As Nazi Germany began their struggle for power in Europe in 1938, comic book companies began what could be considered one of the earliest forms of American retaliation. The introduction of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman, the first "superhero," sparked an interest in costumed crime fighters, and Atlas Comics immediately followed suit, creating such memorable "Nazi-Busters" as Captain America, the Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner. Over the course of World War II, the battles in Europe (and later in the Southeast Pacific) provided comic creators with infinite material to draw from. However, after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the subsequent defeat of Japanese and German forces, interest in these propaganda-driven comics failed; Atlas discontinued all of its hero-based titles.
In the twenty years that followed, Atlas Comics
became Marvel Comics, and they focused their production on Western, romance,
horror, crime, and science fiction comics. In 1961, however, the creative
team of writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby revitalized the comics industry
with the introduction of The Fantastic Four. The series' instant
success prompted the creation of such classic characters as Spider-Man,
the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, and Iron Man, as well as the resurgence
of Captain America. Always searching for a new fan favorite, Lee turned
to the Norse myths for inspiration; in the summer of 1962, the god Thor
was introduced to American culture.
"Based on an idea of editor Stan Lee, the
origin story was written by his brother Larry Lieber and drawn by the dependable
Jack Kirby. Their mixture of superheroics and Norse mythology proved effective
and Thor, winged helmet and all, stayed on as a star" (Goulart, 168). As
his popularity increased, the title he debuted in (Journey into Mystery),
eventually changed its name to The Mighty Thor. Over the years,
the character has appeared monthly in his own title, and with other heroes
in the team book, Avengers.
As his solo series progressed, Thor's supporting cast began to draw in other Teutonic gods, including Odin, Loki, Hela, Balder, and Sif. Fans embraced these characters, even though common interest in the Norse pantheon paled in comparison to the more familiar Greek or Roman deities; Zeus and Athena had achieved centuries of recognition as great literary figures in the Odyssey and Iliad, while the Norse gods had faded into virtual obscurity. However, the introduction of Greco-Roman characters into comic books proved unable to match the success of Thor: "Thor has proved to be one of the most unusual creations in the history of comics: the first successful attempt to harness existing mythology on a large scale to construct...a superhero...The popularity of Thor has not been duplicated by other superheroes based on traditional or legendary characters" (Reynolds, 54).
To truly see the difference between Thor's popularity when compared to other gods and goddesses, consider the presence of Venus and Hercules in comic book format. Atlas Comics previously achieved limited success at launching Venus, a comic that catered to a young, female audience. "(Venus), featuring the exploits of a Roman goddess working among mortals as a reporter...managed to last nineteen issues" (Daniels, 57). At a time when countless titles were canceled after debut issues, Venus's run was certainly impressive. Still, two years' worth of comic book production hardly compares to The Mighty Thor's thirty-five years of existence. Even Hercules became a character in the growing "Marvel Universe;" his three limited series and appearances in the Avengers title, however, still can not compare to the Thunder God's fan following.
Why did Thor and his family of gods appeal to a modern audience? Stan Lee, the think tank behind the resurgence of costumed superheroes in the 1960s, feels that the unfamiliarity of the Norse pantheon played a large role in Thor's popularity. In a special comic book detailing the history of the Thunder God's comic appearances, Stan Lee stated his reasoning behind Thor's creation:
Lee suggests three character traits of the mythological figure that would work well in the Marvel Universe: first, Thor harbored a mystical power (weather control) that would easily place him in a comic book reality; second, his strength and inclination towards physical violence paralleled the ruthlessness and might of villains like Dr. Doom and Magneto; and third, his unusual weapon would place him apart from other heroes, while providing him with an effective tool for vanquishing evil not unlike Captain America's shield or Spider-Man's web-shooters.Already Galactus was a demi-god and I figured the only thing we could do was to have a god. People had already seen a lot of the Roman and Greek gods, but the Norse gods were still somewhat of a mystery. So I started researching them and came across a very glamorous character named Thor. He was the god of thunder and he was powerful and he had that huge hammer. I'd never seen a hero use a hammer before. They'd had guns and swords and spears but a hammer was different.
(Thor: The Legend 1, 23)
Further unfamiliar aspects of Thor's character
were added by the creators, Lee and Kirby. While the former created interesting
dialogue patterns for the hero, the latter devised an impressive physique
for the character, one unparalleled by most other Marvel characters. "Kirby's
figures were as monumental as statues brought to life, and Lee gave them
speech, a mixture of Biblical and Shakespearean styles that was like nothing
ever attempted in comic books before" (Daniels, 124-6). Most Marvel creators
who worked with the character over the years express a profound affection
for this unusual speech, and for quotes such as: " I--had near forgot thy
easy courage, Captain America. Or perhaps 'tis merely my great weariness.
And the rest--thou all sayest the same?" (Avengers 1, v.3, 12) or
his classic battle cry, "I say thee nay!" (Thor 2, v.2, 20).
As for his visual appearance, Thor looks much different than other members of the Marvel Universe; Spider-Man's skinny physique accentuates his agility and Captain America's muscular appearance reflects his perfectly-honed body, but the Thunder God should by all means live up to his characterization in the Norse myths. Long-time Thor artist Ron Frenz comments, "The biggest thing about dealing with a god is to be very literal about the term 'larger than life'. You have to pull the camera back and the characters themselves should certainly be a lot more physically imposing than usual. Basically, everything has to have a lot more scope and grandeur" (Thor: The Legend 1, 22-3). Pick up any issue of Thor, and you can see the difference between the hero and other characters; often pictured a foot taller and broader than his supporting cast, Thor even stands with a posture befitting his regal heritage, rather than the oft-times slouched positions of characters like Daredevil or Wolverine.
While some creators believe the attraction to Thor stems from the foreign nature of Norse mythology, other creators and researchers believe that by following his adventures, the readers unlock a submerged familiarity with the Asgardians, or more accurately, the basis upon which myths are originated. "The Norse gods are not alien...Days of the week are named for them. Much of the pleasure in reading Thor comics is bound up with this reappropriation of a mythology so inconspicuously buried in the vocabulary of the reader's everyday speech" (Reynolds, 57). Indeed, the English language derives from the same Germanic source as Old Norse, including such words as "hell" and "king."
Though Marvel Comics expanded their sales to the international market, their products are exclusively American and oriented towards the Western civilization. Our culture values historical figures such as George Washington and Davy Crockett as we do King Arthur, Odysseus, or even Superman; often, as we can see in the reputations of American frontiersmen, their abilities are amplified to god-like proportions.
Thor's presence in a modern society perfectly exemplifies M. Thomas Inge's theory; he may operate in two environments (both in urban America and the extra-dimensional realm of Asgard, as portrayed by Marvel Comics), but the importance of his location is secondary to the actual adventures he becomes involved with. Psychologically, we benefit from seeing larger-than-life figures tackle adversity. "America has cherished its own breed of heroes, most of them products of the frontier experience when the psychological necessity of adjusting to a hostile environment required the projection of mythological figures larger than the environment itself" (Inge, 141). Characters like Captain America and Superman were created wholly in response to the overwhelming threat of Hitler's regime, just as the Thor of Norse myth was created to rebuff the imposing frost giants (symbolic of the frigid Viking winters).
The Crockett-Boone branch of heroes has been elevated to superbeing status from the level of humanity...(Comic book heroes) have moved away, however, from the masculine worlds of the epic and frontier societies, where drinking and hunting prevail, to the urban society where the impact of industrialism has created the threats of crime, poverty, alienation, and totalitarianism. Their conquests, courtships, adventures, and travels remain central, however.
While the success of the Thunder God may derive
from his historical links to our culture, several creators claim that his
popularity stems not from his divine abilities, but by his very humanity.
William Messner-Loebs, who recently scripted the adventures of the Norse
gods for Marvel, states that Thor's humanity stems very much from the creators
themselves. "To really get into his head I concentrated on thinking of
Thor as a human being and not a god. I had conflicts with my father as
Thor did, and I can understand what it's like to have a figure like Thor's
smart-alec step-brother around! I used those shared experiences to understand
him better" (Thor: The Legend 1, 23). This concept, that a hero
should reflect a reader's or creator's personal problems, is fundamental
to characterization of Marvel Comics superheroes; for instance, Spider-Man
may be a powerful adversary of evil, but in his civilian guise he appeared
as a bookworm with girl problems and a poor, elderly aunt to support.
Just as Thor's characterization is surprisingly familiar to modern audiences,
the locale of his adventuring also seems extremely familiar. As a regular
member of the Avengers (a team of heroes), his home base is located in
the heart of Manhattan. Most of Thor's creators operate in New York
City, and their experience with the streets and skyline provide realistic
artistic interpretation. Also, the urban environment is easily identifiable
to Americans; television media and entertainment barrage the public with
visions of inner-city life. The image of a levitating hero before the well-known
city backdrop is surely powerful. "Thor can benefit from the vertical structure
of the Manhattan skyline, swooping down dramatically between skyscrapers
in the style of...other great airborne heroes" (Reynolds, 58).
While the location of Thor's adventuring invokes a sense of familiarity with the fans, his presence in the large-scale environment (the continuity-based "reality" known as the Marvel Universe) reflects his mythological origins. The pagan religion surrounding Odin and Thor catered to the Viking lifestyle; if you consider the lifestyles of Icelandic Norsemen, you can easily see that their lives revolved around ferocious weather patterns and countless internal struggles. "Their experience of a savage world in which kingdoms were constantly set up and destroyed, with a background of stormy seas and long, cold winter nights, gave a sombre tinge to their picture of the realm of the gods, but at the same time it imparted a sturdy vigour to the figures who people their myths" (Davidson, 14). The conflict between good and evil is a recurring theme in the Norse myths, with the deity Thor playing a large role in the battle against frost giants, trolls, and eventually, the god Loki. Conflict was essential to the Norse people; their belief that heaven comes only to the greatest warriors certainly proves this notion. "The 'axe-age, sword-age', which was the age that would lead up to the catastrophe of Ragnarok, must have seemed like a description of contemporary times to the footloose Vikings" (Cotterell, 10). Even in periods of peace, these "footloose Vikings" engaged in daring raids on other civilizations, essentially creating more war for themselves. If the Norse world was overflowing with violence, then the Marvel Universe may mirror Ragnarok itself; every month, in approximately thirty titles, a costumed hero must face a peril to society or global peace.
The artists, writers, and editors at Marvel Comics
do not limit themselves when dealing with the Teutonic gods; the actual
Norse myths provide the creators only with a basic overview of their characters,
not a definitive course of action for character portrayal. The similarities
between the myths and comic stories, whether coincidental or intentional,
are as numerous as the differences. My intent for this project is to compare
and contrast these attributes, providing both a general overview of characterization
and an in-depth examination of some parallels within particular storylines.
The sample of texts used during the research is limited mostly to comics
from the 1980s and 1990s; please refer to the "Works Cited and Consulted"
page at the base of this document for an actual list of the titles.
THOR, GOD OF THUNDER: THE MYTH AND MARVEL
the commoners of Scandinavia during the Viking Age, the most beloved deity
was none other than Thor, the God of Thunder. "Thor was a reassuring supernatural
presence in both divine and human crises, be they encroachments by giants
on gods, or petty tyrants on peasant freeholders, or overzealous Christian
missionaries on idols of the old religion; no wonder he had eclipsed Odin
in the temple at Uppsala and elsewhere in the twilight of paganism" (Puhvel,
201). This Germanic warrior god's straightforward way of dealing with threats
appealed to the farmers and peasants of northwestern Europe, a people often
threatened by oppressive regimes. These commoners also suffered as a result
of the harsh winter weather; they invoked
Thor to combat invading frost giant forces, those
malicious entities responsible for the troublesome cold. In the most basic
terms, Thor appeared where he was most needed.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise why Stan
Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the character into the fledgling Marvel Universe
during the course of the early 1960s. The creative duo had already created
costumed teenagers, bulky brutes, national heroes, and demi-gods; their
next logical progression was to include an actual deity to their growing
ensemble of superheroes. "Jack Kirby was...fascinated by the idea of a
mythological deity as the ultimate super hero, and by 'the chance to use
this concept with characters from our own day'" (Daniels, 94). Considering
that the Norse deity already featured incredible powers, a reputation for
combating evil, and even an unusual weapon with which to strike, Thor was
ready to be featured in Marvel Comics long before Lee or Kirby thought
True to his mythological foundation, the comic
book Thor was not what one might consider a "quick study." The Son of Odin,
though overflowing with bravery and determination, lacked the intelligence
and wit to save himself from dastardly plans in both the myths and in the
comics. For example, in the myth of "Thor and Geirrod," Loki tricks Thor
into leaving his hammer and girdle of strength behind, and leads his unsuspecting
companion into the clutches of Geirrod and his two nasty children, Gjalp
and Greip (Crossley-Holland, 128-31). Similarly, Marvel Comics' God of
Mischief draws Thor into battle against the heroic Avengers in an issue
of Avengers. After awakening a slumbering Thunder God from an encasement
of mystical amber, the Avengers watch as Loki suddenly appears before the
confused deity. Before they can understand the situation, Loki has turned
his step-brother against them by spouting lies: "Surely thou recalls how
they struck thee down in battle royal, then attacked the Realm Eternal...Them!
The mortals called the Avengers! Yours and mine greatest enemies! Strike
them down with me, mine brother...for Asgard!" (Avengers 1, v.2,
29). Loki's intent in both the aforementioned myth and comic book appearance
was to fool dim-witted Thor into combating those threats that might defeat
or kill him.
flaws are not detrimental to the popularity of comic book characters; if
anything, they help to provide the characters with more humanity. Who wants
to invest their time in studying a character they cannot relate with? If
Thor was a perfect being, a superhuman juggernaut with no character flaws,
it is doubtful that the Thor title would have gained its following
over the years. "(Stan) Lee and (Roy) Thomas were never reluctant to develop
the humorous and even low-life side of Thor's character, which derives
authentically from the Eddas. Thor is capable of being hoodwinked and outwitted,
a quality which the Marvel Thor manages on some occasions to retain. But
no one is more steadfast and loyal when the time comes for battle" (Reynolds,
58). Thor's simple nature provides a comical relief from the constant warring
in the comic book reality, as seen in the humorous slideshow presentation
detailing Thor and Captain America
practice in the Avengers' training room.
The other negative character trait that Marvel's
Thor inherited from the traditional Norse deity is his mythological (and
unparalleled) wrath. In "Thor's Journey to Utgard," the deity encounters
a poor farmer's family; the commoners are unable to provide Thor or Loki
with food, so Thor slaughters his own goats to feed them that night. He
establishes a rule concerning the course of the meal: no one shall break
any of the bones. The next morning, Thor uses his hammer to resurrect the
goats. "As they began to move about, Thor noticed that one goat had a lame
hind leg. He hurried back into the farmhouse. 'Who?' he shouted, and the
walls of the farm trembled so much that they nearly collapsed. The farmer
and his wife were shocked out of their sleep and sat straight up in their
bed. 'Who disobeyed me?' roared Thor" (Crossley-Holland, 81). The ferocity
of the Thunder God's wrath was so great that the farmer worried that the
deity would slay his family. "If Thor was sometimes furiously angry, he
was never angry for long. When he saw how the whole poor family were panic-stricken,
the blood stopped racing round his body. 'I'll take Thialfi and Roskva
to be my servants,' he said roughly. 'And that's an end to the matter'"
(Crossley-Holland, 82). Though the mythological Thor is described as being
"never angry for long," he does sometimes allow the rage to linger within
him until such a time as he can release it.
for instance, his presence at the funeral procession for Balder; after
an episode where Thor's allergic reaction to the frost giants nearly drives
him to violence, he takes out his frustration on a passing dwarf. "Lit,
who had lost all interest in the proceedings, came running along the water's
edge. He passed right in front of Thor and Thor was so enraged that he
put out a foot and tripped him. Before Lit had time to pick himself up,
Thor gave him a terrible kick. The dwarf flew through the air and landed
right on the licking and curdling pyre. In this way, he was burned to death
beside Balder" (Crosley-Holland, 158). Though Lit's lack of interest was
disrespectful in the wake of the beautiful god's passing, perhaps the punishment
was exceedingly harsh on Thor's behalf.
