The Norse pantheon -- or Asgardian, as they're called in Marvel Comics -- are a proud collection of divine beings with many virtues. However their primary worshippers were a warrior culture, and so the Asgardians are ready, willing and able to go to war. Sometimes they'll take up arms against the forces of evil but other times they'll take up arms against each other.
The latter is exactly what happens this August as one of the Asgardians' deadliest enemies launches a scheme that rekindles an old blood feud and ignites a civil war in the new city of Asgardia. The war will be chronicled by writers Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen in "Everything Burns," a nine-part crossover story taking place in the pages of "Mighty Thor" and "Journey Into Mystery" featuring art by Alan Davis and Carmine Di Giandomenico. CBR News spoke with Fraction and Gillen about the project, which was announced at Sunday's Marvel: The Next Big Thing panel at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo.
Around this time last year, Fraction kicked off the latest volume of "Mighty Thor" with a new issue #1 while Gillen launched the current incarnation of "Journey Into Mystery" with issue #623. From that time, the two writers knew they wanted to eventually have their two books cross over for a single epic story. So they began plotting out and setting the stage for the story that would become "Everything Burns."
"We've been headed towards this for an awful long time," Matt Fraction told CBR News. "As Kieron and I started putting this stuff together, we knew we wanted to do a Thor event, a celebration of everything we've been doing, and now the water is boiling."
Kieron Gillen added, "I mentioned way back in our first 'Journey Into Mystery' interview that this would pay out into something apocalyptic and cataclysmic. Matt and I always said we were going to do this, and then we realized that now was the perfect time to pull the trigger on this enormous story. This is the crossover we always wanted to d,o and now is the time to do it in 'JIM.' I probably wouldn't have room for it otherwise."
Fraction and Gillen have crafted "Everything Burns" to be epic tale with a huge scope and scale. As such, the writers will use the next few months of "Mighty Thor" and "Journey Into Mystery" to tell stories that both stand on their own and set the stage for what's to come.
"'Mighty Thor' #13-17 is an arc called 'Marelock.' It's the story of a lost race being recovered. They don't have a spoken language. They communicate through dreams, and suddenly these giant viking warriors show up, so they think they're being invaded. They communicate with nightmares, which means the Asgardians, elves, and orcs will all be having the same dream and will all be dreaming it at the same time. It's an invasion story where nothing gets invaded," Fraction explained. "As you saw in the recent 'Tanarus' storyline, when Thor returned, Donald Blake didn't go away. Blake goes to the Enchantress and says, 'I'll give you my soul if you make me a god again.' So the Enchantress is going to mold herself a man. They happen to go to Asgardia as everyone is asleep, and it's absolute chaos. This is our D&D arc. It's Thor going into some caves with hexagon tiles on the floor."
Loki is Thor's younger brother and the star of "Journey Into Mystery." In Gillen's opening arc for the book, the reincarnated pubescent god took on an elaborate espionage mission to try and protect his brother and the world from the threat of a malevolent Fear God known as the Serpent. Loki was partially successful, and as a result, Asgardia's new rulers, the triumvate of goddesses known at the All-Mother, made him their spymaster. In the months leading up to "Everything Burns," Loki must contend with an old bit of business coming back to haunt him and a war in another dimension.
"First we have, 'Exiled,' our upcoming crossover with 'New Mutants' which is about the culture clash between that book and 'Journey Into Mystery.' That primarily focuses on what I've been doing with the realm of Hel, with Hela and her realm. I brought Tyr over there; I introduced the Disir as their opponents; and I introduced Hela's handmaiden and Loki's current BFF, Leah. So 'Exiled' focuses on some of the developments there," Gillen stated. "With 'Exiled' we didn't immediately think of 'New Mutants.' It was essentially a story about the Disir and what they were going to do. I hoped to do it in 'Journey Into Mystery,' but I've got more ideas than I can fit in the larger structure.When this crossover was suggested, I thought it was a great chance to tell the Disir story because I introduced the characters in the 'New Mutants' issue I wrote that tied into the 'Siege' storyline.
"After 'Exiled' we have our 'Manchester Gods' arc, which is almost foreshadowing" Gillen continued. "'Everything Burns' is about an enormous war between the Nine Worlds, and 'Manchester Gods' involves a civil war in Otherworld, the British subconsciousness, which is also the home of the Celtic Gods and characters like Captain Britain. So it's almost like Loki is going off to be a CIA agent in another world. It let's him experience war first hand. I realized I've done a year's worth of 'Journey Into Mystery' now, and Loki has never hit anyone. This is a Marvel book where the lead character has never done anything to hurt anybody in a direct physical action. That says a lot about how unusual 'JIM' can be."
