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With a fourth Thor movie (Thor: Love and Thunder) currently in production, and the new Loki series set to debut on Disney+ this summer, I can’t help but wonder:
When, if ever, will Marvel end its obsession with the gods of Norse mythology and bring in some new holy heavy-hitters—namely, the Celtic gods? (And by “new,” of course, I mean extremely, extremely old.)
As I’ve mentioned many times before, there’s been a resurgence of Celtic mythology in popular culture in recent decades. From indirect references in TV shows like Game of Thrones, to direct references in films like Hellboy II: The Golden Army and, more recently, the Oscar-nominated WolfWalkers, Celtic mythology—and its best-preserved form, Irish mythology—have entered the global entertainment zeitgeist. Now would be the perfect time for Marvel to expand their universe (or dare I say multiverse?) to include a new pantheon of magical weapon-wielding deities.
Granted, as long as Thor and Loki and Valkyrie continue to rake in the greenbacks for Marvel, these Norse gods and goddesses shan’t be moving aside for the likes of the Dagda and Leir and Morrigan. And that’s fine. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. There’s certainly precedent for it in the comics.
A Brief History of Celtic Mythology in Marvel Comics
The Celtic gods were first introduced in Marvel’s main continuity, Earth-616, in December of 1987, appearing in The Mighty Thor issue #386.
And here we have the perfect portal through which the Celtic gods can enter the MCU. And it’s a literal portal. In Thor #386, the titular hero chases a monster through a portal that brings him to Avalon, which, in Marvel lore, is a floating island kingdom in the Celtic Otherworld. There, Thor encounters Lir (later spelled “Leir” in the comics), and the two gods duke it out.
In Irish and Welsh mythology, Lir—Llŷr in Welsh—is a god of the sea, while in the comics he is referred to as the “Lord of the Lightning,” probably to make him a better foil for Thor, god of hammers…I mean thunder. Comic book Lir also goes by the alias “God of the Spear,” which at least has some precedent in actual mythology, as the spear was often the weapon of choice for the Irish gods. What’s more, Lir’s son, Manannán mac Lir, was known to wield the famous spear Gae-Ruadh (Red Javelin).
In the Thor comic run, Lir and Thor eventually become allies, melting away the millennia-old cold war that existed between the Norse gods and the Celtic gods (a.k.a. the Tuatha Dé Danann). And in The Mighty Thor issue #398, when Asgard is threatened by a powerful foe, Lir and his Celtic brethren, including the Dagda (a.k.a Eochaidh Ollathair, the father of the gods in Irish mythology) and Caber (a.k.a. Cairbre, a bard and son of the Irish god of eloquence, Ogma) come to the aid of the Asgardians.
However, while these Thor books from the late ’80s marked the introduction of the Celtic gods into Marvel Comics as a group (i.e. a fighting squad), a few individual gods had appeared before. For example, Nuada of the Silver Hand, the very first ruler of the Tuatha Dé Danann in Irish mythology and the wielder of a magical sword called Cliamh Solais (The Sword of Light), appeared back in 1980 in the 300th issue of Thor (alongside the likes of Zeus, Buddha, and the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca) as a member of the Council of God-Heads.
It’s also worth noting that back in 1974, both the Dagda and the Irish god of medicine, Dian Cecht, are mentioned in the fourth issue of Savage Tales Featuring Conan the Barbarian. Conan himself is a character with mythological origins, as it’s believed that Conan’s creator, the pulp fantasy author Robert E. Howard, based him on Conán mac Morna, a.k.a. Conán Maol (“the bald”), from Irish mythology.
Bearing that in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that starting with the very first issue of Savage Tales, the name Crom is invoked throughout the comic run in place of “God.” (e.g.”By Crom! They should not! And, by Crom, they shall not!”) In Irish mythology, Cromm Cruach is a golden idol who was worshiped by the king Tigernmas (Lord of Death) and to whom human sacrifices were offered.
Despite these Celtic connections, it seems highly unlikely that Conan the Barbarian would be the entry point for the Celtic gods to enter the MCU, seeing as though the adventures of everyone’s favorite Cimmerian take place almost exclusively in the distant past. Thor would be a more likely option, as the timing works better and the aforementioned Asgardian/Tuatha Dé Danaan cold war would make for a compelling backstory.
