Thor: Ragnarok has rocked the world, but who were all those characters? Where were they exactly? And why did that guy do that thing in the end? All these answers and more as we dive into the secret comic book connections for Thor’s third film!
(Yeah, I haven’t done one of these in a while. I’ve been out of sorts. I’m working on getting back on track.)
This was a GREAT movie, with several things from the comics translated very clearly, though other things fell short of their comic inspirations. Before going any further, understand: This list is nothing but spoilers. If you haven’t watched the movie yet, DON’T READ THIS POST!
Let’s jump right into it, shall we? (Oh, and BONUS fan art at the end!)
SPOILERS and Comic Connections for Thor: Ragnarok
The film opens with Thor trapped in a cage, hanging in Muspelheim, the world of fire (which appeared briefly in Thor: The Dark World), at the seeming mercy of Surtur, the fire demon prophesied to bring about Ragnarok, the end of the gods. Like other aspects of Thor’s world, Surtur is from classic Norse mythology, and he’s been part of the Marvel Universe (MU) since the beginning, appearing way back in Journey Into Mystery #97 in 1963. He’s a fiery dude with massive horns and a hankering for destroying the universe. Unlike his movie counterpart, Surtur has never been one Thor could defeat easily or single-handedly.
Thor dangling in a flaming pit calls to mind one of the more embarrassing parts of Thor’s history – the extended period he spent as a bag in Hell, circa Thor #443. At that time he was a prisoner of Mephisto (essentially Marvel’s top Satan impersonator), while a human named Eric Masterson served the role of hammer-bearer.
Surtur keeps going on about the Eternal Flame and needing his crown to connect with it. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the Flame is in Odin’s vault, but in the MU it’s a massive pit and it is Surtur’s Twilight Sword, not crown, that must meet the fire to destroy the universe.
Thor battles a dragon-like creature in Muspelheim which looks an awful lot like a Hel-Wolf. During the brief time in which Loki was transformed into an innocent child (circa the 2011 version of Journey Into Mystery), the little lord of mischief had his own Hel-Wolf. In the traditional legends, the reptile Thor fights during Ragnarok is the Midgard Serpent, a giant snake (and one of Loki’s kids) that wraps around the entire Earth.
Can I just say it’s amazing that they used Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” as Thor’s fight song in this film? Not since Black Sabbath’s “I am Iron Man” has a song so perfectly matched a hero. The guys behind Led Zeppelin were big fans of Norse mythology and the Lord of the Rings, often making references to gods and monsters in their lyrics.
Back on Asgard, we learn that the god Skurge has taken over Heimdall’s duties guarding the Rainbow Bridge. While no adaptation is going to be completely faithful to the source material, this is a major deviation. In the comics, Skurge the Executioner was one of Thor’s oldest enemies, having first appeared in 1964’s Journey Into Mystery #103. He spent the next 20 years as a second-fiddle bad guy, always teaming up with a more ambitious foe, usually Thor mainstay villain the Enchantress. Half god and half Storm Giant, he’s always been depicted as being as powerful, if not more so, than Thor. Here, he’s a goofball who was proud of the guns from “Tex-Ass” (the first of many scatological jokes in this film). More on the guns and Skruge, later.
Once Thor returns to Asgard, it takes him all of two seconds to realize Loki has taken Odin’s place, though during the scene we get confirmation of one of the most celebrated (and silly) Thor stories: that time Loki turned Thor into a frog. Back in Thor #364-366, Loki tricked a woman into kissing Thor, which transformed him into an ordinary Central Park frog. He then adventured with the frogs, helping them wage war against New York’s rats, before painfully lifting Mjolnir (no mean feat for a frog) and transforming into a six-foot-six-inch Frog Thor! Eventually, the Odinson got his good looks back, and apparently Mjolnir took pity on one of the other frogs, leaving behind a sliver of itself to allow another frog to become Throg: Frog of Thunder!
