Jack Kirby Collector Edited by John Morrow Jack Kirby Collector celebrates the life and career of the "King" of comics through interviews with Kirby and his contemporaries, feature articles, and rare & unseen Kirby artwork. Now in tabloid format, the magazine showcases Kirby's art at even larger size.

"Real" Tales Of Asgard
or "Gimme That Old Norse Religion"

by and © Jon B. Cooke

From Jack Kirby Collector #14

It took some time for Kirby & Lee to fully exploit the mythologic aspects of Thor in the pages of Journey Into Mystery. Initially, the god of thunder's chief concern seemed to be magicians and Communists, but it was the repeated appearance of his greatest adversary, Loki, that signaled the team's increasing interest in exploring the Viking myths. Let's examine a few of the Norse myths that Jack and Stan "Marvelized"; the "true" Tales of Asgard, found in ancients tomes called the Eddas, dating back to the first millennium. [Most of the following quotes are from "Gods of the North" by Brian Branston (1956, Vanguard Press) including his translations of the Prose and Poetic Eddas, and from Nicole Cherry's great Norse mythology web page.]

In the beginning there was the Ginnun-gagap, the Yawning Gulf. In the Gulf was a land of fire, Muspellheim, and a land of ice, Niflheim. From the icy waves rose the first living creature, Ymir the Frost Giant, who "was no god but a creature of evil." Auoumla, the cow, sustained the Giant, and licked the rocks of ice to create Buri, a god who "begat a son called Bur who took to wife Bestla and they had three sons called Odin, Villi and Vi." The boys killed Ymir, and threw his carcass into the Yawning Gulf and made the earth out of it. From his blood they created the lakes and seas; the earth was made from his flesh and the mountain crags from his bones. Towards the center of the earth they built a fortress encircling the region against their giant enemies; they made it from the brows of Ymir, and called it Midgard. (The brothers also created humanity from two logs of driftwood, but that's another story.) So were created the nine worlds of Norse myth-ology, three of which concern us: the outer world Jotunheim (Land of the Giants), Mid-gard (the human world), and Asgard, Home of the Gods, connected to Man by Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge.

Thor, Loki, Sif and Odin © & ™ Marvel Characters, Inc.
Uninked pencils from Thor #147.

Contrary to the interests of comics fans, much of Norse religion lacks a cohesive continuity. As stated above, there was a void at the beginning of time and suddenly a giant, divine bovine appeared with no explanation. These tales didn't appeal to logic; apparently it was also a religion in constant flux. Tyr, the Norse God of War who demanded sacrifices from his followers, was wildly popular until Thor - who apparently desired no such bloody compensation - usurped his position over the years and surpassed even Odin in popularity. What is recounted about the immortals - at least what would interest a fan of the Kirby & Lee Thor - is briefly summarized below.

Odin: The chief god of the Norse pantheon, Odin is called Alfadir (All-father), for he is indeed father of the gods Balder, Hermod, Hod, Thor, and Vidar. Odin is a god of war and death, but also the god of poetry and wisdom. From his throne he observes all that happens in the nine worlds; tidings are brought to him by his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn. He also resides in Valhalla, where slain warriors are taken. Odin has only one eye, which shines like the sun; his other eye he traded for a drink from the Well of Wisdom, and gained immense knowledge.

Thor: The son of Odin and Jord, he's one of the most powerful gods, the Norse god of thunder. He is married to Sif, a fertility goddess, and is usually portrayed as a large, powerful man with a red beard and eyes of lightning. Despite his ferocious appearance, he was very popular as the protector of both gods and humans against the forces of evil. Thursday is named after him. The Norse believed that during a thunderstorm, Thor rode through the heavens on his chariot pulled by goats. Thor wears the belt Megingjard which doubles his already considerable strength. His greatest enemy is Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, and his greatest weapon, Mjollnir, the hammer ("that smashes") made for him by dwarfs. Every time Thor threw Mjollnir, lightning flashed, after which the hammer returned to his right hand, on which he wore an iron glove. Mjollnir was greatly feared by the Frost Giants - the enemies of the gods - for Thor had killed a large number of them.

