My Top 10 Old Gods

The other week, I talked about my top New Gods, by which I meant, Fourth World characters. This week, I'm going the other way, with OLD Gods, which isn't to say this selection must predate Darkseid and his bunch. So long as they are considered gods and have made appearances in genre media, they could show up below. Get ready for some old-time religion!
1. Loki. Truth be told, I was never really a fan of the standard, evil Loki, whether in the Lee/Kirby comics or the seminal Walt Simonson run of Thor. It's only in later years, as the character mutated into various other facets of the "trickster god" that I really fell in love with him. Chief among these is Kid Loki, a rejuvenated, heroic version of Loki that under Kieron Gillen's pen really thrived and enchanted. I love long con stories, and an immortal can run the longest cons of all. I wasn't disappointed that he morphed into Teen Loki for long, because the Agent of Asgard stories were great too. He even changed his sex for a while there. And acted as his own nemesis, the Loki that once was and that wanted to be again. Not to skip over Tom Hiddleston's performance from the Marvel movies, which was imbued with the same humor and wit as his contemporary comics avatars, stealing the show right under Thor in The Dark World. So now Loki is my very favorite old god, with his cocksure humor, versatility, and charismatic manipulation.
2. Hercules. My favorite godling Avenger isn't Thor, it's Herc. It has to be. I see to respond well to heroes who are having FUN, and Hercules is definitely like that. He fights hard, and he parties just as hard. A member of the team when I started reading the book in the 80s, and the protagonist of a pretty cool series in the last decade, Hercules is my jam. I'm even drawn to other immortal hedonists because of him, guys like Armstrong from Valiant's Archer & Armstrong, for example. So fun. He was great in Avengers 2099 too. Needs more play.
3. Godzilla. You'll say kaiju aren't gods, and that his real name, Gojira, doesn't include the "God" syllable, but in some stories, he's definitely presented as a primeval force of nature, which makes me include him in this list. His cat/dragon features evoke Japanese mythical animal spirits, and he both punishes Man for his hubris and protects him from other destructive monsters. A nature god turned god of the atom, both old god and new god.
4. Death. The concept of the Endless is a great one, but only one of them really stands out as a favorite. Death as a petite goth girl took comics fandom by storm and was immediately embraced, as offbeat as it was. While her first appearance in Sandman is key, as Dream's "real talk" little sister, but for me, I think the heart pinch was in The Books of Magic when she described the death of the universe and her role in staying 'til then and putting the chairs back on the tables. This was Death as a friend who would take your hand and lend you support when the time came. And what a great look. I do like the idea of Death as a mantle that must be passed (Discworld, Incarnations of Immortality), or as Thanos' creepy lover, but Neil Gaiman's version outpaces them all.
5. Sutekh. The Osiran who faced the Doctor in Pyramids of Mars is still one of my favorite Doctor Who villains ever, if not my very favorite. Great voice, quotable lines, awesome look (keep the mask on though, please), and I love the parody material on the DVD too, which perhaps endears him to me all the more.
6. Cthulhu. And by extension all of Lovecraft's Old Gods. Frankly, my favorite is probably Nyarlathotep, just because I like to say the name, but Cthulhu is the best known and most recognizable. None of the other Old Gods have such an iconic appearance. But I love the idea of these unknowable cosmic creatures that partly exist on other planes and play havoc with human minds. It's a strong concept that has inspired many similar weirdies across genre fiction.
7. Thor. Ok, I finally have to concede a spot on this list to the mighty God of Thunder. The longest-lived heroic god in comics history, I've mostly seen him as a serious character, spouting cod-Shakespeare and trapped in tragic family relationships, always on the cusp of losing his worthiness and his hammer. His replacements - Beta Ray Bill, the female Thor - have often been more interesting, it seems. But his is an iconic design, well-suited to superheroics, with Kirby's influence turning Asgard into a prototypical Fourth World where everyone is a science-fantasy superhero, with Thor as the best exemplar. Chris Hemsworth has truly brought the character to life in Marvel's cinematic universe in a way I find more fun and interesting than he's often been on the comics page, and so here he is.
8. Nelvana of the Northern Lights. While I was compiling this list, my thoughts strayed to Snowbird, Alpha Flight's resident Inuit goddess, but she was never that interesting. The character her mother was based on, however, Nelvana, one of the first female superheroes, and one of Canada's few homegrown comics heroes, was. This daughter of the Inuit gods came to Earth (with her brother who can only exist as the Great Dane she rides like a horse) to help the people, using her magic control of the aurora borealis... well, seek out the Nelvana label under this article for more.
9. The Prophets. I'm a huge fan of time travel so when Deep Space Nine's Bajoran Prophets were well-written, they were one of the most exciting things about the show for me. As best I can make it, the Bajorans one day become god-like (the fate of all super-advanced cultures in the Star Trek universe), take themselves out of time, and perhaps inadvertently, create their own culture. It's a cool sf take on divinity and leads to some of the show's most memorable moments.
10. The Parliament of Worlds. I'd like to close with an obscure one. For me, the Parliament of Trees in Swamp Thing were an interesting element, but never a favorite. When the Morrison-ghosted Millar story arc was published, other elemental Parliaments were introduced - the Stones, the Vapors, etc. - and Swampy proves his worth to each, becoming champion of the Earth entire. Cue the reveal that above all those structures is the Parliament of Worlds, made up of our system's planets. High concept gold. The series then ended and this was never referenced again, but I've never forgotten it.