"Everything Burns" begins in August's "Mighty Thor" #18, an issue that will take a little-known event from real Norse mythology and examine how it affects Marvel's current Asgardian mythology. "There's actually a missing chapter in the traditional Norse myth cycle. There's a war between the Aesir and the Vanir, the two upper most races in the Norse realms. It's referred to in other sagas, but the actual telling of the event; how it happened, why it happened, who won, who lost has been obliterated or lost," Fraction explained. "That's always been fascinating to me. Not just as a fan of these myths in particular, but for the comics, because a lot of these characters are the ones that are kind of missing in the comics, specifically a lot of the women. Gillen and I have been doing a lot of gender stuff in our own ways, and this was a chance to amp that up, especially with the All-Mother taking over the throne from the departed Odin. Basically we'll see the kick off to the second Aesir-Vanir War and Thor is Asgard's general on the front line of it. In terms of important stories, it doesn't exist except in reference."
"Matt's first issue is basically a prologue about the war," Gillen added. "This is ancient history coming back that not many people remember. That's where we kick off. There's an uprising. There is war in the Nine Realms. Vanaheim is marching again, but this time it's different. The differences are the key thing. The Nine Realms is very chaotic and uprisings seem to be a weekly event, but this is something the Nine Realms has not seen before."
As readers of "Mighty Thor" and "Journey Into Mystery" know, many of the gods that make up the Vanir are female. So the outbreak of a second Aesir-Vanir War means that gender politics will be an element of "Everything Burns."
"There is a sort of 'Men Are From Asgard Women Are From Vanaheim' element to the story," Gillen joked. "As Matt mentioned, we have been doing things with the idea of females and feminism in Asgardian culture. I was doing something with it, but when Matt introduced the All-Mother, I jumped in with both feet. I was doing stuff with the Disir and Hela and Leah, and we've seen Loki's interactions with the All-Mother. It's not how Odin would have done it. So the Vanir is very much Matt's part of the story and it was a part of the story I really liked so I immediately worked it into 'JIM.'"
When the Aesir-Vanir war breaks out, Thor and Loki will have to carefully consider which side they choose. And Thor's decision will certainly be impacted by his discovery of Loki's espionage activities.
"''Everything Burns' will be an introduction to 'Journey Into Mystery' for a lot of 'Mighty Thor' readers, and 'JIM' is an incredibly complicated book. I want to be able to welcome the 'Thor' fans and embrace the civil war. The natural way to do that is, Thor doesn't know everything that's been going on. Part of the story is that Thor discovers what happens and Loki comes clean. That handily allows 'Thor' readers to catch up," Gillen said. "Thor is the general of Asgard in many ways. He's their Captain America. Especially in the last year of comics, Loki has basically been their CIA. He's basically the Nick Fury of Asgard, and the moment Thor discovers that, it's a wake up moment for both of them."
Thor's brother's activities may cause some problems between him and Loki, but readers shouldn't expect them to once again become enemies, at least not while there's a war going on. "If everyone is going to survive, Thor and Loki are going to have to work together. We've seen how they feel about each other -- they are brothers above all and through all," Fraction said. "Right now, their relationship is probably the strongest it's ever been in the Marvel history of these two characters. If you read the actual Norse myths, you got to see Loki and Thor when they were brothers and friends, but in the Marvel world, we never really got those stories. Loki was always kind of the bad guy.
"Loki is Loki, though, and if you've been reading 'Journey Into Mystery' you know what Loki's been up to, who he is and what's been happening. So all these stories have been coming to this one central point," Fraction continued. "It's sort of a minor 'Game of Thrones.' We've been doing a lot of political stuff in 'Thor' with all the races and the World Tree being located in Asgardia. And everything that Kieron has so masterfully been doing in 'Journey into Mystery' all points to this story where Asgard is ripped asunder by this ancient blood feud that has been scrubbed from the record."
The second Aesir-Vanir will be a huge-scale conflict, which means "Everything Burns" will feature many of the supporting characters that live in the city of Asgardia and the nearby town of Broxton, Oklahoma. "This is story where we'll get to see everybody. There's a shocking turn of events for the Warriors Three. Sif plays a critical part and Valkyrie plays a critical part too," Fraction explained. "What may have seemed liked random character moments has all been about moving these pieces on to the board. This is very much an epic Thor story."
One goddess that will play an especially significant role in "Everything Burns" is Hela. "Hela and her forces are some of the more interesting elements of this story," Gillen stated. "The Nine Realms may be at war, but Hela has got her own agenda. That's one of the mysteries running through this; the question of what does Hela and her minions want from this."
While it's currently unclear if Hela will play a friendly or antagonistic role in "Everything Burns," the story will have a clear-cut villain, and he's one of the most dangerous adversaries the Asgardians have ever faced. "This isn't going to be a surprise to people when they see the preview art, because a certain 1,000 foot tall fire giant is in it," Gillen said. "I've been setting up the return of Surtur forever. We knew eventually he would come back, and this is my big Surtur story. We realized that these stories fit together perfectly and what we had was a really big political action thriller with an enormous scale. We took all of these stories and merged them into what became 'Everything Burns.'"