Thor learns Loki hid Odin on Earth as an elderly human at the Shady Acres retirement home. Asgard has faced destruction several times in the comics, and most often, the gods find themselves reborn as “normal” humans on Earth. At least once, Odin became a homeless drunk before winding up as a doddering old fool with only some recollection of his true nature.
Thor makes a quick joke about Loki dressing like a witch, and Loki’s changing fashion choices have been part of his on-going development in the comics. Since the success of his MCU counterpart, the comic book Loki has been continually softening, with his look now being more in line with a brooding heartthrob than the conniving villain he used to be.
Thor then meets Doctor Strange, who uses his Slingring to toy with Loki. It’s funny, the cameo in Doctor Strange implied he’d have a big role in this movie, but the re-cut scene of the two heroes meeting meant the good doctor would only appear in one scene.
During this entire scene, Thor’s hammer Mjolnir is disguised as an umbrella. While Loki is the most celebrated shapeshifter from Asgard, all Asgardians are shapeshifters to some extent, though most often this means transforming weapons and clothing into more mundane objects. Traditionally, banging a transformed weapon against a hard surface will return it to its proper appearance, which Thor does with his umbrella in this film.
We learn Odin escaped Loki’s spell on his own, and wandered off to Norway to think. Aside from being the ancestral home of the Norse religion, Norway has always had a special connection to Thor. In his first (true) appearance in Journey Into Mystery #83, mild-mannered surgeon Donald Blake was visiting Norway on vacation when he discovered the cane that could transform into Mjolnir, enabling him to become Thor for the first time (that he was aware of). It was eventually revealed Blake was always Thor.
Odin claims he tried to stop Ragnarok, but failed. Of course, that is the whole reason he has one eye. While the MCU version implied Odin lost his eye in battle, in the legends (and the comics) Odin willingly sacrificed his eye to learn the future, and did everything he could to fend off the prophesied end times. There have been several near Ragnaroks in the comics, each time assuring readers that this time it’s the real Ragnarok. Discrepancies between Ragnaroks usually come down to Odin’s lies. One time Odin tried to replace Thor with a fake Thor. Another time we learned the “serpent” that Thor was supposed to fight wasn’t the Midgard Serpent, but Odin’s secret brother, also called The Serpent.
Speaking of Odin’s lies, Hela claims to be Odin’s first born daughter in the MCU. Interestingly, Odin has several children in both mythology and the comics, but none of them are Hela. Recently, however, they revealed that another of Odin’s lies covered his first born child, his daughter Angela. This secret was so big it even expanded the Asgardian cosmos, from Nine Worlds, to Ten. In official comic book canon, Angela is now Thor and Loki’s older sister.
So who is Hela’s dad? Loki, that’s who. There are a lot of weird stories about Loki and his family, and while a lot of them don’t make a lot of logical sense, most are considered canon. Loki’s children include Hela, the wolf Fenris, the Midgard Serpent, Odin’s eight-legged horse, and others.
How can Asgardians have children that are wolves and snakes and horses and whatnot? Sometimes, it’s better not to ask.
In the movie, Hela does a great job killing people with spikes, lots of random spikes, but in the comics she’s much more powerful. Hela, like any death god (and there are several), can kill other gods with a mere touch, making her difficult to fight in hand-to-hand combat.
In their initial confrontation, Hela destroys Mjolnir. Like Captain America’s unbreakable shield, Thor’s unbreakable hammer has been broken more than a few times. Usually this is a sign of the end times, as it was during the “Avengers Disassembled” storyline.
After the battle, Thor finds himself on the planet Sakaar, setting for the critically acclaimed “Planet Hulk” storyline. One there, Thor is captured by a fancy net. Before anyone cries foul, Thor was once handcuffed by “electronically treated” shackles that could restrain the God of Thunder, way back in Journey Into Mystery #87. Who would have thought that electricity could be Thor’s Kryptonite?
Then we have the mysterious “Scrapper 142” show up to place a control disk on Thor. In the original “Planet Hulk” story, the Red King used control disks to keep his slaves in line, so if they could hold the Hulk back, they could hold Thor.
