With Marvel’s highly anticipated "Thor" sequel hitting theaters this weekend, it might be a good idea to brush up on the large cast of characters. Here’s a quick rundown of each of the major players as they appear in the movies, the comic books and — where applicable — Norse mythology. (Sources: Marvel Comics Databaseand Norse-Mythology.org)
In the movies: Australian actor Chris Hemsworth beat hundreds of competitors, including his brother Liam Hemsworth, according to moviefone.com, for the role of the Nordic god/alien in Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor.” The 2011 film saw the character temporarily stripped of his powers and exiled in the New Mexico desert after nearly causing a war between his home world of Asgard and the Frost Giants. Hemsworth reprised the role for Marvel’s “The Avengers” in 2012 before beginning work on “Thor: The Dark World.”
Thor is portrayed as the son of Odin and Frigga, adoptive brother of Loki and crown prince of Asgard.
In the comics: The Mighty Thor first appeared in 1962’s “Journey into Mystery” No. 83 as a foil to another Marvel character, the Incredible Hulk. He was created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber — Lee’s brother.
Unlike the movie, Thor is first sent to Earth in the form of a mild-mannered, partially handicapped med school student named Donald Blake. Using his magic hammer Mjolnir, which he disguised as a walking cane, he could transform at will into his Asgardian form.
Alongside Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Wasp and the Hulk, Thor was also a founding member of the original Avengers as they first appeared in their 1963 debut.
In mythology: The Norse god of thunder, storms, strength and fertility and the protector of mankind, he is the son of Odin and the earth goddess, Jord/Fjorgyn (not Frigga), and married to Sif. He has absolutely no family relation to Loki — adoptive or otherwise.
Along with Mjolnir, which was described as being capable of leveling mountains, Thor has a magic belt, gloves and staff — each with catchy names of their own like Megingjardir — and he travels using a chariot drawn by two magic goats, Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder.
He is famous for his red hair and beard, his violent temper and a herculean appetite.
Thursday — “Thor’s day” — is named after him.
In the movies: British actor Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Thor’s mustache-twirling archenemy in both “Thor” and “The Avengers” has made him a fan favorite. As portrayed in the first movie, Loki was raised believing he was Thor’s biological brother. After discovering that he is, in fact, the son of the Frost Giant king Laufey (played by Colm Feore), he concocted a plan to take over Asgard by having Thor banished.
After that plot fell apart, he set his sights on Earth before being apprehended by its Mightiest Heroes — specifically, the big green one.
In the comics: Loki actually predates Thor as a comic book character by a full 14 years, having appeared in a 1949 Timely Comics publication — albeit in a pretty much unrecognizable form — before Timely became Marvel and the character got his own distinctive Jack Kirby makeover.
Branagh and company didn’t stray too far in adapting the character for the silver screen. The biggest difference comes in how the movie and comic versions handle Loki’s “adoption.” In the film, it’s portrayed as one of the terms of Odin’s peace treaty with Laufey. In the comics, though, Loki is discovered having been concealed from the other Frost Giants due to his abnormally small size. Odin thus takes him in out of mercy.
Otherwise, the evil plots, the jealousy, the huge horns on his helmet — it’s all true to the comics.
In mythology: The trickster god. A shape-shifter and a sorcerer. Loki’s relationship to the other characters in Norse mythology is far more complicated than just the super villain portrayed in the Marvel universe. For example, there isn’t even consensus on whether Loki should be considered a god or a giant. Part of that stems from the ambiguity about the nature of his mother Laufey (yes, Marvel did mess up the gender), who could have been a goddess.
Loki’s behavior encompasses everything from goofy pranks to genuine evil, but in most stories, he is portrayed as — at least nominally — on the side of the gods. That is, until he directly causes the death of Odin’s favorite son Baldr, which sets in motion the events that cause the end of the world, also known as Ragnarok. During the final battles, Loki fights against the gods on the side of the giants along with his three children by the giantess Angrboda: Hel, the goddess of the grave; Jormungand, a sea serpent that encompasses the entire world; and Fenrir, a giant wolf.
In the movies: Fresh off her Oscar-winning performance in “Black Swan,” Natalie Portman took on the role of Thor’s love interest, an astrophysicist researching temporal anomalies in the New Mexico desert right when Thor happens to beam down from Asgard. The two quickly become romantically involved as she helps him regain his powers. At the end of the first movie, she gets left behind in New Mexico while he goes off to battle Loki, promising to someday return.
In the comics: Not an astrophysicist, but a nurse working for Dr. Donald Blake — aka Thor Odinson. Like in the movie, the two develop feelings for each other. However, Jane fails to make a good impression on the All-Father, Odin, who has her shipped back to Earth and has her memory wiped of all things Asgardian. Yikes.
In mythology: None.
In the movies: The wise ruler of Asgard played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. A flashback sequence shows how he lost his eye in battle with the Frost Giants in an effort to establish peace. After kicking Thor out of Asgard, Odin falls into an “Odinsleep” for most of the first movie, leaving Loki in charge.
In the comics: He first appeared (with both eyes) in “Journey into Mystery” No. 86. Like the movie version, he is a noble and just — if somewhat aloof — ruler. However, he disapproves of Thor’s involvement with Earth and eventually forces his son to end the relationship with Jane Foster.
