Thor: Ragnarok is really good — and it’s also one of the wildest and craziest installments of Marvel’s cosmic cinematic universe yet. And that’s the perfect combination for recommending some comic books that will help make sense of a weirdly space-themed Norse epic and the Hulk in gladiator armor.
Here are two meaty comic book recommendations to check out before you see Thor: Ragnarok, or even after, if you just couldn’t get enough. Update: And thanks to an Amazon sale, one is now discounted.
Greg Pak wrote this 2006 story arc in The Incredible Hulk, which rockets Hulk into the middle of an alien planet’s political quagmire. Having grown tired of cleaning up Bruce Banner’s messes on Earth, several of the Marvel Universe’s biggest geniuses and scientists put him on a rocket ship and tried to send him to a planet without intelligent life. Unfortunately, his ship was knocked off course and he landed in the middle of a late-Rome-style space-dictatorship, complete with bread and circuses.
Hulk’s journey from lowly gladiator to king of the planet Sakaar — which undoubtedly inspired both the arena motif of Thor: Ragnarok as well as Hulk’s expanded vocabulary for the movie — takes place over fifteen issues. You can pick it up in collected format at Comixology.
Walt Simonson’s Thor
Talk to any Thor fan, and they’ll tell you that Walt Simonson’s run on the character defined him and Asgard for an era. And it takes no time in kicking off the action: Simonson opened his very first issue with a mysterious villain taking a “molten ingot of star-stuff” left behind from an exploding galaxy and slamming it down onto a massive forge anvil to a sound that “reverberates throughout a billion billion worlds.” DOOM!
What that villain was actually doing took an ominous backseat to the main plot of the comic, which involved Thor losing his hammer, getting it back, and making a new alien friend in the process. Simonson’s “Surtur Saga” was a massive story that involved every hero in Asgard (and even a few of its villains) banding together to prevent Ragnarok, the final destruction of the Nine Realms. That mysterious villain, Surtur, has even quietly appeared in some of the trailers for Thor: Ragnarok — it’s possible that he’s the big bad monster everyone will be punching at the end of the movie, not Hela.
“The Surtur Saga” begins in earnest in Thor #340 (1983) and concludes in Thor #353 (1985), but if you really want to know what’s up with the orange, horse-faced, noble warrior who dresses like Thor and goes by the creative name of “Beta Ray Bill,” you’re going to want to start three issues earlier at the very beginning of Simonson’s arc, Thor #337. You can grab the start of his run in collected form on Comixology for issues #337-345, and for the rest of the Saga, grab #346-353 individually.