Perhaps the best image of Marvel's Thor displaying
his rage occurs on the splash page (inside first page) of an Avengers
issue. The page only features a giant image of Thor, screaming, "By my
father's beard! This is--this is INTOLERABLE!" (Avengers 6, v.3,
1). As he screams this, his clenched left fist is held into the air, while
lightning is conjured up involuntarily behind him. The emotional emphasis
on his words are increased by the shape of his word bubbles; they are not
round, but jagged. His rage is wholly justified, since the following page
explains how former allies of the Avengers have turned against them. In
another occurrence, the creators explored what might happen should the
Thunder God's rage spiral out of control; in a story arc from 1993, Thor
suffers a mental breakdown and goes mentally insane. As the series progressed,
he savagely attacked both friend and foe, angered for no good reason at
his father and the entire Asgardian pantheon: "'Let your defeat serve notice
to Odin and all Asgard. Thor no longer bends under their yoke. And woe
unto him that does not know it" (The Mighty Thor 461, v.1, 20).
could not possibly blend with other heroes of Marvel continuity without
first donning a standard costume; to create the proper appearance for the
mighty Thor, artist Jack Kirby researched the tales surrounding the Norse
god. Kirby may have found a description of the god similar to the following:
"Thor championed the farming freemen...who constituted the majority of
the population. His physical image fits this role well; he was huge, red-bearded,
possessed of a vast appetite, quick to lose his temper and quick to regain
it, a bit slow on the uptake, but immensely strong and dependable" (Crossley-Holland,
xxvi). When comparing this physical portrait to that of Kirby's finished
product, one can see both similarities and striking differences. Both the
mythological god and Kirby's interpretation were significantly large and
muscular, with long hair that might be identifiable with that of Viking
Age farmers; however, the major difference lies within the presence of
Thor's beard. Few heroes have worn beards over the course of Marvel Universe
history; in his early days, Marvel's Thor was always clean-shaven and blonde,
though creators would eventually provide him with a fair-colored beard.
"Thor's costume, half traditional, half super-heroical,
also stressed his participation in superhero continuity while emphasizing
his somewhat privileged position within it. He stood clearly at the top
of Marvel's pecking order: a match for Superman, should it ever become
possible for them to meet in battle" (Reynolds, 54). Perhaps Thor's most
important costume specification was his red cape, which placed him high
above the other early heroes in the Marvel Universe; the major Marvel heroes
in the early 1960s (Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, Ant-Man/Giant-Man,
Wasp, Spider-Man, Daredevil, the five X-Men, and the members of the Fantastic
Four) all performed their duties without wearing capes. By donning the
red cape, Thor automatically achieved a regal status, reminiscent of royal
robes or, indeed, the costume of DC Comics' popular Superman.
other dominant feature of Thor's costume was his helmet, which featured
the large wings of an eagle. Eagles, alongside ravens and wolves, were
symbols of the great god Odin; why would Thor acquire a helmet symbolic
of Odin? In Scandinavian Mythology, the author speaks of symbols relevant
to the Teutonic God of Thunder: "Many of the characteristics of the god
which we have discovered in the myths (include) staring eyes, since the
blinding gaze of Thor typified the lightning; a beard, since the shaking
of the god's beard was said to raise a storm; and sometimes the beaked
head of an eagle, which Thor seems to have taken over from Odin as god
of the sky" (Davidson, 69). In another possible explanation for why Jack
Kirby included eagle wings on Thor's helmet, we can turn to another of
H.R. Ellis Davidson's points, that "warriors wearing helmets with eagle
crests appear on Vendel helmet plates, and there are splendid eagles on
the great royal shield from Sutton Hoo" (Davidson, 40). Clearly, eagle
wings were widely recognized as symbols of Viking warfare; perhaps Kirby
saw these artifacts and was inspired to design Thor's helmet in such a
How would a living, breathing god react when confronted
with modern American society? Wouldn't that being's immortality and natural
superiority place him automatically above all other heroes? In the comic
book series, Thor never acts "holier-than-thou," because he understands
that he is not the dominant force in reality; perhaps the greatest example
concerning Thor's rank as a soldier (and not a king) would be to examine
his relationship with his father, Odin. Writer Stan Lee explains, "Thor's
powers allow him to operate on a grandiose, cosmic scale, yet the old Norse
tales that Marvel adapted demanded that he be subordinate to an even greater
force. Odin, the virtually omnipotent leader of the legendary gods, is
Thor's father, and he rules with an iron hand. Many comic book heroes are
orphans, inspired to fight crime because of the death of their parents,
so Thor's somewhat awkward position as a dutiful son sets him apart" (Daniels,
92). Notable orphan heroes include Batman and Iron Man, and unlike Thor,
these characters never worry about being at the beck and call of any greater
force. Marvel's God of Thunder is torn between his responsibility of protecting
Earth and the performance of tasks for his father in Asgard; often, he
receives command from his father that he must confront a menace to the
gods, and Thor must make an important ethical decision between leaving
for home and remaining in battle against an Earth-bound threat. "Few superheroes
enjoy uncomplicated relationships with parents who are regularly present
in the narrative" (Reynolds, 12). The Son of Odin not only lives up to
Reynold's statement, but exceeds it; of all the characters in the Marvel
Universe, Thor has the most complex relationship with a father figure.
To begin examining the relationship between Thor
and his father, we must first note the positive side of their relationship,
too often lost amid the friction between the two characters. When looking
at the Norse myths, one does not see any type of love between father and
son; Odin certainly respects Thor as a formidable and necessary warrior,
but seems to favor one of his other children, Balder, with genuine affection.
After all, Odin is knowledgeable about the course of Ragnarok, who will
live and who will die. He never shows any remorse over the coming deaths
of Tyr, Thor, and Freyr, but when learning of Balder's foreboding dreams,
Odin is willing to ride into Hel to try and combat the threat.
The lack of emotional ties between the Thunder
God and the All-Father is not only Odin's fault, but Thor's as well. The
myths never show Thor providing Odin with any type of recognition, besides
the occasional admittance of familial connection: "I am Odin's son," he
begins, when describing his identity to the ferryman in "The Lay of Harbard"
the comic book series, however, Thor and Odin do have their moments of
affection for one another. After the Thunder God's return from years in
exile (described in greater detail later), Odin welcomes him heartily back
into Asgardian society, stating, "Let the heavens rejoice! Let the streets
ring with laughter and celebration! After too long an absence, the Scion
of Asgard finally walks among his proud people again" (Thor: The Legend
1, 46). In the myths, Thor spends a great deal of time away from Asgard,
and Odin never shows such enthusiasm when his son returns home, even when
Thor returns to battle major threats to Asgard. Even though the comic book
series presents occasional episodes of warmth like this one, the majority
of encounters between the two deities are filled with nothing but frustration
The root of Thor's familial difficulties stems
from Norse mythology, and the differences in character between the father
and son. Perhaps the greatest example of their opposing natures is found
in "The Lay of Harbard," which I will discuss in detail later in this research
document (see the topic "Perceptions
of the Norse Myths" for more information); in
that story, a reader can easily see that "Thor...was as predictable as
Odin was fickle, as trustworthy as Odin was treacherous." (Puhvel, 201).
Thor's qualities, as stated earlier, seem to cater to the common man, while
Odin's role as a god of war was more attractive to royalty and pirates.
"Among Icelanders and Norwegians family names like Thorsten recall the
name of the god, for these farmers had little sympathy with the footloose
Viking who worshipped Odin...The Icelandic colonists, who had fled southern
Norway to escape the aggression of Danish and Swedish rulers, preferred
honest Thor, the powerful but straightforward opponent of the frost giants"
(Cotterell, 66). The inability of the peaceful Norsemen to understand the
workings of footloose Viking society became reflected in their worship,
as Thor and Odin became opposing forces (instead of united factions).
"A theological tension field (exists) between
the gods Thor and Odin, the former the implacable foe of giantkind, the
latter himself part giant and manipulator of kings and heroes alike" (Puhvel,
246). The God of Thunder is an infallible member of the Norse pantheon,
like the heroic and honorable Balder and Hermod; these three characters,
unlike Odin, never show any similarities to the evil forces of the world.
The All-Father, however, often proves to have Loki-like potential for making
Much of the tension between the two gods, in both myth and in the comic series, derives from moments when Thor fails to live up to the whims of Odin. In the myth ""Thor's Duel with Hrungnir," tension exists between the two characters when Thor dispenses gifts to his son, rather than to his father.
Odin's role in this myth causes problems for his dutiful son; if Odin hadn't confronted Hrungnir prior to Thor's battle, then his son never would have been injured by exploding whetstone and buried under Hrungnir's leg. While Odin instigates the violence, Thor's son Magni actually helps the situation by releasing the trapped Thor. Who is more deserving of the reward: the villainous father or the accommodating child?"I'm going to give you Gold Mane. Take Hrungnir's horse as a reward."
"No," said Odin sharply. "You shouldn't give such an uncommonly fine horse to the son of a giantess instead of to your own father."
Thor took no notice. He clapped his hands to his banging head and rode back to Asgard, followed by the Aesir. Only Odin complained.
the comic book series, Thor is often the cause and target of the All-Father's
rage. An example of their conflict occurs in two issues of the title; this
specific episode is reminiscent of many others that appear throughout the
comic's history. When a female criminal attacks a construction site, Thor
leaps into battle; however, as this encounter progresses, Thor receives
a telepathic distress call from Odin's advisor, asking him to return to
Asgard. Thor, however, responds, "A summons from Asgard...but I cannot
obey it while lives are in jeopardy! No I cannot leave now...I have no
choice! My duty is here" (Thor 402, v.1, 20). The Grand Vizier translates
Thor's statements to a basic summation: "Thor has chosen Earth above Asgard!
He hath ignored an imperial summons! How can I find the words to tell his
loving father of such base betrayal?" (Thor 402, v.1, 20). The fair-haired
god continues his battle against the foe, and even confronts another foe
before returning to Asgard; during this time, Odin learns of Thor's disobedience:
"My son refused to heed my summons? Such blatant defiance cannot go unpunished!
Not even the mighty Thor can disregard an imperial command" (Thor
403, v.1, 19). In the end, Thor goes before his father for punishment.
In many ways, however, Odin is responsible for the affection Thor holds for Midgard. In fact, his presence in modern day America (and even the establishment of Thor in his civilian "secret identity") came about after a punishment designed by Odin. Thor's first alter-ego was appropriated not of his own accord, but by the unwilling fulfillment of his father's commands.
Essentially, the creation of an alter-ego served as an excuse to keep Thor involved in the affairs of humanity. "Thor needs that balance of mortal life to help keep him on Earth and give his stories a little more relevance to today's readers" (Marvel Vision 29, 9). Since his original incarnation as Dr. Don Blake, Thor has assumed three other civilian identities, each one effectively keeping him grounded to the human world. His first post-Blake alias incorporated Superman's formula for keeping an identity secret: dress in normal clothes and wear eyeglasses. This method was used for a long time, but even children have been able to identify the Thunder God while he assumed the identity of "Sigurd Jarlson." As Sigurd, he enjoyed an occupation as a construction worker, as well as the domestic life.Frail Dr. Don Blake discovered Thor's magic hammer hidden in a cave, and used it to transform himself into a being of herculean might. Over the years, however, Blake failed to develop as a character, and Thor took centerstage. Eventually it was revealed that Blake was a fraud with no real existence at all. Odin explained that years before he had punished his son Thor's arrogance by clouding his memory and placing his spirit in a mortal body. When 'Blake' found the hammer and its power, he was only following his father's unspoken orders. Armed with this knowledge, Thor dropped the Blake persona, yet could not bring himself to abandon the human race that he had come to cherish.
The next secret identity he acquired included
his sharing of time and space with the architect Eric Masterson. This mortal
befriended Thor during his tenure as "Sigurd Jarlson," and eventually became
a casualty during a battle between the Thunder God and a villain; to save
his life, Thor surrendered his freedom by merging
his life-force with Eric's. When not fighting
potential world-conquerors, Thor disappeared from existence, and Eric appeared
in his place. "The extraordinary nature of the hero will be contrasted
with the mundane nature of his alter-ego" (Reynolds, 16). This quote was
especially apparent during the course of Thor's
and Eric's merger, as the often weak-willed Masterson
seemed to be a polar opposite of Thor's regal nature. The two beings have
since separated, though Eric maintained some of Thor's power to eventually
become a hero named Thunderstrike.
Thor's most recent acquisition of a secret identity is perhaps his most interesting; during the course of a battle alongside the Avengers, an EMT named Jake Olson was caught in the crossfire. As a result, a mysterious being cursed Thor to share his existence with Olson. The Thunder God shares time and space with Jake Olson just as he did with Eric Masterson; however, Jake Olson is actually dead, and Thor--in accordance with the curse--must pretend to be the man whose body he sometimes wears. This secret identity proves to be especially complex when considering the various relationships he will share with women. First, he must maintain a relationship with the dead Olson's fiancee; second, his occupation as an EMT leads him to work alongside his former lover, Dr. Jane Foster; and third, his fated partner Sif (whom he is not married to in the Marvel Universe) will appear in future issues to cause all kinds of emotional trouble. Writer Dan Jurgens created this huge conflict, and states:
I think love triangles are absolutely great. The fun here is reintroducing Jane Foster, as well as a new love interest for Thor's mortal alter ego, and adding Sif to the mix someplace, so we can make it as complicated and full of soap opera elements as possible. Because that's what keeps people coming back every month, much more so than the 'fight of the month.'
(Marvel Vision 29, 9)
Jurgens raises the idea that "soap opera elements"
are crucial to the popularity of the character; had Marvel introduced the
character as being the husband of Sif, an entire part of the myth-making
would have been lost. The character's interaction with aspects of the supernatural
and the mundane, with otherworldly forces and American domesticity, allows
the audience to experience the grandeur of divinity within the context
of a familiar environment.
Unlike Loki, the mythological Thor never experiences
any form of character development. In An Introduction to Viking Mythology,
Loki is described as a character above all other Norse gods, "because he
shows that rarest of things in a mythological personage, character development"
(Grant, 67). As the myths progress from the creation of the nine worlds
to Ragnarok, Loki slowly transforms from a mischief-maker into a murderous
demon. Thor's role is steadfast: he is introduced as a giant-slayer, and
never evolves into any higher form.
To eliminate this stagnancy in Thor's development,
Marvel Comics produced a number of "Tales of Asgard," short visual stories
added to the end of Thor issues. These tales would feature Thor
not as an ancient and experienced warrior, but as an impetuous and developing
child learning the ways of the world. Two other characters became children
for Thor to evolve alongside, including his best friend Loki
(who secretly plotted Thor's downfall even as a youth)
and the warrior maiden Sif.
The Norse myths recall very little about the childhood
of Thor, or even any of the other gods. During the course of my research,
I found only one instance where Thor's early years were recounted: "Thor,
as a headstrong child, proved too much for his mother and was raised by
two saintly guardians, Vingir and Hlora, spirits of lightning" (Cotterell,
66). This one sentence, though it certainly reflects his adult wrath, cannot
possibly satisfy anyone interested in what must have been an impressive
and legendary period in the Thunder God's life. "(For many) mythic heroes,
childhood is a time of extreme danger and obstacles, a time of touching
the unexplored darkness...Extraordinary capacity is required to face and
survive such experiences. Very early on he shows those qualities that will
be manifested in his adult quest or tasks" (Biallas, 119-20). Though the
myths do not reveal these important moments of Thor's training, Marvel
certainly takes full advantage of pitting the youthful Son of Odin against
overwhelming odds; see the slideshow
presentation to see a depiction of a young Thor's
CHARACTERS DRAWN FROM THE NORSE PANTHEON
Thor, though a prominent figure throughout the Norse myths, does not appear
in each and every one; in many cases, other gods (like Heimdall, Odin,
and Loki) are the central characters of a given myth. Just because Marvel
Comics provides the mighty Thor with his own title does not mean that the
Aesir are limited to being his supporting cast; in many ways, these characters
stand independent of the Thunder God and enjoy a certain amount of fame
as heroes in their own right. In late 1985, Balder the Brave, a
four-issue limited series, debuted and featured the adventures of mythology's
beautiful, passive god. Brunnhilde, otherwise known as "The Valkyrie,"
spent a significant run as a member of the Defenders, and spent a few years
appearing in a monthly series of the same name.