In mythology: The chief of the Aesir — the group of gods that includes Thor, Heimdall and Loki, among others — Odin the “All-Father” is the god of war, victory and death as well as poetry, wisdom, prophecy and Shamanism.
He also rules over Valhalla, where the souls of fallen warriors go.
The name Odin translates as “The Master of Ecstasy.” Contrary to the Marvel version, he is anything but a noble ruler, often inciting violent conflict for his own pleasure. He is associated with outlaws and mystics, and thus is portrayed as accompanied by animal familiars, including the ravens Hugin ("Thought") and Munin ("Memory").
In his quest for knowledge, Odin sacrificed one of his eyes. He also ritually sacrificed himself to himself, hanging on the world tree between life and death for nine days, at which point he came to understand the runes — the early writing system of the Norse and Germanic peoples.
Odin’s mother is a Frost Giant.
The word Wednesday comes from the proto-Germanic form of his name, Wodanaz.
In the movies: Played by Rene Russo, whose part was drastically pared down in the first movie. She is presented as if she were the biological mother of Thor.
When Odin falls into his Odinsleep, she stays by his side and protects him.
In the comics: The Queen of Asgard and the stepmother of Thor.
In mythology: Usually written as Frigg, not Frigga, she is the highest of the Aesir goddesses, the wife of Odin and the mother of Baldr. Like Odin, she is associated with magic, specifically a Norse variety known as seidr that deals with reshaping destinies. For that reason, she was at once revered and feared among the Vikings.
Frigg can transform into a falcon.
The word Friday comes from the Germanic form of her name, Frija.
Malekith the Accursed
In the movie: The villain of “Thor: The Dark World,” he is played by the ninth doctor himself, Christopher Eccleston.
In the comics: The ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim. He first appeared in 1984’s “Thor” No. 344 and has been a recurring character ever since. At various points in comic history, he has controlled the “Casket of Ancient Winters” — what appears as the Tesseract in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In mythology: While there is no specific character named Malekith in Norse mythology, the dark elves, or Svartalf (literally “black elf”), do appear frequently. However, they’re usually called by a different name: dwarves.
Portrayals of the Svartalf vary. Some accounts describe them as having pitch-black skin; others say they resemble human corpses.
They are famed as blacksmiths, having forged many legendary weapons, including Mjolnir and Gungnir, Odin’s spear, and they live underground in a subterranean world of mines and forges called Svartalfheim.
In the movies: Played by Jaimie Alexander.
In the comics: First appearing in “Journey into Mystery” No. 102, Sif becomes Thor’s love interest after Jane Foster is sent back to Earth.
In mythology: Described as the golden-haired goddess, she is Thor’s wife and associated with Earth and fertility.
In the movies: Played by Idris Elba, Heimdall is shown as the sentinel of the rainbow bridge that links the nine worlds, or Bifrost. He stands guard with a massive sword that also acts as a key that operates the bridge.
In the comics: Portrayed as the brother of Sif, he has been a major supporting character in the Thor comics since his first appearance in “Journey into Mystery” No. 85.
In mythology: Although comparatively little is known about the Aesir Heimdall, he is one of the more important gods in Norse mythology. As portrayed in the Marvel universe, his primary duty is protecting Bifrost from the giants. He is gifted with acute senses. Supposedly he can see for hundreds of miles and even hear the sound of grass growing. Instead of a sword, Heimdall carries a horn named Gjallarhorn, which, when it finally sounds, will signal the end of the world. Heimdall may have also been worshipped as the father of humanity.
He is the son of Odin and nine separate mothers, making him a half brother of Thor. He and Loki are bitter enemies fated to kill each other during the final battle of Ragnarok.
The Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg)
In the movies: Thor’s loyal allies. Portrayed by Josh Dallas, Tadanobu Asano and Ray Stevenson in the first film. Dallas was replaced by Zachary Levi (“Tangled”) for “Thor: The Dark World.”
In the comics: The Three Musketeers of Asgard, the Warriors Three were created by Stan Lee as supporting characters in the late ‘60s. Lee based them each on specific characters: Fandral the Dashing was based on Errol Flynn, Hogun the Grim on Charles Bronson and Volstagg the Voluminous on Shakespeare’s Falstaff.
In mythology: None.
In the movie: Played by Clive Russell in “Thor: The Dark World.”
In the comics: One of Thor’s biological brothers.
In mythology: One of the primary war gods of the Norse along with Odin and Thor. In contrast with Odin, Tyr was associated with justice, oaths and upholding the law.
Tyr translates as “god,” and it’s believed that in pre-Viking times, he may have been the highest god of the Norse pantheon.
He is recognizable for only having one hand — Loki’s son, Fenrir, bit the other off.
The word Tuesday comes from the old English form of his name, Tiw.
In the movie: Played by “Lost” alumnus Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in “Thor: The Dark World.”
In the comics: One of the most powerful of the Dark Elves, Algrim the Strong is manipulated by Malekith into fighting Thor. Possible spoiler alert — Algrim eventually turns on Malekith and ends up killing him in the comics.
In mythology: None.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.