The Simonsonian genesis of Malekith the Accursed – The Mighty Thor #s 344-349
After Loki, Thor’s assortment of native enemies gets a bit thin. Not in terms of variety or quality, but in terms of broader significance. Loki transcends his Asgardian origins, and it was the God of Mischief who was the unifying threat all those years ago in The Avengers #1, which made him such a natural fit as the unifying threat that brought together the cinematic team. Could Ulik have done that? Queen Karnilla? The Enchantress (as much as horny boys might want it)? Maybe Surtur, but he’s never had the broader cachet of the adopted brother with the horny helmet.
So when Marvel was casting about to figure out a villain for the Thor sequel, Thor: The Dark World, it was name recognition slim pickins, and name recognition is the name of the studio game. (You think Khan was in Star Trek Into Darkness because of storytelling reasons? Please.) And the announcement of Malekith the Accursed was greeted with muted interest. A part of the Thunder God tapestry but not the centerpiece, the lord of the Dark Elves would at least be somewhat of a blank slate. But his history doesn’t even stretch back as far as most of Thor’s other dastardly opponents, with a first appearance not in the Silver Age, but in Walt Simonson’s vibrant re-invention of the series in the 1980s. And that’s what we’ll briefly look at today, as a primer for the movie opening in two weeks: the first arc of Mr. Malekith.
Enough has been said and written about the joys of the Simonson Thor tenure so that we don’t have to relitigate its quality. Sprawling, inventive, stimulating, defining — that’s enough. That Marvel is plucking Malekith from that part of the quiver should come as no surprise. But Malekith really wasn’t all that huge a character. Here, at the very beginning, he was presented as an underling — an underling with powers, but one nonetheless. He was Surtur the Fire Demon’s bagman, on Earth to track down the Casket of Ancient Winters (the mystical thingamabob from the first Thor movie) and generally make blondie’s life a living hell. He was Vader to Surtur’s Emperor. He was even symbolically subservient to Loki, who’s the Grand Moff Tarkin of this triptych — and this panel (in his customary splay-legged throne pose?):
Perhaps one of the great sins of the film version is that movie Malekith, played by erstwhile Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, lacks the comic book original’s outlandish visual verve, trading it in for a Phantom of the Operaish Two-Face scarring. Old-timey Malekith was like a playing card come to life, a sinister Jack lumping off the paper and wreaking havoc on the mortal realms — there was even a two-dimensionality to his presentation in the art. With his half white, half black face and similarly demarcated attire, he was a “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” alien merged with Two-Face. And that sinister, never-shifting grin was the Cheshire Cat come to Retsin actuality. His was an engaging design.
Thus it was the visual that made him special, not so much his deeds. He was kind of a boner in his initial arc, even when he was winning. His triumphs were fleeting, and he was bested at almost every turn. Plus, he had a weakness for being blasted in the face with iron girders — which is, granted, a fairly common vulnerability:
Granted, there has been much more of Malekith over the years, and his status as a ruler of race of beings, and more so a familiar brand of beings (the Lord of the Rings movies have made elves au courant) makes him ideal as an entrée to the broader cosmic Marvel experience. He’ll probably be just fine. It just feels like his earliest turn simultaneously under- and overwhelms what we’re going to be getting, with a character that was all hat, no cattle. (Putting on the 1990s nerd hat: Exchanging the playing card togs for the muted blacks and grays feels a lot like the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast moving from the primary colors of the series to the millennial death cult pajamas of the movies.)
Oddly enough, it’s the last page of the last book of Malekith’s initial appearance that hopefully heralds what might come in another Thor movie (the action shifted to Surtur by issue #349, as a defeated, prone Malekith was delivered by Thor to Odin’s feet). Malekith was by no means the greatest Simonson contribution to the Asgardian realms — and we all know who owns that title:
Whomever the patron saint of comic books is, hear our prayer: Give us a live-action Beta Ray Bill, and we promise to be good forevermore.