Back in 2005, the idea of superheroes hanging out together on-screen was as absurd as the thought of someone making another Star Wars trilogy. While superheroes often team up on the pages of comic books, movie licensing deals limited specific characters to specific studios for specific franchises. On the big screen, Superman stayed in Metropolis, Batman in Gotham City, and the X-Men and Spider-Man lived in two separate versions of New York produced, respectively, by 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures.
But around that time Marvel Comics was growing dissatisfied with the way its characters were being presented on-screen in critical flops like 2003’s Daredeviland 2005’s Fantastic Four. So Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige—who handled TV and film rights for the comic book company—came up with a plan: Marvel would simply start making its own films with the characters it still owned the screen rights to—a handful of relatively unknown heroes who made up a famed comic book team called The Avengers. The studio would also replicate a comic book concept introduced by Marvel creators Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Stan Lee back in the 1960s: These movies would all share one continuity, now known as the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” or “MCU.”
Aesir: The primary race of Norse gods, the Aesir abide in the capital city of Asgard. For millennia, the Aesir fought a brutal and bloody war for no particular reason with another race of gods known as the Vanir. In the end, a truce was signed and the two tribes merged into one. Our favorite Hammer Swingin’ Hero Thor is a member of the Aesir.
Asgard: One of the Nine Worlds and nestled in the upper branches of the Yggdrasil, The World Tree, Asgard is the home of the Norse gods. Most traditional accounts describe it as a luscious countryside filled with loose maidens, fresh game, huge feasts, and golden apples that bestow immortality upon the gods. That’s right: sort of like your college dorm.
Baldr: Every metal act has to have its sensitive guy, and the Norse are no exception. Baldr is the god of light, and is considered the best looking of all the gods, including the women. He also had a sweet pad: a palace made of gold and light. Essentially he was the Norse version of the friend you use to reel women in at the bar. Unfortunately he was also something of a wuss. After having a nightmare of his own impending death, Frigg, his mother and the queen of the gods, went to every creature, stone, plant mortal, and god in the universe and made them swear they would never harm Baldr. The only plant she missed was the mistletoe, which was her stupid mistake because even though it’s tiny, the word “missile” is right in the name. Of course Loki (we’ll get to him later) heard this, fashioned an arrow from mistletoe and used it to assassinate Baldr while the rest of the gods were throwing weapons at him for fun (seriously). His death was one of the signs of Ragnarok, or the Apocalyptic Twilight of the Gods, but you can’t really blame Loki for being jealous.
Bilfrost: The rainbow bridge that connects Asgard, the home of the gods, to Midgard, or Earth. Also the potential name of the gay club I’m considering opening.
Fenrir: One of the three demonic children of Loki, Fenrir is a wolf that would continue to grow until it became unstoppable. Odin ordered it bound in Nifleheim, the deepest hell, in a forest of iron trees. The war god Tyr (but let’s face it, in Norse mythology they’re ALL war gods) lost a hand binding Fenrir to a tree. At Ragnarok, Fenrir gets loose, goes toe-to-toe with Odin and, oh yeah, swallows the sun.
Frigg: Wife of Odin, Queen of Asgard and mother to most of the other Norse gods, she’s essentially the coolest mom you never had. Oh, and if you think that the Norse were all misogynistic, please take note: Frigg was the only other god besides Odin who was permitted to sit in Hlidskjalf, the throne of the universe.
Freyr and Freyja: Brother and sister, and pretty much the only members of the tribe of gods called the Vanir who get any attention, Freyr and Freyja are both associated with beauty, fertility, growth, and farming, but don’t let that fool you: Freyr rode a giant boar into battle, owned a boat that could be folded up into your pocket, and wielded a magic sword that fought all on its own. Oh, and Freyja is no chaste Aphrodite figure. She welcomes half of the warriors who are killed in battle to her loving (and ample) bosom. The other half go to Valhalla to beat the living crap out of each other for eternity.
