Rob Rodi, writer of the Thor: For Asgard and Astonishing Thor miniseries, sits down with the Outhouse to talk about his feelings on Thor, Asgard, and which character he'd steamroll over kittens to write.
Robert Rodi is a veteran comic writer whose works include the Loki and Rogue miniseries, as well as short fiction in the Sandman: Book of Dreams anthology. He's currently teaming up with Simone Bianchi on the Marvel Knights miniseries Thor: For Asgard. Rodi has also been announced as the writer of Astonishing Thor, the latest in the Astonishing miniseries for Marvel. The Outhouse sat down with Mr. Rodi to discuss his current and future work on the Asgardian thunder god.
OH: Could you explain the basic concept of Thor: For Asgard for those who haven't read it yet?
RR: Balder's dead, Odin's missing, the various vassal states of the Asgardian empire are in open rebellion, the court is in turmoil, and an endless winter is threatening the gods' immortality. And Thor's trying to keep the whole state from shattering to pieces, while he himself is suffering from a major, major handicap.
OH: A lot of your writing has been prose novels. How does writing a novel differ from writing comics?
OH: Comics is a collaborative medium. It's not just my vision that you get on the page, it's what the artist has made of it. Sometimes that doesn't work out, and you get someone whose sensibility doesn't at all correspond with yours; but when you hook up with someone who's on the same wavelength, who can take your ideas and run with them, that's very exciting.
OH: What's your favorite character to write out of Marvel's Norse gods?
RR: Thor himself, of course, is the most complex and interesting; but aside from him, I'd have to say Volstagg. I just love him to the point of stupidity. My dream is to write a Volstagg mini or one-shot, that's just page after page of him lurching about accidentally slaying villains and knocking over architecture while trumpeting his own magnificence. That would be the purest pleasure imaginable.
OH: What sets Thor: For Asgard apart from the other Thor stories that have been coming out of Marvel in the last few months?
RR: Well, first and foremost, Simone Bianchi. He's doing the best work of his career here, and he's catapulted the whole project to a new level. But also, For Asgard is Thor as epic fantasy—it ranges across the entire Asgardian continent and incorporates all the various races (elves, dwarves, giants, etc.), while examining the whole nature of empire, and of godhood. I guess what I'm saying is, this baby's seriously ambitious.
OH: One of your earlier miniseries with Marvel was the Loki miniseries. Do you plan on tying Thor: For Asgard or your upcoming Astonishing Thor run into that past miniseries?
RR: No, the three projects are fairly distinct. With Loki, I wanted to do an intensive character study, turn Loki into a villain with real Shakespearean complexity, like Iago or Macbeth. For Asgard, as I said, is epic fantasy—more Tolkien than Shakespeare. And Astonishing will be an homage to Stan and Jack's classic space operas. This is what I love about the Thor series; it's so versatile. It easily incorporates so many different genres.
OH: Between Loki, Thor: For Asgard, and Astonishing Thor, it seems like you like the Norse mythology in Marvel. What draws you to that aspect of the Marvel universe?
RR: The scope, the scale, the grandeur—all of that appeals to me. And I love the idea that these characters are immortal, that they've been around for centuries. In Astonishing, I'm taking advantage of that with a flashback sequence to Thor as a brash young god stomping around Europe during the Dark Ages. Had me a blast writing that bit.
OH: As someone who has experience writing the character, how do you see Thor interacting with the rest of the Marvel universe? Do you feel that he works best dealing with his fellow Norse gods or in the Marvel universe as a whole?
RR: What I like to keep in mind, is Stan and Jack's original conception of the character: that Thor was exiled to Earth and saddled with a human identity in order to teach him humility. Thor's role in the Marvel U. is kind of reflexive, for that reason; he's obviously one of its most powerful players-but at the same time, its passions and principles are a constant reminder to him about what matters in life, what's worth fighting for. Which is something he carries back with him to Asgard. That's the interesting thing about the character; though I've now written him in three very different miniseries, in different genres with very different tones, he himself is always the same; utterly true to who he is and what he believes. He's bedrock.
OH: What's it like working with Simone Bianchi, who's one of the more dynamic artists in the industry today?
RR: Simone's great; his enthusiasm and generosity are easily as outsized as his talent. I just finished writing a nonfiction book about the Palio, the bareback horserace held annually in Siena, Italy, that required me to travel there frequently over the course of the past year. And since Simone's hometown, Lucca, isn't far from Siena, I always made a point of taking the train up to see him, and we'd hang out and he'd show me the new pages. He got such a charge out of seeing my jaw drop in awe; he's a great showman. I also got to see him working with his assistant Andrea, and it was revelatory to see how meticulous he is; no detail is too small to overlook. He's a major, major talent.
OH: What can we expect to see in upcoming issues of Thor: For Asgard?
RR: In one word: escalation. Things go from bad to worse, and then to worst. We've got a couple of cataclysmic scenes that ought to knock your eyes out. And then, when Thor is at his lowest ebb—and I mean literally lowest, which you'll understand when you see the book—when there is in fact no hope of any kind left for Asgard or the gods or the empire-that's when he proves what kind of hero he is. Also, there's a shocking revelation about Odin, for which he pays an equally terrible price. Really, I think people will be shocked.
OH: Is there anything you can tell us about your upcoming Astonishing Thor miniseries?
