The easiest way to describe what Marvel's Asgardians even are is to avert your eyes and mutter, “They’re like the Norse Gods, sort of!” That might give an essential view of the legends on which these characters are based, but in Marvel mythology, it is always the “sort of” that does all the narrative heavy lifting. Long believing themselves to be the gods of legend, it was eventually revealed that Asgardians were a race of humanoid aliens whose behaviors and personas were formed by the stories people of Earth told of them. In this way, Asgardians are mythology given life — which, let's face it, is a much more fascinating premise than “gods, probably.”
The Asgardians may call the pocket dimension known as Asgard home, but visiting Earth and the Earthlings has so influenced their characters that it's hard to say what they would be without us — and, for the citizenry of the Marvel Universe, vice versa. Asgardians have a fascinatingly symbiotic relationship with the planet the refer to as Midgard. In the MCU, they have built a home called New Asgard on Earth since the destruction of Asgard by Hela. Yet, this is far from the first time this has occurred, and a glance back through the comics gives a fuller picture of the history between these two realms.
Journey Into History
At the beginning of Thor’s epic adventures in Journey Into Mystery #83, with the mythos at its gestation stage, much of what readers were introduced to were direct references to Norse mythology. Even then, we see that Odin, Thor’s father and King of Asgard, felt Thor was too brash and full of himself, and so he banished Thor to learn a lesson in humility by living among the humans. There are definitely some actual humans this has not worked on, but for Thor, it seemed to do the trick.
This would be the start of Thor’s deep interest in Midgardians, which prevails to this day. His inability to fully choose between Midgard and Asgard sprouted around this time and went on to be one of his most prominent characteristics — or burdens, depending on your viewpoint. On Earth, Thor shared a body with Donald Blake. Blake suffered from a disability, and his perceived frailty was meant to educate Thor. We’re not saying that this is a great message, but it’s what’s on the page. At any rate, the identity of Blake was intended to help Thor learn about selflessness and bravery without power. Eventually, Thor returned fully to Asgard, but by then he was a changed man, and his persona was more in line with who we know him as today.
This was only the first time in comics that an Asgardian was banished to Earth, however, and even the gods most attached to Asgard and its history have done long stints on Earth. In the Kieron Gillen Journey Into Mystery run, we are introduced to a preteen aged Loki who, even as they reside on Asgard, uses a cellphone to keep up-to-date on human affairs, and (we're guessing) troll people on Twitter.
Journey Into Mastery
Thor was believed to be deceased for some time in the late ‘90s, and, as one would imagine, this left the comic series with his name on the cover at a bit of a loss. The '90s had been a weird time for our Thunder God, and he had actually gone missing for a while and was temporarily replaced in the Avengers by "a regular guy" named Thunderstrike (again, we repeat: the '90s).
The longrunning Thor series ended, but Journey Into Mystery was revived with a new issue #503 after a decades-long hiatus. Up until #513, we followed the Asgardians that had been left behind. The World Ash had been deceived into thinking that Ragnarok had already occurred, and, in an attempt to save the remaining Asgardians, wiped their memories and sent them to live on Midgard in new identities. Though this seems like it could be a bad plan, it was actually a terrible plan.
This is but one example of a great Thor story in which Thor himself does not appear. Sif and the women of Asgard are at the forefront of this tale. Though much of Amora’s page time here involves her in chains, there is still a sense of defiance that shows a good understanding of her character outside of her sex appeal. Meanwhile, Lady Sif is the Asgardian who ultimately takes point and leads the others into battle.
Journey Into Misery
After the Heroes Reborn Universe successfully derailed most Avengers-adjacent story arcs in the late ‘90s, it was time once more for a Thor reboot, which came to us via the Dan Jurgens and John Romita Jr. relaunch. Attempting to return the increasingly off-the-rails mythos to its roots, this Thor story saw the thunder god bound to mortal man Jake Olson.
Olson was an interesting counterpoint to Blake, however. While Blake had been about as close to a saint as a person could be, Olson was a drug dealer who had become an EMT in order to gain access to drugs. It had been up to Thor to learn from Blake’s great humility; meanwhile, Thor redeemed Olson, while learning something about forgiveness along the way.
Ragnarok or no, those zany Asgardians just can’t stay away from Midgard — but this is only to our benefit because tales of gods walking the streets of Manhattan are always a heck of a lot of fun.
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