Now it's your turn. Are you perhaps a big fan of one-eyed Odin? Of sometime TV star Isis? Of Disney's version of Hercules? Of some Forgotten Realms deity? Of the Wonder Woman who was Zeus' scion? (I love Wonder Woman, but I don't want her to be divine.) Let us know! At what altar do YOU worship?


Toby'c said...

First that come to mind are Madoka Kaname and Arceus.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

So that issue of Marvel's Godzilla, King of the Monsters (a truly GREAT run) wherein Hercules fought Godzilla ought to rank pretty high on your list, then?

The only thing that bugs me about the prophets- as Phil Farrand pointed out in his Nitpicker's Guide- is if they truly are non-linear, they shouldn't be able to even comprehend a conversation, much less have one... and if they do, they should be talking to Sisko about making the Dominion ships disappear, and giving him his lessons after he's gone to join them in the finale, when he first meets them in Emissary. It should be all conversations ever to be had with them, happening at once, or somesuch. (Which would be hard to portray on TV, I know- it's just that DS9 does what Doctor Who- especially Matt Smith Doctor Who- often did; treat 'lacking any linear progression' or 'time is broken/absent' as 'time actually still progresses in a straight cause and effect way because neither authors nor audience can comprehend or experience a TV show without it, but we also do a few weird things with disjointed editing or juxtaposing settings and things.' It's not really all that 'non-linear.' (Not that I think that disqualifies them from your list, mind you... just a tangentially-associated ramble. :-) )

Siskoid said...

I wrote extensively about this:

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Nice! And very well-reasoned. A great read!

American Hawkman said...

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files have made me truly love Hades and Odin.

Anonymous said...

I've always been into Heimdall, from Norse mythology rather than the comics or movies. Dude stands guard eternally, sees all, hears all, will be the first to confront the forces of destruction at Ragnarok. (Odin is his father; he has nine mothers. Odin has skills.)

Heimdall and Loki are fated to slay one another at Ragnarok, so, um, sorry.

Green Luthor said...

Favorite god(ess)? Belldandy. (But she's just one of my favorite characters all around...)

Marvel's Hercules is pretty good, but my favorite version will always be Bob Layton's Hercules-in-the-future stories. (Two 4-issue mini-series, a graphic novel, and a run in Marvel Comics Presents.) What could be better than Hercules trying to stop Galactus by getting him drunk?

Siskoid said...

Anon: Apology accepted.

Luthor: That's the same Hercules I mean :)

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"Heimdall and Loki are fated to slay one another at Ragnarok, so, um, sorry."

Oh, great- spoilers! We haven't even got a trailer out for the movie yet...! ;-)


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