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Marvel’s update on the cast of Thor: Ragnarok didn’t just add Karl Urban and Jeff Goldblum to the lineup of onscreen talent; it also identified the characters who’ll be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the third solo outing for Chris Hemsworth’s Thunder God.
While names like “Hela” and “Valkyrie” are self-evident enough to provide those without a comic book background some understanding of what they’re going to get up to when the movie hits theaters Nov. 3, 2017, “Skurge” and “the Grandmaster” might seem a little more opaque. For those who don’t have the time to read through five decades’ worth of comic book takes on Norse mythology, here is a potted version of what you need to know about the newcomers to Asgard.
The Asgardian Goddess of Death, Hela rules over the dual realms of Niflheim (one of the Nine Worlds of Marvel’s Asgardian mythology) and Hel — one “L,” to differentiate it from the Christian realm of hell, which also exists as a separate location in Marvel comic book theology. Her first appearance, in Journey Into Mystery No. 102 (1964) established her as the ruler over the spirits of fallen Asgardian warriors, but one who repeatedly sets her sights on expanding her territory into lands filled with the living as well.
A constant thorn in Thor’s side, it should be noted that her role as such is really just keeping up the family business; in comic book continuity, Hela is actually the daughter of Loki.
The comic book history of the heroine known as Valkyrie is surprisingly complicated. The character first appeared as a disguise created by villain the Enchantress as a ruse to incite gender-based rebellion in The Avengers No. 83 (1970; the cover, hilariously, sees the faux heroine yelling, “All right, girls — that finishes off these male chauvinist pigs!“) but a year later, a “real” Valkyrie was created in The Incredible Hulk No. 142 when a regular woman becomes host the the spirit of slain Asgardian warrior Brunnhilde. Two years later, Brunnhilde would become a member of the Defenders in the fourth issue of that series, thanks to her possession of an entirely different woman, and it was this version that lasted all the way until the cancellation of The Defenders series in 1986 — a cancellation which included Brunnhilde’s second death.
She returned (possessing a third woman) a couple of years later, before returning to the first woman she’d possessed for a 2001 Defenders revival — except that version of the character also died. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Brunnhilde returned yet again, first as a member of the Secret Avengers superhero team, and then leading a new generation of the Defenders made up of mortal women acting as a de facto Earth-bound group of valkyrie warriors.
Originally known as “Skurge the Executioner,” the Asgardian villain debuted in 1964’s Jouney Into Mystery No. 104 as a particularly violent sidekick to the Enchantress, whom he was bewitched by. He remained a bad guy for two decades, not only threatening Thor on numerous occasions, but also the Fantastic Four, Hulk and Doctor Strange at various points in his antagonistic career — but he remained more interested in the thrill of the fight than spreading ill will.
Dumped by the Enchantress, he eventually found redemption when accompanying Thor and a band of Asgardians on a journey into Hel to rescue souls of living humans unfairly held in the realm; although the mission was successful, Skurge sacrificed his life to ensure that Thor and the humans could escape. Later, Hela released Skurge’s soul to ascend into Valhalla in recognition of his late heroism.
The strongest sign yet that Thor: Ragnarok will lead into 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War comics with the addition of the Grandmaster — a cosmic being who, like the Collector in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, is one of the Elders of the Universe. Like the Collector, he also has an interest in collecting the Infinity Gems that Thanos himself has spent some movies chasing after, which may perhaps point to a potential plot thread for Ragnarok.
As his name suggests, the Grandmaster has a fascination with games, and tends to find himself making large-scale wagers on outcomes of clashes between good and evil with other massively powerful entities — his first appearance came in 1969’s Avengers No. 69, when he challenged the time-traveling Kang to beat him at a game of chess with living pieces, with the fate of Kang’s lover at stake. Think of him as a gambling addict with supreme power, with all the dangers that implies.
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