The number 142 is a reference to the first Marvel Valkyrie, Samantha Parrington. She served as Valkyrie due to a mind-control spell in 1971’s Incredible Hulk #142, then resumed the role again in the early 2000s.
In the film, the world’s ruler is the Grandmaster, who claims that “on any other world I’d be, like, uh, millions of years old” when explaining Sakaar’s weird time scale (which doesn’t seem to come up more than once). In the comics, Grandmaster is a compatriot of the Collector (that guy with all the stuff in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie). Like the Collector, the Grandmaster is the last of his race, having been allowed by the cosmic entity Death (who is Hela’s boss, in a roundabout way) to live forever. Over billions of years, the Grandmaster has dedicated himself to perfecting games and competitions of all sorts.
Grandmaster explains that he founded the “Contest of Champions,” in which the greatest fighters in the universe duke it out. In the comics, the “Contest of Champions” was the first major company-wide event put out by a comic book publisher. The story, which featured the Grandmaster and Death herself betting on which heroes were the strongest, was not in itself amazing, but it started the ball rolling on major events. There have been several Contests since, most involving the Grandmaster in some way.
Movie Grandmaster has a servant named Topaz. Unrelated, but the most prominent “Topaz” in Marvel Comics is a witch who once served as Doctor Strange’s apprentice. And the name is where the similarities end. Marvel also has the rights to an alien warrior named Topaz who does wear the right color armor, but this isn’t the Topaz of the film either.
Grandmaster, who is amazing in this film by the way, jokes about the sound of the word “Asgard,” making another butt joke (but not the last). Interestingly enough, Marvel Comics actually went with that same joke in Young Avengers #6, when the teen hero Asgardian was encouraged to change his name.
Grandmaster also jokes about Thor’s powers, calling him “Sparkles.” Interestingly, “Sparky” was the nickname of replacement Thor Eric Masterson, and the name of his subconscious guide during a journey into his deep psyche (as heroes are wont to do).
On Sakaar we meet Korg and Miek, two of the gladiators from the “Planet Hulk” storyline. Thor immediately recognizes Korg as a Kronan, as well he should. In the comics, the rock-like Kronan aliens were the very first foes Thor fought in his very first appearance. In the films, Thor fought a Kronan in Thor: The Dark World. Interestingly, the comic book Kronans are some of the most durable races in the universe, with even an average Kronan being able to withstand blows from Thor or Hulk, but in the movies, they are some of the most brittle, with the warrior in Thor 2 falling apart after one Mjolnir hit, and Korg in this film literally crumbling on screen.
In the comics, Korg is a reserved and honorable warrior. It was he that tried to initiate a rebellion of gladiators against Sakaar’s tyrannical ruler, and following the take-over of the planet by Hulk, and Hulk’s subsequent war with Earth, Korg remained the most loyal of Hulk’s comrades. Clearly MCU Korg is also a freedom fighter, though much more mellow.
Miek, on the other hand, is the worst friend a person could have. Like Korg, he was a warrior on Sakaar, but unlike Korg, he was (mostly) useless in battle. At first, anyway. As Miek grew, so did his battle prowess and admiration for the Hulk, but when he realized the Hulk desired peace, Miek took it upon himself to give Hulk something to fight for. In doing so, he killed millions of Sakaar residents, including the Hulk’s wife (his second wife, for the record). The “World War Hulk” that was waged against Marvel heroes was inspired by Miek’s deception, so two planets suffered because of this bug. In the movie, of course, Miek is still pretty meek, and is unlikely to be much of a threat in the future.
On Asgard, Hela kills the Warriors Three (minus their unofficial fourth member, Sif), then uses the Eternal Flame to revive the dead, including her beloved dog, Fenris. In the comics, she can revive the dead on her own, and her favorite dog is Garm.
Fenris is important because, according to the Ragnarok legend, the giant wolf will fight the Asgardians and eat the sun and the moon, signaling the last gasp of the universe. In the comics, Fenris is, as stated, the son of Loki. He has shown up during various Ragnaroks to battle Thor, once even getting his own enchanted hammer.
