A Dance With The Goddess Of The Underworld
“I thought you’d be glad to see me!” – Hela.
In this unpredictable universe, Norse mythology first came to my attention in the most unlikeliest form… a comic book. Out of all the ishs that could have introduced me to the God of Thunder, so glad ’twas The Mighty Thor #314 (December 1981). As explained in this Post: the bonus feature: Tales Of Asgard: Judgment… And Lament just blew me away.
Who in the Hel could that tall, elegant, yet deadly, lady, clad in a green and black one-piece, be? Wielding such an elaborate headdress, she had single-handedly slain ALL NINE of Odin’s Valkyries, and recast Valhalla in the same grim and mist-beset manner as her own dread-realm of Niffleheim.
Our eyes met across a crowded comic book…
So accustomed to the dreary Western European concept of Death as a hooded skeleton wielding a scythe, Hela turned out to be quite a life-changing revelation.
What was the significance of the green colour system? Moreover, what was it with those bizarre, yet impressive, horns?! To me, my tomes of esoteric knowledge!
“You look like a smart boy…”
My quest to find out more concerning this dark enchantress began with the most reliable option: The Prose Edda – the renowned of all works of Scandinavian literature – written by the 13th century Icelandic chieftain: Snorri Sturluson.
Daughter of Loki (in both the original mythological tales and The Mighty Thor comic) and Angrboda [Sorrow Bringer] – an ogress who lived in Jotunheim (Giant Land) – Hel is the sister of Fenris (aka Fenrir) the giant wolf and Jormungand the Midgard serpent – NOT Thor and Loki as depicted in the latest movie!
In The Prose Edda, the passage known as Gylfaginning 34 states:
“When the gods discovered that these three siblings were being brought up in Giant Land – they learned through prophecies that misfortune and evil were to be expected from these children…
“Hel Odin threw down into Niflheim and made her ruler over nine worlds…”
“Her hall is called Eljudnir, [Sprayed With Snowstorms] her dish is Hunger, her knife is Famine, her slave is Lazy…
“The threshold over which people enter is a pitfall called Fallandaforad [Falling To Peril], her bed is named Kor [Sick Bed], and her bed curtains are named Blikjandabol [Gleaming Disaster]. She is half black and half a lighter flesh colour and is easily recognised. Mostly she is gloomy and cruel.”
It is important to note that half her body (and half her face) is corpse-like, although this point was never accentuated in the comic books.
Hela’s billowing green cloak somehow ensures that her metabolism is kept stable – take her cloak away and she would, theoretically, wither away into nothingness but then, she is far too strong and powerful to allow anyone near her…
Thor: “Mine enchanted hammer shall lead thee far from Earth… as only Mjolnir can. Then when I have lost her… Thor shall strike once more. But Hela shall not know the where or when…”
Hela: “Flight is useless. To Hela all of time and space are one. There is no time – there is no place – where death does not hold sway.”
Hela made her debut in the Marvel Comics Universe in Journey Into Mystery #102 Death Comes to Thor (1964) adapted from Norse mythology by the masters themselves: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Hela possesses attributes common to Asgardian gods: superhuman strength, speed, stamina, agility and durability – and vast mystical powers which she can use for various effects like limitless astral projection while retaining many of her powers and abilities, firing deadly bolts of energy from her hands, levitation and the creation of illusions. Her most powerful ability is her Hand of Glory, a technique that uses mystical energy to enhance the strength of her punch to kill even an Asgardian.
Intriguingly, during her very first Marvel appearance, the Goddess Of Death is instrumental in Thor gaining Mjolnir. How ironic then, that Thor: Ragnarok contains that now-iconic scene in which she shatters that very same hammer!
That’s Hela for you – as unpredictable as death isself…
“Stand thee back, Asgardians! Hela must now gather all of the awesome enchanted power at her command! Gaze in unheralded wonder as she doth conjure a monumental spell which shall seal yonder pit into its own accursed dimension forevermore!”
Only last month did the sensational #190 (July 1971) come into my disbelieving grasp. Paid twice as much as usual for this. But no matter – …And So To Die! is an EPIC – and one of THE most moving – stories of the Bronze Age. Odin is prepared to eliminate Hera once and for all, but how can Order be maintained if ’tis bereft of Death?
And so Thor agrees to forfeit his life. But his beloved Lady Sif – shocked to learn of this ploy – pleads with Hela to save the God of Thunder’s life:
Sif: “Hela! Though thou be the Queen of Death, thou art a woman, too – surely, love hath touched thine heart?”
Hela: “Why speakest thou to me of love?”
“Feelings wert awakened within me… feelings of compassion… desire… and love. At long last, Hela knew what it meant to be a woman, but I be Goddess of Death, as well… and can ne’er consummate these longings… for all I touch turns to dust, a tragedy ne’er to be resolved…”
If my Top 10 Fave Comics In The Bradscribe Collection were compiled now, expect to find this ish riding high in that chart.
Loki: “Hela, time and again have I striven to become Ruler of Asgard only to be blocked at every turn by Odin and Thor… ‘Tis my wish to cause the fall of the realm – aye, no less than Ragnarok – the Twilight of the Gods!”
Hela: “Long hath Hela waited to hear thee say those words, God of Evil! Thou hast come to one who can help thee… one who profits greatly by the deaths of gods or mortals…”
In #278 Time of the Trolls (November 1978), Hela plotted with Loki to bring about Ragnarök by slaying the god Balder then attacking Asgard. She summoned Volla’s spirit before this to tell her and Loki about Ragnarok, after which she prepared an army of monsters to attack Asgard. However, Odin used his powers to prevent Balder dying.
Although her role in this story is too brief for my liking, the panels she does get to own are suitably formidable.
‘Twas a time when Roy Thomas and John Buscema were at the peak of their respective powers…
“Hvað varstu guðin aftur?”
…And a portrait of Hela by the great Charles Vess – this just gets better and better!
“Now… tell us more than thou didst tell Odin! Draw aside the veil – further than ’twas drawn before!”
Well, it never seemed possible that a character as remarkable as Hela could ever reach the big screen. After disappointing interpretations of certain members of the X-Men – and Drax The Destroyer – there were nothing but misgivings regarding her cinematic debut in Thor: Ragnarok.
Fortunately, with some memorable badass lines and a phenomenal performance by Cate Blanchett, her onscreen presence is a triumph, even if it barely scratches the surface of this tantalising – yet tragic – character.
Recently in the comics, Hela has, apparently, begun hanging out with the death-worshipping Thanos. Can we, therefore, expect to see this formidable couple together in Avengers: Infinity War?!
The case continues…
More Thorsomeness Next Thorsday!
“Cate Blanchett is just brilliant as Hela. She is one of the greatest actors… I was so excited to see what she was going to do with Hela… I was completely blindsided by the outcome. She just has this insane off-kilter attitude or look or kind of movement to her character” – Chris Hemsworth.
When next I come,
not all thy tears…
not all thy pleas…
shall stay me…
Till then, rejoice!
Ye have each other…
while Hela endures… alone…”