We’re just a hammer’s toss away from the God of Thunder’s third solo Marvel Studios outing with Thor: Ragnarok, a heavy-metal smack-down across the cosmos that looks more than worthy of the mighty Avenger’s cinematic legacy. This one’s got it all, folks: intergalactic warfare, the Hulk, and Jeff Goldblum playing the Grandmaster… resplendent in baby blue eye shadow. With so much Marvel Universe glory assaulting your minds in such little time, it only seemed right that we prepared you with this Thor: Ragnarok-inspired reading list.
Let’s get this one out of the way. Anyone who knows the difference between Beta Ray Bill and Thunderstrike also knows that Thor: Ragnarok is drawing a lot of inspiration from this classic Hulk odyssey written by Greg Pak. The story goes like this: After an inner cabal of the Marvel Universe’s smartest leaders decided that the Hulk was too dangerous to stay on Earth, they drugged up Bruce Banner and blasted him into deep space (as good colleagues do). The Hulk survives however, and lands on a warrior planet where only the strongest survive. And—lucky for him—Hulk is the strongest there is. The Jade Giant then enters a series of gladiatorial battles that win him power and influence over the barbarian planet, while also searching for a way back home. It’s always a joy to see Hulk cut loose and gleefully smash something other than his personal demons, and this storyline delivers that in spades. There’s plenty of political intrigue to boot, which puts some meat on the extended (but totally awesome) battle scenes. Going off of the Ragnarok trailer, it looks like Thor and Hulk will wind up in a nearly identical planet and scenario, and thus be given a license to beat some bad guys into an interplanetary pulp. In short, this movie is going to get loud.
While Thor’s first two cinematic adventures have been rather terrestrial, Ragnarok is going full-out cosmic. Think countless new planets, species, and sci-fi concepts that you could never find on Earth. When it comes to Thor…in spaaaaaaaccceee, there’s no better run than legendary writer/artist Walter Simonson’s. With a tenure spanning four years, Simonson is considered one of the most influential Thor creators of all time. His tales are visionary in scope, crackle with kinetic energy, and are bursting with new concepts and additions to the Thor mythos. This is where we see Thor become a truly intergalactic hero by traveling to several different star systems, and doing battle with imaginative new characters that would eventually become Thor mainstays. If you want to see a swashbuckling Thor engaging a host of eye-popping scenarios and characters, then look no further than this masterful run. When it comes to aesthetics, it looks like this body of work will have a major influence over Ragnarok.
With the arrival of Hela, Goddess of Death, as the main villain in Ragnarok, Thor will encounter one of his greatest, most challenging battles yet. A similarly difficult clash of the gods takes place in writer Jason Aaron and artist Esad Ribic’s opening arc to Thor: God of Thunder, the best Thor series of the decade. The son of Odin might be hot-headed god who loves avenging planets and drinking mead, but Aaron and Ribic show that even the wielder of Mjölnir has something to fear. In the story, an unknown force simply known as Gorr, the God Butcher is slaughtering gods throughout the galaxy (just in case the name didn’t make that clear), and Thor—the crème de la crème of divine beings—is next on his list. We soon see Thor in a position we rarely see him in; that of the hunted. Can Thor out-smite a being that’s five steps ahead of him in every way? The answer isn’t as simple as you’d think. Plus, Aaron expands the Thor mythology here by jumping throughout time to show us a young Thor before he was the God of Thunder, and Old Man Thor as the king of a post-apocalyptic Asgard (which is as hard-core as it sounds). They’re wonderful addition’s to Thor’s cast, and show the just how much this character can evolve. The God Butcher is an operatic force that truly captures the scale of Thor and his importance to the universe, and it’s made even more epic thanks to Esad Ribic’s life-like paintings, which look like they were ripped right off the Sistine Chapel.
And if you really like this story, you’re in luck. Jason Aaron’s Thor run continues to this very day, providing five years worth of quality Thor stories to dig into.
If you’ve ever wondered whether Thor had an equivalent to Batman: The Animated Series, then consider this collection your answer. Written by Roger Langridge and gorgeously illustrated by Chris Samnee (who’s now one of the most sought-after artists in the industry), this all-ages series distills everything great about Marvel’s Asgardian Avenger and presents a timeless, continuity-free series of adventures that are downright fun. There’s a little bit of everything in this one: cosmic escapades, Thor’s fellow Asgardians, a little romance with Jane Foster, team-ups with some of Earth’s other mightiest heroes, and lots of hammer smashin. This is an all-ages collection in every sense of the word. The stories don’t sacrifice complexity or depth in order to appeal to younger readers, but instead provide universally enjoyable tales with something for every generation to appreciate. While this series doesn’t seem to have any overt or thematic connections to Ragnaork, it earns a place on this list for being an evergreen series that the whole family can enjoy long after Ragnarok ends.