Bow down before us, for we are Pop Modern, and we have brought this world’s reckoning! Your doom has come in the form of this week’s Three By Three, a list, etched in stone (and then typed, of course, we do all our drafts on granite slabs) and brought down from the mount to list for you the greatest fictional deities to grace the pop cultural landscape. So kneel, mortals, kneel and pray that this article drops the whole religious zealot thing, since it’s really not working for anybody.
Russell Hammond from Almost Famous: I’ll take any opportunity to talk about Almost Famous, even if it means stretching the definition of a deity. True, Crudup’s run-down rocker character only refers to himself as a golden god in one scene, but he gives off the aura of a man who sees beyond his peers. This is especially true because of how he addresses the protagonist, William Miller. Talking down to him just because he’s young and part of the “evil press monster” that constantly hound rockstars and their ilk, Hammond’s initial buffer zone of anger and pretentiousness quickly comes down as he gets to know William, and the true musician inside is laid to bare.
Raiden from the Mortal Kombat series: My favorite thing about Raiden isn’t his crazy lightning eyes, or his razor-sharp hat, or his awesome fatalities. No, it’s his willingness to stoop down to the very battlefield from which souls are offered to him, and duke it out as a mortal with the rest of the fighters, that makes him such a great god. Without reading up on his backstory or playing through the single player modes, one could go their entire life without realizing that they’ve been playing as a god among men (and women!). Raiden’s the whole package; chaotically good, magically-endowed, humble, and his ability to make limbs fly apart with lightning from his fingers makes him a huge hit with the ladies.
R’hllor from A Song of Ice and Fire: Now here’s a fictional deity that is properly worshipped and sacrificed to. Something about the blind obedience characters like Melisandre have to this mysterious lord is fascinating, like how listening to a friend talk about their Canadian girlfriend is really silly until she shows up and is super hot. While the endless conflict between R’hllor and his counterpart god of darkness are referenced frequently in the first few books, it isn’t until readers learn just what his powers can do that he truly becomes a threat. Without going into too many spoilers, worshiping the Lord of Light (who I’ll now call “R Dawg”) can allow people to cheat the rules of the real world. But it’s all handled with such a deft touch that marks the entire series, and it goes a long way to making readers feel like the actions taken by his sworn followers are justified. And seeing characters like Thoros of Myr change their entire lifestyle to better serve his holy hotness is both terrifying and incredible.
Arceus from the Pokémon series: For those of you who don’t have a degree in fictional theology, Arceus is the creator of the Pokémon universe. He manipulated the cosmos to give rise to life, starting with the gods of time, space, knowledge, emotion, and willpower. Having finished his work, he went into a deep sleep to last forever. Until you capture him of course. True to the Pokémon spirit, Arceus, who is technically a Pokémon, can be captured in a Pokéball and subjugated to your will, as you battle other people who don’t have gods on their side.
Anoia from the Discworld series: In the Discworld series, gods are a product of beliefs. When people truly believe in a god, a god will appear, and the more people who believe, the stronger the god is. Anoia used to be one of the many gods of volcanoes, but after a publicized incident, she became the Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers, and offerings to her can unstick even the most unholy of drawers.
Sheogorath from the Elder Scrolls series: Sheogorath is the Daedric Lord of madness. An older man with a grey goatee, he is prone to mania and dementia, teetering between psychopathic rage, and inane ramblings. The most mercurial of the Daedric lords, Sheogorath is also the Daedric Lord of order Jyggalag. His witty banter and randomness makes him an intentionally hilarious character, with a thick Gaelic accent to add a sense of charm.
Galactus from the Marvel Universe: Now, if you want to pull hairs, Galactus is more of an incredibly powerful alien than a deity, but anybody who devours worlds for a living deserves to be on this list. I’m not saying that I particularly like Galactus stories, or the ones where he comes to Earth anyway. In fact, I think it’s lazy and convenient to say “Uh-oh, it’s that planet-eating guy that’s gonna eat our planet!” and have that be the driving force of the story. What I do like about him, though, is that he represents the crazier, outer-space side of Marvel continuity, which is equal parts weird and awesome. Also, Galactus is easily the purplest, best-dressed deity out there.
Cthulhu from The Call of Cthulhu: This monstrous poster boy of Lovecraftian horror has inspired countless stories and games, and for good reason. Sure, it may seem like Cthulhu is up there with Galactus in the category of world-eating plot devices, but whereas Galactus plots often end with heroes triumphing over insurmountable odds, Cthulhu plots usually end with someone being driven mad by the thought of their insignificance and imminent death. Cthulhu is a world-destroying badass, and in stories like The Call of Cthulhu, readers see what it would actually be like to have one of those poised to devour everything.
The Robot Devil from Futurama: A lighter choice, but still just as terrifying and evil. Futurama deserves recognition for the way it handles the Christian faith: God is some kind of space computer and the Devil is a wacky robot voiced by Hank Azaria. The Robot Devil is one of the more hilarious Futurama side characters, and he’s been heavily featured in some of the best episodes of the series, like “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings,” where Fry and the Robot Devil trade hands and hilarity ensues.
Is our ramshackle pantheon unfit for your worship? Irreverent rage slowly bubbling in your guts? Insane with frustration that your chosen deity has not received its due? Instead of seething and conducting secret rituals in your underground shrine, insert yourself into the comments section. Inspire us all with the benedictions of your favorite fictional deity.