It’s important to note that while in the vault, Hela confirms that many of the treasures, particularly the Infinity Gauntlet briefly seen in the first Thor movie, are fakes. Interestingly enough, the fake glove is right-handed, while the real Gauntlet (seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron) is a left-hand glove. Howard the Duck recently learned that tehre is a dexter companion to the sinister Gauntlet: The Abundant Glove! It has the ability to make someone marginally powerful.
Back on Sakaar, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo results in Thor getting a trim for his legendarily golden locks. In the comics, Thor has been without his hammer for a while now, and he cut his hair in Unworthy Thor #2.
Because Thor is forced to make do without his hammer, he takes a couple of nice swords and a very large mace into battle. This mace bears a striking resemblance to the adamantine mace used by Hercules, the Greek legend and Marvel hero. In one particularly fun story, Thor and Herc were forced to trade places, and while they kept their own weapons, the cudgels were mystically disguised so Herc could appear to use Mjolnir while Thor pretended to use the Golden Mace.
Now the main event: Hulk versus Thor! In the original “Planet Hulk” story, gladiator Hulk fought a mind-controlled Silver Surfer. In the cartoon version, Hulk fought Beta Ray Bill. In this version, gladiator Thor fights a complicit Hulk. Hulk and Thor have fought dozens of times over the years, with both generally agreed to be the “strongest” heroes on Earth. More on that in a second.
Oh, about Beta Ray Bill, he showed up in the film – did you see him? The horse-faced alien was one of the first in the comics to be named “Thor” other than Thor himself, as he was worthy of Mjolnir’s enchantment. When we see the skyscraper where Hulk lives on Sakaar, we see several statues depicting current and past heroes, including Hulk, and more interestingly, Beta Ray Bill! Maybe he’ll actually appear on film some day.
The tower also includes the faces of the Bi-Beast. This strange character is actually an Earthling, sort of. See, the ancient Kree aliens (from Guardians of the Galaxy) came to Earth tens of thousands of years ago and made the Inhumans (from Agents of SHIELD and, well, The Inhumans). Then several thousand years ago, a group of flying Inhumans decided to break away and make their own culture. They stabilized their genetic code so all future generations would have angel-like wings, and built themselves large servant robots with two heads, stacked vertically, for… uh… reasons. While the Bird People (yes, that’s what they called themselves) were believed dead for a few decades, one Bi-Beast android encountered the Hulk. Since then several Bi-Beasts have appeared over the years. Apparently, one fought on Sakaar.
Also clearly visible, the head of the Man-Thing. While many people consider the Man-Thing a rip off of DC’s Swamp Thing, old Manny actually appeared a few months before Swampy. Importantly, this isn’t the Man-Thing’s first reference in the MCU! He was officially name-dropped in Agents of SHIELD‘s season 1 episode “Nothing Personal,” where Maria Hill revealed SHIELD has long been aware of the creature, and the creature’s ex-wife was a villainous Extremis-infected terrorist in Iron Man 3. Okay, so how could this creature from the Florida swamps end up on Sakaar? Well, the mindless beast protects the “Nexus of All Realities” in that swamp, so it’s quite possible it fell into the portal and ended up on Sakaar for a time, as it is the dumping ground of the universe, according to this film.
Directly underneath Beta Ray is another head that is only glimpsed briefly: The Dark-Crawler (née Night-Crawler). The Dark-Crawler is a powerful being from the same dimension as Doctor Strange’s bad guy Dormammu. Although he also claimed to rule the Dark Dimension once, he’s no where near as powerful as the flame-headed despot. He has, however, battled Hulk from time to time.
Others claim the helmeted head of Ares also appears on the tower, and while it’s possible it could be the God of War, it could just as well be another Sakaar gladiator or even a Kree warrior.
Thor repeatedly tries to calm Hulk with the singsong phrase, “sun’s getting real low,” which is a reference to the nursery rhyme-like saying the Black Widow used to calm Hulk in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Somehow, Thor isn’t as calming as Black Widow.
