Sunday, December 19, 2010
I have bigger worries with Thor.
I'm going to level with you all right away, Thor was a tough sell on me from the beginning. While most of the people weighing in on the matter of Idris Elba as Heimdall--including, officially at least, the extremists themselves--refer to the characters in Thor as mere characters or even cultural icons, I'm not going to dance around it. I actually subscribe to a neo-pagan religion. Thor and Heimdall aren't just a name from old dusty poems or creations of Kirby, they're genuine spiritual figure for me. And while they are many different versions of the old myths and legends, and there's a big emphasis on discovering the essence of the Divine by parsing these different legends and seeing what has the most human truth to it, the Marvel version of Thor was a bit too far afield for me. I had the worst trouble getting past the beardless blonde Thor, even after differences like that were explained away by some generational or post-Ragnarok thing I still can't confidently repeat.
I managed to get a good jumping on point with JMS and I've read his run, some miniseries and some Silver Age reprints. I was impressed with the basic characters of Thor, Balder and the Warriors Three (who weren't in the original myths but seem like the sort of people who would have been so I love them) but had trouble getting past the treatment of the goddesses. The Asyniur (and Freya) were a really appealing part of the Norse pantheon. Fewer of their stories have survived, but this was genuinely a group of amazing goddesses that get sadly ignored at times. And in the Thor franchise, they continue to be ignored. I don't think I've seen Skadi or Freya--which is ridiculous because Freya is... Freya. It's insane to dismiss her. Valkyrie seems to be the only Valkyrie flying around.
Frigga's portrayal is what really annoys me. She's been consigned to the background and we never see her handmaidens. In the meantime her signature story, her story of motherly love that ends in the tragic death of Balder, was centered instead on Odin in the Silver Age. It's possible this has been retconned to a Frigga-centered story again but since we never see the Queen of Asgard say more than two lines I haven't seen it mentioned.
Of course there are some canonical goddesses who get speaking roles like Hela. Now, Hela as I originally saw her in my childhood reading was half-black and half-white. (Not racewise, I mean like those dudes in the original series Star Trek racial harmony episode.) Most of the sources describe a duality: half black and half white, half hag and half beautiful woman, half skeleton and half person, or half dead and half alive... either way, she's split down the middle like Two-Face and it's a damned powerful image. Even if they'd just decided black and white, they could still do the Beautiful death goddess but no... THIS was the first time I saw Hela:
I can deal with Kirby's green-clad fully-human-looking goddess (especially since she has such a cool headdress), but this shirtless shit has been the norm since JMS rebooted Thor. Every use of her, especially as a wicked plotter rather than the morally neutral indifferent Death Goddess (because comics writers hate Death Deities), makes me cringe. The Goddess of Death holds secret conspiracy meetings in her nearly nonexistant nightie. Fucking seriously. And Gillen had her running around in a draping halter top! And look what they have on her profile on their official site. (She rules one of the coldest of the 9 realms! WHERE IS THE REST OF HER SHIRT?!) It's a complete surrender of any mature examination of death in favor of Sexy, Sexy Danger.
I've allowed my recent issues to pile up due to the complete massacre of source material that occurred with the Disir. Now I'd always been under the impression they were the spirits of female ancestors who protect your bloodline and fall under the realm of Freya Vanadis, but it seems Straczynski and Gillen had other ideas. Seems they're creepy soul-eaters cursed by Odin who devour divine essence. Freya could not be reached for comment, because I still haven't seen her in any of the Thor comics. (Honestly, it is in-character for a love goddess to run around in a chainmail bikini but instead you ignore Freya and tart up Hela. I do not understand Marvel.)
That said, I have hope for the Thor franchise because I've read two volumes of Walter Simonson and his handling of Sif was nothing but pure joy. Shame JMS decided to toss her into a comatose body for several years.
My point is that eventually I managed to get away from desiring dogmatic adherence to the Eddas in favor of seeking a genuinely respectful portrayal of the gods. I do think for the most part they manage that with most of the gods and some of the criminally underused goddesses. Original characters (rather than twisting a persona into a story they aren't suited for) help a lot. There's some serious missteps, usually with the goddesses, but in general they treat them as an honorable society that's worthy of reverance and manage to capture the same personalities.
As a result, I'm actually rather optimistic about Idris Elba as Heimdall. Not just because I started laughing my ass off when I first heard (though I have been giggling about this impending freakout since April) but because they might be able to pull this off.
Don't get me wrong, I still feel that so-called Chromatic Casting ignores the real problems and probably isn't the way to make up for a history of white-washing in the film industry, but in this case I'm not exactly annoyed. We don't know the full story here and it could actually be part of the plot, (Like JMS having the Asgardians wearing mortal lives after Ragnarok.) If not, well, he's being played by an accomplished actor and so long as he doesn't get the same treatment Gillen gave the Disir I should be happy.
Of course, I might just be falling prey to some white liberal guilt, or prioritizing offense about gender over race, or maybe I just like annoying white supremacists.
Actually, it's probably just the last one. I still crack up whenever I think what their faces must've looked like.
ETA: Comics Alliance issued an apology for "where we suggested their gods were concocted by drunken medievals." Kind nice of them.