That being said, if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on a different Marvel hero to serve as the metaphorical rainbow bridge between the Celtic gods and the MCU:
How the Introduction of Captain Britain Will Set the Stage for Celtic Mythology in the MCU
Marvel’s forthcoming animated Disney+ series What If…? is poised to introduce a version of Captain Britain, albeit not to the main MCU timeline. In the series, a World War II-era Peggy Carter will receive the super soldier serum and iconic vibranium shield originally destined for Steve Rogers (Captain America), and the UK’s most famous superhero will be born.
While this sounds supremely awesome, this is not how Captain Britain comes about in the comics. And given how prominent (cough overdone cough) all the super soldier serum stuff has been (and continues to be) in the MCU, one can only hope that when Captain Britain gets introduced for real, in a live-action MCU film, Kevin Feige and co. will opt for a more comic-accurate origin. Because that would create a backdoor introduction for Celtic mythology.
In the very first issue of Captain Britain (October 1976), researcher Brian Braddock suffers a near fatal motorcycle accident. He is saved by the sorcerer Merlin (sometimes “Merlyn” in the comics), who gives Braddock a choice: He can take the Amulet of Right, representing life, or the Sword of Might (Excalibur), representing death. Braddock, not believing himself to be much of a fighter, chooses the amulet and is subsequently transformed into the super-powered Captain Britain.
From the get-go, Captain Britain’s story is steeped in Celtic mythology. After all, the Merlin of Arthurian legend is based on the druid/bard Myrddin Wyllt (a.k.a. Myrddin the Wild) of Welsh legend. After witnessing the horrors of war, Myrddin is driven mad and flees the civilized world to live in nature. This story has strong parallels to (and could potentially be based on) the story “The Madness of Sweeney” (Buile Suibhne) from Irish mythology.
The same can be said for the story of the sword Excalibur (originally Caledfwlch in Welsh), which is possibly derived from the story of the Irish sword Caladcholg. Both have the same meaning: “hard dinter” or “hard blade.”
Mythology lesson aside, the comic book version of Merlin resides in Avalon, and Captain Britain #1 is the first Marvel comic to establish that Avalon is part of the Otherworld dimension. In later comics, Braddock’s Captain Britain becomes ruler of the Otherworld. And notably, in 2012’s Journey into Mystery: Manchester Gods comic run, Captain Britain, Merlin, and the Tuatha Dé Danaan (a.k.a the Celtic gods) must defend the Otherworld against an invading force of mechanized cities.
Put that on the big screen, Marvel, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll forgive you for Thor: The Dark World.
Of course, if, for some strange reason, Marvel and Disney get tired of raking in money hand over fist and don’t expand their universe to include some Celtic characters (Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One notwithstanding), there is another company out there that might be willing to do it…
The Case for DC Dipping Their Toes into Celtic Mythology
While Marvel may have the perfect ins for bringing the Celtic gods over to the big screen via Thor and Captain Britain, DC Comics and Warner Bros. have their own mythologically connected superhero who’d be more than suited to the task:
The Amazonian princess is well-known for her hot again, cold again relationships with the gods of Greek mythology, but in a popular comic arc from 2018, the Celtic gods step into the limelight. And this could be the perfect narrative for introducing Celtic mythology into the DCEU, or the DC multiverse, or whatever the hell they’re calling it now.
The Brave and the Bold: Batman and Wonder Woman kicks off with a murder investigation. A Celtic god, King Elatha, has been slain, and Wonder Woman must travel to Tir Na Nóg, the land of the Faerie, to solve the case before the resulting war among the Faerie folk spills over into the world of men.
In Irish mythology, Elatha is a king of the Fomorri, the sworn enemies of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. However, he sleeps with a Dé Danaan queen, Eri, who gives birth to a son, Bres. When Bres later becomes king of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, some of the gods are none-too-happy about the development. Bres is removed from the throne, triggering the Second Battle of Moytura (Magh Tuireadh).
Like other works of Cetlic fantasy, The Brave and the Bold mixes up the mythologies, notably adding the Gaulish horned god Cernunnos, known for his massive antlers, to the Irish fight. Other key characters include King McCool (a riff on the warrior Fionn mac Cumhail, hero of the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology), Queen Ethné (likely based on the Ethné of Irish mythology, who lived at Brú na Bóinne with the love god Aengus Óg), and the chief protagonist, Balor Evil-Eye (a variation of Balor of the Evil Eye, a god of death and the most formidable of the Fomorri in Irish mythology).
Such a colorful cast of characters is begging to be translated onto the silver screen. And, of course, Zack Snyder has already proven (in the Snyder cut of Justice League) that mythological gods doing battle can make for some visually stunning cinema.