RR: In Astonishing, as I said earlier, I'm playing in the Stan-and-Jack sandbox. I'll be using several of Marvel's venerable cosmic characters, and revealing some heretofore unsuspected connections between them, and leaving one of them in a radically different state than we're used to seeing him. It's big, big, big stuff, with Thor right in the center of it, trying to alter the course of actions set in motion by nearly omnipotent beings. Ralph Macchio and I worked pretty diligently to make this arc worthy of the name "Astonishing." I think we did pretty well.
OH: What are the major differences between Thor: For Asgard and Astonishing Thor?
RR: Well, For Asgard is a Marvel Knights series. Thor does some things he wouldn't do in a regular Marvel book-and yes, there will be repercussions. It's darker, more complex stuff. Astonishing Thor is done in much broader strokes; though it will end on a surprisingly intimate note. More than that I'm not sayin'.
OH: Astonishing Thor is set in the current Marvel continuity while Thor: For Asgard is set in its own universe. Were there any challenges that you had when dealing with normal Marvel continuity?
RR: Not really, because the direction for the Astonishing books is to make them work as stand-alone arcs. My only problem was having to sidestep all the characters Matt is using in the regular monthly, which left me to come up with my own supporting cast. Marvel's pretty good about maximizing its vast assemblage of properties—almost every single character in the company's seventy-year history has an active role in the current Marvel U. But I managed to find one who hasn't appeared in over 30 years, and who meshes beautifully with Thor on a number of levels; so in addition to getting to handle the legendary cosmic characters, I also get to revive this old Bronze Age heroine. And explain where she's been all this time, why we haven't seen her. Again, that was a kick. I'm hoping to do more with her someday, now that I've brought her back from obscurity.
OH: You're working with Mike Choi on Astonishing Thor. How do you feel his art differs from some of the other artists that you've done Thor stories with in the past?
RR: I've only just started working with Mike, and so far I've only seen his rough layouts. But they're very dynamic. I'm giving him more space to play with than he's been used to—lots of splashes and spreads—and he seems to be seizing that opportunity to show us a different Mike Choi than the one we've known from the X-books. I'm excited about it.
OH: What are the differences between working with an international artist like Simone Bianchi and an artist based in America like Mike Choi?
RR: These days it doesn't there really isn't much difference. Technology has made the world much smaller. I can email Simone as easily as I can Mike. And each can send me jpegs as easily as the other.
OH: Are there any other Marvel characters that you'd like to write?
RR: All of them. Though I've been pretty lucky so far; I got to handle Elektra for a year, I got to give Rogue a backstory, I got to do Blade vs. Dracula. Now I've been able to take on Thor from three different angles. But there are a few characters who stand out. I'd like to do something with Fantomex-in my opinion, he could be a major solo star. And I'd steamroll over kittens to have another crack at Deadpool. A Deadpool/Volstagg team-up—there you go, that's pretty much my nirvana right there.
OH: Is there anything in particular that you'd like to see in next summer's Thor movie?
RR: I just saw an extended trailer; and based on that, I'm more than happy to take it on its own terms. Especially with Kenneth Branagh directing. I look forward to being surprised and delighted.
OH: Off-topic question: Your novel 'What They Did To Princess Paragon' was about a classic superhero being changed into a lesbian, so what do you think about DC's relaunch of Batwoman?
RR: Man, that hadn't even occurred to me till now. Thing is, Princess Paragon is now almost a period piece—I wrote it in the '90s, as a parody of what was then going on in the comics industry. Image had become a big player, and DC and Marvel were both panicking, trying to ratchet up their various properties to compete by layering on darkness and violence and ridiculous amounts of armature. The idea of taking a venerable old superheroine and turning her into a lesbian was my satirical idea of where that kind of grasping would go next. But the recent Batwoman run wasn't anything like that; it wasn't about a lesbian superhero. It was about a well-drawn character and her world and her conflicts. There wasn't anything sensational about it. So it was almost the opposite of the kind of thing I played for satire. I guess we've grown up a little bit since then-as an industry, and as a society. Hope so, anyway.
Finally, Rodi stepped up to the plate and tried his round at the infamous Lightning Round!
OH: Apples or oranges?
OH: Wine, beer or liquor?
RR: Yes, please.
OH: Television: Blessing or curse on society?
RR: Mostly curse.
OH: Favorite horseman of the Apocalypse and why?
RR: War. Because at least you get to travel.
OH: If you had to pick one state of the Union to be erased from existence, which one would it be?
RR: New Calais. What, you say you've never heard of it...? Not now you haven't. SUCH IS MY POWER.
OH: Favorite type of duck?
RR: Duck Phillips of MAD MEN. (One of the reason's TV's not entirely a curse.)
OH: Do you consider the letter y to be a vowel?
OH: If you had to describe yourself as a pizza topping, what would you say?
RR: Cremini mushrooms. Because of the resemblance.
OH: If Batman danced for fun, what sort of dance would he do?
RR: Go to YouTube and type in "Batusi." I'm just sayin'.
OH: Favorite comic on the stands today not written by Robert Rodi?
RR: Ex Machina. (Though it won't be on the stands much longer, alas.)
Thor: For Asgard #2 will be released tomorrow, September 15th, in comic book stores everywhere. Astonishing Thor will hit stands in November.
Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer