The 9 Best Comics That Inspired Thor: Ragnarok
How many have you read?
Thor: Ragnarok is an explosion. It's a neon-smeared, over the top, bombastic fireworks show of retro sensibilities and camp--but we've known that since the trailers and posters started to drop. What's surprising is how well Ragnarok manages to reconfigure, repurpose, and remix its comic book source material into something seamless and new.
From Kirby to Simonson, from Silver Age camp to Modern Age grit, Thor: Ragnarok speaks "comics" fluently. So with that in mind, it's time to break down the hows, whys, and whats of Thor: Ragnarok's biggest comic book shout-outs, references, and re-imaginings.
Angela, Queen of Hel
The remixing of Hela's backstory for Thor: Ragnarok put her less on track with her classic comic book counterpart and more in line with a more recent addition to the Marvel Universe. Aldrif Odinsdottir, or Angela, is a recently revealed secret daughter of Odin and Frigga who was stolen away from Asgard as a child during a cosmic war. The MCU Hela cuts whole swaths from Angela's history, folding them and repurposing them and configuring them in new ways to reimagine Hela as the long lost sister of Thor, bent on revenge for the slights of their father.
The demonic Surtur is maybe the most faithful comic adaptation Thor: Ragnarok has to offer, besides some slight shifts in context (a very specific vendetta against Odin and Asgard for one). However, his role in the movie is lifted nearly beat-for-beat from the final arc of Thor volume 2, where Thor allows Surtur to invade and destroy Asgard to break the cycle of death and rebirth the Asgardian gods have found themselves locked in.
It's an emotional moment--both in the comic and the film--where Thor must come to terms with the fact that the destruction of his home realm is the only real way to save it. The film, however, doesn't broach topics like the fates or reincarnation.
Thor volume 1, #362
The spirit of Walt Simonson's iconic five year run on the Thor ongoing (that's roughly Thor vol. 1 #337-382, for those of you playing along at home) runs through all of Thor: Ragnarok, hopscotching around between the Kirby visuals and the modern narrative patchwork like an electric current.
But perhaps the most direct Simonson quotation can be found in Karl Urban's Skurge the Executioner, a dimwitted and unwitting henchmen of Hela with a love for Midgardian weapons. Cinematic Skurge has less breathing room than his four-color double, but his heroic last stand is a shot-for-shot nod to Simonson's work on the character.
"He stood alone at Gjallerbru, and that is answer enough."
Thor volume 1, #382
It's difficult for a film to quote a fight scene from a comic book wholesale, so it wouldn't be totally incorrect to cast a wide net over all of Simonson's Thor when looking for the inspiration feeding Thor and Hela's battles on screen.
However, you'd be hard pressed to find a single issue more exemplary of the energy and dynamism shown between the warring gods than the "giant sized 300th issue" of Thor volume 1, or Walt Simonson's Thor #382.
Everything from the stakes to the family drama--though in a decidedly different context onscreen versus on the page--can be found here as the god of thunder clashes with death herself.
Thor: God of Thunder
While the most obvious references in Thor: Ragnarok come from the classics of the '60s and '70s, director Taika Waititi clearly spent some time borrowing from the more recent entries into Thor's continuity as well.
The references made to 2012's ongoing Thor: God of Thunder are mostly visual--and can specifically be seen at the start of the film, when Thor is encountering Surtur for the first time, hanging over the ground, bound by thick iron chains.
Marvel's Planet Hulk event is one of the single most readily apparent sources for Thor: Ragnarok's inspiration, and something the movie has been decidedly upfront about since the earliest days of its marketing campaign.
From the planet Sakaar, to the lovable CGI side characters Korg and Miek, Ragnarok cuts-and-pastes whole elements of Planet Hulk into its narrative, though it's far from a shot-for-shot recreation. In fact, even the most faithfully replicated moments are still remixed pretty heavily. But, hey, Sakaar's "Great Portal" vortex gets a specific shout out (and a new name), so there's that.
Marvel Super Heroes: Contest of Champions
Thor: Ragnarok replaced Planet Hulk's Red King--Sakaar's dictator and the keeper of the gladiatorial ring prior to Hulk's arrival--with the eccentric but not-all-that-threatening Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) following a precedent set by a slightly obscure limited series from the '80s called Marvel Super Heroes: Contest of Champions. In it, the Grandmaster acts as the "master of games," pitting heroes against one another in brutal arena matches to the death.
It's also probably worth noting that the Grandmaster is commonly accepted to be the brother of the Collector, played in the MCU by Benicio del Toro, so it's not hard to figure out another possible reason this change would have been made.
Journey into Mystery volume 1, #112
Jack Kirby's influence is one of the most obvious and remarkable things about Thor: Ragnarok, but his visual aesthetic isn't the only thing the movie lifted from the King. The first ever proper Thor vs. Hulk grudge match happened in Journey into Mystery #112, back in 1965, though the seeds of this rivalry had actually been planted as early as Avengers #3, just a handful of years prior.
This fight would blaze a trail that would lead to decades of sometimes playful, sometimes bloody punchouts between the gamma monster and thunder god. From animated films to modern Avengers ongoing runs, the idea that Hulk and Thor might be a little threatened by one another's strength has become a tradition for Marvel Comics.
"Strongest Avenger" indeed.
Thor volume 1, #352
While Thor: Ragnarok's Surtur owes more to the 80s incarnation of the character, the movie still found ways to pepper homages back to Simonson's iconic Surtur Saga here and there. One of the fire demon's biggest motivators--and the source of his power in the movie--is the sacred flame, kept locked away in Odin's vault on Asgard.
In Simonson's version of the character, the Sacred Flame powers Surtur's sword, lighting it with the ability to "fling fire" across the nine realms. It may not be the crown and sudden, enlarging effect we see in the movie--cinematic Surtur doesn't get to use a sword, for one--but the nod is definitely there.