Of all the characters to stand apart from Thor's
adventures in both the myths and in the comics, Odin may be the most liberated.
As lord of Asgard and God of Wisdom, this powerful deity is one of the
most powerful individuals in the Marvel Universe, though to say that he
is all-powerful would be an unfortunate error.
"Odin is extremely complex. He does not 'embody'
martial ecstasy, he dispenses it, being himself devious and manipulative.
He is in fact a magician rather than a champion, an orchestrator of conflict
rather than a combatant. Odin is the master of arcane ('runic') wisdom,
poetry, and magic (galdr, seidr), having given up an eye to quaff the essence
('mead') of Mimir's wellspring" (Puhvel, 193). Though this description
of the myth-based figure is very similar to the Marvel Comics character,
a striking difference appears.
the comic book series, Odin is not known for his missing eye, sacrificed
to attain knowledge. In a universe where heroes and villains can miraculously
come back from the dead at any moment, it's entirely possible that at one
time Marvel's Odin did give up his eye, but was able to use his mystic
abilities to create a new one. In some situations, however, the All-Father
does don a helmet that covers half his face. "I, great Odin, didst witness
half my people vanish in the twinkling of an eye. The ceremonial eyepatch
of sorrow did I immediately don" (The Infinity Gauntlet 2, 19).
This eyepatch hangs over the god's right eye, and while wearing it, Odin
bears a grim visage.
In the myths, Odin went to phenomenal lengths
to gain information and wisdom, almost as if he was searching for a possible
loophole in destiny, a way to avoid Ragnarok. Using several techniques
in addition to the sacrifice of his eye, he could learn much about the
workings of the universe. "Calamity had been foretold to Odin by dreams
and through his power to see the future" (Davidson, 48). Not only did he
possess an inner ability to secure information, but he knew ways to convince
others to assist him in his research. "Like a shaman, he could send out
his spirit, sometimes riding on his eight-legged steed Sleipnir, sometimes
in another shape, on journeys between worlds; like a shaman, he could win
wisdom from the dead" (Crossley-Holland, xxvi).
Marvel Comics' Odin also has the ability to acquire
knowledge through various techniques. In one particular appearance, Odin
woke up from his slumber after dreaming of Ragnarok, an eschatological
premonition of that battle's proximity. "I have foreseen the end of us
all! The final confrontation! Fire shall join with ice...and the heavens
shall witness a passing of gods...and more than gods" (The Mighty Thor
417, v.1, 13). Just as in the original myths, Odin and the gods are quite
aware of their destinies, and constant reminders (like that of Odin's dream,
or of Thor's occasional battles with the Midgard Serpent) keep the gods
in a constant state of panic.
In a passage from Comparative Mythology,
the author states that Odin "could lie in cataleptic trance as if dead
while roaming abroad in animal shape" (Puhvel, 194). A very familiar situation
occurs in the origin of Thor in his human guise as Dr. Don Blake, previously
discussed in Topic
1. Rather than sending out his essence in the
form of an animal, Odin's essence flies through space, appearing as two
glowing eyes, followed by a trail of energy. "Projecting his consciousness
into the cold void of space, the liege-lord of the Norse gods immediately
discovered the startling source of the trouble" (The Mighty Thor
415, v.1, 11). By using this power, Odin discovers an alien plot to conquer
Earth, and he awakens Thor's soul within Dr. Don Blake's body in an effort
to combat that evil.
Throughout the history of this comic character,
Odin has had a reputation as being a hard deity to please; the dual nature
of his personality (his opportunities to be both fatherly and a harsh disciplinarian)
is as prominent in modern appearances as it was in the Norse myths. "Odin
also shows himself faithless, changeable, capricious; after helping a great
champion for some time, he will betray him, letting him be killed so that
he can come to join Odin in Valholl. Indeed, faithfulness is part of Odin's
general nature, as it is part of the way of life of the Vikings, many of
whom must have taken Odin as their personal god" (Page, 36). The best example
of this side of his nature is not shown in any story featuring Odin, but
in one that depicts the adventures of his most loyal servant, the Valkyrie
one appearance, Valkyrie and her fellow Defenders must confront a mad arsonist.
Over the course of the incident, she witnesses the sheriff of the town
rushing into the blaze to save two potential casualties. Though she had
been working alongside the sheriff during the events of the issue, she
stops another of her teammates from going to his rescue. As he tumbles
from the burning building, she states, "He has breathed flame. His time
has come. There are few who die as heroes in this day and age--but we are
there for those who do. The valiant have ever deserved--an escort of honor--when
they embark on a journey" (Defenders 135, 22). She then embraces
the fallen sheriff, disappears, and reappears without him present; apparently,
she delivered the sheriff to Valhalla. Her teammates look at her in shock,
and she justifies her actions as Odin might: "Why the surprise, my friends?
You have known for a long time what we Valkyries are. Now let us go--and
remember a true hero" (Defenders 135, 22). Not only does this sequence
show that Odin's followers show a respect for the people they choose to
die, but it shows that in the comic book reality, Odin still acquires modern
heroes in his hall of Valhalla.
If Odin still collects heroes from Midgard to
populate his army in preparation of Ragnarok, then how does Marvel Comics
handle the entire Christian/pagan
aspect of their universe? After all, the comics
are written from a Judeo-Christian perspective (as is most American fiction);
if the Marvel Universe somehow reflects our reality, then how do these
pagan gods fit into the modern world?
In a 1996 issue of Thor, Odin shows that,
whether he created humanity or not, at least he believes himself to have.
Asgard had fallen under attack, and Odin eventually found himself stranded
on Earth. "I was completely alone. No one worshipped me. After millennia
of worship, no one cared if I lived or died" (Thor 502, v.1, 7).
Odin wanders the streets in beggar's rags, confused by the state his life
has fallen into. He addresses the mortals he runs into: "I am Odin! I gave
you life" (Thor 502, v.1, 7). They respond to his ramblings by taunting
him, and eventually he is arrested for his disorderly conduct. This issue
shows what regard the humans of Earth have for the gods from Asgard; they
simply refuse to believe in Odin's claims of creating the world.
Regardless of whether or not Odin "created the
human race", he is not a true god, but a powerful, extra-dimensional being
that at one point was worshipped by the Norse peoples. Odin's role as an
alien or otherworldly being is supported by the existence of other pagan
gods in the Marvel Universe. During a grave threat to the universe, Odin
once summoned seven other "Sky-Fathers" to Asgard in an attempt to unify
their attack. These other gods included Zeus of Olympus, Osiris of Egypt,
and the chief gods of the Celtic, Mayan, Aztec, Russian, and North American
Indian pantheons. Odin addresses each one as being "the supreme leader
of a population of deities and a mighty power in your own right" (The
Infinity Gauntlet 2, 20). If Odin truly created the universe and its
races, then why would these other supreme deities exist?
This gathering of deities is uncharacteristic
of legendary Odin, whose only notable physical confrontations are during
his slaying of Ymir and his fated battle with Fenris. Odin is much more
comfortable inciting combat than he is actually entering it, as seen from
his command to the goddess Freyja in "The Necklace of the Brisings": "There
is only one thing that will satisfy me...You must stir up hatred. You must
stir up war. Find two kings in Midgard and set them at each other's throats;
ensure that they meet only on the battlefield, each of them supported by
twenty vassal kings" (Crossley-Holland, 69). Though the All-Father prefers
to have others perform this work for him, on some occasions Odin does charge
into the fray; his horse-racing challenge to Hrungnir was a first strike
of the gods against that particular giant.
Odin is not supreme. In the legends, he proves
his lack of control in two instances; first, he is unable to release his
son Balder from Hela's clutches (through his messenger Hermod), and second,
he will fail against the monstrous wolf, Fenris. On certain occasions,
his magic seems to make him all-powerful; the description of his abilities
in "Lord of the Gallows" makes him a formidable opponent to any attacker.
Perhaps his most interesting power deals with his inability to be bound:
"If anyone should bind me hand and foot, this charm is so great that the
locks spring apart, releasing my limbs; I can walk free" (Crossley-Holland,
16). However, the myths later contradict this power; in the myth "Otter's
Ransom," Odin is captured by Otter's father and brothers, and the god is
held as a hostage while Loki seeks a solution. "(Loki) was not especially
averse to the thought of mighty Odin and long-legged Honir lying for a
while, bound hand and foot" (Crossley-Holland, 139). Odin never uses his
ability to break loose, though he may remain willingly bound out of guilt
for the accidental murder.
the comics, Odin is every bit as vulnerable to defeat as other characters.
During his moments of "Odinsleep" (lengthy, rejuvenating slumbers during
which other characters rule Asgard), the All-Father has been attacked and
even kidnapped. Perhaps one of his most bitter defeats happened recently
in the comics; a mysterious pantheon of gods besieged Asgard, pillaged
its wealth, and imprisoned each member of their incredible society. "His
victories far outnumber his few defeats, and even those eventually resulted
in triumph. But never before has he been so beaten...so crushed. Never
before did anyone dare think Odin, the All-Father--would be chained in
humiliation and shame" (Thor 4, v.2, 19-20). This issue shows Odin,
practically naked, standing with head hung low and his limbs locked in
harnesses; his power to escape binding is not apparent in the Marvel Universe.
Odin's wife, plays a small (virtually non-existent) role in both the mythology
and graphic stories. "In the historic Western traditions, goddesses are
omitted or little emphasized. There is the tendency to center on the masculine
godhead rather than the divine motherhood" (Biallas, 55). This statement
rings true in Marvel's interpretation of the character, since she hardly
ever appears in the Thor series.
The major difference between Frigga's depiction
in the comic books and in the mythology concerns her role as goddess of
fertility. "Frigga seems always to have been a much gentler fertility goddess
than Freya: where the latter represented rampant sex and was associated
with a good deal of violence, Frigga was much more associated with that
aspect of fertility related to placid domesticity, conjugal happiness and
maternity" (Grant, 62). Still, Frigga's role as earth goddess overlaps
with that of Freyja's, so she is meant to share the more sexual aspects
of Freyja's identity. In the Asgard of the Marvel Universe, however, Frigga
is an aging woman; when male deities are present, they usually place their
hands on her shoulders as if to help keep her decrepit frame from falling.
One can hardly think of the goddess of fertility as a senior citizen.
the Frigga of the Norse myths was incredibly devoted to her children (and
Balder in particular), she also holds great affection for her foster child,
the mighty Thor. In the series, Frigga "found a place for her adopted son
in her heart--she disapproved of Odin's banishment of Thor to Earth as
mortal Don Blake, and was estranged from her husband for years because
of it" (Thor: The Legend 1, 26). When she sets her mind to righting
wrongs, Frigga goes to impressive lengths to protest or prevent said wrongs;
the act of an goddess of domestic bliss to separate herself from her husband
is undoubtedly a powerful statement. Her passionate personal beliefs are
reflective of her role in the myth "The Death of Balder," where she journeys
across the planet to gather support for her son. "Balder's mother, Frigg,
began to travel through the nine worlds and get each and every substance
to swear an oath that it would not harm Balder...Nothing could stay Frigg
from her mission or resist her sweet troubled persuasion" (Crossley-Holland,
The original, mythical Loki experienced much character
development, beginning as a humble mischief-maker, and transforming over
time into the living embodiment of evil. The same can be said for Marvel's
Loki, though his dual nature is slightly different. In the comic series,
the Trickster God spends his time either attempting to gain personal power
(an aspect of his evil persona) or continuing his petty vendetta against
Thor and any of his allies (an extension of his mischievous behavior).
The introduction of Loki into the Marvel Universe
was an intentional and successful attempt to create an arch-enemy for the
hero. However, to create an effective opposite of Thor's altruism, Marvel's
creators automatically incorporated the more blatant villainy of his mythical
characterization. The similarity between the comics' God
of Mischief and his Judeo-Christian counterpart, Satan,
is remarkable; just as the Scandinavian belief in Loki was eventually absorbed
into Christian tradition.
One of the interesting similarities between Satan and Marvel's Loki is their appearance. The Asgardian menace, like several other members of his pantheon, wears a helmet bearing horns. Although this image has long been equated with the Viking raiders, the depiction of Loki with horns is significantly different than with other comic book characters. The location of the horns on Loki's head makes him appear especially devilish; while Odin's horns, for instance, emerge from behind his temples on the opposite sides of his head, the Trickster God's horns curve forward from his forehead. This visually invokes our culture's image of the Judeo-Christian Devil. Indeed, the visual similarities between these two villains has caused some confusion in actual archaeological data. "Loki has to some extent been identified with the Christian devil, and when we find a rigorous carving of a bound figure with horns on a cross-shaft from Kirby Stephen in Westmoreland, it is difficult to know whether it is meant for Loki or Satan" (Davidson, 104).
Another parallel between the two characters exists
when considering their role as tempters. Perhaps the most memorable appearance
of Satan within the New Testament is his temptation of Jesus: "Again, the
devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms
of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, 'All these I will
give you, if you will fall down and worship me'" (Matthew 4:8). The offer
is obviously rejected by Jesus, and Satan fades away. Loki also has established
a reputation as a deceiver; however, his target is much more responsive
than the Son of God. In "The Death of Balder," the Trickster God discovered
the only way to kill the invulnerable Balder, and tricked the fairest god's
brother, Hoder, into committing the murder. "Loki tempted Hod, pointing
out what a splendid thing it was to demonstrate Balder's invulnerability"
(Page, 49). The God of Mischief armed the ignorant, blind god with mistletoe,
and observed as Hoder accidentally commits the deed.
In the comic book series, Loki utilizes his tantalizing
powers of suggestion to gain what he desires most: power and revenge. In
one instance, Loki began a huge campaign against Thor and the Avengers,
dubbed "Acts of Vengeance." Visiting a vast number of the Avengers' greatest
enemies, Loki offered each one a chance to partake in the campaign. "I've
been approaching men of singular power and similar goals...with a revolutionary
idea. Set aside your petty differences for a short time, pool your resources,
and devise a strategy that will enable you to triumph over your common
enemies once and for all" (Captain America 365, v.1, 3). Though
he was not successful in his master plan (the death of the Avengers), he
was able to unite various criminal factions together to perform dangerous
tasks at his request, while never placing himself in any danger. The villains,
of course, were incredibly easy to tempt. However, Loki has proved his
ability to successfully tempt heroes (see the above mentioned topic "Thor,
God of Thunder: The Myth and Marvel," for a description
of Avengers 1, v.2, 29).
especially devilish sequence occurred in The Mighty Thor Annual
18, in which the Trickster God confronted a character called "the Flame"
(Please see the slideshow presentation
for a glimpse of the episode, as well as Loki's considerable shape-changing
abilities). The Flame had battled Thor once before, and nearly destroyed
him in their first meeting. However, rescinding his vow to protect life,
Thor tossed the Flame into a lake of lava. Loki finds the Flame as he bursts
forth from his stone prison (the lava had hardened around him). The God
of Mischief suggests an alliance: "My offer to you is servitude. I am in
need of an agent, a pawn to carry out my bidding when I do not wish to
be...personally involved. I believe your unique nature will prove most
useful. Attend me faithfully, and I will provide all that you desire" (The
Mighty Thor Annual 18, 46). Throughout this speech, the Flame watches,
enticed by the Trickster God's words. In the end, the Flame drops to his
knees to say, "Never have I served any master. But for the chance to put
Thor under my sword, I would pledge obedience to any devil" (The Mighty
Thor Annual 18, 52). Loki looms over the vengeful Flame with a smile,
and states, "Any devil? How very appropriate" (The Mighty Thor Annual
The significance of this sequence goes beyond
the mere relationship between Loki's and Satan's tempting words; it further
elevates the situation to include parallels in mystical abilities and a
recurring theme. First, both Satan and Loki have the ability to alter their
shape. Encouraged by the Holy Bible and John Milton's Paradise
Lost, our society views Satan as a creature capable of transforming
from devil form into a serpent form. Mythical Loki has proven capable of
transforming into a variety of creatures, including fish, insects, giants,
etc.; he also has the ability to alter his gender and give birth.
