What on Infinite Earths is: Thor Ragnarok?
Thor has always been a bit of an odd one out in the world of Marvel’s comics. While all the rest of the characters that make up the setting slot together relatively well, his brand of heroic fantasy combined with pagan mythology only mesh in the sense that he is on the side of “good” rather than “evil.” Anyone with an even passing familiarity with Norse mythology probably starts pulling their hair out about three pages into any comic centred on Thor, and that good and evil dichotomy is at least part of the issue. For a very long time, Thor has struggled to fit in with Marvel’s plans, so in preparation for their new run of big events it was decided that it would be easier for him to go off and have his own adventures for a while, as he was wont to. Roaming around idyllic fantasy kingdoms and whacking goblins rather than smashing up New York and pointing out the stupidity of the conflicts that the writers were manufacturing for their main cast.
In the cinematic universe, this problem has been mostly averted simply by treating Thor and his family as an alien race of immense power and sticking to the science fictional roots of that setting. Something that they seem to be continuing into their latest venture “Thor: Ragnarok.” In the interests of full disclosure, the new film seems to bear only a very tenuous connection to the comic miniseries of the same name, drawing more heavily on the intergalactic Planet Hulk and Guardians of the Galaxy to create something more akin to Flash Gordon than the Norse Eddas.
While he has popped back up now, because expecting death to be permanent for a Marvel character is like expecting the sun not to rise, the comics of Thor: Ragnarok provided a fitting end for both Thor himself and his entire supporting cast of characters. That whole section of the Marvel cosmos was blinked out of existence at the end of the comic, giving the writers elsewhere some peace and quiet without having to work out how trolls and elves fit into things.
What is fascinating about Ragnarok is that by the end, it has transformed from the usual cartoonish antics into something much more closely resembling the mythology that it sprung from. Over the course of the story Thor ascends to actual godhood, rather than just flinging around the powers that he was born with and punching anything that disagreed until it vanished. He earns the power and the wisdom to wield it through loss and arduous sacrifice and the man he is by the end of the story would be completely unfamiliar to the regular reader. The story revolves around the long-foretold death of the gods, but rather than it being a final reckoning the Ragnarok of Marvel comics is cyclical. Repeating over and over through the ages for the amusement and nourishment of “those above,” gods to the gods and a clear stand in for the audience of a never-ending cycle of violence and drama like a never-ending serial run of a comic book.
While the movie looks like it may be a lot of fun, this miniseries was one of the few times that the Thor comics tapped into both the metanarrative surrounding comics and the mythology that they were originally drawn from in a meaningful way and even if you couldn’t give a Mjolnir about Thor normally, they are probably worth a read.