Reading through a complete run of a title, one can see not so much a continuation but constant reinvention, with new creative teams doing their own takes on themes and characters that have usually been introduced early in the series’ development. Thus, a lot of creative turns are cyclical, with characters going through similar arcs and retracing similar steps on their way to a modern audience and hopefully renewed interest.
One such trope that keeps reappearing in series such as „Thor“ and „the X-Men“ is the return of the father figures. Thor’s father Odin has as such long been subject to deaths and exiles, coupled with eventual returns, only to reappear in diminished capacity time and again. Professor X’s own repeated death and cripplings and reappearances, while revealing dark secrets chart a similar course.
Why is it that these tropes keep reappearing and Marvel has such uneasy relationships between these heroes and their mentors?
On one hand, early in the titles’ life, the mentor-like role of the father figure made sense, in order to facilitate stories and provide a natural character dynamic. Eventually, though, the constant presence of father figures lead to solutions such as Odin undergoing periodic Odin sleeps which would put the character out of comission briefly, in order to raise stakes for Thor and have the character be forced to deal with the crisis of the day on his own.
Still, as the years rolled on, the dynamic has started to shift with Odin’s many deaths and exiles. These were regularly followed by the character’s return and the reestablishing of the parent/son and king/prince dynamic. It seems logical for Thor to outgrow his role of a wayward prince and become the king that he’s meant to be, but on the other hand, the regal mantle and the added responsibility provide a drastic status quo shift that seems to finish the character’s arc more than provide a platform for new adventures.
Dan Jurgen’s run on “Thor” of course had a death of Odin storyline to it. The creative team actually went through and continued Thor’s journey as a king to its logical end, in the process breaking off from Marvel’s established continuity. Naturally, by the end of the run the old status quo was restored and Thor’s time as a king was rarily referenced and has all but been retconned away.
What is most interesting is that in distancing Odin from his princely son and trying for a revionist Asgard, Marvel has started to tarnish Odin’s image. Thus, from the stubborn father he has slowly grown into a nasty patriarch to be deposited and forgotten about. At one point, Asgard was even ruled by three goddesses and renamed Asgardia, but Odin always kept reappearing in one form of another, even in this diminished capacity.
In much the same way, as the X-Men were reunited with professor X time and again, the idea of exploring the dark side of their founder and leader has also slowly crept in. Posing these father figures as manipulative and untrusty worthy notably changed the dynamic once they return.
Today, Marvel is once again doing a storyline where Thor has become king and Odin is nowhere to be found. Yet, when the character inevitably returns, he will no doubt be reset into a kind of authority figure of sorts, if only as foil for the protagonist to overcome.