It's official: Thor fever has consumed my reading habits of late. This is all in preparation for the Thor film premiere on May 6th, of course, and in continuing my superhero/mythological studies I read an advance copy of Thor: For Asgard by writer Robert Rodi and artist Simone Bianchi.
Robert Rodi is no stranger to Thor, having grown up reading the character and since adding his own name to the mythos in comics that focus on the less traveled roads of Asgard--namely, the darker paths. Robert presents the Norse gods not as superheroes and villains but more as creatures of myth--and full of all the terrifying power that comes with such heritage. Over email, Robert and I discussed his work on both Thor and Loki, writing for Simone Bianchi, and what lies ahead in the shadow of the upcoming film.
Amazon.com: In the supplemental material to Thor: For Asgard, you confess to preferring Thor the Norse god over Thor the superhero. Can you elaborate on the difference and why you prefer the more mythological Thor stories?
Robert Rodi: Asgard, and the whole myth-based realm, was someplace Thor could go that the other heroes couldn’t follow. Yeah, it was cool to see Thor throw down with the Destroyer or the Absorbing Man or the Grey Gargoyle, but any Marvel hero could fight the Destroyer or the Absorbing Man or Grey Gargoyle. Only Thor could zip across the Rainbow Bridge and find himself in a complete fantasy world of gods and dwarves and giants and dragons, where he not only fit in seamlessly, he was also the Big Man on Campus. Asgard is the only place he really has a vital supporting cast, too: Odin, Sif, the Warriors Three, all those amazing, indelible characters.
Amazon.com: Were there stories of Thor as a Norse god that influenced this preference?
Robert Rodi: The Thor comic used to have a “Tales of Asgard” back-up feature that pretty much rocked the whole concept of retelling the Norse myths with a postwar, science-fiction gloss over them. Jack Kirby’s designs for both the place and the pantheon were just jaw-droppingly gorgeous; still are. I fell for them, and fell hard.
Amazon.com: In the Loki miniseries [now collected in the Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers hardcover], you told a Thor tale as written by his villainous brother, and in the recent Thor: For Asgard series, things are very dire in Thor’s world. What is it about the darker side of Asgardian lore that appeals to you?
Robert Rodi: Both Loki and Thor: For Asgard are published under the Marvel Knights imprint, which is devoted to examining the darker, rougher sides of the company’s iconic characters. Thor had always been a pretty brightly lit, broad-strokes series up to that point, so it was a heady experience to reinterpret it with the colors muted, the characters in conflict, and the tone heavy with moral ambiguity. I tried to hew a line between Shakespearean complexity and Wagnerian scope. Did I just say that? Well, yeah I did; but, y’know. You gotta aim high, here. These are gods we’re talkin’ about.
Amazon.com: When you wrote the Loki miniseries, did you know that you would do a follow-up? What led to For Asgard and how did the story take shape?
Robert Rodi: After the Loki series was so well-received, it seemed pretty likely I’d get the chance to play in that sandbox again. And after Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, I was eager to see whether it was possible to do something on that scale with Thor. There was also the intriguing possibility, which came up in my discussions with Axel Alonso, of using For Asgard to raise issues confronting America at this particular point in time—such as the morality of empire, whether the occupation by a superpower of a vassal state is a means of protecting and preserving it, or of sucking it dry of resources. When the natives revolt, are they rebels, or are they freedom fighters? That kind of things; tough questions.
Amazon.com: In For Asgard, you collaborate with the artist Simone Bianchi. I read the book in the middle seat on a plane, and both of my neighbors took notice and asked about it--the visuals are so arresting. What was this partnership like?
Robert Rodi: I spent the past two years traveling to and from Siena, Italy, where I was researching a book on that city’s amazing culture of bareback horseracing [see Robert's forthcoming Seven Seasons in Siena, to be published in June--ed.]. And whenever I was there I’d make time for a day trip to Lucca, where Simone lives. He’d take me to his studio and walk me through the pages, and he got such a charge out of seeing my reaction--because my jaw would always visibly drop to my chest. He’s a great guy and a wonderful collaborator; extremely enthusiastic but also extremely meticulous. When you look at Simone’s work the first impression you have is of bigness, sweep, drama; but look closer, and you’ll see that there’s an entire world underneath. Every texture is there, every shadow…there’s weight and depth that you can actually feel. It’s a fully realized world, and it’s thrilling.
Amazon.com: What type of scripts did you give to Bianchi? There is a fantastic double-page spread bookended by the faces of Brunnhilde and Thor, with the two of them struggling as full figures in the middle. What’s the balance like between your script and the artist’s interpretation?
Robert Rodi: I worked full-script on For Asgard--meaning I specified how many panels per page, and what exactly I wanted in each panel. That said, I tried to keep the panels to a minimum, and to give Simone as much freedom as possible within them to flesh out his own vision--as in the double-page spread you mention. Basically, I set the structure and pace of the story; Simone gave it flesh and blood.
Amazon.com: Up next is Astonishing Thor, which will be collected in September. Is this a sequel? One of the most intriguing plots in For Asgard is Odin’s quest. Will we find out what happens to the All-Father after the events in For Asgard?
Robert Rodi: We do have a sequel to For Asgard planned, but it’s not in the works yet. I’m hoping it’ll be green-lighted soon. Everyone buying lots of copies of For Asgard would certainly hurry it along. But yes, to answer your question, it’ll conclude Odin’s quest, reveal who the villain of the piece is, and resolve some of those knotty issues of empire I talked about above. And there’ll be lots of big, bloody battle scenes. Philosophical and visceral; can’t be beat.
As for Astonishing Thor, that’s something different; that’s Thor in superhero mode, with some crazily beautiful artwork by Mike Choi. I had a helluva lot of fun on this one, setting it almost entirely in space and bringing in a whole slew of Marvel’s quasi-omnipotent cosmic characters: the Stranger, the Collector, Ego the Living Planet. And I got to revive a superheroine who hadn’t been seen in thirty years. Oh, yeah, my inner geek was in hog heaven on this baby.
Amazon.com: When you are writing a character as he is about to make his big screen premiere, does that factor into the writing choices you make? Did Marvel give you your own pocket continuity, or will you attempt to weave your story into the larger events in the Marvel Universe?
Robert Rodi: Actually, I’ve been down this road before; I was the regular writer on Elektra at the time her movie came out. And what I learned from that is, you have to keep the comics pure. They’re what’s driving the film, not vice-versa. That said, I did get a big charge when the opening sequence of my first Elektra issue was adapted for use in the film.
As for my Thor work: both Loki and For Asgard belong in a pocket continuity; though For Asgard has a connection to the regular Marvel continuity, which will be revealed in the sequel. Someday.
Amazon.com: I have to ask you about Codename: Knockout. Vol.1: The Devil You Say was released by Vertigo last May, and it was a riot. Will there ever be a Volume 2?
Robert Rodi: I’d love to see a Volume 2. In fact, there’s enough material for a Volume 3 and 4 as well. Again, everyone buying copies of Volume 1 would certainly help that happen. I have tremendous fondness for that series; I still get a lot of people writing to me about it—especially with regard to Go-Go Fiasco, who at that time was the most unapologetically sex-positive gay character ever to appear in mainstream comics. In fact I think he’s still the title-holder. If not, I’d like to know who is; we could arrange one helluva team-up.