While the nature of shape-changing is a parallel
between the Devil and the Trickster God, the choices of creature to change
into also denotes a recurring theme: Loki's life is brimming with serpentine
references. According to mythology, Loki's paramour Angrboda gave birth
to three monsters, one of which was Jormundgand the Midgard Serpent (Marvel
Comics also has this creature in its continuity, but the relationship between
the Midgard Serpent and the God of Mischief has not been made clear). In
another mythological reference, Loki becomes bound after the murder of
Balder; a snake will be propped above his head to drip acidic venom onto
his skin. In a third Loki / snake reference, the Norse myths describe a
creature with similar traits as Loki. "The dragon Nidhogg ripped apart
corpses. Between mouthfuls, he sent the squirrel Ratatosk whisking up the
trunk from deepest earth to heaven; it carried insults to the eagle who
sat on the topmost bough" (Crossley-Holland, 15). Loki is renowned for
ability; the allusion cannot be mere coincidence.
In the comic books, Loki also has a preference
for the snake/serpent motif. As seen in the slideshow presentation, his
first choice as a shape-changer was to transform into a gigantic dragon
(The Mighty Thor Annual 18, 48-9). A second instance is seen in
a childhood sequence, where both Loki and Thor battle a gang of frost giants.
Pursued by one of the massive creatures, Loki turns around and uses his
magic skills to summon aid. Instantly, he conjures up a giant snake that
winds itself around the frost giant's legs, effectively tripping the adversary
(Thor 502, v.1, 11). Finally, it is certainly worth noting that
Loki's costume is largely comprised of the color green, a hue most people
naturally equate with the reptile world.
Even the act of demonic possession seems possible by Marvel's Loki, who for some time actually inhabited the body of Odin and ruled Asgard from on high. A similar situation is described in a Germanic myth, though the reference is vague:
Loki is seen as a kind of Odin figure in reverse, associated with death
and the underworld, this may explain why he accompanies Odin on many occasions,
and is said in Lokasenna to have sworn oaths of brotherhood with him. There
is also a confused tradition of a brother or rival to Odin, sometimes called
Mit-Odin, who ruled for a while in his absence. Loki may originally have
had a more dignified part to play than might be gathered from the comic
tales about his mischief-making.
Loki's impersonation of Odin in the comic book
series resembles the demonic possessions of the Holy Bible, where
demons seemingly force out the personalities of their hosts. Marvel's Loki
effectively took over Odin's body after a battle with Thor led to his body's
destruction; Odin's body was vulnerable during an "Odinsleep," and Loki
inhabited the sleeping god's body to rule for several issues (in which
he turned the Asgardian world upside down). Indeed, Loki serves as much
more than Thor's mortal enemy, but the enemy of everything that is good
in the universe. Even during the few instances when the comic book Loki
fought alongside Thor and Odin against great, cosmic threats, he would
immediately turn on his fellows after the battle concluded.
as Frigga plays a very small role in the course of the comic's history,
Loki's wife Sigyn is virtually nonexistent in the Marvel Universe. Given
Loki's vicious character in the comics and in the myths, it's hard to imagine
Loki ever having any type of love life. In the myths, Loki incites mischief
in the domestic setting: "Not content with his faithful wife Sigyn, Loki
sometimes took off for Jotunheim; the long-legged god hurried east and
spent days and nights with the giantess Angrboda" (Crossley-Holland, 33).
Loki's sexual relationship with the giantess is not his only extra-marital
affair; "in Lokasenna, Loki boasts that he has made love to (Sif)" (Crossley-Holland,
198). It's surprising that these two scenes are depicted (or at least alluded
to) in the myths, though no description of his family life, his sexual
relationship with Sigyn, or even the birth of his non-monstrous children
The comic book adaptation of Sigyn,
though scarcely seen, is every bit as devoted and faithful as her mythological
counterpart. The only difference, however, is that Marvel's Sigyn is not
blind to Loki's crimes. An issue describes her role in Asgardian society
and with her husband: "Goddess of Fidelity! Tricked by Loki into marriage,
Sigyn soon learned that being wife to the wickedest man in Asgard meant
a life of neglect and abuse! But although fickle Loki has since released
her from her marital vows, she will not forsake him as long as she believes
he would be worse off without her" (Thor: The Legend 1, 29). As
she is described in the myths, nothing seems to keep Sigyn from her duties:
"Sigyn, Loki's wife, was not only beautiful but also virtuous and faithful.
She could have gone back to Asgard, but instead she resigned herself to
staying beside her husband for all the rest of time" (Grant, 72).
Loki may be the greatest myth-based threat in the Thor series, the
Goddess of Death, Hela, certainly clocks in as a close second. There exists
a sharp contrast between Hela's physical appearance in the myths and in
the comics, and this difference is explored in detail under the research
document chapter, "Conflict
is most often depicted in the Marvel Universe as being less of a villainess
and more of a force of nature; often, artists render her as a silent observer
of a battle before a character might be killed. She harbors an envy for
Valhalla, and has over time attempted to wrest its control from Odin; the
opposing nature of their two realms is described in the myths: "The unpleasantness
of Hel's realm stands in marked contrast to the
pleasurable and enviable afterlife that was enjoyed by the heroic dead
who dwelt in Odin's wondrous hall Valhalla. However, Hel's subjects were
little more than silent attendants of the semi-decomposed queen...(they
were the) souls of the old, sick or criminal who suffered ceaseless cold,
pain and hunger in their cheerless, dreary home" (Cotterell, 32). In other
words, Hela's jealousy stems from the fact that she never acquires the
soul of anyone worth possessing. "Mysterious in aspect, supreme in power,
she is not content to reign over the shades of those who do not die a hero's
death. Hela longs to usurp Valhalla, Odin's hall of honored heroes" (Thor:
The Legend 1, 27).
Perhaps the most interesting addition to her character,
Marvel Comics provided Hela with an assistant named Volla. This witch seems
to be based on the numerous references to the shamanesses throughout the
course of Teutonic myth. Probably modeled
after the volva (seeress) from "Balder's Dreams," Marvel ignored the obvious
similarities between the dead seeress and the shape-changing Loki. "The
dead seeress called up by Odin in one of the Edda poems boasted that in
reality she was the mother of three monsters, so that she must be Loki
herself, prophesying the fate of Balder and the gods, as deceiving Odin"
(Davidson, 105). Rather than becoming a mere shade of the morphing Loki,
Volla is a woman in her own right, decrepit hag that she is.
offers suggestion and advice to Hela, the only companion in the Marvel
Universe willing to do so. "The volva or seeress, alive and dead, was a
common phenomenon in medieval North Western Europe. A number of sagas describe
ceremonies associated with these shamanistic figures, while in the Elder
Edda three poems, Voluspa, Baldrs Draumar and Svipdagsmal, revolve around
the rousing of a volva from her burial mound to impart knowledge to the
gods or give protection to men" (Crossley-Holland, 218). As in this description
of a volva's abilities, the blind Volla does impart knowledge to any god
brave enough to ask her, though she works exclusively for her mistress
Hela. This Volla also takes the place of Hela's mythological lackeys--characters
apparently too slow to keep pace with comic book action. "Hel's manservant
and maidservant, Ganglati and Ganglot, moved about so slowly that it was
not easy to tell whether they were moving at all" (Crossley-Holland, 34).
Volla, though incredibly old, talks a great deal and manages to shuffle
about over the plain of dead souls that Hel resembles.
As the Ragnarok approaches, the most crucial god involved with Asgard's downfall is Balder, the good-natured and beautiful god that practically played no role in earlier myths. Much critical material has been produced to define the nature of Balder's existence in the Germanic pantheon, creating numerous theories as to what Balder stands for. For as many roles that historians and researchers provide for him, Marvel Comics has given the character ample opportunity to assume each of them. One of Balder's roles in Norse myth centers around the dispensing of law.
Balder, in the Thor series, took over as leader of Asgard during one of Odin's absences, much like the mythical figures Vili and Ve would. As the god begins his reign as a temporary ruler, he states, "In the service of Asgard, I will carry the burdens of the state and bear them with your help" (Thor 371, v.1, 3). However, over the course of time, Balder gave up the throne, admitting that he could not live up to the expectations of his people.Snorri says he is Odin's son, the best of gods, fair of complexion and nature, wise, eloquent and full of grace. Yet he is ineffectual. He may be something of a god of law, for his son Forseti controls the great judgment-hall Glitnir where he resolves all disputes. But of the father Snorri admits that no ruling he makes will hold. Baldr must have been something of a fighter too for his name is invoked in kennings for warriors,
Comics has transformed the passive "Balder the Beautiful" into Balder the
Brave; he often adventures alongside Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three
against threats to the Realm Eternal. The role of Balder as a warrior does
not seem in tune with his depiction in the myths, but does seem appropriate
when considering more ancient, less known sources. "Scholars believe that
Saxo's portrait of Balder goes back to equally early tradition, and that
Balder may originally have been a warrior, a divine hero...It is also very
much to the point that Balder's name appears in a number of Old Norse kennings
for warrior" (Crossley-Holland, 229). Balder's
role is supported by Marvel's adaptation of the actual myth; Balder the
Brave is very much unafraid of combat, because his mother Frigga has already
acquired the promise of all things not to harm her son, save for the mistletoe.
In fact, he sometimes laughs off his enemies' threats, knowing full well
that Frigga has ensured his victory. He does not seem to fear running across
any villains brandishing mistletoe, though maybe he should.
major change from the Norse myths to create the new Balder the Brave is
the absence of his wife, Nanna; Marvel did not neglect to include her as
a cast member, but rather chose to kill her off. She is described in the
comic book series as being a "Goddess of Beauty, the one true love of Balder!
Used as a pawn by Karnilla the Norn Queen to coerce Balder into marrying
her, Nanna sacrificed her life to release Balder from his bitter vow! Though
not a warrior, Nanna's heroic action earned her the right to spend her
afterlife in Valhalla, the Hall of Heroes" (Thor: The Legend 1,
The death of Nanna provides the comic series with
two interesting premises; first, Balder now lacks a partner, and this creates
more opportunity for "soap opera elements," as discussed in the above "Thor,
God of Thunder: The Myth and Marvel" topic. Second,
Nanna's death creates a strange effect on the Asgardian preconception of
Ragnarok; every one of Marvel's deities is fully aware of the fate that
awaits them; however, the coming of Ragnarok may seem to these characters
less likely to occur, based upon Nanna's death. After all, she is fated
to expire only after Balder, and her prior death in the comics suggests
that Ragnarok will not occur as the myths state.
who according to legend is the faithful wife of Thor, underwent a significant
metamorphosis when inducted into the Marvel Universe. She is no longer
a blonde-haired, domestic goddess of fertility, but a dark-hued warrior
goddess. The explanation of her hair alteration is explained in Topic
5: "Perceptions of the Norse Myths." While her
character has changed quite a bit, some aspects remain the same: Sif is
devoted very much to her lover, Thor.
spends much of her time worrying about and searching for her paramour;
he, like his mythical counterpart, often goes off adventuring, and his
long absences draw Sif out in search of him. She is often accompanied by
Balder into battle, who has developed an attraction to her; however, faithful
Sif never shows affection for anyone but Thor...and certain individuals
that resemble him greatly.
On several occasions, certain characters (including
Eric Masterson, one of Thor's host bodies) have been able to lift Thor's
hammer; its inscription reads: "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy,
shall possess the power of Thor" (Avengers 1, v.2, 22). After these
people lift the hammer, they acquire the powers of the Thunder God. In
the past, Captain America has been able to lift the hammer, as well as
an alien named Beta Ray Bill
and others. Though Sif is extremely devoted to her paramour (and onetime
fiancee), she often finds herself being attracted to the people who have
acquired Thor's hammer, powers, and similar appearance.
In the comics, Sif's brother is the watchman of the gods, Heimdall. Apparently, Sif was born of the same nine mothers as Bifrost's ward, whose sole responsibility is to maintain the peace of Asgard by defending the Golden Realm from approaching armies. "Listen! Who can hear the sound of grass growing? The sound of wool on a sheep's back, growing? Who needs less sleep than a bird? Who is so eagle-eyed that, by day and by night, he can see the least movement a hundred leagues away? Heimdall and Heimdall and Heimdall" (Crossley-Holland, 18). Just as in this description of his incredibly acute senses above, Heimdall harbors the abilities of an omniscient god in the Marvel Universe.
Since Heimdall can see evil being committed across the nine realms, a conflict exists between Loki and Heimdall in both the myths and in the comics. Though not presented in Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths, an alternate ending of "The Necklace of the Brisings features Loki and Heimdall combating one another for the possession of the item.
to some versions, the god Heimdall--who could hear even grass growing--heard
Loki as he was perpetrating the theft and pursued him. The two waged a
battle involving considerable shape-shifting until Loki was finally persuaded
that, if he valued his life, he should return the Brisingamen to Freya...Loki
became a flame and Heimdall a cloud to rain on him; Loki became a polar
bear and prepared to swallow the water but Heimdall became another bear
and attacked him; both of them became seals and struggled in the water,
with Heimdall being the eventual winner.
The ill-feelings for one another caused by this
encounter would lead to their mutual murders at the time of Ragnarok.
Though Thor is the primary target of Loki's rage
in the comic series, Heimdall runs a close second. In a 1986 issue of Thor,
Loki used his mystical abilities to transform the Thunder God into a frog;
soon afterwards, he ran into Heimdall at an assembly of the gods. Though
Heimdall had not spotted Loki's treacherous assault on Thor, he did suspect
that such a crime had been committed. After the confrontation, Loki thought
to himself: "Perhaps the time has come for another frog to grace the Asgardian
ponds" (Thor 364, v.1, 19).
Vidar's presence in the Marvel Universe was brief. Having appeared in only a few issues over the course of Marvel's history, his comic book appearances reflect his limited role in the Norse mythology. "Vidar was the silent and solitary god of Germanic mythology. He was the son of Odin and the frost giantess Grid, and lived in a place called Vidi, where all was quiet and peaceful" (Cotterell, 81). As such, the Vidar of the comic book series kept far away from the other gods, intent on maintaining a quiet life with his wife. Odin himself banished Vidar, and explains his reasons why:
I bade you hide away in the high grass of the
mountain vale to protect you...for the Norns have woven you a future fate
more awesome than that of any in Asgard. Now, since you have released yourself,
all assembled may know...that on a day far distant, your sword-arm alone
shall be Odin's might and Asgard's redemption.
(Thor Annual 12, 13).
Vidar, like Loki, feels nothing but contempt for
the gods of Asgard, since Odin himself banished his own son. In fact, Vidar
seems jealous of the God of Mischief, as he states to Odin, "For Vidar's
fate means less to you than that of your foster-son, mad Loki...whom you
permit to dwell within your realm because he wears a humble godly form
unlike myself--though he, like I, boasts forebears among the giants" (Thor
Annual 12, 11).
