I haven't read a lot of comics but Marvel seems to use only the Norse gods (Thor, Odin, Hel, Loki...) and DC seem to use the Greek gods (Zeus, Hercule, Ares...)

I might be wrong in thinking that Marvel and DC only use gods from these respective pantheons (I probably am) but I would like to have explanation on why Marvel use more the Norse deities and DC use more the Greek ones.

  • Is this just about the MCU and DCU or about all of their comic properties as well? – Valorum Aug 25 '18 at 19:21
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    Just for info, DC has its share of South American and African gods too, just ask Aztek and Cheetah ;) – Jenayah Aug 25 '18 at 19:21
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    The film universes focus on different gods so as not to confuse audiences. – Valorum Aug 25 '18 at 19:21
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    I've done a great big edit to try to bring some focus to this question. Feel free to roll it on back if you think I've gone too far – Valorum Aug 25 '18 at 19:38
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    @Valorum It's more about the comics, but being a newbie on this SE I didn't know which tag to use Thank you for the edit, my question was unclear but you narrowed it down – L. Faros Aug 25 '18 at 19:39

The short answer seems to be that while none of the various gods are copyrighted, DC got there first, in the 1940s, with their depiction of Wonder Woman and the (more familiar) Greek gods that were situated into her stories. These characters appeared on and off for more than 20 years before Stan Lee and Marvel, in the 1960s, decided to create a godly character of their own. Given that the Greek gods were already taken, Lee (an afficiando of Norse mythology from his early years) picked the Norse gods as he felt there would be less 'baggage' both from the stories themselves and less embarrassing crossover with their main rival.

“I dreamed up Thor years ago because I wanted to create the biggest, most powerful superhero of all and I figured who can be bigger than a god?” Lee says of his idea for his God of Thunder, which was first scripted by Stan’s younger brother, Larry Lieber. (The Brothers Lieber still produce the syndicated “Spider-Man” comic strip.)

“I chose the Norse gods,” Lee adds, “because I felt people were less familiar with them than with the Greek and Roman gods.”

STAN LEE: As ‘Thor’ scores, creator considers why the superhero film endures

Over time both comic studios did ultimately create Norse and Greek pantheons of their own (DC's Norse Pantheon and Marvel's Olympians), but these never seem to have garnered the same level of popularity and recognition as their original, well-established and well-loved characters.

  • This was exactly what I was looking for, even thought I'd love to have a litte more insight on how it happened in universe, this answer totally fit my unclear question. I'll wait a few hours before accepting it (I guess this SE has the same rules than SO) but this is totally what I wanted to know. – L. Faros Aug 25 '18 at 20:36
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    Wonder when the next studio will decide it’s time for another deity world and thinks sure Japan’s popular, why not? Can’t wait for the Hollywood films with American actors going around calling themselves Izanagi-no-Mikoto, Izanami-no-Mikoto, Amaterasu Omikami, Kotoamatsukami, etc. It’ll be brilliant! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 25 '18 at 20:40
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    @RDFozz - The god Thor made an appearance in DC in the 1940s (along with a whole bunch of gods from other Greek, Norse, Roman and Eastern European pantheons) but was basically just a depiction of the god rather than an actual character. Note also that Thor was repeatedly created by Lee and Kirby before they ever came up with the Thor that ended up being the mainstay; comicsalliance.com/jack-kirbys-thor – Valorum Aug 25 '18 at 21:13
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    Also, the DC'S Norse Pantheon link you provide really says nothing more than Asgardians were seen in an issue of Jimmy Olsen. From waht's listed, it's not clear that the gods mentioned are DC characters, in that the text notes that members of Marvel's Norse pantheon have crossed over into the DC universe on occasion. – RDFozz Aug 25 '18 at 21:14
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    And, of course, the Fawcett Captain Marvel gained powers from several members of the Greco-Roman pantheon (Zeus, Mercury, Hercules; plus Achilles and Atlas are Greco-Roman; Solomon was the only outlier). Again, not active when Marvel's Thor hit the stands. – RDFozz Aug 25 '18 at 21:19

While it's true that DC has used the Greco-Roman (I can never remember which names are Greek and which are Roman - but, then, neither can most comic book writers; I'll just say Greek for the rest of this) gods far more than the Norse gods, and Marvel has used the Norse gods more than the Greek, I'd say it's also true that Marvel has used gods in general more than DC.

First, to be fair, I think Marvel's first book to feature a god came out in the 1950s - and that was Venus. It didn't last long (not much did, at the time), and she's only rarely been seen since (the 1970s Champions, and technically Agents of Atlas), but she counts.

Perhaps the biggest factor has simply been that Marvel has been more prone to have comics starring gods from either pantheon. The Greek gods are part of Wonder Woman's backstory, but really only became a prominent part when George Perez rebooted the character in the mid-1980s. The Greek gods are also a part of the Fawcett Captain Marvel's background (S for Solomon is the only part of SHAZAM not tied to a Greek character of some sort, mostly gods or the like), but they've only rarely been a part of his actual stories (most prominently in the Trials of SHAZAM mini-series in the 2000s). To the best of my recollection, Hercules Unbound (a twelve issue series from the 1970s, set in the future in thye vicinity of the Atomic Knights and OMAC) is the only DC book where the lead character was a god. (Yes, I'm ignoring the Diana was the Goddess of Truth for a period of time).

