Several years ago, Ragnarok consigned Thor and the Asgardian Gods to the void. Since their return from oblivion, their lives have been full of pain and turmoil as Thor reestablished the gods' home of Asgard as a city floating above the earthly locale of Broxton, Oklahoma. It was a move that greatly offended his villainous brother Loki, who launched a scheme to destabilize Asgard and Thor's rule over it. Loki's plans culminated with Thor being exiled and the Asgardians relocating to Latveria, the country ruled by the despotic super-villain known as Doctor Doom. Of course, Doom's offer of sanctuary was really a trap intended to turn the Asgardians into guinea pigs for a sinister science experiment.
Those Asgardians who avoided Doom's experiments escaped with the help of Thor, returning home to Asgard only to have the city come under attack by Norman Osborn and an army of super-villains. The combined might of Thor and several teams of Avengers was enough to end the Siege, but not before the city was demolished and scores of Asgardians were killed, including Loki. In the aftermath, Thor and his people found themselve facing yet another onslaught in an attack by the Dis'ir, a race of ghoulish beings who wanted to feast on the souls of the recently killed Asgardians.
Thor and his fellow gods eventually defeated the Dis'ir, but now they must face their greatest challenge to date. The creative team behind Marvel Comics' "Thor," writer Matt Fraction and artist Pasqual Ferry, began their run by introducing a new threat, a race of powerful inter-dimensional raiders intending to take over Asgard along with the eight other mystical realms linked to it. Can the Asgardians stop these Dark Gods? And what happens to the Marvel Universe if they fail? For the answers to these questions and more, we spoke with Senior Editor Ralph Macchio.
In "Thor" #617, the title character does something to help him deal with the recent tragedies that have befallen his people., something that many Asgardians - and some readers - might not agree with; he resurrects Loki. "Some people have asked, 'Why would Thor want him back? This is a guy who's done all of this horrible stuff to Balder and Thor in the past. And how many times has he tried to take over Asgard?' I think Matt felt that underneath all of that there's still a love," Macchio told CBR News. "There's still something that Thor remembers about Loki, and Matt has tried to emphasize that. When they were younger, there was something there between the two of them and Thor may want to rekindle that. Thor has kind of been off on his own. His father is gone and Asgard has collapsed. There may just be some sibling connection that overrides any of his other thoughts or feelings about what his brother has done.
"If you think about it, even within your own family or families you know, there may be a bad brother and he may have done rotten things to his family. Somewhere along the line, though, the family will still come around and embrace him," Macchio continued. "The family will still be there for him. That's what I think Matt was going for with this situation."
When Thor encountered the resurrected Loki in his onetime nemesis appeared to be a very changed individual. Most notably, he's now a teenage boy. So is this new Loki is the same villainous trickster god that was slain during the "Siege" of Asgard? Or did Loki's resurrection change his personality as well?
"You know, where that character is concerned, it's very tough to say. All of us here, and especially Matt, are big fans of the trickster and we always feel he's got a card he hasn't played. He's very, very smart and very, very devious," Macchio remarked. "I always feel he plans ahead. No matter how much it appears he's been caught off guard or, 'Oh my God, it's the end for me!' He's always got a card in his pocket. There's always something he hasn't revealed yet. Now whether or not this Loki is the same Loki is something that will play out in the books. I don't want to spoil anything for anybody. It is going to be very interesting to see where Matt takes the character."
And Loki isn't the only member of Thor's family reentering his life. When the Asgardians returned from the void they were cast into at the end of Ragnarok, Thor's father, the former Asgardian king Odin, was not among them. Thor later discovered Odin chose to stay in a limbo-like realm where everyday he battled the arch-demon known as Surtur to keep him from escaping back into the Marvel Universe. In December's issue of "Thor," Odin returns to the Asgardians. "We're sneaking him back in. You can't keep a good god down," Macchio revealed. "I'm a huge Odin fan. I love the fact that he has this vast, immense power; he can snap his fingers and things will happen, and he just sort of expects that because he is the king of the gods. I've always loved figures of that sort of magnitude and Matt has a very interesting take on Odin; where he's going to take the character and how he's going to fit into this new status quo for the Asgardians. So he'll certainly be back and he's playing a big role in this developing storyline.
"There's definitely going to be some real drama," Macchio continued. "The relationships among the characters have changed with Balder being king and Tyr, even though he's a war god, fading into the background a little bit. Things are even different with Heimdall. All the relationships are altering. Odin is going to be plopped back into this and have to deal with the set of very different relationships among the characters and of course the Loki situation as well."
Those relationships mean that Balder, Tyr and Heimdall will be spending a considerable amount of time in the spotlight in upcoming issues. "Balder is still king, so he'll still be playing a big role in the series. And Heimdall is still the guardian of Asgard. He's going to have to pull him self back together and recover from his recent horrific visions of the future," Macchio explained. "Tyr is also someone who needs to rally himself. This is a guy who, after the Dis'ir situation in the previous arc, has had to deal with feelings that's he's not exactly a war god anymore. He's going to have to put himself front and center though.