Heimdallr: Heimdallr is the god’s watchman, and possibly also the god’s pimp. After all, he has gold teeth. Heimdallr possesses the greatest eyesight and hearing of all the gods, as well as the power of foresight and foreknowledge. He guards the entrance to Asgard at the edge of Bilfrost and wields a giant horn that will signal when Ragnarok is nigh.
Hel: The original “Queen of the Damned,” Hel is one of Loki’s children and was deformed at birth, with half her body permanently cast in blackness. She became the ruler of Hel, one of the abodes of the dead in the pits of Nifleheim, the deepest hell for betrayers and cowards.
Jotenheimr: One of the Nine Worlds, Jotenheimr surrounds Midgard and Asgard, and is home to Frost Giant, Rock Giants, Trolls, Storm Gods, and basically anything big and monstrous that’s perfectly moral to pulverize and slaughter if you’re a god. Traditionally, Thor would go hunting in Jotenheimr and bring back the heads of the giants to mount on his wall.
Loki: A mythologically epic pain in the ass, Loki is like Ashton Kutcher onPunk’d, only on a cosmic scale. Loki is described by the official accounts as a frost giant who fell in which the gods and became Odin’s blood brother after Odin owed him a debt of gratitude, and thus gained the power of the Aesir. A shapeshifter and a trickster, Loki tends to screw up everything he touches. He cut the hair from Sif, Thor’s wife; killed Baldr; gave birth to a trio of demonic children; and generally makes life miserable for everyone. After he kills Baldr, the gods have finally had enough of his treachery and bind him by the entrails of one of his many illegitimate kids to a rock in Nifleheim, where a serpent spits poison onto his face as he lays there, helpless. When he is freed during Ragnarok, he goes mano-a-mano against Heimdallr, and they wind up killing each other. Loki is to the Aesir what the Joker is to Batman.
Midgard: Midgard is Earth, and the base of Yggdrasil, the world tree. It’s where all we poor human saps live, at the mercy of an entire race of omnipotent warriors who like to go to war with other cosmic beings for shits and giggles.
Midgard Serpent: Also known as Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent is the third of Loki’s demonic children. Upon birth, he was tossed into ocean, where he grew and grew until he was forced to swallow his own tail before he eclipsed the world. The Midgard Serpent is the enemy of Thor and when Ragnarok comes, he will spit out his tail and continue to grow until he poisons the sky itself. Thor will destroy him, but then walk nine paces and keel over dead from the serpent’s toxin. Or from the five-point palm exploding heart technique. I can’t remember which.
Mjolnir: The legendary hammer of Thor! Crafted by black elves at the request of Loki in exchange for his life, Mjolnir is one of the fiercest weapons in the Nine Worlds, capable of leveling mountains with a single blow. When thrown, the hammer always strikes its mark, and always returns to Thor’s hands. In fact, Mjolnir is so heavy that Thor himself can’t even lift it. He needs special iron gloves to contain the hammer’s heat, and a magical belt, Megingjörð, to double his strength before he can use it. Not exactly something you’d pick up at the Home Depot, though it makes an excellent pick-up line (Baby, wanna try and lift my hammer?)
Njoror: The Norse god of coastlines, the sea, seafaring, the winds, fishing, and wealth, who spends most of his time sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tides roll away. He married the huntress goddess Skoai, who proceeded to make his life completely miserable by dragging him away from the water and into the mountains.
Odin: The All-Father, King of the Aesir, and the most powerful of the gods, Odin makes Thor look like a 8-year-old ballerina, and a bad 8-year-old ballerina at that. Also operating under the non de guerre Woden, chief badass is SO badass he put Thor over his knee and spanked him. Odin is associated with wisdom, war, prophecy, magic, and poetry. (What, poetry is wussy? You’ve never read Robert Bly or Charles Bukowski?)