Per the publisher: “New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman and Eisner Award-winning comics legend P. Craig Russell breathe new life into the ancient Norse stories in this comic-book adaptation of the hit novel Norse Mythology. Gaiman and Russell team with a legendary collection of artists to take readers through a series of Norse myths, including the creation of the Nine Worlds, the loss of Odin’s eye and source of his knowledge, the crafting of Thor’s hammer and the gods’ most valuable treasures, the origin of poetry, and Loki’s part in the end of all things–Ragnarök.” Learn more…
by Tom DeFalco, Stan Lee, Jim Shooter, Roger Stern, Ron Frenz, Erik Larsen, Bob Hall, & Charles Vess
Per the publisher: “Collects Thor #383-400. It’s the beginning of a new era for the mighty Thor — but it just might be the end of the Norse gods! With Asgard adrift in space, Thor must sacrifice all when he finds himself in a losing battle to protect the planet Pangoria against the unimaginably powerful Celestials! But when Seth the Serpent God unleashes an all-out assault on Asgard, can the Norse gods defeat his ruthless army without their greatest warrior? Plus: Thor takes on the Hulk, clashes with the Celtic Lord of Lightning…” Learn more…
by Anthony Flamini, Fred Van Lenten, Paul Cornell, & Greg Pak
Per the publisher: “For the first time ever – all of Marvel’s mighty pantheons, all in one handbook! Thor and Hercules aren’t the only gods in town, as the ENCYCLOPAEDIA MYTHOLOGICA spotlights everything from Aztecs to Zoroaster! Brush up on the eternal rivalry between the Green Knight and the Red Lord! Meet Anitun and the Diwatas, the gods of the Philippines! Learn the dark origin of Mikaboshi, the Shinto god of evil! Explore the mystical dimension of Otherworld! Plus: Panther Gods, Lion Gods and Snowbirds!” Learn more…
by Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith
Per the publisher: “Born on a battlefield in the frozen lands of Cimmeria, Conan fights his way through the untamed Hyborian kingdoms, sparing no man, woman or wizard his wrath. His adventures will become legend. He will become king. Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith brought Robert E. Howard’s iconic creation to four-color life with work that set new standards for comic book storytelling. Marvel is honored to present each story, each cover and each letters page – all painstakingly restored to match the majesty of the original editions.” Learn more…
by Chris Claremont, Steve Parkhouse, Dave Thorpe, Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Herb Trimpe, John Byrne, John Stokes, & Alan Davis
Per the publisher: “Collects Captain Britain (1976) #1-2, Marvel Team-Up (1972) #65-66, and material from Hulk Comic #1 and #3-5, Incredible Hulk Weekly #57-59, Marvel Super-Heroes (UK) #377-384 and #386, Daredevils #3-4, Mighty World Of Marvel (1983) #8-12 and Captain Britain (1985) #14. Honor four decades of myth and majesty with the United Kingdom’s greatest hero! Follow Brian Braddock — handpicked for greatness by the sorcerer Merlyn — from the fateful decision that imbues him with the might of right on the path to glory that will make him protector of the Omniverse!” Learn more…
by Liam Sharp
Per the publisher: “Collects issues #1-6. When a Celtic god’s murder leads to a war between the fairy folk and a possible breach between worlds, Wonder Woman must find the murderer and keep the peace while Batman investigates strange occurrences in Gotham City. As Diana must turn to the World’s Greatest Detective for help, the two heroes quickly learn their cases may be connected. In a world where the normal rules of investigation don’t apply and any clue can be obscured by charms and magic, the two Justice Leaguers must rely on each other to uncover a murder someone is trying to hide.” Learn more…
P.S. Looking for some comic books and graphic novels that are a little more faithful to the source material? Check out this list of 10 graphic novels based on Irish and Celtic mythology.
Explore the gods and creatures of Celtic mythology in all their colorful glory in these comic book interpretations of the classic tales.
P.P.S. If you love Irish and Celtic mythology, I have a hunch you’ll enjoy the short story anthology Neon Druid.
by multiple authors
Per the publisher: “A collection of 17 short stories, NEON DRUID mixes urban fantasy and Celtic mythology, creating a universe where lecherous leprechauns and debaucherous druids inhabit the local pubs, and where shapeshifting water spirits from Scotland and sword-wielding warriors from Ireland lurk in the alleyways. Stories range from tales of supernatural horror, to street-level fantasy adventures, to farcical, whiskey-drenched fairytales.” Learn more…