However, over the course of his one appearance,
Vidar casts aside all animosity towards his father and the Asgardians:
"Henceforth my blade shall taste no blood, nor be raised till the day far
distant of which Father Odin spoke" (Thor Annual 12, 34). Therefore,
the god/giant will live in a peaceful environment until he fulfills his
role in the ancient myth: "The twelfth (hall) is Vidi where Vidar lives,
a land of long grass and saplings. But that brave god will leap down from
his steed when he has to avenge his father's death" (Crossley-Holland,
whose only significant moment in Germanic myth occurs in his attempt to
free Balder from Hel, is little more than an errand boy in the Marvel Universe.
Like the similar messenger gods Mercury and Hermes, Hermod acquires the
reputation as being God of Speed. He also shows great bravery, as was seen
in "The Death of Balder." "For Balder's sake and the sake of the gods,
resolute Hermod stayed all night in the hall. He sat by the door and kept
his own counsel, silent in that company of the dead who could not speak
unless he spoke to them; he waited for Hel to rise" (Crossley-Holland,
159). For this reason, he comes to the aid of other great warriors, especially
in their time of need. However infrequently he is featured, Hermod did
make a characteristic appearance in an issue of Thor where he pleaded
against Loki (in his guise as "Mit-Odin") to save the lives of four heroes
from being beheaded.
the imperfect god of Norse myth, was blind and ignorant of Loki's cunning
when he was accidentally tricked into murdering his brother Balder. However,
his comic adaptation contains a sixth sense, or as Odin puts it, "an inner
eye of age and wisdom" (Thor Annual 12, 13). Therefore, Hoder acquires
a very Odin-like power; the sacrifice of his eyesight allows him access
to wisdom and foresight (another parallel exists between Hoder and Volla,
as described above). The inconsistency exists, however, concerning Hoder's
acquisition of foresight; how will he be tricked by Loki, especially since
his inner eye provides him with an especially powerful ability to foresee
the deaths of innocents?
Tyr may have sacrificed his hand in order to bind
Fenris on behalf of the gods, but to the creators at Marvel Comics, this
deed seemed to be too great of a sacrifice. "Before Thor was born, the
eldest son of Odin aided his father in the binding of the savage Fenris
wolf, and lost his hand doing it! Tyr has long resented the other gods
for the sacrifice he made" (Thor: The Legend 1, 26). A reason for
this resentment may stem not from the actual sacrifice, but from the gods'
reaction after Fenris was bound. "Fenrir snarled and clamped his teeth;
Tyr, bravest of the gods, twisted and cried out, unable and able to bear
such pain. The other gods laughed, they knew that Fenrir was bound at last.
They all laughed except Tyr: he lost his hand" (Crossley-Holland, 36).
This reaction by the gods is a common one; throughout the Germanic myths and even in the Icelandic sagas, heroes laugh off injury that either they or their companions receive. Kevin Crossley-Holland explains the idea behind this action in his book, The Norse Myths:
Apparently, the Tyr of Marvel Comics is just as unable to rise above the pain as Loki is at the conclusion of "The Treasure of the Gods" (see Topic 5: "Perceptions of the Norse Myths" for further explanation). For this reason, Marvel's God of War appears many times as a villain, leading armies against Asgard; he even fights alongside Loki in his attempt to usurp Odin's throne.Since men who become embittered never win respect or admiration, those who sought fame did not rail at the undoubted hardship of their lives and the inevitability of death. Rather, they endured it or, even better, laughed at it. This accounts for the ironic tone in the fabric of the myths and explains, for example, the reaction of the gods when Tyr sacrificed his hands...in the interests of binding the wolf Fenrir. Men and women expected their share of trouble and the best of them attempted to use it, to rise above it and carve out a name for themselves through bravery and loyalty and generosity.
The final god to address is, ironically enough, not a god according to Norse legend. However, this being was still a feared enemy to the gods. "Skoll, a fierce wolf, symbolizing Repulsion, chased the sun across the sky, from dawn to dusk. Skoll's sole aim in life was to overtake and devour the heavenly orb, plunging the world into primordial darkness" (Cotterell, 60). The villain appears in issues of Thor not as a wolf, but as a god capable of transforming into wolf form. His most recent appearance took place in the summer of 1992, when he was sent by Loki and his ally, Karnilla, to attack and slay the Enchantress (see Topic 4: "Conflict of Characterization" for more on this invented goddess). His previous occupation involved the hunting of the sun; how appropriate, then, that Skoll should be sent to track and kill a beautiful woman.
THE NINE REALMS: INTERPRETATION OF THE UNIVERSE
When Thor was introduced into a 1962 issue of Journey into Mystery,
he became immediately immersed in the world of a superhero. Like most characters,
his alter-ego (Dr. Don Blake) was automatically stationed in New York City;
his first enemies were an alien race that attacked the coastline of Norway.
Even when Loki first appeared, the two battled not on exotic landscapes
or fantastic planets, but in a subway beneath Manhattan. The original formula
for Thor was simple: see how an abnormal character deals with a
However, over the ensuing years, the series became more and more involved with the Asgardian pantheon, and Thor spent a good deal of his time in that foreign setting. "The adventures of Thor were gradually transformed from stories about a strange-looking super hero into a spectacular saga. Vistas of space and time opened up in the dimensions between Earth and Asgard, realms where giants in bizarre armor struggled for supremacy while huge sailing ships soared through the stars" (Daniels, 124).
Virtually every aspect of the mythological universe was incorporated into the title; references to Valhalla, Muspelheim, and even Ginnungagap became prominent features of the story. However, a problem arose concerning this interpretation: how could Marvel possibly use these references without becoming as confused by locations and place names as the Vikings did? A great example of the universal structure's complexity can be found in The Norse Myths:
Just as the Norse connections between certain realms are vague or confused, the very races that reside within these places became (over time) convoluted. Certain creatures accumulated the aspects of other creatures, while certain races migrated from realm to realm. For instance, to call Jotunheim "the home of the giants" would be incorrect, since conflicting sources state that they existed throughout the nine realms.In a number of myths...the gods and giants made an overland journey direct from Asgard to Jotunheim without passing through Midgard. How could they have done so? It would seem physically impossible unless we tilt the Asgard- and Midgard-levels so that, at one point, they actually touch each other! This kind of problem demonstrates the limitations of logic in trying to define precisely where the worlds stood in relation to one another. It is best simply to bear in mind that the structure of the universe was basically tricentric and assume that the Norsemen themselves were rather vague and unconcerned about more exact geography.
"The Mighty Thor (Journey Into Mystery's new title as of March 1966) became the equivalent of an endlessly extended Wagnerian opera, played out on sets that no impresario could afford to build" (Daniels, 126). The Marvel creators attempted to keep their nine realms as close to the original as possible, but were not afraid to invent entire new lands or races to make their continuity sensible.
The following is a guide concerning the different realms of the Marvel Universe; the major races that exist throughout their universe are described, including some specific mythological figures (Eitri, Skadi, Sleipnir, etc.) Please use the two maps as guides for the locations of the nine realms: one features a three-dimensional view of the entire universe, while the second focuses on the Asgardian continent and the regions therein.
The Asgardian continent harbors the first four worlds: the city of Asgard, Vanaheim, Alfheim, and Nidavellir. In addition, many other regions are placed on the continent, not considered individual realms, but as regions of the first world, Asgard. Little mention is made throughout the comic series concerning Vanaheim; indeed, as seen on the Asgard map, the home of the Vanir has been abandoned.
Asgard is populated by countless unnamed gods, the Aesir. They are immortal, and can live forever; this does not mean, however, that they can't be killed by magic or murder. The Asgardians enjoy a perfect blend of science and magic; depending on the creative team behind the Thor series at any given time, the kingdom may be a primitive, mystic haven, or a futuristic technological miracle. Immortals "are born to a life of unending revelry and thrilling combat" (Thor 404, v.1, 7). Odin's hall in the capital city of Asgard is the location of great feasts, full of alcoholic beverages and lusty female servants (Thor Annual 12, 8).
Justice in the Golden Realm is always handled by Odin, unless he is absent; he lords over massive Althings to dispense new laws, and when absent, a successor must be found almost immediately. Every member of the Aesir attends these Althings (Thor 364, 17). The policing forces, as well as the royal guards, are called the Crimson Hawks; they are highly skilled combatants willing to sacrifice their lives at Odin's command (The Mighty Thor 454, v.1, 16).
Some of the most important members of Asgardian society are the animal allies to Odin and Thor. Sleipnir, Odin's eight-legged steed, has a reputation as the swiftest animal in all of the nine realms, capable of traveling faster than even the flying Mjolnir. "Sleipnir will carry you tirelessly, and faster than the wind itself" (The Mighty Thor Annual 18, 19). When Thor found a child who survived the slaughter of an Asgardian village, he placed him on Sleipnir's back. The intelligent horse intuitively knew his way back to Odin (The Mighty Thor Annual 18, 25).
Huginn and Muninn, the ravens that scouted out information for Odin, were highly revered by those individuals in Odin's hall. If they flew into the hall, the crowds became instantly quiet as they whispered into Odin's ear. Unfortunately, Huginn was killed in a confrontation with Surtur. The remaining Muninn, as well as the wolves Freki and Geri, faithfully serve Odin and any other god who assumes the throne in Odin's absence (Thor 371, 3).
Tanngnost and Tanngrisni exist in the Marvel Universe, but are rarely ever featured; Thor's hammer eliminates the need for the goat-drawn chariot, since dimensional travel is one of the powers of Mjolnir.
The Norns of this reality are not three in number; in fact, an entire race of beings called the Norns exist in the Asgardian province of Nornheim. They are a race of enchanters, and two notable members of their race are Queen Karnilla and Volla (the latter is the seeress who attends to Hela). The Norns have never truly been trusted by the Asgardian gods; an animosity exists between the Norns and their neighbors, the Asgardians (or Aesir). Their queen plays a large role in this ongoing animosity; Karnilla has been an enemy to Odin and his pantheon on numerous occasions. She was the immortal responsible for the Nanna's death (Thor: The Legend 1, 29), and she performed the magic spells that allowed Loki to possess Odin's body (The Mighty Thor 449, v.1, 22).
different types of trolls live on the continent of Asgard. The most common
are Rock Trolls, though they somehow appear as two different types. One
type, as the man-god Hercules describes, are "creatures that live within
cold stone, and form their bodies of its unliving material! Smash them,
and they will merely re-form themselves--as powerful and as vicious as
before" (Avengers 1, v.3, 33). Furthermore, these particular Rock
Trolls have a reputation for being incredibly stupid. Their greatest champion
is a massive creature named Uroc the Invincible, who is composed of mystic
Uru stone--the same material from which Thor's mallet was forged. Uroc
is somewhat more intelligent than the other members of his species (The
Mighty Thor 449, v.1, 15).
The other type of Rock Troll are human- or god-sized, have orange skin, and are generally quite hairy. They have pointed ears, and have impressive physical strength; their leader, a troll named Ulik, is Loki's most trusted lackey, and was born with the same physical might as the Thunder God. Since Ulik's skin is impenetrable, his greatest weaknesses are his eyes. This creature's durability is certainly impressive: he once had a grenade explode within his mouth. The impact of the blast merely caused him fatigue (The Mighty Thor 450, v.1, 28). Some of these creatures have even used energy-blasting guns, though these weapons were probably acquired, not created, by their race (The Mighty Thor 450, v.1, 6).
A particular breed of trolls, the Flying Trolls of Thryheim, have developed impressive flight gear to wear strapped on their backs. They encase themselves in sturdy, body-enveloping armor, and carry large mallets as weapons. Their skin is gray, and they are slightly smaller than the average human (Avengers 1, v.3, 2). Thryheim lies within the Asgardian continent, approximately 900 miles from the capital city and rainbow bridge (Thor: The Legend 1, 13).
Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, connects Midgard to Asgard. On occasion, the bridge itself collapses due to stress. The gods can repair the bridge over time; however, when it is broken even Odin cannot leave his kingdom (The Infinity Gauntlet 2, 38). The gods have constructed ships capable of sailing through "the dimensional eddies surrounding Asgard...to Midgard" (New Mutants 87, 11). Should a god happen to step on the right piece of a shattered Bifrost, that god can find himself transported instantly to Midgard (Avengers 1, v.3, 24). When Bifrost shatters, the link between dimensions becomes severed, and Asgard begins to float on the ethereal plane. A loosened Asgard might float into the dreaded Negative Zone, a strange dimensional plane loaded with hostile alien races and dangerous cosmic weather patterns.
The Rainbow Bridge is not the only way to travel from one of the nine realms to another; "Each of the nine realms connected by the Yaggdrasil, the world tree, exist in separate dimensions" and certain locations on Midgard are built on "transdimensional nexus point(s)." The World Tree, therefore, is merely a link between all dimensions.
Valhalla, the hall of the honored dead, is home to both the Einherjar and the Valkyrior. Its fortifications are so strong that "not even an army of frost giants could...gain entrance to that hallowed hall" (X-Force / Cable '97, 30).
The Valkyrior are the Choosers of the Slain, and they gather the honored dead for Odin. Each one has a winged mount, a flying horse that carries them to battle. The original Valkyrior were nine in number, each one having received power from Odin; however, they were able to enlarge their number to include at least one living woman. The woman, a heroine named Moonstar, eventually retired from her service as a Valkyrie because she could not handle the amount of death she saw (X-Force / Cable '97, 31). She had become a Valkyrie involuntarily when she saved the life of a fallen flying horse named Brightwind (Marvel Comics Presents 121, 16).
The Valkyrior each have the ability to leap back and forth through the dimensions, and can travel any way throughout the nine realms. "Odin gave (the) Valkyrior the ability to traverse the nine realms unhindered by physical boundary--in order that (they) might ferry the noblest warriors fallen in battle to the halls of Valhalla" (X-Force / Cable '97, 9). Not only do the Valkyrior accept the battle dead, but they accept anyone who has died during the action of doing something heroic, as in saving civilians from a fire (Defenders 135, 22).
Brunnhilde's flying horse is named Aragorn, and is pure white. She wields a special sword called Dragonfang: "I draw Dragonfang...The runes of the Valkyrior scriven on it glow! That means the ancient enemies of Asgard are near at hand" (Defenders 139, 15).
The Light Elves, attractive beings with fair hair, pointed ears, and human-size, live in a realm called Alfheim. This central region of the Asgardian continent was once the site of massive Fire Demon raids; entire cities were destroyed by these creatures' invasion forces (The Mighty Thor Annual 18, 5).
The Midgard Serpent, fated to be the creature that both kills and is killed by the mighty Thor, lies deep in the oceans of Midgard (Earth); he is so large that his coils envelop the entire ocean floor. In his most recent appearance, he rose in the South Pacific, and battled a band of Avengers at the command of a powerful sorceress. The Midgard Serpent is brown and tan, with a head shaped like a cobra's; he has short, stubby arms, and a thick, rock-hard hide. When dragged upon shore, this serpent is significantly less powerful than in the ocean, where it can thrash the waves as a destructive force (Avengers 1, v.3, 36).
The Dark Elves are malicious creatures led by
a sorcerer named Malekith. The majority of these elves have pink skin and
pointed ears. They wear little clothing, and serve Malekith in silent obedience.
Their animal allies are demon dogs, monstrous hounds approximately thirty
feet in height (X-Force / Cable '97, 16-19).
Malekith "studied sorcery for centuries, becoming the greatest magician of his kind" (Thor: The Legend 1, 19). He was once killed by one of his soldiers, but his powers are so impressive that he was able to revive himself from death. One of the ways, apparently, to please Malekith is public torture; his advisor Wormwood once offered, "You are brooding, my lord. Shall I bring some trolls for you to torture? A good dismemberment always cheers you" (X-Force / Cable '97, 16).
Dark Elves can be ferocious fighters, but they "are vulnerable to iron and pure metals" (X-Force / Cable '97, 22). Elven magic, utilized by Malekith, is a poison to which humans have no cure or natural defense against (X-Force / Cable '97, 24).
