Even superheroes need friends! And, just like friendships in real life, some of those relationships last a lifetime and others fade away as you pursue your own destinies. In this series, I’ll be spotlighting some of the side characters who have been left by the wayside.
Roger Willis might be one of the most fleeting friends I’ve covered so far. With one notable exception, he only appeared in one storyline in Thor back in the 1980s. But given the huge impact that storyline had, and Willis’s impact within that storyline, I think he’s worth talking about. Also, I wanted an excuse to reread that storyline and get paid for it.
The Willis family history is quite the tale. The patriarch, Eric, stole the Casket of Ancient Winters (the glowy blue box in the first Thor movie) from Malekith the Accursed (the funky masked guy in the second Thor movie). This storyline (Thor #345-353) is in fact the place where both of these major elements of Thor lore debuted, hence the importance of these comics.
How Eric, a human, came to meet Malekith and get close enough to steal the Casket is never quite explained. Malekith acts like it was a big betrayal, so I assume they must have been friends or even lovers (Malekith does seduce him while disguised as a woman), or that Eric was recruited into Malekith’s army somehow.
Anyway, the Casket made Eric eternally young. That, along with the fact that an angry, all-powerful elf was after him, meant that Eric was frequently on the move and never spent much time with his family, including his son Roger. Roger, as we later learn, fared slightly better in his family life: though he and his wife divorced, he did make an effort to be there for his daughter — when she was young, anyway. We never see them together when she’s an adult, but that’s only proof that the comic didn’t show us such interactions, not that such interactions did not occur.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Eventually, Malekith, still peeved over the theft of the Casket, tracked Eric down and killed him. Eric’s son Roger comes into the story when he receives an “if you’re reading this, I’m dead” letter from Eric that tells him where the Casket is. Roger isn’t exactly gung-ho about all of this. He isn’t close to Eric (Roger calls his own father by his first name), and he would clearly rather be chilling in his Long Island home than fighting elves.
Still, Roger proves his worth throughout the battle with Malekith and his ally, the fire demon Surtur, who wants to destroy the nine realms. He seems to be equal parts brains and brawn. He ably fights off Malekith’s army of dark elves and even shoots Malekith himself, despite being unable to see anything in the elves’ magical realm. According to Thor, Roger fights “as valiantly as any warrior in Asgard.” (He served in Korea and is a retired cop, which would explain the battle skills.)
As for brains, he quickly realizes that Thor has been enchanted by “Melodi” (actually Lorelei, an Asgardian sorceress), and he takes swift and sensible action to mitigate the effects, even after Melodi enchants him to keep his mouth shut about her schemes.
Despite having such a formative experience with Thor, Willis did not become a recurring character. It makes sense, in a way: Roger was too down-to-earth to fit in with Thor’s godly, heroic exploits. He barely blinked at losing his chance at immortality when the Casket broke, or at the army of fire demons rampaging through New York. And what’s his big idea for repairing the Casket? Hot glue it back together. And it works. The man is clearly outmatched in every way possible, but he has a gun and a bottle of crazy glue, and by the gods he will use them.
So after Malekith and the fire demons were defeated, Roger just kinda disappears from the comic. He and Thor don’t even get to say goodbye, though that’s understandable, since they were trapped on opposite ends of the broken Rainbow Bridge. Still, that’s no excuse for the comic to let Roger go without providing any sort of closure to his major contributions or to his fraught relationship with Eric. At least give us a scene of Roger talking to his dad’s headstone or something, come on!
But the Willis family saga wasn’t over yet. Years later, in Loki: Agent of Asgard #15, we learn that Eric stole not only the Casket, but also a magic ring that enabled the wearer/bearer to detect lies. Quite the sticky-fingered rascal, wasn’t he?
Roger kept the ring for years, but he ended up dropping it in his daughter Verity’s room when she was a baby. Verity ate the ring, thus becoming a human lie detector. This made her the perfect friend for Loki, the erstwhile god of lies.
While Verity’s appearances have tapered off dramatically since Loki: Agent of Asgard ended, it’s a little too soon to call her an absent friend. However it all unfolds, the Willis family is an intriguing and underrated part of the Thor universe. They may not be making any big-screen appearances any time soon, (Love and Thunder, prove me wrong!), but I like the idea of this random family being so closely yet discreetly intertwined with one of Marvel’s most powerful and fantastical clans.
And it tells me something else, too: I may be disappointed about the lack of closure on Roger’s story arc, but his appearances were never just about him. They are part of a larger, multi-generational saga that may very well be continued in future issues.