Loki: A son of giants (not a stepson of Odin, as modified by Kirby & Lee), Loki is connected with fire and magic, and can assume different shapes (horse, falcon, fly, etc.). Handsome and with a friendly appearance, the God of Mischief has an evil nature, crafty and malicious. He's directly responsible for the death of Balder. His wife is Sigyn, who stayed loyal to him, even when the gods punished him for Balder's murder. He was chained to three large boulders; one under his shoulders, one under his loins, and one under his knees. A poisonous snake was placed above his head. The snake's dripping venom was caught by Sigyn in a bowl, but whenever the bowl is filled to the brim, she has to leave to empty it. Then the poison that falls on Loki's face makes him twist in pain, causing earthquakes.

Balder: The god of light and joy (and son of Odin and Frigg), he was loved by both gods and man, and was considered to be the best of the gods. He had a good character, and was friendly, wise and eloquent, although he had little power. He dreamed about his death, so Frigg extracted an oath from every creature, object and force in nature that they would never harm him. Thinking him invincible, the gods used Balder as a target for knife-throwing and archery. Jealous Loki changed his own appearance and asked Frigg if there was anything that could harm Balder. Suspecting nothing, she answered that there was just one thing: a small tree called the mistletoe - she thought it was too small to ask for an oath. Loki tricked Balder's blind twin brother, Hod, into shooting a mistletoe fig (guided by Loki's aim), and Balder fell dead, pierced through the heart.

Ragnarok: Ragnarok is the Twilight of the Gods, the end of the cosmos, also called Gotterdammerung. Ragnarok will be preceded by Fimbulvetr, the winter of winters. Conflicts and feuds will break out, and all morals will disappear; this is the beginning of the end. The wolf Skoll will devour the sun, and his brother Hati will eat the moon, plunging the earth into darkness. Earthquakes will shudder the earth, freeing the terrible wolf Fenrir. The sea will rear up because Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, is twisting and writhing in fury, making his way toward the land. With every breath, Jormungand will stain the soil and the sky with his poison. The waves caused by the serpent's emerging will set free the ship Naglfar, and with the giant Hymir as their commander, the giants sail toward the battlefield. From the realm of the dead a second ship will set sail, carrying the inhabitants of hell, with Loki as their helmsman. The fire giants, led by the giant Surt, will leave Muspell in the south to join against the gods. Surt, carrying a sword that blazes like the sun itself, will scorch the earth.

Meanwhile, Heimdall will sound his horn, calling Odin's sons and heroes to the battlefield. From all the corners of the world, gods, giants, dwarves, demons and elves will ride towards the huge plain of Vigrid ("battle shaker"), where the last battle will be fought. Odin will head straight for Fenrir, and Thor will attack Jormungand. Thor will be victorious, but shortly after he will die from the serpent's poison. Surt will seek out Freyr, who will succumb to the giant. The one-handed Tyr will fight the monstrous hound Garm and they will kill each other. Loki and Heimdall, age-old enemies, will meet for a final time, and neither will survive their encounter. The fight between Odin and Fenrir will rage for a long time, but finally Fenrir will seize Odin, and swallow him. Vidar will at once leap towards the wolf, and kill him with his own hands. Then Surt will fling fire in every direction. The nine worlds will burn, and friends and foes alike will perish. The earth will sink into the sea.

After the destruction, a new idyllic world will arise from the sea and this new earth will be filled with abundant life. Some of the gods will survive, others will be reborn. Wickedness and misery will no longer exist, and gods and men will live happily ever after.

From these awesome spectacles, Stan and Jack contrived a modern mythology we still marvel at today. Whatever modifications the team made, the essence seemed to remain; essentially fatalistic, yet not without hope. Jack would twist the ending to Ragnarok and create his not-so-happy epilogue, the Fourth World, his magnum opus. Such is the stuff of legends.


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