Once, to reach the realm of Nidavellir, Thor and Loki had to delve deep into the earth, because the Sons of Ivaldi lived at the lowest regions of the home of the dwarves. Most dwarves are characterized by their unattractive physiques; they stand hunched, with large, blemish-riddled noses and ears. They are renowned for their abilities as smiths, and on at least one occasion spun gold into hair. The Sons of Ivaldi actually work within a narrow cavern (Thor 402, v.1, 29).
Meanwhile, the dwarf Eitri runs a gigantic metalworking establishment, and shows that he respects the gods very much: "Too long have the forges of Nidavellir been denied the elegant privilege of thy presence" (The Mighty Thor 458, v.1, 28). In order to forge the mallet Thunderstrike, which Thor's replacement Eric Masterson would come to wield, both Eitri's and Odin's skills would be needed simultaneously. The All-Father must cast his "Odin-Power" into the molten metal at the exact moment to imbue the mallet with magic powers (The Mighty Thor 458, v.1, 28-30). Eitri also helps the gods by creating an iron prison to hold the evil Malekith, the leader of the Dark Elves (X-Force / Cable '97, 37).
Of the dwarf population, some are quite attractive, especially the females. Gentle Kindra appears to resemble a light elf, rather than a dwarf of Nidavellir; her ears are pointed, her skin complexion is pale and without blemish, and her hair is fair (while other dwarves have dark hair). She also has an incredible speed, with which she climbs trees (X-Force / Cable '97, 26).
The dwarves are known to be extremely greedy; the Sons of Ivaldi would only work for Thor if the lad promised them his eternal friendship, and those of the gods. In other instances, the dwarves have been known to put their own lives at great risk, merely to snatch an eagle's egg from a nest (Thor Annual 12, 17).
On some occasions, the dwarfs have forged alliances with the Frost Giants to combat a more powerful menace; Skadi and Kindra worked together to bring the superheroes of Marvel's X-Force to Asgard, to help them overthrow the mad dark elf, Malekith (X-Force / Cable '97, 26-30).
The Asgard Mountains stand between "the green meadows of the gods (and)...the wasteland of their sworn blood-foes, the Storm Giants of Jotunheim" (Thor Annual 12, 1). Within this territory, the trees are bare, and the giants have built strongholds for themselves, complete with their own torture chambers. They also admit to enjoying the taste of gods.
Storm Giants appear to be massive humanoids, often looking either like normal or somewhat more primitive humans. They have the mystical ability to control the weather. Said one of these giants of his role in life, "I am a giant of the storm. I exist to whip the winds, and call forth pealing thunder and crackling lightning. For ages, Thor has denied me, shredding any gale I create" (The Mighty Thor Annual 18, 57).
The icy cliffs of Jotunheim are home to Skadi, the legendary Frost Giantess. Marvel depicts Skadi as being human-like in appearance; therefore, they've drawn her to be a Storm Giant, rather than the Frost Giant she states she is. She deems herself the "mistress of the mountain lodges" (X-Force / Cable '97, 29). Although she props herself against the snow-capped mountains, she wears little more than a loincloth and rags. Her feet are barefoot, rather than bearing snowshoes.
Rime Giants also exist in Jotunheim; though "rime" is equivalent in meaning to "frost," these multi-colored creatures do not resemble either the ice-covered Frost Giants or the human-like Storm Giants. Instead, these creatures are tall and thin, with huge pointed ears, and long strands of hair hanging from their chins and elbows. Some of these Rime Giants carry mace-like "enchanted talismans" (The Mighty Thor 450, v.1, 7).
Hela, the Goddess of Death, rules two different
realms, but according to the Marvel Universe, they stand together as one
dimension. The queen of the dead actually lives in Hel, a fiery pit obviously
drawn from the Judeo-Christian concept; this realm actually looks to be
a massive pyre; the floor is strewn with piles of dead souls, tiny human-like
bodies, each of which is ablaze. When Hela actually strides across this
land, she steps all over these prisoners, kicking them up all around her
(Thor 2, v.2, 9-16).
She is also the mistress of Niffleheim (also spelled
Niflheim), which she calls "a land cold as death" (Doctor Strange, Sorcerer
Supreme 35, 11). No one is allowed to enter this realm without the
permission of Hela herself. Within this realm live the guardian Frostlings,
who are subservient to the Frost Giants.
Some conflicting information exists within the Marvel continuity, which establishes Jotunheim as the home to both Frost Giants and Storm Giants; however, the comic company also places these creatures (including their grand and still-living ancestor Ymir) in one of Hela's realms. Marvel describes Ymir as being "the eldest and most powerful of the ice giants of Niffleheim...Covered with snow and ice, able to generate intense cold, standing over a thousand feet tall, Ymir is one of the most powerful beings in all the realms" (Thor: The Legend 1, 16).
The appearance of the Frostlings and Frost Giants is largely left to the interpretation of the artist; likewise, their differences are entirely dependent on the penciller's fancy. Though the Frostlings are supposed to be smaller than the Frost Giants, the variance in size of these creatures from issue to issue makes superiority of size a difficult system of gauging the characters' importance. Rest assured, however, that Ymir is the largest and most powerful of them all. He has, however, been exiled to another dimension by Asgardian forces.
The realm of Muspelheim is one of fire. Populated by Surtur the Fire Demon, the Fire-Trolls, and the Fire Demons, these creatures live in burning castles, "grim lairs of black stone and fire" (The Mighty Thor Annual 18, 8).
The difference between the Fire-Troll and Fire Demons is clear. Fire-Trolls are rather large, and may in fact be a race of giants. They wear no clothes, burn of their own accord, and hurl fire from their hands. These creatures despise the Frostlings, and their epic confrontations have proceeded for millennia (Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme 35, 15).
The Fire Demons are human-sized creatures, brandishing
weapons that burn, wearing clothes, and are often seen riding horses. Before
the dimensional barriers solidified, hordes of these demons used to raid
Alfheim, slaughtering entire cities of elves. These creatures had extremely
hot skin, and were capable of conceiving children with elf women.
Surtur is a gigantic demon, reminiscent in appearance to the Satan of Judeo-Christian belief. Some artists portray him as being a fat, red-skinned giant, a thousand feet tall (Thorion of the New Asgods 1, 15). Other artists actually set him ablaze, his face always changing like a flame. "Cloaked in flame, possessing a huge fiery sword named Twilight, standing a thousand feet tall, Surtur has menaced the golden realm time and again, once even slaying Odin's brothers Vili and Ve!" (Thor: The Legend 1, 17). The sword Surtur carries is perhaps the most powerful artifact in existence; improper usage of the sword can alter reality itself.
Just as his minions harbor a great hatred for the race of Frost Giants, Surtur despises Ymir; on two occasions, they've met in battle with the intention of causing Ragnarok; their battles were both interrupted before significant dimensional damage could be achieved.
CONFLICT OF CHARACTERIZATION
According to the Norse myths, two different branches of deities existed, and they waged war against one another early in the course of mythological history; Kevin Crossley-Holland, in his compilation The Norse Myths, places the chapter "The War of the Aesir and Vanir" directly after "The Creation." The conflict, though explosive, was rather short-lived, and a peace was established between the two congregations. The terms of their treaty demanded that hostages be traded, and three powerful Vanir deities left their home of Vanaheim to join the ranks of the Aesir in Asgard. In time, these three gods (Njord, Freyr, and Freyja) came to prefer their new environment, and two of them played a large role in both the myths and in Viking religious practices.
The fundamental role of these gods in society proves confusing; in numerous cases, their abilities and areas of expertise overlap with those of the Aesir. The goddess Freyja is notorious for the traits she shares with other gods and goddesses. With Sif, she shares a responsibility for crop fertility; with Frigga, she shares the burden of being an "earth mother;" she even shares the responsibilities of gathering the honored dead with Odin. Even the definition of "Vanir" does not provide researchers with a concrete impression of their original purpose: "Vanr is a...problematic word. As the dictionaries admit, 'there is no shortage of etymologies for it', but a tempting one links it with Old Norse vinr, 'friend', and Latin Venus, 'goddess of physical love'" (Page, 27).
Regardless of their intended role as members of the Norse pantheon, they were prominent figures in the lives of the Vikings. "Within the Norse sources, Niord is a god of wealth, rich lands, mercantile enterprise and fisheries. Freyr is god of favourable weather and so of produce, of peace and prosperity, and his appropriately virile statue in the great temple of Uppsala was invoked for fruitful marriages" (Page, 28-29). While these gods dealt with the environment and social structure, Freyja was invoked more for personal pleasure and lust. Surely, these gods were invoked by the more peaceful Scandinavians, rather than the active, hardened Viking raiders.
Of these three deities, Freyr's impact on the Scandinavian community was the greatest. At the temple in Uppsala, Sweden, a holy trinity was established including Freyr, Thor, and Odin (Davidson, 74). Even though he stood alongside the two most memorable gods of Norse society, very little is actually known about Freyr in terms of mythological history. His only important surviving role in the Norse myths lies within "Skirner's Journey," in which the god sends his messenger to win the heart of the giantess Gerd for him. Even in this myth, Freyr plays a minor role; his character is overshadowed by his faithful servant's mission on his behalf (Crossley-Holland, 54-8). Freyja, on the other hand, appears on numerous occasions throughout the myths, playing significant roles in four myths ("The Building of Asgard's Wall," "The Necklace of the Brisings," "Hyndla's Poem," and "The Lay of Thrym"), and appears in several others to lend out her falcon skin to mischievous Loki.
Even though these deities appear in the Norse myths more than several of the Aesir (specifically, Sif and Frigga), they play virtually no role in the Marvel's Thor series. On the map of Asgard found within Thor: The Legend 1 shows that Vanaheim and its inhabitants have been recognized by the comic creators; however, the map reads "Abandoned City of the Vanir." In the sample of comics used during my research, I found no reference to the Vanir save for the map in this particular issue. Even in that issue's index of mythological characters, which even included the obscure comic characters Hermod and Vidar, I found no mention of Njord, Freyr, or Freyja.
Why are these important mythological beings not featured as prominent characters in Marvel Comics? Certainly, they cannot be transformed into superheroes as easily as other Norse figures. Thor's powers and strength, Loki's evil deeds, Heimdall's duty and keen senses, and Odin's mysticism and dual nature parallel the fundamental aspects of existing heroes or villains. The character of Balder has proven to be an important one in the Marvel Universe, because the gods can harbor an uneasiness about his potential death. Even characters such as Frigga and Sif, who play small roles in the actual Norse myths, hold some significance in the comics because of their close relationships to Odin and Thor. However, a god of wealth, crop prosperity, or sexual love (essentially, an embodiment of peace) serves no purpose in a contrived reality of war-mongers and costumed serial killers.
While this theory may explain the Vanir's absence from the Thor continuity, a more valid argument might be built upon the accusations of Dr. Fredric Wertham, the psychologist who nearly destroyed the comic book industry in the 1950s. In his 1953 publication of Seduction of the Innocent, Wertham linked the reading of comic books with juvenile delinquency. As stated in the book's publisher's note, "He has directed this book specifically at crime comic books which he defines as those 'comic books that depict crime, whether the setting is urban, Western, science-fiction, jungle, adventure or the realm of supermen, 'horror' or supernatural beings'" (Wertham, vi). As for the content of his attack, Wertham strove to reveal how comic books encouraged crime sprees, violence, homoeroticism, and sexual depravity among its audience. The last item on that list, sexual depravity, is especially relevant to the topic at hand; according to mythological sources, Freyr was phallus-oriented, and the promiscuity of Freyja was unparalleled.
Following the release of Seduction of the Innocent, the public's reaction to Wertham's findings crippled the comic book industry. In April 1954, the psychologist testified before the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency (Daniels, 71). As a result of Dr. Wertham's accusations, the Comics Code Authority, an internal censorship board, was created.
Though the standards of the Comics Code Authority have since diminished (and thus, some displays of "sex, adultery, divorce, drugs, corrupt authority, or unpunished crimes" are now permitted), the Authority was at its peak of power during the time Thor and his fellow Asgardians were introduced to the Marvel Universe. To introduce characters such as Freyr or Freyja, no matter how much their sexual prowess was diminished, could cause potential problems for Marvel Comics.Comic books are submitted for approval prior to publication to the Comics Code Authority, which exercises the most severe censorship applied to any mass media. Guidelines prohibit displays of sex, adultery, divorce, drugs, corrupt authority, or unpunished crimes. Submission to the authority requires a medium mainly irrelevant to reality; thus characters escape into a world of fantasy, dominated by super-heroes, a world in which both might and right are on the side of morality. When needed to support his country in a time of war, however, no hero has ever dared to refuse. The recent development of adult comic books and graphic novels, it should be noted, as well as alternative methods of publication and distribution, have greatly eroded the influence of the Authority.
While the comic company stayed away from the Vanir as major, or even minor supporting roles, they did introduce two characters with striking similarities to the god and goddess of fertility. Calling themselves Asgardian gods (though their names have no foundation within the Norse tradition), Amora the Enchantress and Fandral the Dashing became regular cast members. The former, an attractive, blonde witch, first appeared in the comic series as a villainess, though in years since she has fought alongside Thor in defense of Asgard (and even became his lover recently). Fandral, on the other hand, has always been a dependable ally to Thor; he often spends time in a group called "The Warriors Three," each member being a Marvel Universe-specific deity.
The Enchantress and Freyja share many similar abilities. While some of the Marvel gods harbored no true powers (including Sif, Balder, and the invented gods Fandral, Volstagg, and Hogun), the Enchantress, like Freyja, mastered the ability to cast spells. According to the Norse myths, "the distinctive character of the Vanir is affirmed--distinctive but rather sinister, or at least unorthodox. The practice of seidr, for instance, was useful but could be dangerous. It was a form of magic that gave its practitioners power, either to harm others or to achieve esoteric knowledge" (Page, 28). Similar to this description of Freyja's abilities as a member of the Vanir, Amora the Enchantress continuously uses magic to further her own goals; in the majority of her appearances, she subjects men to mind control. In one of her most memorable appearances, she defines her abilities quite bluntly: "I am an Asgardian! No man can escape me and no woman can survive me! I am an immortal! I am a goddess! I can do with one gesture what you cannot do with your combined might" (Wonder Man 2, 29). With minimal effort, Amora can levitate, teleport, focus energy blasts, and cast illusions.
Just as similarities exist between the Enchantress and Freyja in the use of witchcraft, they both also show a preference for distributing sexual favors as a means of acquiring personal power or wealth. Perhaps the most recognized myth concerning Freyja is "The Necklace of the Brisings," in which the goddess is so taken by the beauty of jewelry, she is willing to sleep with four loathsome dwarfs to attain the necklace. This memorable story seems to show Freyja's determination to be pleased: "The sexual price Freyja paid for it represents the other side of love, namely, blind passion and lust. Nothing could stop her, not even Odin's great disapproval, when she desired something badly enough" (Cotterell, 19). The importance of this unsanctioned acquisition is apparent in the various visual descriptions of Freyja throughout the myths, where she is seldom seen without her necklace.
In one of her earliest appearances, the Enchantress also provides sexual favors (or temptation) to achieve her greatest desire: the destruction of the Avengers. Of course, the following story took place during the height of Comics Code Authority power; in her recent appearances, however, her sexual intentions are very much overt. In Avengers 21, Amora needed to find a pawn in her battle against her enemies; after locating a lone mercenary named Erik Josten, she summoned him to machine which gave him "ionic strength." After the transformation into Power Man was complete, the Enchantress tantalizes him with her ravishing gaze, and asks him, "Now tell me, do you hate the Avengers as much as I do?" Power Man replies, "When you look at me like that, I'd hate myself if you wanted me to" (Avengers 21, v.1, 7). A seductive look may differ very much from Freyja's sexual encounter with four dwarves, but we must consider that seductive glances were the extent of sexual relations under the guidance of the Authority.