Yes, Thor was the first god of the Marvel age. But it was only a few years before Hercules and the Greek gods showed up.

Hercules was the tenth person to become an Avenger (yes, I'm ignoring Wonder Man and Swordsman's stints, as both were intending to destroy the group from within). He's been a recurring guest character in Thor, has had at least 4-5 mini-series, and (to date) 3 on-goings. Ares has also been an Avenger, and has had multiple mini-series.

All that said, it is true that the Norse gods have been more prominent in Marvel's comics, and the Greek gods in DC's.

One factor here may simply be that multiple pantheons are somewhat redundant. Need a god of lightning for a DC story? Sure, you could use Thor - but they've already got Zeus as a firmly established character in their universe, so why confuse things? At Marvel, what would make a Hercules book unique and different from Thor? (Thor and Odin have had father/son issues on a number of occasions, so the severely dysfunctional aspect of the Olympian "family" is sort of already in play, if not played out; though, personally, Olympus as a divine soap-opera/reality show seems like a vein aching to be mined)

I suppose geography could be involved as well, at Marvel. The Greek gods lived on a mountain, in Greece. The Asgardians realm had eight worlds beside Earth - lotds more room to spread out and have adventures.

However, I suspect the best reason as to why the primary focus is on different groups is a matter of the interests of the creators involved, and the relative familiarity with the two pantheons.

In english, at least, most of the days of the week are named for Norse gods. But, their mythology is not as prominent culturally as that of the Greeks. Icarus and Daedalus; the Iliad and the Odyssey; heck, Zeus' tendency to turn himself into animals and get it on with mortal women (which I did not learn about from the comics!). There was a series of movies feturing Hercules in the 1960s.

A lot of our word roots come from Greek and Latin, and some of that ties into mythological tales. Narcissus, who couldn't get over his own looks, leads to narcissism, for instance.

So, William Moulton Marston was interested in creating a female warrior character. And the word for a tall, strong, aggressive woman? She's an amazon. Why not take that back to the source material?

Captain Marvel used a magic word to give him mighty powers. As the Greek pantheon was better known at the time, and were in the public domain, they used those characters to power him up.

Another answer quotes Stan Lee as saying he went for Thor and the Norse pantheon when "creating" a god, because they were less well-known. I don't see a reason to dispute that. And, as mentioned in the comments, Kirby had already been involved with stories featuring Thor.

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    I bet if you asked people to name their ten favourite avengers, even if they'd never seen the MCU they wouldn't mention Hercules or Ares – Valorum Aug 25 '18 at 22:35
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    @Valorum - I bet you're right :-) – RDFozz Aug 25 '18 at 22:40
  • Very interesting answer ! :) I did not know that Wonder Woman originally had the goal to destroy the avengers from inside, nor that Ares was an avenger, but I would like to read more about it. Would you tell me in which comics this happen please ? (if you recall them) – L. Faros Aug 27 '18 at 18:06
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    @L.Faros - Both happened in the 1960's, Avengers volume 1. Wonder Man was given his powers by Baron Zemo, and sent to join and betray the Avengers in issue #9 (he changed his mind and saved them instead; he was presumed to have died, but basically was in a transitional state, allowing his body to be converted to ionic energy, or some such). Swordsman joining and betraying the team happened in issues 19 and 20; he was working for the Mandarin. Swordsman reformed years later, and joined the team for real around #114, with his girlfriend Mantis. – RDFozz Aug 27 '18 at 18:41

Sorry, false premise. Marvel also has Greek gods and demigods such as Heracles:. https://www.marvel.com/characters/hercules-heracles

From the linked article:

Hercules is the son of Zeus, king of the gods of Olympus, and Alcmena, a mortal woman who lived about three thousand years ago. Recognizing the need for a son who would be powerful enough to defend both the Olympian gods and humanity from future dangers he foresaw, Zeus seduced Alcmena in the guise of her husband, King Amphitryon of Troezen

So we can see that not only is Heracles a hero that is directly cited as a Greek god, but there is reference to the rest of the pantheon as well.

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    I was hoping for more insighful explanation than just "you're wrong" and a hyperlink – Valorum Aug 25 '18 at 19:24
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    @Valorum his question was why aren't Greek Gods used in Marvel but they are in DC. How insightful do I need to be to show that it's not the case? Added a quote from said link. – Paul Aug 25 '18 at 19:28
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    @Paul - Well, a good answer might explore why Marvel heavily favour the Norse gods and why DC favour the Greek gods. You might also want to look at why neither company have cross-over characters in their films. – Valorum Aug 25 '18 at 19:30
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    @Valorum, I can see how someone knowing that would make a better answer, but that doesn't inherently make mine bad. This is a Q&A site, not a thesis defense. – Paul Aug 25 '18 at 19:31
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    @Valorum if you say so. I have a bad track record of knowing what should be an answer or a comment. Most of the time when I put something like this as a comment, some moderator comes along and deletes my comment because "even partial answers should not be in comments" I try and get ahead of that and someone else comes along and saysy answer should be a comment. I give up. – Paul Aug 25 '18 at 20:23

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