A Journey Through the Marvel Mythological Universe
A look at what shapes the mythos and stories behind Marvel's most epic legends.
From the cosmic creations of Jack Kirby to the Marvel Knights imprint that practically reinvented characters like Black Panther and Daredevil, everything in the Marvel Universe has its origin story. The mythos of the comics also often has roots in real world mythology.
Let’s start from the beginning.
According to Marvel legend, the One-Above-All brought the multiverse into existence and all life with it. Only the Living Tribunal ranks near the One-Above-All in the cosmic hierarchy and below the Living Tribunal are the siblings Eternity, Oblivion, Infinity, and Death. These beings are said to have existed before any universe began, and we believe that the One-Above-All will survive even the multiverse’s obliteration.
The Phoenix Force is younger than the siblings but still older than our universe. Essentially trapped between the prior universe and the current multiverse, the Phoenix Force is in a continual state of death and rebirth, bridging the past and present. Legend also tells of the Elders of the Universe, ancient beings who have outlasted the rest of their races, as well as living planets and other cosmic beings who are older than humanity can comprehend.
The Gods of Thor
One of the most well-known of the ancient mythologies is the Norse pantheon. Even they have predecessors according to Marvel legend. We’re told of Those Who Sit Above in Shadow. These are even more ancient versions of the Norse pantheon, so old that their other title is “Those of the Forgotten Zone.” They are sustained by the cycle of death and rebirth known as Ragnarok which has been cycling for thousands of years. They may even be responsible for the cycle’s existence. The Odin and Thor of the latest cycle seemed to have finally put them to rest by cutting the strings of Fate.
But the Ten Realms of the tree of Yggdrasil contain many stories and fates. Asgard is the realm of the Aesir and Asgardians, and Vanaheim is the realm of the Vanir. To bring peace to the two tribes, the Aesir and Vanir joined with the marriage of Odin and Freyja. They then became the Asgardians. Marvel’s Thor tell of his adventures across the realms: Alfheim is the peaceful realm of Light Elves; Svartalfheim is the realm of Dark Elves; Nidavellir is home to Dwarfs; Jotunheim is the frozen realm of Frost Giants; Niflheim is the World of the Dead. Muspelheim holds Fire Demons. The lost tenth realm, Heven, is the home of the warlike Angels. And Midgard is our own realm, which is connected to Asgard by the Rainbow Bridge or Bifröst.
Medieval Myths of the X-Men and Avengers
Thousands of years after the current Ragnarok cycle began, a daughter of Svartalfheim competed with the people of Midgard who had by then begun to star in their own myths. Her name was Morgan Le Fay, and she was a villainous rival of King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and the Knights of the Round Table. Because she had faerie ancestry according to Marvel legend, she was reared under the instruction of the mage Merlyn. Hundreds of years later, the legend survives due to Merlyn’s magic, Le Fay’s rage, and the fans of the lore such as the Super Hero team once known as Excalibur.
Le Fay’s mentor Merlyn formed the team using his daughter Roma to manipulate Nightcrawler, Phoenix (Rachel Summers), Shadowcat, Lockheed, Meggan, and Captain Britain after the majority of the X-Men were thought to have been killed. Some tales of the team also include a dragon familiar by the name of Lionheart. Excalibur forged themselves with Arthurian ideals in mind, recalling that the king and the Knights of the Round Table were all eventually killed—much like their own teammates—but survived in legend. They named their team after King Arthur’s eponymous sword of light.
The Ghouls Behind Ghost Rider
These other tales are myths of heroes and light. The darker tales are best whispered. A Germanic tale of Wilde Jagd, or the “Wild Hunt,” was first made popular by the account of the Brothers Grimm. Ghostly horsemen, sometimes headless, pass through and leave observers with the feeling that evil is near. The stories of recent sightings are numerous. In North America, the grim horsemen of the Wild Hunt have come to be known as Ghost Riders.
We’re told that Odin’s Wild Hunt was the first. The All-Father is the ruler of Valhalla and a god associated with death and necromancy in Norse mythology. After his fated death by Fenrir during Ragnarok, he refused to enter any realm of the dead and instead was allowed to hunt in the night sky. No one can say for sure whether the hunt was a boon or a punishment, but the Wild Hunt has cycled through the centuries, cursing many to ride by night. Those who retain their souls after witnessing it keep the legend alive… as it were.
Marvel legend has its own explanations of the Ghost Riders as Spirits of Vengeance. It begins with two demons, Mephisto and Zarathos. Their otherworldly competition has often crossed into the mortal realm. After having a deal for Johnny Blaze’s soul broken on a technicality, Mephisto bonded Blaze with Zarathos in order to get revenge on the former and to humiliate the latter. Instead, this transformed Johnny Blaze into the first Ghost Rider, a man with a burning motorbike and flesh, possessed to ride into the night in pursuit of evil.
The tale of the Black Panther is a prime example of Afrofuturism, which is a mingling of science fiction, mythology, philosophy and aesthetics, and a celebration of African resilience. One of the nine primary Egyptian gods is the Panther God Bast, a god of healing and resurrection and the same god that empowers Black Panther.
According to Marvel legend, Wakanda is the most advanced nation on Earth to date because of their vibranium-rich land, but it was thought to be an impoverished country until King T’Challa revealed the truth of his nation to the world. Ancient gods still rule and maglev trains rush through urban centers at unprecedented speeds. The future, present, and the legends of the past all survive in Wakanda, linked by the mythic existence of the Black Panther.
Princess Shuri is also Black Panther. Or Ancient Future, as the ancestors call her. We’re told that after the princess was nearly killed while defending Wakanda against Thanos’ Black Order, her soul traveled to the Djalia, the plane of Wakanda’s collective memory where the ancestors, or the Griot, filled her mind with the wisdom of Wakandan stories. Although she has returned to the land of the living, their voices are still with her. They instruct her on her path and guide Wakanda’s future.
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