"We'll see a few other characters as well. Sif will be a player, and you may see some of the Enchantress. There's a whole host of Asgardians that you know and love who are going to be popping up and have to deal with this thing," Macchio continued. "This arc is where everyone is really going to have to challenge themselves. Matt has set the pieces up so all these guys are not at their strongest right now. From Thor all the way down the line, all of these characters are kind of not themselves. They're all struggling with internal difficulties, but they're going to have to put those aside, or maybe they're not going to put them aside, and they're going to have to face down a threat. To me, it's a very interesting situation because this is something that's really universal. We all deal with internal demons we have to fight and situations and family problems that never seem to resolve themselves. Yet, at the same time we still have to deal with the world out there; a world that is often out to get us and doesn't care about our family problems or our personal situations. So we have to find the gumption and the internal strength to face that down."
The problem Thor and the Asgardians must confront are a race of savage inter-dimensional raiders called the Dark Gods who have already begun their bloody march through the dimensions linked to Asgard. Indeed, several have already fallen to their onslaught.
"Early on, Matt and I talked about finding a level of villains for the Asgardians that would just be so overwhelming they would sweep the other eight realms before them. Matt had an idea for these Dark Gods that at one time may have had contact with the Asgardians and may have been shifted into this other dimension. When Thor reestablished Asgard on Earth, there was an opening in its proper space among the nine realms; a hole. So this was an opportunity for these guys to get through that little hole and come into our reality," Macchio explained. "Now they're sweeping away everything before them. They're not just going to be satisfied with taking Asgard's place among the nine realms. They want to take all the nine realms. What's happening now is the survivors of the Dark Gods' assault have come to Asgard and are wondering if this is going to be the last line of defense. Can even the Asgardians save them from these Dark Gods?"
While they've shown themselves to be brutal in their assault, the reason for the Dark Gods' campaign against these dimensions is at least understandable; they were searching for a new home because their reality was about to be destroyed.. "They're not as simple as they first appear. They do have a back story, which Matt is going to get into and I don't want to spoil. I will say that there is more to them and their story," Macchio hinted. "Their ruler, Uthana Thoth, claims it's his power, which has kept their home universe from collapsing. The big universal crunch was about to happen but his power kept that at bay until now. Now that they've discovered an opening into a new universe, which they view as a potential gold mine, they're going to allow their old one to disappear, while they sneak in and take over."
The final four issues of Fraction and Ferry's inaugural "Thor" arc aren't just about the battle with the Dark Gods. They're also about how and if the Asgardians can rise to the coming conflict. "You're really going to see what they're made of. Gods don't often to have to struggle, but here they literally have been brought down to Earth. It's really been tough for them," Macchio explained. "Heimdall has collapsed because of the visions he's seen of the Dark Gods. Balder is uncertain about his position as king. Thor is still kind of an outsider among the Asgardians right now. He still has feelings of guilt about having brought about the prior Ragnarok," Macchio explained. "Plus there's all the things that have gone on among the characters. They're not quite themselves because of it. So you have to wonder, do they have what it takes to take on this enormous threat? Then you have the X element of Odin coming back. How is he going to react to all of this? And will he be part of the fight with Dark Gods too?"
As far as Pasqual Ferry's artwork, Macchio is of the opinion it only gets better from here. " He was a guy I really wanted on this title because he was going to bring a look to it that nobody else was going to bring. The way Matt is conceiving what Asgard is going to look like down the road and what we want the gods to look like now is almost a quasi-contemporary look. At the same time, we harken back to the Viking days, but yet we want to move forward with their look as well. Pasqual has a very interesting way of conceptualizing that world. It doesn't appear antiquated. It's both medieval and futuristic. He's been able to combine those looks and put his own stamp on things. Nobody has ever quite done anything like that with 'Thor.'"
While there is much to mine in the saga of the Dark Gods, don't expect them to wear out there welcome in "Thor." The storyline, while intneded to feel epic, will come to a definite conclusion in March's "Thor" #621. "It's seven issues. It's a good sized arc. There's plenty of time for build up, climax and denouement. So it's all going to be there," Macchio remarked. "We felt that the storyline was so big, we didn't want to do it in four issues, or even five or six. So seven issues it is. There will be a resolution, too. This is not something where you get to the seventh issue and it just goes on. There will be a very strong period put on the whole thing."
When the "Thor" creative team was planning out the Dark Gods Saga, they constantly asked themselves one important question: what would Stan Lee and Jack Kirby do? "Matt, Pasqual, Charlie [assistant editor Charlie Beckerman], Tom Brevoort and everybody associated with this book are huge fans of what Kirby and Stan brought to the tile, and of course Walt Simonson as well. There's a feeling that this is a book where you play on a big stage. This is where you really have to get out there and do big, bold concepts," Macchio stated. " Matt realizes that and that's what he intends to do. That's why we're leading off with a storyline of this scope. This is the book where you play with the biggest concepts; the big, big Kirby concepts. We just want to put our own spin on it. We want people to have that sense of wonder that Stan and Jack were able to put into the book.
"Thor is a favorite of mine, and of Matt's as well. This a character we revere. We love getting involved in the mythology; both the Marvel mythology and the real Norse mythology, which Matt knows like the back of his hand. When you have so many great concepts that have existed within this mythology that you can play with, you can work in new ways. At the same time, there's an opportunity for creating so many new things," Macchio continued. "We're sort of in this infinite playground where nothing is out of reach. We're not limited in any way. You're going to see that continue, both with Matt's stories and Pasqual's art, which issue by issue he gets more comfortable with. Remember you've only seen the first couple of issues. Pasqual gets more into this world and you're going to see more and more astounding things. Matt gives him more astounding things to draw everyday. So just look for the book to get better and more eye popping every single issue. I don't think we're going to disappoint you."