By Marc Strom
Over the years, Greg Johnson's written his share of Marvel characters. In addition to the just-released "Thor: Tales of Asgard," now available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download, Johnson also wrote or co-wrote "Planet Hulk," "Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow" and many other direct-to-video Marvel animated features and served as Head Writer on "Wolverine and the X-Men."
But while "Thor: Tales of Asgard" served as another adventure into the Marvel Universe for Johnson, it also allowed him to play in a corner of the world he hadn't previously explored, the Asgard of yore. Putting together the story of Thor's childhood, Johnson brought the mythical realm to life with his screenplay for the animated feature.
With the movie now available, we spoke with Johnson about his influences for the film, writing the youthful Thor, and seeing the finished product.
|The cast of "Thor: Tales From Asgard"|
Greg Johnson: Over the years, I’ve read quite a few Thor books, and was really inspired by [writer/artist Walter] Simonson’s work. And [writer J. Michael] Straczynski had such a cool take on the entire concept. In preparing to write this script, I looked at THOR: SON OF ASGARD, which had such awesome cover art. Those books really showed me that there could be very interesting stories to be told with a younger Thor.
"Tales of Asgard" didn’t really spring from any particular source, though. Once Craig Kyle ("Thor: Tales of Asgard" Supervising Producer) and I determined we were going to do a quest story, and that Thor would be fairly inexperienced, the plot just started forming. We also knew that he wasn’t going to have his hammer yet, so that allowed us to use a very dangerous weapon as the focal point. Surtur’s Sword just made sense because of the history that came with it. The rest of the story just started forming around these elements.
Marvel.com: What was it like writing a younger Thor? What would you say are some of the key differences between Thor in his youth and the Thor of today?
Greg Johnson: The Thor of today--at least in most media--has some mileage on him. He’s already made mistakes, realized the consequences, and became a better god because of it. In the animated film, our Thor is just beginning that journey. This, in a way, is the first of his life lessons, and it’s a big one. He has all the confidence in the world, thanks to careful handling by his father who wants to make sure Thor doesn’t embarrass himself in front of the masses, but Thor doesn’t have the experience to back it up. Essentially he’s a spoiled prince who believes he’s as great as everyone tells him he is. When Sif gives him a reality check, he’s determined to prove everyone wrong. Such bullheadedness is a trait that he’ll take with him into adulthood, but here we get to see it take root.
|Screenshot of Thor from "Thor: Tales of Asgard"|
Marvel.com: The setting of this film is unlike anything we’ve seen in the other seven direct-to-video Marvel animated films--how did that affect the story you were able to tell?
Greg Johnson: Telling a story in Asgard was a thrill. The biggest challenge to me was in making sure this felt like a real place. If you Google Yggdrasil, the World Tree, where all of the nine realms are located, you’ll see images that just don’t easily translate into an environment you can walk into. So Craig, Gary Hartle ("Thor: Tales of Asgard" Producer and Supervising Director) and I decided to make the tree real, and massive enough that its branches had ecosystems of their own. I also envisioned that the night sky in Asgard might even show the pale, glowing branch of the tree way out in space connecting the moons.
By making the tree a physical location, we could hint at all kinds of life out there that is not necessarily on one of the nine realms, like the Valkyrie training camp, which is nestled in the branches on giant shelf mushrooms. The environment is just so different that it was great fun to explore.
Marvel.com: What led you to the different antagonists in this story, as opposed to some of Thor’s more well-known villains?
|Screenshot of Loki from "Thor: Tales of Asgard"|
Greg Johnson: Once we decided that Loki would not be the villain, our options really opened up. And the one villain we do feature--which is a spoiler so I won’t mention it--is someone taken from the rogue’s gallery. We just decided to approach that character in a more subtle way, and make it someone you came to understand, and maybe even sympathized with. It was important for this story that the problems facing Thor were of his own making, so that he learns something from the ordeal. It just didn’t seem logical to have a villain’s agenda be anything other than an organic part of Thor’s journey.
Marvel.com: How would you describe Thor and Loki’s relationship in this film? Was it ever difficult to balance the friendly nature of their brotherhood while making sure that nothing they did contradicted the men they would become?
Greg Johnson: It was so refreshing to have Thor and Loki be shown as real brothers for a change. They were raised together, schooled together, and they supported one another under the iron fist of the Allfather. But they were so different in personality, which is very typical in families. In the beginning, they’re bonded by blood--as far as they know--and so those differences don’t pull them apart. In fact they complement one another, and so when Thor and Loki team up, it’s interesting to watch. Thor’s brashness leads him to believe he’ll just walk right into Jotunheim and find the sword without any trouble, only to realize that Jotunheim is huge and he really has no clue where to look. It’s the intellectual Loki who gets his brother to dismantle the old tales of valor they learned while growing up, because in those tales lie clues to where the sword is found. Loki is systematic in his approach, while Thor is more spontaneous. Later in life, those traits will define how they fight one another.
So, essentially, I didn’t create two new characters, I reverse engineered the iconic characters everyone knows.