Cate Blanchett is set to appear as the most alluring and menacing incarnation of Hela we’re ever likely to see when Thor: Ragnarok comes out on November 3, 2017. But who is Hela exactly?
Well, we could easily go down the Asgardian rabbit hole on a subject like this, since Hela is one of many characters based at least initially on a figure from Norse mythology. But here we’ll only deal with the Hela of the Marvel Comics Universe, and that takes us first to…
Hela is the Goddess of Death, ruler of the realms of Hel — where the dead that fall in the middle ground between honor and dishonor dwell — and Niflheim — where those that are dishonored must go. An Asgardian with an often-complicated approach to a simple goal — get as much power as you can as often as you can — Hela has constantly crossed paths with Thor, his family and friends, and many other heroes of the Marvel Universe. As a cosmic being of great power, she is a formidable threat beyond that of a typical Earthbound entity, but her fortunes have nevertheless waxed and waned over time.
Come on, she’s a goddess! Let’s take it as read that she has the usual run of enhanced abilities in comparison to a regular human — she’s strong, fast, agile, and capable of withstanding much more stress and surviving extreme conditions over a prolonged period of time. Her cloak also affords her additional protection (to say nothing of holding back partial decay over one side of her body and weakness that she otherwise suffers without the cloak’s presence), and she has great skill with her Nightsword. Oh, we haven’t even talked about magic yet. If you can think it up, she can probably do it, from astral travel to energy projection to the creation of convincing illusions and apparitions; and Iron Fist has nothing on Hela’s stunning Hand of Glory, which delivers quite the mystically-augmented punch!
And then there’s that whole “dominion over death” thing; she has a standing agreement with Death itself to claim those sent to Hel or condemned to Niflheim, and she can travel throughout the Nine Worlds when the story isn’t restricting her for one reason or another. She can kill puny humans and powerful Asgardians alike with but a touch, but in general she claims souls only after death and not due to her own actions. She can even reverse Death’s effects and send a soul back to its corporeal existence… but she really has to want or need to do that. And yes, folks, she can indeed marshal dead forces to her side and lead a veritable army of all those that have passed into her realm.
Debuting in the Marvel Comics Universe in Journey into Mystery #102 (March, 1964), Hela first encountered Thor when he went in search of the Hel-bound Sif and offered his life in place of hers, moving Hela to allow them both to walk free from her domain (so she’s not without mercy and heart from time to time). Hela herself was the offspring of a previous Loki that existed in an earlier universal cycle (pre-Ragnarok) and a giantess. Odin installed her as the ruler of the dead, but her quest for greater power and control often fueled her escapades in Asgard and beyond.
Her eyes frequently fell on Valhalla — eternal home of the honored dead — and her machinations often involved seeking ownership of the souls of Thor, Odin, and others as well, including the mortals of Midgard (Earth). At one point, she even cursed Thor with an inability to die while his body collapsed into jelly within protective armor… but he got better. She has consorted with other Marvel cosmic beings of malevolent power, like Mephisto and Dormammu, and she’s even operated out of Las Vegas (of course she has). Basically, if there’s something dark and cosmic going on in the Marvel Universe, Hela may very well be involved or at least trying to take advantage of the opportunity to grab more power and afterlife territory for herself.
A technologically-engineered copy of Hela was created in the alternate 2099 Marvel Universe, while a more or less familiar variation on the goddess also played a role in the Ultimate line. And if you want to see Hela as a zombie, you can always find that in the Marvel Zombies series. As for other media, Cate Blanchett is preceded by a few voice actresses that have lent their talents to animated versions of Hela, perhaps most notably Vanessa Marshall’s incarnation in Avengers Assemble, where Hela is actually in charge of Valhalla and so bored by orchestrated battles between her skeleton armies that she jumps at the chance to watch Thor and Hulk go at it. Wow, imagine Thor and Hulk fighting… again!
In Thor: Ragnarok, we know that an unleashed and angry Hela will seek power and send Thor on a wild ride after disintegrating Mjolnir with her touch! Based on Blanchett’s reported capoeira training, we know we’re likely to see Hela get her hands dirty and do some elaborate physical fighting too, but beyond that, it’s not entirely certain what the scope of her role in the sequel will be. One thing is certain — after briefly appearing as a green-tinged, Ring-corrupted, evil Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Blanchett’s performance here is likely to cause all sorts of cross-fandom ‘gasms and multi-versal fan theories. On your mark, get set… tweet!
What do you think Hela will bring to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Who do you think will show up next from the Asgardian realm to plague or assist Thor in future films? March forthwith to the comments section and bestow upon us your pearls of wisdom, mortals!
Find Arnold T. Blumberg on Twitter at @DoctoroftheDead.