During writer-artist Walter Simonson's legendary Thor run in the '80s, Surtur nearly succeeded in bringing about Ragnarok, the ancient Asgardian prophecy that ushers in the end of the world. His failure meant he was imprisoned in a limbo-like realm, but Loki recently had to free the giant to make sure his initial espionage mission was a success.
"Surtur is still a creature all about doom. This story is him looking to bring about doom in a different way, though. It's nothing as easy or understandable as Ragnarok. It's a whole new kind of game. That's the heart of it. If you'll allow me to get a little Prog-Rocky so to speak, fire is a metaphor for destruction, but it's also one for change. One of the lines I wrote when I first wrote Loki back in the 'Siege: Loki' one-shot is 'I'm Loki. I'm the first that burns. Why does the fire burn? I don't know.' There's a truth to that and Surtur is that without the angst," Gillen said with a laugh. "He's very happy to be the fire that burns.
"One of the things I find interesting about Norse mythology is they split their Lucifer figure up a bit," Gillen continued. "Quite often you'll get a Prometheus figure mashed up with a Lucifer figure and other combinations. In Norse mythology, though, you've got Surtur, Hela and Loki taking different aspects of the traditional antichrist into different directions and philosophies. That's something I wanted to explore. Loki is a trickster and the Nine Realms is his playground. Hela is ruler of the dishonored dead. Surtur, though, is change personified. He sees the universe as fuel and that's an important idea because you need fuel for things to burn. There's a lot more, but I don't want to spoil the point of the story."
"I was telling Gillen earlier that if I'm the heavy metal record, he's the prog record. If I'm Sabbath, he's King Crimson, and together it's a hell of a festival," Fraction joked. "I hope 'Everything Burns' turns out to be the most 'metal' story I've done in 'Thor' so far. It's tough coming out of 'Marelock' which is really, really metal, down to having the best ever death metal band in Broxton appearing in it. 'Marelock' is super metal. 'Marelock' is your 'Ride the Lightning' or 'Master of Puppets.' Then, 'Everything Burns' is very much your 'And Justice for All.'"
"'Everything Burns' is a war story. Thor plays the hero Captain America-General role. Loki plays the Nick Fury role. The idea is that Thor is out on the front lines experiencing heroic triumphs and tragedies while Loki is in the shadows doing Loki stuff. Both of them are somehow trying to avert everything from basically being annihilated," Gillen added with a laugh. "This is a story that's darker than most of 'JIM' has been. It's a book that's always had an underlying darkness. It's a book that can often seem like a comedy, but if you scratch the surface, it's pretty heartbreaking. This is the story where all the fun and games start catching up with Loki. This is a story that's hopefully moving, powerful and poetic."
"Everything Burns" moves back and forth between "Mighty Thor" and "Journey Into Mystery," but Gillen and Fraction won't be taking turns telling individual chapters. "This is one big crazy story, and I suspect both our names will be on both books," Fraction said. "Essentially, it will be like having a bi-weekly Asgard book."
"Generally speaking, I'm going to be executing more of the 'JIM' issues and Matt will be doing more of the 'Thor' issues, but we'll each have input in both," Gillen added. "One of the things we're going to be trying is that at the end of each issue, we'll have a scene that reveal something really important for the next issue. Those scenes will be written by the writer of the next issue. So literally the last couple of pages of each 'Mighty Thor' will be written by me, and the last couple of pages of each 'JIM' are written by Matt. So it's this enormous and exciting jam session."
For Fraction and Gillen, collaborating together in new and different ways has been one of the highlights of "Everything Burns." Another has been seeing their collaboration brought to life by artists Alan Davis and Carmine Di Giandomenico.
"I've been wanting to see more Alan Davis Thor stuff since 'Avengers Prime,'" Fraction stated. "He's excellent at this world and was born to draw this stuff."
"I've been a fan of Alan Davis' work forever," Gillen said, agreeing with Fraction's enthusiasm for the artist. "His pages are coming in and they're all brilliant. Carmine is someone I've worked with before. He's finishing off 'Exiled' at the moment and then he'll be going straight into this crossover. What I love about his work is his ability to depict the strange, but familiar fantasy tropes. We've all seen Hel depicted in comics, so we've kind of become unphased by it, but when he draws Hel it becomes this strange, unreal and genuinely new place. His art conveys a sense that we are dealing with unprecedented things. I think Carmine is going to capture that. It's all very exciting and he's frighteningly fast, which makes him a good man to have around."
When "Everything Burns" comes to a conclusion in October, the characters and status quos of "Mighty Thor" will be in entirely different places. In fact, the long-form story Gillen is telling in "Journey Into Mystery" might just become completely redefined. "I'd rather not say exactly where we'll be at in 'JIM' after 'Everything Burns,' but we are getting near the end," Gillen said. "Probably the best way to put it is, after 'Everything Burns,' nothing will ever be the same for Loki again."