Where did Marvel get the plot for next Thor movie? From the mind of Johnson County man

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Jason Aaron carries Thor’s hammer with him everywhere.

The legendary Mjolnir is tattooed on his left arm. But it’s not just an homage to a beloved Marvel Comics superhero. Aaron has actually earned this permanent icon. Now the world will soon appreciate why.

The Prairie Village resident wrote more than 100 issues of Marvel’s Thor, and much of his work is integrated into the blockbuster “Thor: Love and Thunder,” due in theaters July 8. Aaron created the plotline of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) taking on the mantle of a hero worthy enough to pick up Thor’s unliftable hammer. And he created the villain Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale).

“It was exciting to be consulted and involved somewhat in the process for the first time. I haven’t been pulled in that much on Marvel Studios stuff before,” Aaron says.

In previous movies, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has basically been the girlfriend. In “Thor: Love and Thunder” she’s a superhero, thanks to a plot created by Jason Aaron.
In previous movies, astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has basically been the girlfriend. In “Thor: Love and Thunder” she’s a superhero, thanks to a plot created by Jason Aaron.

He earns a “based on the Marvel comics by” credit in the film, which he shares with the late Stan Lee.

“Anything that links my name to Thor and focuses people back toward the books and the artists is great. But it doesn’t have a profound effect on me and really change what I do. I’m still a comic book writer like I was before,” Aaron says during a recent interview at his home.

An Alabama native who moved to Kansas City in 2000, Aaron found out at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con that his stories would factor into the next “Thor” sequel’s plot.

“I didn’t have any idea,” he admits. “These things are pretty much on a need-to-know basis in trying to protect leaks and whatnot.”

Aaron never visited the set or met any of the actors. But he did have a memorable first encounter with “Love and Thunder” director Taika Waititi.

“The first time Taika and I spoke on Zoom was January 6 last year,” Aaron recalls. “I was literally sitting here watching the Capitol burn. He was watching it too, but he was sitting in bed in Australia or New Zealand. It was a surreal day for everybody. And mine was even more surreal.”

At the time of this Star interview, Aaron had only seen a rough cut of the film prior to reshoots.

“Taika’s stuff in general, and specifically ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ shows he’s having fun. That movie looks fun, feels fun. You have fun hanging out with the characters. Yet there’s still emotion and gravitas in the midst of that. I think ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is probably his best version of that,” Aaron says.

He considers “Love and Thunder” at times even more entertaining than “Ragnarok,” but audiences will encounter “a darkness in it that goes beyond anything we saw before.”

Jason Aaron’s Prairie Village home is packed with memorabilia from his Marvel comic book projects, including this high-quality action figure of Jane Foster, who gains new strength from Aaron’s plotlines.
Jason Aaron’s Prairie Village home is packed with memorabilia from his Marvel comic book projects, including this high-quality action figure of Jane Foster, who gains new strength from Aaron’s plotlines.

Following stints writing Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Hulk and Black Panther, Aaron got tapped by Marvel a decade ago to helm Thor.

“I was not a huge Thor fan growing up,” he says. “I read (writer) Walt Simonson’s stuff and loved it but wasn’t walking around with a briefcase full of Thor ideas. It was just that moment in time when I realized, ‘I think I’d like to take a shot at Thor. I could do something interesting.’ That has always been my approach: what feels right at the time.”

In 2014, Aaron introduced the concept of Thor becoming temporarily unworthy and unable to pick up his hammer, which opens the door for another individual to take on that responsibility. Enter the Thunder God’s longtime romantic partner: Jane Foster.

“For so long, she was just the love interest, the damsel in distress that he would rescue. So we put her in the very center of that universe by making her Thor and seeing how she would also deal with the very real-world human problem of battling cancer.”

The storyline was first announced on the TV talk show “The View,” leading to an initial uproar.

“There was some pushback … as opposed to pushback from ‘fans,’” Aaron explains. “Initially it was a mystery as to who this female was. No one had read it. No one knew. But any time you change an established character in some way, people freak out. With Thor, there’s a long tradition of that kind of change. And I will go to my grave saying this Jane Foster part of my run is the most quintessentially Marvel story of anything I’ve done.”

Aaron would gather direct quotes from irate internet trolls who were tweeting/posting about this development. Then he made supporting characters in the comic book spout them verbatim so the heroes could respond.

“The best runs of any comic series build upon what has gone before, respecting the characters’ histories but expanding their mythos, which is exactly what Jason and his co-collaborators did during his time on Thor,” says C.B. Cebulski, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes a break from his superhero duties in the new “Thor: Love and Thunder,” an idea introduced by Jason Aaron back in 2014.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes a break from his superhero duties in the new “Thor: Love and Thunder,” an idea introduced by Jason Aaron back in 2014.

