Thor is one of the most recognizable and unique of Marvel‘s heroes. From the cosmic comics of Jack Kirby to the MCU, Thor has long been a staple of the House of Ideas. Though many have wielded the mystical hammer Mjolnir, it requires a lot to truly take on the mantle of Thor. In 2014’s Thor comic series, the “Goddess of Thunder” story arc by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matt Wilson introduced the world to an entirely new incarnation of the iconic character. Recasting Jane Foster as Thor was as stroke of genius, and brought a legion of new fans to the title.
For writer Jason Aaron it was a natural progression for the character. “I was just telling the same Thor story I’d already been telling for years. And taking that story to its logical next chapter. And to me, it’s a story that has roots reaching all the way back to 1962, to Thor’s first appearance in Journey Into Mystery #83. In that issue, a guy picks up a hammer with a specific inscription on it and is magically transformed into the god of thunder. The promise of transformation has always been a part of the Thor mythology. So has the idea of worthiness, and thus unworthiness. Those will continue to be major themes of the series for as long as I’m writing it, no matter who’s holding the hammer,” Aaron told Nerdist.
Though the series and its continuation, The Mighty Thor, were and continue to be a critical and commercial success, a small segment of fans were unhappy with the idea of Thor being a woman and, for a while, were pretty vocal about it.
“I was surprised at the blatant misogyny in so many of the comments — that was really upsetting,” explained series artist Russell Dauterman. “The other concerns from Thor fans about the name, and about Thor Odinson not being the star of the book, I understood. But, I hope people who’ve read the series have seen that Jane being Thor fits within the narrative that Jason’s been building since he started writing the Thor books. This is a chapter in an ongoing saga about worthiness, and Jane taking on the role, and mantle, of Thor is crucial to that.”
The most overwhelming response to Jane Foster taking on the mantle of Thor, though, was a positive one and that has made a huge impact on the book’s creative team. “I’ve been surprised by the positive response we’ve received,” said Dauterman. “I’ve been really moved by all the people who’ve sent messages about how Jane’s story resonates with them, either because they’re struggling with an illness or have lost someone to cancer; or just messages from people who love seeing a female superhero in the spotlight, being tough and awesome. That matters a lot more to me than any of the negative stuff.”
Jason Aaron expanded on the powerfully positive response they’ve received from fans: “Like Russell said, the negativity has just been noise. It hasn’t changed the story we’re telling, not in any way whatsoever. And it’s all been drowned out by the flip-side of that, by the response of people who’ve been truly touched or affected by Jane’s story. I’d never cried at a signing before I started writing Thor. Now it happens quite a bit.”
One of the greatest strengths of the series is the balance between intimate human storytelling and expansive cosmic adventures. This is something the team have become adept at: balancing Jane’s story–a mortal woman battling cancer–with that of her alter-ego a living goddess. As with any sequential storytelling, The Mighty Thor is a collaboration between the creative team and Dauterman explained his way of balancing these integral parts of the story: “The character stuff is really at the heart of any story, I think, whether there are superpowers involved or not. I always try to find ways to make characters unique in terms of what their faces and silhouettes look like, how they carry themselves, how they move, their fashion sense — anything that makes them feel like fully realized people. I’m hoping that enough of those characteristics show through, so that no matter what crazy situation may be happening, the reader still feels a connection to these characters.”
Aaron offered his own take on this important balance.
“Yeah, I think that’s always the challenge when you’re writing a character like Thor. You can do things in a Thor story that you can’t do with other Marvel characters. You can tell stories on the grandest of scales. Stories in the distant past or in the far, far future. You can go to different fantasy realms, into space, other dimensions, even into the afterlife. So given all that, how do you keep the characters relatable to those of us stuck down here on Midgard? For me, that’s meant focusing on Jane’s battle with cancer or Thor Odinson’s relationship with his dad or his struggle with unworthiness or seeing both of them so fervently devoted to trying to be the sort of god I’d like to believe in,” he said.
With this statement, Aaron perfectly summed up one of the book’s biggest strengths: the creative team’s dedication to finding the relatable in the unbelievable, and knowing the importance of both.
The Mighty Thor was released as part of Marvel’s All-New All-Different relaunch, which also saw Jane take up a role in the main Avengers title. Jason Aaron explained what it’s like to write a character and then have other creators work with them too: “I feel like there’s always been a very open, friendly atmosphere at Marvel when it comes to sharing characters. I’m a huge Mark Waid fan, and I’ve loved what he’s done with Jane in Avengers. And I think there’ll continue to be more interplay between our books.”
In sequential storytelling there’s so much that relies on the visual world an artist creates and Dauterman detailed his process for designing and showcasing both sides of Jane: “I really love the dichotomy between Jane-as-Thor and Jane-as-Jane, and I’ve tried to play that up as much as possible. I think having them be so visually different heightens the stakes of the book. Thor is muscular, tall, and stands confidently with a billowing cape and hair. She’s a superhero and a goddess, so I try to make her visually impressive. With Jane, I always try to draw her standing with a hunch, as is she’s weighed down by her illness. She’s small, pale, and increasingly gaunt and tired-looking. But, I always try to find ways to have her inner strength show through, usually in her facial expression.”
Just like fans, the creators have favorite issues that they have created, and for Dauterman the creation of a very special issue stands out in his mind.
“Issue #19 was a really exciting one to draw, because Jane got to take on more of the qualities I usually save for Thor,” the artist explained. “Jane was on a psychic plane, and once she realized that everything around her was happening in her head, she manifested Mjolnir and was able to pick up the hammer without transforming. She held the hammer and looked at the camera with this totally pissed off expression, and then whacked the villain in the face on the next page. I usually have Jane making very small movements, but this big sweeping move was something she’d do as Thor. That was really satisfying to draw, and is one of my favorite pages from the whole series.”
Aaron’s had massive success outside of the Big Two with creator-owned books, and has found working with Marvel to be a fulfilling experience enabling him to tell a variety of stories. “Probably my favorite part of my job is that I get to tell completely different stories week to week,” Aaron told us. “I love what I’m doing right now for Marvel. And I love what I’ve got coming up for them. I am seriously as happy there as I’ve ever been. I’m also loving the creator-owned stuff I’m doing at Image, which is all about as different from my Marvel stuff as you can get. All of that together helps keep me sane, helps keep me productive and excited. I never feel like I’m telling the same story over and over. Every week is a new challenge. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
And what about Jane’s future? Many fans were worried when Marvel released the Legacy homage cover for Thor which referenced the first Marvel original graphic novel by Jim Starlin, The Death of Captain Marvel, in which the titular superhero dies a very human death after a battle with cancer. Aaron is tight-lipped about how influential that story will be on Thor. “That’s obviously a powerful book and a huge part of Marvel history, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait to see whether or not our story shares anything with that one,” Aaron stated. “I will just say that I’ve always been telling a very specific story with Jane, and I’ve known for a while where that was headed.”
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Images: Marvel Comics