Thor: The Dark World comes out the 8th of November, and is the only superhero movie named after a supporting character. The latest trailer does everything short of shout “Loki 2, also starring some blonde guy with a hammer!” This isn’t because Tom Hiddleston can turn panties into puddles at fifty paces. Well, it’s not just because of that. It’s because “good with a hammer” is barely enough character to be a Mario villain, never mind a major motion picture star.
It’s not really his fault. It’s difficult to become a man when your dad will stay stronger than you forever, and when existing anywhere in the universe counts as still living with your parents. You don’t get much character development when your existence is an endless game of Whack-a-Mole. When you have the universe’s most powerful hammer, everything looks like a nail in the coffin of any hopes you ever had of learning anything. The Asgardian idea of continuing education is training to hold your weapon with your off-hand.
What’s worse is how Thor isn’t even the best thunder god. Other cultures combined kicking the sky’s ass with all kind of coolness.
One of the original thunder gods, back when deities were designed to answer the early ape question “What the hell was that?” And when the Levantines heard the sky itself crack in half, their answer was “This guy.” Hadad was the lord of heaven, fertility, and agriculture, which might sound like it’s tailing off a bit towards the end, until you realize it means that he got both sex and food back when those were the only two good things that existed.
He was frequently referred to as Ba’al (“Master/Lord”), which would become a generic term for both God AND the Devil. When you’re translated into other religions as the top guy on both sides of the eternal struggle, it’s because your balls are too big for their altars to support otherwise. He’s even mentioned in the Old Testament, back when there were rival gods for the main character to destroy, and he was considered a big one Repeat: he was the big bad guy in the Old Testament, and that’s a book where the good guy commits genocide every other page.
Celtic god of thunder and a dangerously fun drinking buddy. Legend claims that thunder happened when he collapsed back into the sky after a night on the mead, or decided to throw a few lightning bolts around for fun. Another version explained thunder as the heavenly racket when he decided to throw his wheel around, or the clatter and spark of his horses’ hooves as he rampaged in his heavenly chariot. Making him the first drunk driver several centuries before the invention of the car.
He wasn’t just in charge of thunder but named after it. Probably the only good-humored thunder god in history, he was slow to anger but extremely dangerous when it eventually happened. Meaning he wasn’t just the archetype of thunder, but of the drunk Irishman.
He carried a single wheel around by hand, as if to say “I know this is important but can’t quite figure out how to use it.” Making him an honorary Mayan god. Another aspect he shared with the Mayan deities was an unsettling fondness for human sacrifice, which isn’t the friendliest aspect, but was possibly due to misunderstanding the statement that he could murder a pint.
Indra was the most powerful of the early Hindu gods, in charge of thunder, had four arms for carrying multiple lightning bolts, and just in case you wouldn’t notice all that he rides a quadruple-tusked white elephant.
As well as being god of thunder he was also the god of war, and the best at it, proving that men can multitask but only if it’s in awesomeness and ass-kicking. He would drink before battle to gain immense strength, and fight for epic things like “freeing the sun” or “releasing all the water in the world.” We feel like that after a few pints too, though our urinal visits don’t save the world from dying of thirst.
Bringing both divinity and atmospheric ion strikes to a fight means you’re not interested in fair play. Indra excavated that to new depths by firing a lightning bolt at a potential future enemy while he was still in his mother’s womb. This blasted his unborn enemy into quatradecanonaplets, every single one of which grew up to be another storm god, and even put together they were still less powerful than him.
Later religious myths reduced his power to glorify new central deities, painting him as a lack-witted musclemind constantly outwitted by smarter and better gods. It’s like they were trying to workshop Thor a millennia early.
The Chinese “Lei Gong” translates as “Duke of Thunder,” and we might as well start giving children barcodes because we’ll never come up with a cooler name. He was hitman to the gods, armed with thunder and lightning to punish mortals guilty of secret crimes, or evil spirits foolish enough to think that “not having a physical body” would protect them from an ass-kicking.
Even the Punisher couldn’t make the “heaven’s assassin” angle cool. That’s how badass the Duke of Thunder was. He had claws, batwings, a blue face, and flapped around over the unwary wearing only a loin cloth to terrify them. Any way he could intimidate your manhood, he used. He was a proto-Zeus/Batman hybrid. His wife was the Mistress of Lighting, directing blasts of current across the world with magic mirrors. Thunder and lightning as a married couple gives a whole new meaning to counting how far apart they are to finding out how screwed things are in the general vicinity. She used lighting to illuminate the area so that he could see the guilty, and he sounded his heavenly drum to warn villains. This is a guy who used the electrical breakdown of the entire sky as a warning shot.
His friends and family could whip up winds and clouds and control the rain with their swords. They were basically Super Thunder Vengeance Family Squad, back before Japan started making TV series with almost exactly that premise. Polytheistic religions frequently filled in for the absences of soap operas and action movies.
The Aztec Xolotl: When you absolutely need to kill every heretic in the room, accept no false gods. Xolotl was the god of lightning, death, fire, bad luck, deformities, and sickness. He guided the dead to Mictlan, possibly because he’d issued so many with their tickets to the afterlife in the first place.
He guarded the sun on its journey through the underworld every night, not so much out of love of light but because he’s more horrible than everything else down there. Unlike most gods, he wasn’t immune to his own powers: he was sick, deformed, and suffered constant misfortune. In a culture which despised dogs and twins, he was a dog-headed twin. Despite helping to create humanity by recovering the bones of a previous race from the underworld, he had to turn himself into an axolotl salamander to escape banishment or death at the hands of the other gods.
And that’s still more impressive than Thor’s amazing powers of “pectoral-possession” and “beautiful blond hair.”
Tenjin was the Japanese patron god of scholars who kicked the Emperor’s ass after being unfairly banished, and that’s not just an origin story — that’s history. High level court official and poet Sugawara no Michizane was outmaneuvered by a rival in the Imperial court court rival around 903 AD. When he died in exile, the capital was bombarded by storms and lightning until the Emperor’s court apologized. They posthumously reinstated his position, burned the exile order, and commanded that he be worshipped as a thunder god. He kicked their asses with lighting so hard they put him in charge of it.
His name is literally “Sky god,” which is about as definitive as you can get, and he was in charge of all natural disasters instead of just lightning. Meaning he out-gunned every other god on this list. His poetry was still remembered, and he eventually morphed from king of thunder into god of scholars — so he could not only kick Thor around the place, he could outsmart Loki in the bargain.