gods will no longer exist. It's a tragedy piled on top of another tragedy."
When the storyline begins, the Asgardians will have had only about a day and a half to start to rebuild and recover from the events of "Siege." "#611 literally starts with a funeral. We see all the funeral pyres and get the epitaphs for the fallen. Then immediately from there we get news from Hela. They're still at the funeral when the news of what's gone wrong strikes them. So the rubble is still there. There's probably still bodies in the rubble that they haven't gotten to yet, and they're immediately threatened. The whole story plays out over the course of a couple of days. It's a very short, intense, arc."
So far, the Disir have appeared in "New Mutants" #11 and "Siege: Loki," and Dani Moonstar and Loki were able to defeat or drive them off, but appearances can be deceiving. "#611 puts everything into play. It reestablishes the Disir as credible foes. The first two times we've seen them they've been killed and defeated. They were beaten by Loki singlehandedly and they were kind of driven off by Dani. So some people are wondering, 'Why should we be worried about them fighting Thor?' #611 will show why the Disir were beaten so easily," Gillen revealed. "The Disir are mythic beings, so old that the Asgardians aren't exactly sure how they came about. In the real world, our real-mythology about the Asgardian Gods are kind of half formed, and in the same way, the Asgardian God's stories about the Disir and what Thor's grandfather Bor actually did to them are a little bit twisted.
"My ideas for the Disir came from a number of places," Gillen continued. "JMS's run has this 'Lord of the Rings' style grandeur. So I sort of saw the Disir as Nazgul versions of the Valkyrie. They're dark mirrors of the Valkyrie. The Valkyrie take the victorious Asgardian dead somewhere beautiful, and the Disir do exactly the opposite. That's the way my thinking was going with them."
Like their opposite number, the Disir are warriors and will behave as such. "My idea with the Disir was also to try and do a different sort of supervillain group. Generally speaking, when you have multiple antagonists you get the mob, sort of like the enormous crowds of ninjas, or you get the small group of powerful figures. In the case of the Disir, you have a small squad with 13 members," Gillen stated. "Individually, they're not a match for Thor, but the Disir are also an ancient military unit. So I want to show how they coordinate their attacks and work together. They'll employ small group military tactics."
Fortunately for Thor, he won't have to face the Disir alone as the Asgardian God of War, Tyr, will accompany the Thunder God on his mission to Hell. "I reintroduced Tyr at the beginning of my run and he's played a role throughout. 'Siege' was tricky for him. In the tie-in issues, he acted in a way that he found totally abominable and beneath him. He feared a prophecy and it changed the way he acted, and the disgrace is a new feeling for him. Tyr is not a guy who would normally think that about himself," Gillen remarked. "He's haunted by the fact that he wasn't able to man up in that situation. What I was playing with in that storyline with Tyr was superstition; the idea that you can be a god, but you can still have a mortal fear. In this case, it kept him from fighting.
"So I'm sending Tyr to Hell to fight his demons metaphorically and literally," Gilled continued. "When I was reading '1984,' there was this idea that everybody has their breaking point, something that they fear, and I thought it would be interesting to add something like that to Tyr, because heroism is fundamentally about overcoming your fears. And can Tyr overcome this? Especially when it goes against the whole core of his character? That made sense in the larger arc I've been weaving for him, because Tyr can't really redeem himself in his eyes. He backed away from the frontlines when he thought he was doomed to die, and in his mind no deed that he does will ever get rid of that. Everyone feels he fought bravely, but to him, there's a stain on his honor."
In the past, Thor and Hela have had a mostly antagonistic relationship, but when Thor goes to Hell, the Queen of the Dead will be there to lend him whatever aid she can. " Hela would like to have more people in her realm, but she also feels that she's got a job to do. She fiercely understands what that job is, too. Loki causes all sorts of mayhem as a way of rebelling against his position as the God of Mischief, but Hela is quite into her position. She understands that it's necessary and feels a sense of obligation. At other times, Hela and the Asgardians may be at each others throats, but in this situation, they're very much on the same side," Gillen remarked. "They have a shared interest. I quite like seeing people who are antagonistic be drawn together because there is something they share. So things aren't black and white. These characters have their own desires, needs, beliefs and personal codes. The idea that they do have some common ground is interesting because it implies that they're more real and not cardboard cut outs."
Loki may have been killed by the Void in "Siege" #4, but that doesn't mean the recently deceased God of Mischief won't have a role to play in Gillen's final "Thor" arc. "There are some flashbacks involving Loki. A couple of other elements from Loki's plan are brought to light in this story. A lot of it involves why he won his fight with the Disir. He's Loki. He prepared. He knew what he was doing. It's very rare that Loki doesn't plan for something," The writer explained. "Also, I had a lot of fun with the Loki-Mephisto scenes in the 'Siege' tie-in, so there's at least one of those scenes in this arc; just to get them chatting again. Because they do like to keep in touch [Laughs]."
The idea of Thor going to Hell conjures up all sorts of stark, apocalyptic, and foreboding imagery and Gillen feels that his artistic collaborators on the story, Rich Elson and Doug Braithwaite, will blow readers away with their depictions of Hell. "Both Rich and Doug are guys who are very good at this kind of thing. I'm trying to create enough space so they can really cut loose and create these incredible pieces of imagery. The idea of Thor going to Hell and marching across this plain of bones just fires the imagination," Gillen said. "This story involves prototypical pulp imagery. I'm embracing that part of the genre."
For any readers who may want to dismiss the story arc that runs through "Thor" #611-614 as a place holder to fill time until the book's new creative team begins their run, Gillen cautions that he feels that he's saved his best story for last.
"This is a logical story that I think people might be interested in. It's not like this is a story that's been generated from nothing. It was built from my work and I'm hoping it will be my definitive 'Thor' story; that people will look at these four issues and go, 'That's what Kieron's run was all about,'" Gillen stated. "The fact that this story arose so naturally was very pleasing. I was asked to write the story and then I literally sat down and wrote an e-mail a few hours later outlining my rough idea. I threw down the basic story and a few beats. I asked them if this was something that was worth doing, and they were like, 'Yeah, absolutely!' This felt like a story that really had to be told."
When Gillen finishes his run on "Thor," the writer will have completed what he feels was one of the most enjoyable assignments he's ever taken on. "I grew to love the universe and the characters so much. They were characters that, initially, I didn't have a complete grasp on, but by the end I really genuinely empathized with all of them. I liked Loki, especially. He's someone I felt like I didn't have a proper handle on in the beginning, but by the end I had very firm ideas about Loki," the writer said. "I was able to put so much of myself into these characters. I joked that Balder was basically in my position, a gentlemen who's been put in charge of a kingdom he's maybe not qualified for and wrestling with the enormity of the task he was facing. I could magnify all my hopes and fears about the world and put them into these characters, because essentially that's what mythology is for. These gods reflect, inspire and critique us. I was having dinner with Matt Fraction at the San Diego Comic Con last year, and I told him that I'm going to really miss writing these characters. I feel a good kind of melancholy. It was a real joy writing 'Thor' and I'll genuinely miss it."