According to lore, Vikings were carnal warriors, open sea explorers, and some of the best storytellers in ancient history. Today, we love to tell ourselves their stories — and even adapt them for more modern audiences. So if you’re as excited for Thor: Love and Thunder as we are (not to mention Season 2 of Loki), then buckle up, buttercup.
This week, Inverse presents The Viking Issue, a series of stories that embrace the glorious weirdness, diversity, and curious nature of Vikings and how we depict them today. And that’s what today’s newsletter is all about.
TGIF friends! Let’s take it back to around the 7th century A.D...
WHOSOEVER HOLDS THIS HAMMER, IF HE BE WORTHY, SHALL POSSESS THE POWER OF... THOR!
That inscription, placed on the side of the God of Thunder’s hammer, has served as a measure of worthiness for decades in the various Marvel universes. In Avengers Endgame, Captain America wielded Mjolnir in the final fight against Thanos. In 1990, Wonder Man used it to defeat the Enchantress. In 1979’s Thor annual, Zeus used the hammer against Thor himself. Before all that though — before even Beta Ray Bill — the first person to pick up Mjolnir in a Marvel comic book, aside from Thor and Odin, was Jane Foster.
In early 1978, writer Don Glut had been working on the first volume of What If? for several issues, having taken over writing duties from Roy Thomas, who switched to overseeing the book as the editor. At the time, the 10th issue of the series wasn’t something all that special. Much like “What If the Fantastic Four Had Different Super-Powers?”, the premise of Jane picking up Thor’s hammer was built on a whim of an idea that was interesting enough to fill 32 pages. That was about it.
What followed, however, was a strangely prescient critique of patriarchal chauvinism and threatened masculinity — until the ending, that is.
Forget Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame, there's only one movie that needs to be revisited before Thor: Love and Thunder.
The purpose of Marvel’s Thor comics has (among other things) been to turn as many deities as humanity worship into comic book characters. From the Greek gods to Middle Eastern Djinn, these supernatural beings found their way into the pages of Marvel history thanks to the adventures of Thor Odinson, the Norse god of thunder. Marvel’s movies haven’t done very much of this so far, but Love and Thunder is different.
Without giving anything specific away, there are a lot of gods in Thor 4. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering the movie’s villain is named Gorr the God Butcher, but the biggest godly twist comes earlier when we encounter hundreds of them at once. There’s a lot to take in — and as far as I can tell, much of it is just jokes dreamt up by director Taika Waititi — but to understand one specific moment, you should really consider watching (or rewatching) Eternals.
Eternals was also not the best-received Marvel movie when it came out. Despite an impressive cast and the sharp direction of Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao, the movie suffered from an overly complex plot that tried to introduce too many new characters at once. There’s a chance you skipped this one, so why not use this excuse to finally see it for yourself.
While the allure of female warriors and maiden-kings is obvious, this view of power shown in pop culture doesn’t tell the whole story.
Vikings, and female Vikings in particular, are having a moment in 2022. In Thor: Love and Thunder, Natalie Portman returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to pick up Mjölnir and take the title of Mighty Thor, while Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie takes on bureaucratic responsibilities as the king of New Asgard. Vikings: Vahalla, with its female warriors, remains one of the most popular shows on Netflix. And then there’s The Northman, with its seer, folk witch, stolen queen, and prophesized “maiden-king.”
While the allure of female warriors and maiden-kings is obvious, the feminine power displayed in pop culture doesn’t tell the whole story. How Viking women really lived and their influence on their society is an ongoing and hotly debated area of study. Legends, myths, and archeological discoveries are our clues. But some experts caution that modern perceptions of sex and gender can diffuse our interpretation of the past. The reality of Viking women is far more interesting and complex than mainstream understanding suggests.
Marianne Moen, a researcher at the University of Oslo, believes that many academics have used archeological evidence to “extract a story that is just too simplified.” It’s time, she says, to step away from presuming there was one kind of Viking man — or one kind of Viking woman.
“The story we’ve built from brooches and swords is only one part of the story,” Moen says. “We need to reassess our understanding of Viking social order.”
Viking: Battle for Asgard is a huge hidden gem of the Xbox 360 era, and one of the best Viking-centric games out there. As limbs fly every which way, you wade into the frenzy to help reclaim the region from Hel the Norse goddess of death and her mythological horde.
There are a handful of memorable Viking games out there, but few manage to embrace the mythos and power fantasy of the genre well as Viking: Battle for Asgard. Released in 2008 by The Creative Assembly (a studio best-known for the popular strategy series Total War), Battle for Asgard departed from the company’s turn-based gameplay to offer an action-focused experience that leans heavily into both mythology and cartoonish violence.
The result is the gaming equivalent of a B-movie, and arguably the most underrated Viking video game ever made.
If you’re into Norse mythology, you’ll find plenty to love. Hel, the goddess of death, has been banished from Asgard for defying Odin. In her anger, she raises an army of dead Viking warriors to take over the mortal realm, Midgard. Freya, the goddess of war, sent to stop Hel and chooses Skarin as a champion, a mute Viking warrior with a penchant for hacking off limbs.
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- On this day in history: On July 8, 2011, the NASA space shuttle Atlantis, which had its first flight in 1985, launched for its final mission.
- Song of the day: “We Like To Party!” by Vengaboys