CULT & PULP: DAVID BRIN – THOR MEETS CAPTAIN AMERICA (1986)
No – it’s not a comic or film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although the title obviously references the Marvel characters.
I fell in love with David Brin’s short story Thor Meets Captain America when I read it in Hitler Victorious, an anthology of alternate history short stories that obviously involved, well, Hitler being victorious – a Nazi German victory in the Second World War. In his author’s note for the story, Brin noted that he was invited by the collator, Gregory Benford, to write a story of Nazi victory – but voiced the opinion that he could not conceive of a single event which, if altered, would have let Nazi Germany win the war, particularly as they had required a number of lucky breaks to get as far as they did. (An opinion which coincides with my own, as well as my pet peeve of the myth of German military excellence – as I’ve stated elsewhere, paraphrasing my favorite Second World War history, Germany was very good at fighting but not very good at war.)
And so Brin fell back on what is jokingly known in alternate history circles as ‘alien space bats’ – that is, some fantastic or implausible plot device that provides the difference (or what is known as the point of divergence), although typically not actual alien space bats as such. In this case, Nazi Germany essentially won the Second World War because they were able to summon the Norse gods to fight on their side. The fantastic implausibility of the premise is the point – as he noted, this was the most (or only) plausible scenario that Brin could think of that involved Nazi victory, and in fairness, it probably was more plausible than the actual Nazi strategy (and their increasingly desperate ‘wunderwaffen’ or wonder weapons). It also gives some actual strategic sense to the Holocaust (which, in history, was as strategically pointless as it was monstrous) – the murder of millions as part of a mass human sacrifice or necromantic ritual intended to bring the Norse gods into being, which it does in 1944, just in time for D-day. Of course, most of this alternate history is told as backstory to the last desperate Allied attempt years later to destroy the new Valhalla. (And by Allied, we mean American, with a little help from a renegade Loki, since Europe has long been overwhelmed).
What’s not to love? Alternate history of the Second World War and Nazi Germany, the Norse gods and comic book superheroes. Actually, the Norse gods in their Nazi guise are distinctly unlovely – just as they needed mass human sacrifice to create them, they also need it to sustain them. God is a hole in the heart of the world and he’s hungry – omnipotent, omniscient, omnivorous. And as for those comic book superheroes – well, that’s also part of the point of the story, as the protagonist dreads what dark and terrible gods the Americans would create with Nazi necromancy…
Brin subsequently adapted and expanded the story into comic form as The Life-Eaters, which added some interesting points, but to me lacked quite the same concise purity of the original story.
Brin also scores bonus points for his other stories and works, as well as their humanistic ethos – the latter on best display in his critique of the latent tendency to mystical fascism in fantasy and science fiction, most notably in those two towering modern mythic works, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. (I tend to agree with his critique, at least in part, although I would trace this mystical fascism back further to Plato and his Republic, from the Force to the Forms as it were – and that we’re still fighting the Peloponnesian War against Plato’s Spartanism).