During the battle Thor goes into a berserker rage, allowing him to match the Hulk punch-for-punch. In legends, Viking berserkers were unbeatable warriors, and in the comics, Thor’s unbridled rage unlocks new levels of potential strength. In one of his more uncontrolled moments, Thor’s warrior’s madness even made him a threat to Odin, who ordered his son’s death (until other heroes found a way to soothe him).
On Asgard, Hela officially makes Skurge her executioner, giving him anaxe like she used when she was Odin’s executioner. As stated previously, Skurge was always the Executioner. He was at his base, as powerful, if not more powerful than Thor (warrior madness aside), and his axe, the Bloodaxe, was as powerful as Mjolnir. Years of evil deeds committed by Skurge enchanted his axe so that even after he was gone, the axe held his power and the anger he harbored. The axe even caused the death of replacement Thor Eric Masterson, when the poor guy tried to control its power.
Following their battle, Hulk and Thor retire to private chambers (provided by the Grandmaster), and it is there Thor is forced to see the Hulk naked, very naked. As one would imagine, given the nature of Hulk’s transformations, he ends up naked a lot. Notably, during the much-maligned “Heroes Reborn” storyline, Hulk spent the entire year-long event fighting naked.
As an aside, it’s great that the Hulk actually talks in this film. Sure, he’s said a few words here and there, but the grunting Hulk of the movies wasn’t as fun as the talking Hulks of the comics.
The people of Sakaar throw a parade in Hulk’s honor, carrying around effigies of Hulk’s head as they celebrate. In one of the early Hulk vs. Thor bouts, Journey Into Mystery #112, the people of New York carried around similar Hulk faces (and Thor faces), which served as the impetus for Thor fighting Hulk. Thor just wanted to know who would win as much as the fans did.
On a SHIELD Quinjet, Stark’s computer recognizes Thor as “Point Break” while Banner is “strongest avenger.” This is, of course, a reference to Stark’s playful nickname in the first Avengers movie (according to Spider-Man: Homecoming, that was eight years ago), which was itself a reference to a very ‘90s movie with long-haired surfer types.
Who is the strongest Avenger? The short answer: Hulk. Long answer: The Incredible Hulk. See, both Thor and Hulk can lift, potentially, billions of tons, but Thor isn’t the strongest god (Executioner knocked him out once in one punch), and the Hulk, well the Hulk grows in strength as he grows madder – the Hulk has no upper limit to his strength. (Take that, Film Theorists!)
After reverting to Bruce Banner, the puny human realizes he’s been trapped as Hulk for two years. This is a constant fear for the comic book Banner. Hulk did control the body almost non-stop for most of the 80s and early 90s, though Banner had some subtle influence there. In the film, Banner says, “He had the keys to the car, and I was locked in the trunk.” Purposeful or not, that same imagery has been used in the current comics to show how Amadeus Cho (the Totally Awesome Hulk) keeps the Hulk inside his brain from taking over. It’s all metaphorical. Oh, and Banner claims to have seven PhDs. In the comics he has at least three, with one being in nuclear physics.
Meanwhile the mysterious “412” is revealed as a member of the Valkyrie, the shieldmaidens who ride winged horses and caring Viking dead to the afterlife. In the MCU, it seems Valkyrie have become long lost legends, all believed dead (though Thor wanted to be one when he grew up), but in the comics, they are mostly still around. Officially there are only nine Valkyrie at any given time, and the most prominent member is Brunnhilde, who dresses like the swimsuit portion of an Italian opera and has been a member of the Avengers, Defenders, and various other Marvel superteams.
Valkyrie carries the legendary Dragonfang sword, an enchanted blade. In the comics, it was given to Brunnhilde by Doctor Strange, who had received it from the Ancient One, who got it from another ancient wizard. A lot of magic here, is what I’m saying.
In the film, it is vaguely suggested that Valkyrie is bisexual, and for once, the comics aren’t going to be any clearer. After a will-they-or-won’t-they flirtation between Valkyrie and a human woman, actual confirmation never came from Val, who then went on to date Flash Thompson (yeah, that DJ kid from Spider-Man: Homecoming).