Odin has one eye. That’s right. One eye. He’s the Snake Plissken of gods. And he tore that eye out and exchanged it with the Fates in order to drink from the well of wisdom. When was the last time your lost a body part to get an A on a physics test? On top of that, he’s armed with a spear that never misses its mark when thrown, two pet ravens named Huginn, or thought, and Muninn, or memory, and an eight legged horse named Sleipnir. Do you even have a four legged horse? I didn’t think so…
Ragnarok: The battle to end all battles, the war to end all wars, a battle scene that would make the Two Towers look a water-balloon fight. The Twilight of the Gods starts when Baldr bites it by the hand of Loki, the frost giants storm across the rainbow bridge, light dies forever, and pretty much everyone is hideously slaughtered. Except for mankind, who makes it through to live in perpetual misery and darkness.
Sif: Thor’s blonde wife, mother of his kids, and the only force in the universe capable of pussy-whipping the God of Thunder. Sif once had her hair cut while she slept by Loki as a ransom after he was captured by a frost giant. In her rage, she forced Thor to head into Jotenheimr, bash the giant’s skull in, and retrieve her hair. Sif is associated with wheat crops.
Skoai: One of the toughest goddesses in Norse mythology. Skoai is a huntress who spent her days in the mountains on skies, hunting with a bow and arrow. Associated with the mountains, the winter and the bow, Skoai was married to Njord, and stories of their arguments over where they were going the live, the coast or the mountains, was essentially the Viking version of a 90′s sitcom.
Thor: In this corner, here he is: The Hammer Hand, Lord Lightening, The Red-Headed Tyrant, The Mountain Mover, The God of the Rolling Thunder! Thor is the most popular figure in Norse mythology, even today. One of the three dozen Norse war gods, Thor is associated with thunder, lightening, storms, oak trees and was considered the protector of mankind. The strongest of the gods, Thor could juggle elephants with one hand while drinking a stein of mead with the other. Thor was not a blonde, despite how Marvel Comics draws him, but rather a red-head with a huge bushy beard and a fierce temper. On top of Mjolnir, his legendary hammer, did you know he has a chariot pulled by lightening-powered goatsTanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr? Or that Thursday was named after him? Or that Vikings used to have sex under images of his hammer to improve fertility? It’s all Thor, baby….
Thor was the Norse equivalent of Greek heroes like Achilles, Hercules or Theseus. His exploits of battling against the Midgard Serpent, the frost giants, and the devious Loki have associated Thor in the western world with masculinity, strength, heroics, and self-sacrifice.
Tyr: The god of single combat, the sword, and victory, Tyr is famous for losing his hand while he was binding the wolf Fenrir in the iron woods. Also famous for needing someone else to open his ketchup bottles.
Valhalla: The heavenly hall of warriors populated by those who died courageously in battle, Valhalla is a non-stop party for the most courageous of mortal warriors. In Valhalla, they drink from cups that never go empty, feast on wild boar, and spend their days competing against each other in single combat. Actually… THIS was more like your college dorm.
Valkyries: A host of female warriors and the heralds of Odin, the Valkyrie’s choose who will die in battle and escort them to the halls of Valhalla. That’s right: in Norse mythology when you die the first thing you see is a whole host of Xena: Warrior Princesses on flying horses.
Yggdrasil: The world tree, on which sits the Nine Worlds of Norse Mythology. There is a great eagle living in its upper branches and the Norns, or the Norse version of the Fates, nestled in its roots.
The Nine Worlds of Yggdrasil are as follows:
Vanaheim: Home of the tribe of gods known as the Vanir, little is known about Vanaheim, and it’s rarely mentioned. Alfheim: The realm of the light elves, being of light and beauty, and allies of the Aesir. Asgard: Home of the Aesir, the primary tribe of Norse gods. Nidavellir: The land of the Dwarves: caverns and catacombs beneath the Earth. Midgard: The realm of humanity, and the earth in which the World Tree is rooted. Jotenheimr: The realm of frost, winds, and ice. Land of the giants. Svartalfheim: The realm of the Dark Elves, a shadowy realm that exists on the borders of Midgard. Nifleheim: The land of the dead, a world of mist and darkness. Muspelheim: A burning world of chaos, and the land of the fire giants.