When the Marvel Comics version of Thor reemerged from the oblivion of Ragnarok under J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel's creative thumbs several years back, the first thing he did was reestablish Asgard, the city of his people, the Asgardian Gods. He recreated the city not in its usual place, however, but on Earth as a floating metropolis hovering over a rural town in Oklahoma. He didn't know it at the time, but in choosing to do this he opened himself and his people to a whole new realm of experiences and adventures. Thor and the Asgardians still had to contend with the intrigues and machinations of villains like Loki, but they also found themselves interacting more with the world of men.
As a result, current Thor stories easily take the form of action packed epics, intriguing family drama and even conversations with mortals about big ideas. In the May 2011 launching four issue "Thor: Heaven & Earth" miniseries, writer Paul Jenkins and an all star team of artists will provide examples of several different types of Thor stories.
Jenkins, probably best known for his creation of the Marvel character known as the Sentry, has been writing comics for about two decades, but "Heaven & Earth" is his first time writing a book that features Thor as its main character. "This is quite a treat. He's a great character," Jenkins told CBR News. "If you look at my body of work, one of the things I tend to enjoy doing and I've always done is I try to focus on what makes people tick. I haven't really been a big event story guy too often. I've done them, but most of the time I do a lot of single issue material. When I did Spider-Man for close to like five years, most of those stories were not really tied to something else. They were always single or two issue stories about a concept. This series is a journey into what Thor is all about."
Jenkins' plan to examine Thor and his world involves examining a different angle involving the Thunder God in each issue of "Heaven & Earth." "What we're doing is four concepts revolving around Thor and Asgard. My way of looking at them is, they are a great metaphor for belief; religious belief and belief in god and man," the writer explained. "It's interesting to take these supernatural characters and put forward premises about how people see God. How does a mortal see an immortal and then understand his own place in the universe?"
The first issue of "Heaven & Earth" tells a story titled "A Day Before Winter" and focuses mainly on how the Asgardians relate to each other. "It's really about the concept of Loki, who I always thought was a brilliant character. The concept is that Loki is basically destined to betray his fellow Asgardians and bring about the era of Ragnarok. It's going to happen and The Asgardians’ own Oracle says, 'It's going to be Loki that causes it.' So they chuck him in prison because they're really annoyed at him for being the person that's going to betray them. Loki's point of view, though, is that maybe this is a time of renewal. The best villains are not the ones that stand there and yell at you. The best villains are the ones with a compelling argument. And maybe [Loki's] argument is correct," Jenkins remarked. "So the concept is really the value of Loki, because when we read these comics we often wonder, 'Why do they keep that guy around? He's always causing trouble. So why bother with him?' Thor really confronts Loki and they have a discourse about the nature of lies and why lies are not necessarily always bad. If your wife is disfigured in a car crash and she looks at you and asks, 'Do you still think I'm beautiful?,' is it not a benign lie to say yes?"
The second story of the series revolves around Thor's interaction with one man in particular; a Catholic priest who needs some questions answered. "This is a guy who, when faced with the absolute proof of the existence of pagan gods asks, 'What does this do to me? Does it test my faith? Or does it prove to me that I'm wrong?'" Jenkins explained. "Here's a concept that we all have to deal with and that's how do we deal with matters of faith, god and religious beliefs?"
Thor is an action oriented character and Jenkins is well aware of this, so the stories in "Heaven & Earth" aren't all character-based dramas. "Another great story I got to do was about the Red Dragon of Wales. It's this great big fight between the personification of the dragon and all the gods. Back in my Sentry days, I had a bunch of superheroes called S.H.E., the Superheroes of Europe, and the Welsh guy was the Red Dragon. He was the leader, just because I could [Laughs]," Jenkins said. "This story is pretty much an adventure story. So it's a giant battle between the Asgardians and a red dragon."
Lest you think the entire series consists of heavy concepts, Jenkins wants fans to know "Heaven & Earth" will also feature a humorous side. "There's a back-up story where we're using Thor in a humorous light. I've always thought that there's no reason we can't have a character with big powers whose cool, interesting and brilliant and do something that's kind of fun. I asked my editors, 'Does Thor ever do anything fun?' He's always contemplating his navel. When was the last time there was a funny Thor story?" Jenkins stated. "They told me they don't usually try that type of story with Thor. So I said, 'For a back-up, I've got this really funny idea.' I told them and they agreed that it was a pretty funny idea."
Artist Steve Sanders is working on the back-up story in "Heaven & Earth, while Ariel Olivetti, Mark Texeira, Pascal Alixe and Stephen Segovia provide art for the main stories. "I think it's to the benefit of this kind of series," Jenkins remarked. "Our red dragon story is an adventure tale. Another story is sort of a series of visitations between Thor and a man; a Catholic priest. So it's along the lines of a drama in a sense. With those four or five different takes, we get to explore the world of Thor and Asgard and do it in different ways."
"Heaven & Earth" was born out Jenkins recent work on the "Captain America: Theater of War" one-shots. "I did four of those stories. I was originally only supposed to to do one, but I just couldn't stop, and my editor Tom Brevoort didn't want me to. I'm so proud of those stories," Jenkins stated. "In a sense, they were the test run for what we're doing with 'Heaven and Earth,' which is the first in a coming series of miniseries that we're tentatively calling 'The Contrast Series.'"
The idea for "The Contrast Series" came about thanks to some conversations between Jenkins and Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley. "He said, 'Paul, we think you're very good at single issue stories. So we think it would be a great idea for you to go to what is your power alley and go around the Marvel Universe, find a character, do a four issue series with them and then move to another character and keep doing that. So you can do this groundwork of characterization that really supplements the other stories we do with these characters,'" Jenkins explained. "So we created this series, which is loosely called 'The Contrast Series.' It's sort of similar to the way Jeph Loeb did his Marvel color books, like 'Daredevil: Yellow" and 'Hulk: Gray.' Color was kind of their thematic concept. For our first series, the contrast is Heaven and Earth. I'm currently working on a second series elsewhere in the Marvel Universe on another character. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to work with all of the really, really cool ones."
Each book in "The Contrast Series" will be tackled in a similar fashion as what's being done with "Thor: Heaven & Earth." "Each time, we'll probably bring in different artists and write stories that are relevant and provide sort of a single issue primer to supplement what is going on in the main series," Jenkins said. "I think sometimes people might want to know more about characters like Thor or would like to learn about them, and this is a place they can go to."