Norse gods and American comics during the Second World War
Jón Karl Helgason
In the period 1939–1945 several American comic magazines published graphic stories featuring pagan Nordic gods, including Odin and Thor. These range from Jack Kirby and Joe Simon's ‘The Villain from Valhalla’, appearing in Adventure Comics in 1942, to ‘The Shadow of Valhalla’, published in the magazine Boy Commandos in 1944. The most interesting of these publications, however, was the series ‘Thor, God of Thunder’, published in Weird Comics as early as 1940. The five stories in question were attributed to one Wright Lincoln (a pen name used by several writers and artists). The article traces how all of these American comic stories were inspired by the medieval Icelandic Eddas and how they contributed, with their anti-German propaganda, to the so-called ‘comic book war’.
From Iceland to the Americas, an anthology of thirteen original critical essays, is an exercise in the reception of a small historical fact with wide-ranging social, cultural, and imaginative consequences. Medieval records claim that around the year 1000 Leif Eiriksson and other Nordic explorers sailed westwards from Iceland and Greenland to a place they called Vinland. Archaeological evidence has in fact verified this claim, though primarily by way of one small, short-lived Norse settlement in Newfoundland, which may not even have been Leif’s. Whether or not this settlement was his, however, the contact associated with him has had an outsized impact on cultural imagination in and of the Americas. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, indeed, novels, poetry, history, politics, arts and crafts, comics, films and video games have all reflected a rising interest in the medieval Norse and their North American presence. Uniquely in reception studies, From Iceland to the Americas approaches this dynamic between Nordic history and its reception by bringing together international authorities on mythology, language, film, and cultural studies, as well as on the literature that has dominated critical reception. Collectively, the essays not only explore the connections among medieval Iceland and the modern Americas, but also probe why medieval contact has become a modern cultural touchstone.