“Jason’s writing is truly unique in that he still sees the Marvel universe through the lens of his childhood but is able to take those ideas and craft them into emotional, hard-hitting stories with the utmost skill and mastery. Every comic he writes is a roller coaster, full of fun but also steeped in darkness.”

Aaron asserts no other comic he’s done connected in quite the same way with readers as his Jane Foster saga.

“Even now when I do signings there are people who show up who’ve been battling cancer or lost a loved one to cancer. That story affected them in a more profound way. That stuff trumps any other backlash we got — backlash which was generally from people who weren’t reading the book and still haven’t,” he says.

Twenty years ago, Aaron was laboring at a warehouse when he submitted a one-page Wolverine synopsis as part of a national talent contest. The simple tale — inspired by Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” — featured the clawed mutant debating religion while helping a woman fix a flat tire on a rural dirt road. He won the contest, thus beginning a long and eventually exclusive relationship with the world’s largest comic book publisher.

This ultimately afforded him the opportunity to not only work with established superheroes but to create his own more grounded characters. The first was 2006’s “The Other Side,” which explored the Vietnam War from the perspective of the enemy Viet Cong. (He took inspiration from cousin Gustav Hansford, whose book “The Short-Timers” served as the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.”) A year later he published “Scalped,” a crime epic set on a South Dakota American Indian reservation. It was adapted into a 2017 TV pilot for Warner Bros.

He also returned to his Alabama roots with “Southern Bastards,” a sprawling epic where criminals and high school football intersect. It won a 2016 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series.

The author isn’t averse to incorporating Kansas City into his material either.

“I wrote Wolverine for six years before I did Thor. I did at least one story that was a flashback of Wolverine’s adventures in Kansas City in the (1920s). Then most recently in Avengers 52, I had a fight stretch from KCK and into the West Bottoms,” he says, noting the issue also includes a funeral scene set in Shawnee.

Jason Aaron displays Jane Foster action figures on various shelves in his home.
Jason Aaron displays Jane Foster action figures on various shelves in his home.

His Prairie Village home reflects the fruits of his creative labors. High-quality action figures of Jane Foster, Thor, Black Panther and Iron Man adorn his desk. Walls feature original artwork from his projects. Behind his desk is an old-school “spinner rack” filled entirely with comics he’s written.

The brawny Aaron has plenty of other tattoos to go along with his Mjolnir, from a writer’s quill to a “work in progress” phrase. But just above the hammer is a “promotional tattoo” he says Marvel actually paid for.

“The culmination of my Thor run built toward a big battle stretching across all different realms titled War of the Realms. As part of that, one of the marketing guys from Marvel and I got tattoos together. We said, ‘Let’s each get tattoos that represent one of the realms.’ So mine is Muspelheim, the fire realm,” he points to an intersecting pattern engulfed in flames.

Alongside his affinity for body ink and comic books, the 49-year-old also enjoys watching pro wrestling and visiting tiki bars —although those subjects have yet to feature prominently in the pages of his books.

Typically, Aaron writes a script a week. He’s currently penning issues of the skull-chested vigilante the Punisher.

“A lot of moving parts go into doing a comic. It’s not just me. There’s my part of it that gets the ball rolling. Then there are the artist and colorist. Everything’s got to come together the right way to have it be everything that it could be. Punisher is in that category of where it feels like all these pieces are fitting together in the right way,” he says of the latest collaboration.

“The best thing about Jason is he knows how to write comics, not graphic novels,” says William Binderup, owner of Overland Park’s Elite Comics. “Every issue has a beginning, middle and end. It’s part of a larger arc. A lot of guys don’t really know how to do that. They write a graphic novel and then divide it into 10 parts.”

Binderup, who considers Aaron “Marvel’s number one writer,” believes the medium itself is the key to his talent.

“You can tell when someone has made a comic to sell a TV show. It’s very obvious that they don’t put their heart and soul into the comic. They just put the idea down so they can go market it. But that’s not Jason,” Binderup says.

A collectible figurine of the Punisher stands on the shelf above Aaron’s spinner rack, seemingly guarding his office from intruders. Next to the character is a scale replica of Thor’s hammer with the handle pointing upward, as if inviting someone to lift it.

Is the mighty Aaron up to the task?

“I am worthy,” he says.

“I’ve got a few dozen hammers around the house. I pick them up on a regular basis.”

Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”

Jason Aaron showcases a variety of Thor hammers at his home in Prairie Village. He’s a key player in the Marvel Comics universe, creating the plotlines for the upcoming movie “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
Jason Aaron showcases a variety of Thor hammers at his home in Prairie Village. He’s a key player in the Marvel Comics universe, creating the plotlines for the upcoming movie “Thor: Love and Thunder.”