Later appearances by Amora the Enchantress were more like the Freyja of myth; as the Comics Code Authority became more lax with their restrictions, Marvel Comics allowed the seductive nature of the Enchantress to erupt forth. Her very demeanor provides evidence: in Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme 13, the first panel depicting the Enchantress shows her from the waist up. She wears a costume that leaves her shoulders and upper chest bare. She faces forward, and her arms are crossed as a topless woman might if she was trying to hide her breasts. The very next page shows her from behind, facing the man to whom she speaks; her elbows are pointed high in the air, while her fingers run through her blonde hair. Her back is noticeably arched; a portion of her breast juts out from beneath her right arm, indicating that she is throwing out her chest (Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme 13, 5-6).
Even the greatest fears of these two characters are similar. During the myth "The Theft of Idun's Apples," Loki's mischief eventually causes the gods to undergo rapid aging. In order to restore their health, Loki must borrow Freyja's falcon skin.
Renowned as the most beautiful goddess of all, Freyja takes great offense (and shows great sorrow) when Loki insults her failing looks. "To call Freya a fertility goddess is to euphemize: she was the goddess of sex...for her life...was one of unbridled promiscuity" (Grant, 59). One can only imagine how the loss of sex appeal could affect the goddess of sex. The Enchantress is every bit as concerned with her image as Freyja. When trapped in a realm of nightmares, Amora experiences a illusion of losing her youth. "Behold the Mirror of Melancholy! Gaze upon its polished surface and despair! With each fleeting instant, your face ages...your beauty withers...and your youth flees" (Thor 452, v.1, 29). The illusion nearly overwhelms her, and she admits that the demonic attack preyed upon her greatest fear.Beautiful Freyja, her face like a pouch now and her hair falling out, went directly to her hall with him. She pulled down the falcon skin hanging over one of the beams.
'You're not quite so beautiful now that you're bald,' said Loki.
Freyja said nothing. Her body shook. She wept tears of gold and handed Loki the falcon skin.
While the parallels between Freyja of Teutonic myth and the Enchantress of Marvel lore are incredibly strong, the link between the legendary Freyr and Marvel's creation Fandral is somewhat weaker, but surely worth mentioning. The connection between these two male deities becomes complicated when dealing with the numerous identities surrounding Freyr's worship.
Of the many Vanir gods and goddesses of fertility, Freyr seems to have taken on numerous roles relevant to Viking society. Certainly, this god falls into the traditional category of fertility deities, harbingers of fair weather and fertile crops. "Freyr appears...as a dreamy summer god, bearing his wheat, with his boar at his feet, emblems of a fruitful harvest" (Cotterell, 63). His four-legged companion, which Freyr mounts as one does a horse, not only symbolizes the vitality of crops, but also alludes to the god's role in warfare. "The boar of Freyr could give luck and protection in battle as could the symbols of Odin" (Davidson, 83). Along with Freyr's similarities to Odin concerning battlefield support, the Vanir god also shows some parallels to Odin in his role as god of death and rebirth. The All-Father concentrates on the passing of mortal heroes, and their subsequent rebirth within his hall of Valhalla; on the other hand, Freyr's responsibilities focus not only on the human condition, but also on the world itself. The passing of seasons and continuous cycle of harvests require an elemental shift between prosperity and scarcity.
However, like his sister Freyja, perhaps the greatest attribute of this fertility god was his remarkable sexual identity. "The idol of Freyr at Uppsala had a gigantic phallus and Freyr was clearly invoked not only for the increase of the earth but also for human increase" (Crossley-Holland, xxvii). Freyr was invoked during wedding ceremonies to provide good fortune to the bride and groom; what better way is there to perpetuate the seasonal harvest than by ensuring that the human race produces yet more cultivators? Even the one myth that focuses on Freyr, "Skirnir's Journey," concerns his insatiable thirst for the lovely frost giantess, Gerd.The ship Skidbladnir reflects Freyr as a fertility god. From very early times in the north, ships have been associated with fertility and the cycle of birth, life and death: Bronze Age carvings have been found in Scandinavia depicting ship and horse, tamers of sea and earth, in conjunction with the sun wheel, the prime source of life; and, of course, ship burials...symbolised the journeys made by their passengers beyond death in this world to life in another.
Of the myriad roles of Freyr in Norse mythology, only two can be imposed upon the Marvel Comic's Fandral. In the first instance, Fandral displays a special link to the peasant or working class, just as Freyr does. Freyr's role as god of crop fertility caters to the common man of Scandinavian culture, rather than the pillaging Vikings or the nobility. Fandral, who admits to being a god of the Norse pantheon (though without a definitive title, such as "God of Thunder" or "God of War"), never states his official role; however, he does harbor a passion to protect the poor and working classes. For instance, in one issue, a police officer mentions between panels that Fandral's physical appearance resembles that of a character from English folklore. He replies, "The adventures of this Robin Hood are most hauntingly familiar" (The Mighty Thor 450, v.1, 33). Over the course of the Thor series, a number of stories detailed the private lives of the Asgardians, and in one tale, Fandral recounted his adventures on earth under the false alias "Robin Hood." Thus, this Asgardian claims to have inspired the famous narrative. The hero's physical features closely resemble the image of the classic bowman: a dashing swordsman, clothed from head-to-toe in green cloth, fair in complexion with a blonde goatee. If Fandral was the source for the Robin Hood legend, then he, too, supports the poor rather than the rich.
While Fandral's role as a god of the common people reflects Freyr's, the stronger link between these two deities lies within their sexual exploits. Though Fandral is a mighty combatant on the battlefield, his favorite pastime is love, not war. He justifies the pursuit of beautiful women in the following quote: "Make merry! Life should be lived...not observed!...The wine is cold and delicious...and there be other delights present which are noted for their warmth" (Thor 404, v.1, 6). Of course, he alludes to the warmth created by flesh pressed against flesh. Fandral spends much of his time lusting after women, just as Freyr lusted after Gerd; however, the dashing Marvel hero need not quest for affection, as his mythological counterpart does. For instance, after defeating three arrogant brigands in battle, a crowd of women flock to his side, stating, "Thy breathtaking talents have earned thee a night of delights far beyond thy greatest fantasies," and, "No other woman could offer thee more than we" (The Mighty Thor 416, v.1, 25). The hero's status as a sex symbol, unparalleled by any other character within the Marvel Universe's Norse pantheon, clearly places him as the character most similar to the absent Freyr.
Still, the question remains: why would Marvel create the Enchantress and Fandral when they could have transformed the mythological Freyja and Freyr into recurring comic book characters? One reason may be that the two Marvel characters are not only sex symbols, but also have an inclination towards violence that rarely is seen within the mythological deities. Freyja never plays an active role in battle, but merely claims the dead after the battle has passed; Freyr, on the other hand, only shows one instance of a violent tendency (in the description of Ragnarok, where he is fated to die in battle against Surtur). A second reason deals with the threat of the Comics Code Authority; if Marvel had drawn Freyja and Freyr into the Marvel Universe, the connection to their mythological (and riotous sexual depravity) may have caused censorship problems. Meanwhile, Amora and Fandral enjoyed years of innocent behavior before the Comics Code Authority became more lax...and the two characters became as sexually active as the Vanir of Norse myth.
Attractive figures, both male and female, are prominent within comic book continuity; since these heroes and heroines exist within a reality that deems physical combat necessary, it is only fitting that such characters should have well-honed, well-endowed bodies. However, when the characters exist outside the realm of physical combat--when they exist on another plane of existence where sorcery and raw power win battles--is it necessary to provide them with attractive physical attributes? Such is the question concerning Hela, Marvel's interpretation of the Norse goddess of death.
The physical appearance of Hela, as described in Norse myths, states that "her face and neck and shoulders and breasts and arms and back...were all pink; but from her hips down, every inch of Hel's skin looked decayed and greenish-black" (Crossley-Holland, 33). Essentially, she exists halfway between the living and the dead, her corpse-like legs nearly planted in the soil. However, Marvel's Hela wears a full, skin-tight costume that only exposes the skin around her mouth and nose; an onlooker is unable to determine the exact condition of her flesh. The tight hose enveloping her legs seems to hug the thighs and calves of a living, muscular woman, rather than the withering appendages of a cadaver.
Not only does Hela appear to be a complete woman, but she seems to be an uncommonly beautiful one, rivaling the attractiveness of Amora the Enchantress or Lady Sif. In her Thor 502 showing, Hela wears a black costume adorned with red stripes and designs. A red circle surrounds each of her breasts, and her posture includes shoulders thrown back, chest shoved forward, and waist pulled in. In this particular issue, Hela confronts Thor telepathically with some rather unfortunate news: "She's saying I will die tomorrow to go into oblivion and nullity. But if I go with her tonight, I will be her mate...forever. Prince of the Dead" (Thor 502, v.1, 21). To read of the mythological character and to compare it with Marvel's incarnation is like seeing characters that have nothing to do with one another.
Why introduce a sexual appetite and attractiveness for the Goddess of Death? Throughout my research of the Norse gods, I found only one reference concerning Hela's role as a lover. "Ull, in his role as god of winter, was supposed to spend a couple of months each year as Hel's lover" (Grant, 11). The explanation of Ull's presence in the kingdom called Hel is not one of willing participation, but rather an unwanted domination. Leonard J. Biallas, author of Myths: Gods, Heroes, and Saviors, might argue that the sexual activity of this deity is linked with her role as a possible fertility goddess: "The fertility goddess is also the goddess of the underworld, of the realm of death. To die is to return to the receptive, generative mother, to enter the earth as a womb, rather than tomb. In the world of the mother goddess, death is the prelude to rebirth" (Biallas, 57). Though the author's argument does not apply specifically to this instance, the truth is that the comparison is relevant: both Freyja and Hela perform certain functions as goddesses of the underworld; therefore, couldn't Hela also draw from Freyja an interest in both fertility and physical love?
While Marvel Comic were able to create new characters drawn from existing Norse myths (Amora and Fandral) and alter a specific deity to create Hela, the comic book company was able to capture the true, conflicting nature of the Valkyrior. These mythological figures served both Odin and Freyja in gathering the honored dead. Originally a band of demonic spirits, the tales of such Romantic heroines as the Valkyrie Brunnhilde had over time transformed these loyal "choosers of the slain" into beautiful and willful individuals. Their responsibilities went beyond the mere gathering of deceased heroes; they were to entertain these men within Odin's Valhalla. "The servants at these gargantuan feasts were the Valkyries, sumptuous young women whose favours were, one gathers, readily available to the bold--although at the same time they remained everlastingly virginal" (Grant, 88). The band of warrior maidens was a paradox; the Norse myths inconsistently portray the Valkyrior as both virgins and as experienced lovers.
The Valkyrior of Marvel Comics are similarly of a conflicting nature. While they wear provocative costumes and engage in erotic sequences with All-Father Odin, they also demonstrate a lack of emotion, as well as a focus only on their mission. The dress code for the Valkyrior is especially enticing; Brunnhilde, who appeared regularly in the Defenders title in the early 1980s, wears a costume that resembles those of her maiden companions. Her calves are covered with blue leather straps that hold on her sandals. She wears a chain mail-covered bathing suit, with two huge, silver cups over her breasts. Her hair is long and blonde, and she wears a blue cape (Defenders 133, 17).
Marvel showed the origin of the Valkyrior in a 1997 comic, and showed a very erotic episode involving Odin and the warrior maidens. The All-Father floats above the ground, with nine "choosers of the slain" levitating in a circle around him. They each face away from the chief god, who extends his arms high into the air above his head. Odin's back is arched, and his head looks to be tilted backwards with eyes closed. The women each have arms outstretched and connected hand-by-hand; like their lord, their arms are arched backwards, and their toes are pointed to the floor. Energy tendrils connect Valkyrie to Valkyrie, and they throw their heads back in response (X-Force/Cable '97, 9).
Though their actions alongside Odin and their distinctive look suggest that these characters are as promiscuous as their mythological counterparts, they are surprisingly frigid in their emotional levels. Brunnhilde, when fighting alongside her teammates in the Defenders, was the one team member that the others feared; her merciless tendencies often put the others in peril. Brunnhilde (more often known just as "Valkyrie", or "Val") rarely smiles, and hardly fit in with her companions when they were relaxing. "These characters fail to inscribe any specifically female qualities: they behave in battle like male heroes with thin waists and silicone breasts, and in repose are...brooding and remote--a slightly threatening male fantasy" (Reynolds, 80). As a character that the audience finds difficult to identify with (attractive, yet brutish), she seems almost as domineering as the villains in the tales. The ancient Norsemen may have desired the amorous pursuits of Valhalla, but any individual in the Marvel Universe would find a Valkyrie to be reflections of unfeeling death.
PERCEPTIONS OF THE NORSE MYTHS
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first began their research of the Norse Pantheon, they were not only intrigued by the various characters, but also by the stories behind them. To understand Thor as the slayer of giants is but a glimpse of his full potential; to witness his memorable encounter with Utgard-Loki within the lair of the frost giants is to immerse oneself in the mythology and culture of the long-extinct Viking civilization.
(Stan) Lee and (Roy) Thomas...saw the Asgardian characters as superheroes from a ready-made, legendary background--not as an excuse for reanimating the Eddas for a teenage audience. Ultimately Thomas was to go on to write Thor stories taken directly from the Elder Edda (such as Thor 272), but only after a decade and a half of material had rounded out the character of the protagonist as conceived in the pages of the comic.Though adaptations of the Norse myths in comic book format certainly made these ancient stories more available to modern audiences, the ongoing continuity of the Thor title would prove to be a challenge. For instance, Marvel's Thunder God lacked children; therefore, Magni's presence at the conclusion of "Thor's Duel with Hrungnir" would cause audience confusion.
To examine how Marvel transforms myth into graphic storytelling, let's consider a short Thor story from November 1986. In Thor 373, the title's hero spends an afternoon with a friend's family. The god, in one of his civilian personas, sits down and tells six children the tale of a hero: "The Lay of Harbard." The story, as presented on pages 14 and 15 of said issue, is recounted panel-by-panel in slideshow format; please take a moment to look through these panels before proceeding further.
The myth in question clearly shows a frustrating encounter between the Thunder God and a ferryman named Harbard. The author of Norse Mythology: The Myths and Legends of the Nordic Gods provides a brief summation of the ancient episode: "The meeting between the two gods reveals their two characters: Odin, the deceitful troublemaker and braggart; while Thor is hot-tempered but honest" (Cotterell, 28). Already, the two tales share a common cast of characters; no new persons have been added, and no existing characters were eliminated. Kevin Crossley-Holland, who provides the myths in prose form in his book The Norse Myths, does not not indicate in his writing that Harbard is actually Odin. However, anyone familiar with the Norse myths should be able to identify the All-Father by his demeanor and wide-brimmed hat.
The story proceeds with flyting (insulting) dialogue shared by both individuals. Many of the wordings, when comparing panel to prose, are nearly identical. For instance, when Harbard denies Thor a ride in his ferry, the Marvel Comics hero shouts, "What?!! You're not worth the trouble of wading and getting wet, but I'll repay you when I've crossed" (Thor 373, v.1, 14). Crossley-Holland's text, spoken also by the Thunder God, reads, "You're not worth the trouble of wading across this channel and getting soaked up to the waist. But I'll repay you, you knock-kneed ferryman, when I get across this sound'" (Crossley-Holland, 117). Fourteen duplicate words appear in the comic book line, in the exact same order as in the Norse myth; since this particular comic issue appeared six years after the author's book, the copying and shortening of the text may indeed be the reason behind such similarities.
Rather than continuing with a line-by-line, word-by-word comparison, I will address the more general aspects of their conversation. In the first panel depicting an exchange of words between Thor and Harbard, the former requests a ride and promises to pay the ferryman. Harbard responds by insulting the younger god's clothing; he suggests that Thor suffers from poverty and is homeless. In the actual myth, the Thunderer expands on his request by briefly describing what payment is in store for the ferryman; the two trade two more lines before Odin delivers practically the same poverty insult.
