‘Thor: Tales of Asgard’ Writer Greg Johnson on the Personal Journey of a Young Thunder God
The immortals of Asgard are a tricky lot. Given Thor's unique aging process (or relative lack thereof), there's a wealth of story possibilities stemming from his formative years in the Realm Eternal. Something had to forge the Odinson into the hammer-wielding hero he is today, after all. That's the general idea behind Marvel Entertainment and Lionsgate's Thor: Tales of Asgard animated feature (which dropped today on Blu-ray, DVD and game consoles), which pits a roughly teenage -- and Mjolnir-less -- Thor and his friends Loki, Sif and the slightly older Warriors Three on a quest for the Sword of Surtur. CA got in touch with Tales of Asgard screenplay writer Greg Johnson (G.I. Joe: Renegades, Wolverine and the X-Men) to learn how he approached filling the gap between Thor's young godhood and eventual superhero status in the new feature. Read the full interview after the jump.ComicsAlliance: Tales of Asgard tells the story of a young, pre-Mjolnir Thor. What would you say are the biggest differences between the Thor fans will see here than the adult version who exists in current comics and other multimedia?
Greg Johnson: For the most part, I think Thor is on a continuous journey of personal growth in most incarnations. He tends to get caught up in his own grandeur, becomes a little too full of himself, and then must be humbled by suffering the consequences. Whether his pride gets him banished to Earth, or he arrogantly violates a peace treaty with the Frost Giants by taking a sword from their realm – he must set things right. So in that regard, the Thor in Tales of Asgard isn't so different than other versions.
What is different, though, is that Thor is just now starting out on that journey of personal growth. He's been so protected, so "handled," that he has no idea what he's really capable of. He's never even been in a real fight – the carefully controlled arena matches he engages in designed to make him look good (or keep him from embarrassing himself). When Thor first sets sail with Loki and the Warriors Three, we get to see him encounter realms and outposts for the first time, and realize that being the Son of Odin carries no weight, or offers no protection. His education in all things is essentially just beginning.
CA: Which characters were you most looking forward to writing before you started work on Tales of Asgard? Did you have any new favorites by the time you finished?
GJ: Once Craig Kyle and I decided that this wasn't going to be a Loki villain story, we were free to explore what it was like back when Thor and Loki were friends. And then, through the course of the film, we could shade Loki's personality with just a slight amount of darkness – more of a harbinger of things to come – while keeping him an ally of Thor's. So I really enjoyed this odd little team-up, because it's not something that's been seen very often. And it carries a bit of sadness, really, knowing where they end up.
The characters that were most fun to write were the Warriors Three. Which is ironic, because at first, I didn't want them going on the quest with Thor and Loki. I thought it would just be too many characters, because with Sif, that made six. Once I started writing them, though, it quickly became apparent that they offered the story just what it needed – humor. They steal every scene they're in, particularly Fandral. I'd love to do more with them.
CA: Writing stories based on comic characters can often require some source material research. What kind of reading did you do leading up to working on Tales of Asgard? Any specific myths or comic book storylines?
GJ: I've read quite a few books, and really enjoyed Simonson's work. And Straczynski's. But this project started with a look at Son of Asgard, which showed us what a younger Thor might look like. We didn't end up teeing off from the stories in those books, but the art definitely got us inspired. I think the Snow Sprites may have come from this series. And of course I read many of the classic Tales of Asgard stories. But ultimately, what got us moving in the direction we did, was the idea of Thor being a cloistered royal who steps out into the nine realms for the first time, allowing the viewer to see these wonders right along with him. With that as a springboard, a quest made the most sense, and it just progressed from there.
CA: Have you seen the live action Thor movie yet? What did you think?
GJ: I saw an early version, back when it still had rough effects and some missing scenes, but I haven't made it out to see the finished project, yet. Back then it showed all kinds of promise, so it's no surprise that it's doing well.
CA: How would you communicate the appeal of Tales of Asgard to perhaps new Thor fans who just saw the film?
GJ: Tales is a great companion piece for the live action movie. It's not technically a prequel, but nothing of importance really contradicts the live action version. Viewers will recognize the world and the characters, so it can present a solid and informative glimpse into the past of these characters that I think makes for an even fuller Thor experience.
CA: In many ways animated programming has become quite a bit more sophisticated than it was when you started working on Marvel characters. How much has this affected how smoothly your writing translates from script to the final product over the years?
GJ: From a writing perspective, it doesn't really change. On the script page, it's all about the story and the characters, with some big set pieces woven in. Those needs don't change with the sophistication of the animation process. The only time that production issues impact the writing is in budget, particularly length. The runtime for Thor: Tales of Asgard is around 75 minutes. That's from a 92 page script. The story simply had to be told in that amount of time. On an animated series, creating new locations and new characters has to be controlled. Writing within budget parameters is just a part of the job, and honestly, sometimes it's not a bad thing. Some stories need to be streamlined.
CA: Time constraints and other issues can often lead to minor to major deviations from a project's initial script. Were there any scenes or details that didn't wind up in the final cut of Tales of Asgard you can tell us about?
GJ: In Tales of Asgard, we depicted Yggdrasil (the World Tree) as a real tree, so massive it had its own atmosphere. The branches were travel routes from one realm to another, and we envisioned various life forms living there. At one point, when Thor, Loki, and the Warriors Three had escaped the Frost Giants by taking one of these branches, we had an expanded scene that involved giant flying insects. I believe that scene was even story-boarded. But, for reasons of length -- as well as for the movie's pacing -- it was trimmed out. It just didn't make sense to deviate from the main story with such an elaborate set piece. It was definitely cool, though.