Monday, September 3, 2012

Spare The Rod, Spoil The God

If you ever wondered what it would be like to have a god for a father...

Well, let's just say that Lionel Luthor was a saint compared to Odin.

The relationship that Odin, Lord of Asgard, has had with his son, Thor, would probably be labelled by mortals as abusive. After all, it's not many fathers who vow vengeance on their sons. I can't even point the finger to the fact that the rules are different with Odin simply because this is an "Asgardian" father we're talking about. Volstagg, another Asgardian, dotes on his children. Then again, Volstagg isn't the undisputed ruler of the Norse gods. As such, Odin's will, as Odin himself will tell you in no uncertain terms, is never to be disputed or called into question, by anyone--and he unfortunately applies that edict to his children, as well. Whether by example or by choice, I'm still not sure.

For instance, let's say a parent is having a difference of opinion with their son about the type of girl he's dating. The parent has just told the son that under no circumstances is he to see this girl again. The son, predictably, says there's no way he's going to stop seeing her. How many parents do you know who would react like this?

Odin has always taken this route when laying down the law to Thor. Why? Because he can back up his haughty words with the freakin' Odin-power, that's why. Make no mistake--Odin very much enjoys his status as ruler of the gods. The question is, why does he seek to rule his children? The above scene is a personal matter, between father and son--yet Odin harshly slaps down Thor without a second thought, with the intention of leaving no question in Thor's mind just who it is he's dealing with here, and who is to be obeyed.

Nor does this combative relationship stop at just reprimands. Odin has taken much stronger action against Thor, often humiliating him in the process. For instance, have you ever given lip to your father? Chances are you got some very strong words in return. But I doubt you expected to give lip quite so literally as this:

Sif asks a good question; yet it's one that can be raised often in this father-son relationship. I can't recall Odin dealing this way with any of his fellow Asgardians, as he does with Thor in front of his comrades-in-arms.

And it goes further. Often, Odin treats Thor like a dog on a leash, punishing him by taking away his freedom--in Thor's case, by removing his abilities. The first such instance that we saw was when Thor was in the middle of a fight with Hercules. Odin directed a servant to use the Odin-power to halve Thor's strength at a crucial moment--after which, Hercules laid out Thor decisively, bringing the fight to a swift close. But once wasn't enough for Odin. Rather than talking to his son, for Odin the only way to gain Thor's obedience and fealty was by force:

Nobody throws a tantrum quite like Odin. When he's raging at Thor, the rest of the Asgardians know to give the royal palace a wide berth.

It's funny how Thor, away from Odin's presence, is so well-balanced, self-assured and confident. Even the Avengers are somewhat in awe of him. Thor fears pretty much nothing, and there seems to be no threatening situation which daunts him, no threat he feels he can't overcome. Yet, in the shadow of Odin's wrath, we see a completely different Thor--helpless, virtually a whipped dog, slinking away in anger and frustration. Particularly when Odin has barred him from Asgard. That's happened more than once, and it generally goes like this:

(Way to support your boyfriend, Sif.  What girlfriend sides with the parent?)

Both Thor and Odin, each with boatloads of misplaced pride, exchange harsh words and then turn their backs on one another. Who will give first? Well, it's usually Thor, who does something to get back in Odin's good graces--with Thor showing Odin just how much of a true Asgardian he is, rather than someone whose allegiance is divided with Earth. Odin has always wanted Thor taking his rightful place by his side, as his son--not, heaven forbid, exercising his own mind and living his own life. Asgardians live for and swear allegiance to Odin, period. In Odin's mind, there is no middle ground.

Thor's fight with Odin--or, perhaps more accurately, Odin's fight with Thor--is over, now that Odin is no longer alive. When the two got along, it was actually exciting to see them face threats side-by-side, with Thor fighting for his lord and liege. I think that Thor, when all was said and done, wanted to be a good son, worthy of his father's love and respect. Yet for Odin, those things came with the understanding that Thor's attention would never waver from he who wields the royal scepter--attention that must be absolute, or else bitterly rejected.


Fred W. Hill said...

Over at DC, they tried to "humanize' Superman by having kryptonite around for baddies to make Supes weaker or even sick, but with Thor, ignoring the very silly 60 second rule of transforming into puny Dr. Blake if his hammer gets away from him for too long, Lee & Kirby found the better means of making their oh so powerful God of Thunder relatable to young readers was to give him a schizoid father, who could be all nice and pleasant one moment and then an entirely unreasonable, tyrannical ogre. And for all that he was fully grown and super-powerful, even Thor couldn't beat his old man. Then there was the adopted kid brother who was an evil jerk and daddy was time and again taken in by the brother's lies and twisting of the truth! I'm sure there were a lot of kids in the '60s who could relate to Thor's troubles, maybe not quite as much as with Peter Parker's, but then for a while, to my recall reading somewhere, under Lee & Kirby Thor's sales among Marvel mags were topped only by the FF & Spider-Man. Along with many great epics and a stellar supporting cast (at least once more Asgardians were involved in the stories), I have a hunch Thor's family troubles helped boost his popularity.

Comicsfan said...

That's a fair perspective to have on the situation, Fred. (Not that it will make Thor feel any better about it! ;) )