The conversation proceeds apace; though some extra lines are deleted in the comic book version, the context of the unified story remains. In the comic, Harbard reveals the type of customer he serves, Thor attempts to prove his worthiness by revealing his identity, and the elder responds with his fake alias and a statement of his own superiority. Next comes the aforementioned "wading across" reference, and Odin claims to have a the power of a giant; Thor provides the obligatory "I laid him out lifeless with one blow" boast (Thor 373, v.1, 15), and then asks the ferryman what he has accomplished.
In accordance with his mythical characterization, Odin replies, "I've magicked women and set prince against prince! War is what I've caused, Thor, and what have you done?" (Thor 373, v.1, 15). The Thunder God replies that he killed giantesses and once again asks for the favor; Harbard refuses and calls Thor a liar. After his integrity is belittled, Thor claims not to be a liar; Odin provides a final rejection, and the conversation concludes.
The only significant difference between the prose and the graphic text is that the actual myth harbors certain moments of peace between Odin and Thor; they briefly discuss similar tastes in women (and their preferences concerning sexual encounters). Harbard may allude to his erotic exploits by saying, "I've magicked women," but the effect just isn't the same (Thor 373, v.1, 15).
Myths such as "The Lay of Harbard" are not created to encourage human behavior; they are not stories that provide morals, but rather an explanation of social structure and/or the environment.
However, our modern culture does not need such an explanation of Thor's and Odin's natures; modern American society draws its "universal explanations" from either science or predominant Christian beliefs, and as such, a narrative telling of "The Lay of Harbard" seems too foreign (note that the children in the slideshow presentation do not understand the story's meaning). For this reason, the Marvel creators took a minor aspect of the actual myth and transformed it into an epilogue. Thor ends his afternoon story with the following moral: "You only have yourself to rely on...you have to walk through the shadows on your own" (Thor 373, v.1, 15). This statement recalls Harbard's quote in the mythological text: "The oak...grows strong on shavings from all sides. Each man for himself." As the reader continues past page 15 of the issue (and indeed, beyond the scope of the slideshow presentation), this sombre belief becomes a part of Thor's mission, as he himself descends into a hellish, underground battlefield alone.The name Harbard appears in the long list of Odin's names in Grimnismal...Although there is vestigial interest in whether Thor will prevail on the ferryman to take him across the sound, the main interest of this myth lies not in the narrative but in the way in which the protagonists reveal--through their boasts and taunts--their very different natures. They may be father and son, but their interests overlap only in the matter of women.
As they altered "The Lay of Harbard" to blend with their continuity, Marvel also used the myth of "The Treasures of the Gods" to explore Loki's character. In fact, they utilized the myth on two seperate occassions, creating a repetition in the continuity of these characters. Please see the two slideshows concerning this episode before moving on. The first features Loki only in the act, while the second shows the crime and its outcome.
The myth's relevance in Marvel's Thor stems not from the acquisition of the hammer Mjolnir, but rather in the prologue to Loki's treasure hunting adventure. The beginnings of the tale concern his assault on Sif's personage.
Marvel Comics utilized the above sequence twice; the first occasion is seen in the four-panel slideshow presentation and appeared originally in Thor Annual 11 (the images and a brief synopsis of that story were included in Thor: The Legend 1), and the second occured as a back-up story in Thor 402. This latter retelling has been altered significantly; the victim is "Glimmda" rather than the Lady Sif, Loki and Thor appear not as adults but as their younger, more inexperienced selves, and Odin plays a role in the story.Somehow the Shape-Changer got into Sif's locked bedroom. Smiling to himself, he pulled out a curved knife and moved to her bedside. Thor's wife was breathing deeply, evenly, dead to worldly sorrows. Then Loki raised his knife. With quick deft strokes he lopped off Sif's head of shining hair--her hair which as she moved rippled and gleamed and changed from gold to gold like swaying corn. Sif murmured but she did not wake; her hair left on her cropped head stuck up like stubble...The Trickster looked at it and grinned; then he left Sif's bedroom.
Several interesting questions develop when reading these stories: why does Loki commit these acts? Does he behave this way out of jealousy or does he perform mischief for mischief's sake? After he slices the hair from Sif's head in the myth, he explains his crime away by stating, "Only a joke" (Crossley-Holland, 48). He shows further delight in the prank's effectiveness by skipping merily away from Thor on his mission (he winked at Thor as well, decreasing the seriousness of his crime even moreso). "His shearing of Sif's hair is more mischievous than evil, and he makes handsome amends in the end" (Crossley-Holland, xxix).
In the four-panel slideshow presentation, however, a more malicious Loki appears. First, it is worth noting that Loki's headdress bears the forward-pointing horns, reminiscient of the Christian devil (see Topic 2 for more concerning Loki's demonic appearance). As he carefully shaves Sif's head, he states, "You'll have your suitor no more, when my stepbrother sees you shorn of your golden locks...and bald as a cabbage...and all because of Loki's cunning!" (Thor: The Legend 1, 34). The act, as described by the God of Mischief, is performed with intentional injury towards both Thor and Sif. Marvel even changed the ending of this episode, making Loki into even more of a despicable character: "Thor had to force his half-brother to find a new do for his fair lady while she hid her shame within the confines of her room. When Loki finally conceded to undo his curse, he fitted Sif with dark tresses just for spite" (Thor: The Legend 1, 34).
In "The Golden Hair of Glimmda," Loki watches as numerous individuals comment on the beauty of Glimmda's hair (this goddess only appears in this story, and is not seen again in the Marvel Universe). Once again, you can see that Loki's hair is curled in such a way that certain strands resemble Satanic horns; the dual usage of this demonic attribute can only reflect the evil, un-jester-like, nature behind the God of Mischief. As he commits his crime against Glimmda, he admits to his jealousy: "I am the handsomest god of all! No longer shall she be showered with compliments which are rightfully mine" (Thor 402, v.1, 25). The "practical joke" of shaving a woman's head can easily be elevated to a more evil concept: the violation of one's body.
In the myth, Loki willingly goes in search of replacement hair for Sif's loss. Certainly, Thor's wrath played a large role as encouragement, but Loki does not try to weasel his way out of the task. He even suggests the proper course of action for attaining new hair: "I'll replace it...I'll get help from the dwarfs. I promise to replace it" (Crossley-Holland, 48). As is often seen in his pre-Balder's-death sequences, Loki takes responsibility for his actions, and works to right the wrongs he committed. However, in Marvel's incarnation of the myth, Odin appears to chastise and punish Loki. Thor interferes with the trial, suggesting that Loki have the chance to make up for his deeds. However, Loki explains that he could have easily gotten out of his punishment: "I could have tricked Odin into forgiving me--if thou had not interfered" (Thor 402, v.1, 27). Furthermore, Loki hasn't a clue on how to improve Glimmda's hair situation, and the youthful Thor leads an expedition to acquire the hair.
Finally, the last major difference between the mythological telling of "The Treasure of the Gods" and the Marvel revival is the dropped acquisition of Mjolnir and the other special weapons, and the circumstances surrounding Loki's arrangement with Brokk and Eitri. In the age-old myth, Loki challenges the dwarves into creating more and more treasures, assuming that nothing new could possibly be more impressive than the gifts to the gods he already retained. The punishment of Loki after he loses his bet was especially painful: "Brokk picked (Eitri's awl) up, and it proved sharp enough to pierce Loki's lips. The dwarf drew the leather thong through the holes and sowed up the Trickster's mouth....(Loki) ripped the thong out through the holes, and yelped at the pain of it. Then for some while the Schemer stood listening to the hum inside the hall--the hive of happiness. He began to dream of revenge, and slowly his lips curled into a twisted smile" (Crossley-Holland, 53). Perhaps some of Loki's anger is devoted especially to Thor, who was responsible for catching Loki and bringing him before Brokk for punishment.
The comic book interpretation may ignore this plot wholly, but still manages to include some type of conflict between Loki and his step-brother. After acquiring a beautiful new head of hair for Glimmda, Loki expects to receive all the credit; in truth, Thor was responsible for the entire Sons of Ivaldi sequence, and he gave up his belt of strength to make a new golden wig. However, Odin realizes what has happened, and the boyish God of Thunder doesn't suffer any punishment. Loki concludes the story by admitting hatred for his step-brother, not because Thor played a role in his own painful punishment, but because Thor receives such love and warmth from Odin.
The final example of Marvel's mythological adaptation does not focus on an actual myth-turned-storyline, but rather takes certain aspects from "The Death of Balder" and transforms them into something completely new. This story involves the very first appearance of Loki, and was presented in Journey into Mystery 87. Please scan through the slideshow presentation before proceeding through this text.
This issue would become the first in a long line of battles between Thor and Loki, and writer Stan Lee needed to create some type of background linking the two as eternal enemies. Rather than confining Loki to a cavern where he would await Ragnarok, Marvel's creators chose to bind him within another natural prison. As can be seen from his final line, Loki feels that a certain fair-haired antagonist was behind Loki's capture. "I am at last free! Free to cause mischief--to create discord--and to seek revenge against the one responsible for my capture--Thor, the Thunder God" (Journey into Mystery 87, 2).
The comic book story makes it unclear which capture sequence Loki refers to; as we have seen in "The Treasure of the Gods," Thor was responsible for depositing Loki in the presence of the angry dwarf Brokk. The most famous capture of Loki by Thor would have to be after his murder of Balder and subsequent retreat into the wilderness; to escape the gods' wrath, Loki used his shape-changing abilities to hide in a pool of water.
Although this is undoubtedly the most humiliating experience Loki ever encountered alongside his age-old friend Thor, Marvel's reference to Loki's capture cannot have anything to do with this mythological episode, for Balder remains alive in the Marvel Universe to this day.The gods shouted and pointed at the salmon shining in the sunlight. They hurried back up to Franang's Falls and there they argued about how to catch it. Each god had his own idea but, in the end, they bowed to Kvasir: he said they should split into two groups--one on either bank--all except Thor who was to wade in midstream just behind the net...Then Thor groped and clutched at it and the salmon slithered through his hands. Thor held on and tightened his grip; he squeezed and stayed the slippery salmon by its tail. It writhed and it twisted but it could not escape. Loki was caught at last and he knew it
As a prisoner within the Asgardian tree, Loki's plight seems to have several similarities to his fated myth-based binding. He certainly does not suffer while within the tree trunk, though his punishment for Balder's murder in "The Binding of Loki" is anything but pleasant.
Loki was thrown to the ground. He lay still; he looked at nobody and said nothing. Then the gods took three slabs of rock, stood them on end and bored a hole through each of them. They stretched Loki over them, unwound Narvi's entrails and bound him with the gut of his own son as no one had ever been bound before. They trussed Loki's shoulders to one slab, twisting the gut round his body under his armpits; they strapped Loki's loins to one slab, winding the gut round and round his hips; they clamped Loki's kneecaps to one slab, tying the gut round his legs. And no sooner was Loki bound than the entrails of his son became as hard as ironLike the above description, Loki can neither move nor speak while embedded within the tree's mass. However, nothing of personal value is used to confine the God of Mischief inside the tree, while the internal organs of his own departed son are fastened around his body in the Norse myth.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Loki's comic book binding is the nature of his curse; as he stands within the tree, he reveals a familiar motif as part of his punishment: "Ages ago, the gods condemned me to be trapped within this tree! Here am I destined to remain until my plight causes someone to shed a tear" (Journey into Mystery 87). An experienced reader of Norse myths will recognize this curse as a sort of polar opposite to one presented in the aftermath of Balder's death.
After the murder of Balder, the messenger god Hermod journeyed to Hela's domain to ask for his return to life. Hela agreed to release the beautiful god on one condition: "If everything in the nine worlds, dead and alive, weeps for Balder...let him return to Asgard. But if anything demurs, if even one thing will not weep, Balder must remain in Niflheim" (Crossley-Holland, 160). Hermod left the depths of Hel happy, believing that every living creature would weep for Balder. However, as the gods traveled over the nine worlds, they found one being that refused to cry: Loki, in a false identity as a giantess, stated thet he would "weep dry tears over Balder's funeral. I never cared for the Old Man's son--alive or dead, I have no use for him. Let Hel hold what she has" (Crossley-Holland, 160).
How ironic, then, that Loki be preserved inside a tree while waiting for someone to cry for him; throughout the world, all things (save for Loki) were willing to weep for the much-loved Balder, but nothing in all of existence would willingly shed a tear for Loki. For this reason, Loki found another way to draw tears from a passer-by; he commanded a leaf to fall from the tree, thus jabbing Heimdall in the eye and forcing a tear to form.
Two other aspects of Norse mythology become apparent in this particular story, though they have little to do with this, Loki's first appearance. First, the fact that Heimdall should be the god to sustain an eye injury is quite ironic. Of all the gods in Asgard, Heimdall's senses are the most accute, and therefore should be extra-sensitive to Loki's assault. The second aspect of Norse mythology apparent in this story is the importance of trees to the Norse culture. The universe itself was said to be constructed throughout the branches of the massive Yggdrasil, and the race of gods (Odin in particular) held a special affection for this particular tree.
Perhaps the reverence of the Norse people for their trees encouraged creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to choose a wooden prison for Loki, rather than the cavern of his fated binding. Also, his mystic relationship with the tree enables his curse to be lifted (via the falling leaf); had he been trapped underground, the interesting play on the crying motif would not have been possible.The idea of a cosmic tree is common in the myths of the northern parts of both Europe and Asia. It was thought of as the backbone of the universe, the structural support of the nine worlds...How much trees were once revered can be seen from the reactions to early Christian missionaries like St. Boniface. In the eighth century he cut down sacrificial trees, to the terror of the Frisians, until he himself was felled at Dockum by an outraged pagan
NORSE MYTHOLOGY IN OUR TIMES: A REFLECTION
Marvel Comics' Thor has enjoyed some recognition as being responsible for modern interest in Norse mythology. In his book Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology, Richard Reynolds mentions that the title does affect our society's interest in legendary history. "Thor is not an especially familiar character in contemporary Western culture. (Marvel Comics have made him, and the whole Norse pantheon, intelligible to a whole new audience.)" (Reynolds, 57).
Greater recognition comes in the form of John Grant's book, An Introduction to Viking Mythology; since the research is not focused on comics, the following reference to Thor is much more convincing, especially to critics who might not appreciate comics as literature. "Thor was red-bearded, gluttonous and loud-voiced: his standard way of dealing with any problem was to kill anyone foolish enough to be nearby. Perhaps for this reason he has been enduringly loved. His most significant manifestation in popular culture during this century being the long-running series of his adventures published in the comics" (Grant, 79).
How much impact does Marvel Comics' Thor have on the public? According to Les Daniels' findings in his 1991 book, Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics, this particular comic company sells eleven million comic books per month. Considering that Thor is one of approximately thirty titles published monthly by Marvel, we can estimate that over 350,000 issues of Thor are sold each month. Thor also appears quite regularly as a character in the Avengers title, so double the previous figure. Crossover storylines and guest appearances might also add to the count, so much so that possibly a million comics are sold during one month featuring Thor, not to mention Odin, Loki, or any other member of the Norse pantheon.
The comics title is not the only way for Marvel to reach its audience. "Today, the Marvel super heroes have become so popular that they are readily available in a variety of forms. Eighty American companies currently license the rights to manufacture Marvel-themed merchandise" (Daniels, 213). Hats, shirts, book bags, lunch boxes--all of these items may feature the familiar face of the Thunder God. Thor and his pantheon associates have also appeared in cartoon shows, a made-for-television movie (one of the classic Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk films), and a motion picture (Elizabeth Shue's Adventures in Babysitting).
In a company-owned magazine called Marvel Vision, well-renowned comics writer Chris Claremont described the connection between the comics company and the audience: "We're asking our readers to pay an average of two bucks for each issue. We're also asking them to take twenty minutes or so of their lives to read that issue. We want to provide the Marvel fan with quality products for that time and money. We also want them to return next month" (Marvel Vision 29, 19). Considering that the recently-revamped Thor series features one of the most popular comic artists of the decade, John Romita, Jr., as well as the established writer Dan Jurgens, we can safely assume that the fans are getting "quality products" worth "that time and money."
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