Val suggests the group escape and go to Xandar. If you don’t know what the planet Xandar is, go watch Guardians of the Galaxy again.
Thor suggests forming a team to save Asgard, and even as Val recruit Korg, Miek and others. His team name? The Revengers! Okay, it’s a silly name, and it despite the obviousness of the pun, it has only rarely been used to describe anti-Avengers teams in the comics. Most prominently, a team made up of former Avengers and Avenger allies called themselves the Revengers while trying to get the real team to cease operations for the public good.
Considering Hulk, Miek, and Korg are members, and considering their whole purpose is to go to war, it’s surprising they didn’t use the name of Hulk’s team: The Warbound.
As they escape Sakaar, Thor talks about how much he believes in change, and how he knows Loki will never change, as he’ll always be the God of Mischief. Interestingly, this is the opposite of what has happened in the comics in recent years. Over the past decade or so, Thor has become increasingly entrenched in the old ways, while Loki has been trying to modernize. He said he was tired of always being the “bad guy” and while he’d previously been the “God of Mischief,” then “God of Lies,” and finally “God of Evil,” he wanted to re-write his destiny. He has rechristened himself the “God of Stories.” Stories can be true or lies and good or bad, but there is great power in stories.
With the heroes united, they return to Asgard for the big fight with Hela to stop Ragnarok. In the comics, one of the most prominent Raganrok stories was the “Surtur Saga” which ran from Thor #340-353, ending with Thor and Loki fighting alongside their dad, and Odin apparently dying to save the day.
In the fight, Hela destroys one of Thor’s eyes, causing her to remark on his resemblance to their father. In the comics, Thor is often shown with one eye in various alternate futures. One featured King Thor taking over Earth and regretting it afterwards, and another featured King Loki destroying Earth and regretting it afterwards. It’s not always good to be the king.
During the fight, Hulk takes on Fenris, not Garm as he did in the comics. It’s a good fight though. Meanwhile, Valkyrie and Heimdall do their part to take the hordes of the dead so “common” Asgardians can flee. Please note, even a common Asgardian is more powerful than Spider-Man, just for future reference.
And here we get to one failing of this otherwise great film: The death of Skurge. As mentioned, Skurge was a powerful but minor enemy for 20 years in Marvel Comics, and in that time he’d gone from annoyance, to threat, to pitiable outcast. Following Odin’s apparent death fighting Surtur, Thor was left to lead his people against Hela and her army of the undead in what was a seemingly unwinnable war. In a crucial battle, someone would have to hold the dead off at the bridge of Gjallerbru, and Thor volunteered, knowing it was a suicide mission. Skurge knocked Thor out (with one punch) and took his place. While all Asgardians knew him as a god of fallen honor, they accepted his sacrifice. Using machine guns from Earth, he fought alone to the bitter end. Rather than showing his death, the comic panels slowly faded to white. It was a good death. And unlike other comic book deaths, it has not been undone in the decades since. Skurge’s heel-face turn and death do not carry that kind of impact, partially because audiences only got to know him for one movie (imagine if he’d been Loki’s henchman for the past two films), and partially because it didn’t seem like he had to die in that scene. Any of the heroes could have helped the Asgardians escape.
In the end, Loki helps cause Ragnarok (as he does in most versions) allowing Surtur to destroy Asgard and take Hela with it. In the comics, Asgard has been destroyed numerous times over the centuries, each time beginning the “cycle” anew. Presumably, Asgard will be reborn in some fashion in the films.
The post credits scene features a giant ship approaching the Asgardian refugees. Presumably, this is Thanos looking for the Tesseract which Loki no doubt took from Odin’s vault. In the comics, the battles of Infinity Gauntlet were preceded by the mini-series Thanos Quest, which featured Thanos travelling the universe to steal, take, and bargain to collect all of the Infinity stones.
In the credits, aside from animators and other special effects artists, there are people specifically designated as “lightning artists.” Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to put on your resume?
Bonus Fan Art: