Cate Blanchett has nailed the dark majesty of Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, and her interpretation of the Asgardian Queen of the Dead looks like it stepped out of a Jack Kirby black light poster. That intensity, that over the top yet awesome helmet, that dark majesty, it all just screams Goddess of Death.
Really, Hela is just one of those villains that transcends being a simple evildoer. Hela, daughter of Loki, Queen of the Dead, is more akin to a cosmic force of nature than she is a simple villain. Hela is a complex being that goes beyond traditional ideas of good and evil. She is an awesome figure that sparks dread and awe on all who set eyes upon her, and with good reason. Just check out that Jack Kirby design! Of all the Kirby crafted Asgardian legends introduced in Kirby and Stan Lee’s run on Thor, Hela is the most badass, over the top, majestically rendered of them all. And over the years, many Hela tales were just as awesome as Kirby’s visual design.
So let us journey into the Asgardian underworld and take a look at the history of Marvel’s newest and most horrific big screen villain, Hela…
Hela first appeared in the Tales of Asgard back up in Journey into Mystery #102 (1964) in a Kirby and Stan Lee tale called “Death Comes to Thor.”
In this story, a young Thor consults the Three Fates to find out when he will be allowed to wield Odin’s magic hammer Mjolnir. The Fates tell Thor that he will only be worthy of the hammer when he faces death. Later, Thor discovers that Storm Giants have kidnapped Thor’s beloved Lady Sif (Storm Giants are dicks). Thor confronts the king of the giants who reveals he bartered Sif with Hela, the Goddess of Death, in exchange for immortality. Thor journeys to Hela’s realm and offers his own soul in exchange for Sif’s. Hela is so moved she allows both Asgardians to leave her realm still possessing their life sparks. When Thor returns, the hammer accepts him because he now has indeed faced death.
So check it, in Hela’s very first Marvel appearance, she is instrumental in Thor gaining his magic hammer. Kind of ironic that in Thor: Ragnarok, Hela is seen shattering that very same hammer. But that’s Hela, as unpredictable as death.
In Thor #150 (1968), the God of Thunder is seemingly killed by the human villain known as the Wrecker. Thor’s spirit enters Hela’s realm where the Goddess of Death once again allows Thor to return to life. This issue and her first Tales of Asgard appearance speak to how complex Hela is. She isn’t just some hand wringing arch villain, she is a woman of honor that lives by her own code. She is way more powerful than Thor (which explains the hammer smashing) and her powers even rival Odin’s might.
Hela has command of magical energies and is an equal to Doctor Strange and the Ancient One when it comes to the mystic arts. She has a touch that causes instant death to man and god alike, but she can also grant immortality and raise the dead. Hela possesses telepathy, teleportation, and can create undead creatures to do her bidding. Yeah, she’s a badass. Like a totally overpowered D&D character rolled up by a fourteen year old metalhead hopped up on Sour Patch Kids and Pepsi.
Now that we know what a beast Hela can be, let’s talk about her origins. Hela was born to her father Loki and her giantess sorceress mother Angrboda. Hela’s siblings are the Fenris wolf and the Midgard Serpent. It must be difficult to be the sister of a giant wolf and a serpent that can coil around and crush the Nine Realms, but that was Hela’s lot in life.
When the prophetic Norns predicted that Hela would destroy Asgard, Odin exiled his grandaughter, sending her to rule the underworlds of Hel and Niffleheim. There, Hela presided over the souls of the dead. However, Odin oversaw the dead of Asgard and constructed Valhalla as a place where Asgardian warriors would go in the afterlife. So Hela very much enjoys plotting and scheming to get pure Asgardian souls to fill her two underworlds. Hela has always longed for the souls of Thor, Odin, and the nigh perfect god known as Balder (and how the Hel has Balder not appeared in a Marvel film as of yet?), but Hela has always rejected the souls of these gods if she could not win them through fair contests.
Some other memorable Hela stores include: Thor #199 (1972) by Gerry Conway and John Buscema where Hela battled the Olympian God of the Underworld Pluto for the soul of Odin. When it looked like Pluto might win, Hela restored Odin to life. Uncanny X-Men Annual #9 (1985) where Hela tried to lay claim to the soul of Wolverine, and during Walter Simonson’s immortal mid-1980s run on Thor where Hela cursed the Thunder God by making his bones brittle. Now, Thor was unable to heal his wounds and was forced to don the Destroyer armor to take on the Midgard Serpent. Listen, if you have even a passing interest in Thor, check out Simonson’s run because comics just don’t get any better.
Recently, Hela has begun paling around with the death worshipping Thanos. For decades, Thanos has been in love with the anthropomorphic representation of Death, a robed and skinless silent woman who Thanos has devoted his life to. Hela is the perfect rebound for Thanos because she too is death given sentient form. This is a fascinating little wrinkle which begs the question: Could Hela fill in for Death as Thanos’ love interest in Avengers: Infinity War? It would make sense considering that Hela is the Asgardian embodiment of Death and who wouldn’t want to see Josh Brolin and Cate Blanchett play out this potentially twisted romance on the big screen?
Oh, did we mention that there was once a story where Marvel’s World War II heroes the Invaders had to face down a Nazi controlled Hela in All-New Invaders #1-2 by James Robinson and Steve Pugh? Yeah, that was pretty damn unforgettable, mainly because Hela is such an epic yet adaptable character. She stands above other villains because of her majesty and her twisted honor, and her familial connections to many of the Asgrdian pantheon means that there is always a story to be told with this dark goddess of death. And did we mention that helmet? The fact that Marvel had the balls to create an exact replica of that Kirby designed over the top headpiece means that Thor: Ragnarok is going to rule on the sheer audacity of the design aesthetic.