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Ragnarök: the Myth, the Comics, and the Big Screen

Can you hear that? That’s the sound of my heart shattering over Captain America: Civil War. I can’t be the only one, right? Right? Not to be too much of a spoiler, but I was this close to strangling the red, white, and blue bastard when he struck his shield into the suit’s arc reactor…

Deep breaths, deep breaths.

But all that #TeamIronman patriotism aside, we could not help but notice the absence of a very important individual from the two fractured sides of the Avenger – the thunder god with the most glorious long, blonde hair – Thor, who is, apparently, busy with a war of his own.

Yes, we are here to talk about Ragnarök.

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Historical Facts

The Old Norse compound Ragnarök has a long history of interpretation. Its first element, Ragna, is unproblematic, for it is but the genitive plural of “regin”, or “the ruling powers, gods.” The second element is more difficult, as it occurs in two variants, -rök and -røkkr. And rök has several meanings, like origin, or fate. Thus, we may find that Zoega’s Old Icelandic Dictionary glossing Ragnarök as the “final destiny of the gods, (Simek, 2007)” or the “twilight of the gods” (1910).

In the Poetic Edda, references to Ragnarök begin from stanza 40 to 58, with the rest of the poem describing the aftermath. In the poem, a völva (seer) recites information to Odin. In stanza 41, the völva says:

It sates itself on the life-blood of fated men,
And paints red the powers’ homes with crimson gore.
Black become the sun’s beams in the summers that follow,
Weather’s all treacherous.
Do you still seek to know? And what?
Brothers will kill each other,
And sisters’ children will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world, whoredom rife
—an axe age, a sword age
—shields are riven
—a wind age, a wolf age—
Before the world goes headlong.
No man will have mercy on another. (Dronke 1997)

Heimdall then raises the Gjallarhorn into the air and blows deeply into it to sound the alarm, and the world tree Yggdrasil shudders and groans. The jötunn Hrym comes from the east, raising his shield in battle. The world serpent Jörmungandr becomes active once more, leaving Midgard, our earth, completely submerged in water. “The eagle shrieks, pale-beaked he tears the corpse,” and the ship Naglfar breaks free thanks to the increased waves, and sails from the east. After that, the fiery realm of Muspelheim also joined the mix. (Larrington 1999)

The gods then do battle with the invaders: Odin is swallowed whole during his fight with the wolf Fenrir, causing his wife Frigg her Second Great Sorrow, with the first being the death of her son Baldur (Larrington 1999). Odin’s son Víðarr (?) avenges his father by rending Fenrir’s jaws apart and stabbing it through the heart with his spear, finally killing it. The serpent Jörmungandr opens its gaping maw, yawning widely in the air, and is met in combat by Thor. Thor, described here as protector of the earth, furiously fights the serpent, defeating it, but he is only able to take nine steps afterward before collapsing and drawing his last breath. The god Freyr tries to fight Surtr and loses (Bellows 2004). The völva sees the earth reappearing from the water, and an eagle over a waterfall hunting fish on a mountain. The surviving Æsir meet together at the field of Iðavöllr. They discuss Jörmungandr, great events of the past, and the runic alphabet. In stanza 61, in the grass, they find the golden game pieces that the gods once played with before. The reemerged fields grow without needing to be sown. The gods Höðr and Baldur return from Hel, and everyone lived happily ever after (Larrington 1999).

The Comics (Earth 616)

“The madness is thinking that that any real Thor would suffer you to live. There is no madness, there is only justice. I am Ragnarök.” – Ragnarök

Poor Volstagg, must have been hard to be stuck in a mortal prison in Broxton for weeks, only to come out and find his worst enemy, wearing the face of his best friend and his king.

This mess all started during the first days of the Avengers, when Iron man found a strand of hair that had fallen off of Thor‘s head, and decided to keep it for later use (Civil War #4). When Nitro’s explosive powers killed most of his fellow “New Warriors” as well as a number of children at a nearby school. As a result, the government proposed the Superhuman Registration Act, so that the enhanced individuals may be held accountable for their destructive actions, just like the Sokovia Accords we saw in Civil War. When the Act was passed, Tony knew that they would need some serious strength on their side, so he, along with Mr. Fantastic and Henry Pym (a Skrull impostor named Criti Noll), created a clone of Thor, also known as “Clor” or Ragnarök.

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The Pro-Registration side eventually set a trap for the Anti-Registration group (the Secret Avengers), and when they attempted to escape, Ragnarök used his mechanical hammer to blast a hole through Goliath’s chest, killing the latter instantly. During the final battle of the Civil War, Thor joined Captain Marvel in the battle (Civil War #7), but was shut off by Hercules.

Under repair at Camp Hammond, the clone was reactivated by a safety measure installed by Criti Noll (Avengers: The Initiative #20). Thinking he was Thor, the clone retook his hammer, and went on a rampage, easily dispatching the Initiative and the New Warriors, who rushed to stop his violent march of destruction (Avengers: The Initiative #21). Baron Von Blitzschlag, in his second encounter with Ragnarök, confronted him, and stated that while he could easily kill everyone here or even in the entirety of Midgard, this would not change what he was still an android-clone of the real Thor, who was still living in Asgard.

Meanwhile in Asgard, during a royal banquet, Knut comes in warning them all that Asgard will fall on the morrow, and that he will not live to see the sunset. The other Asgardians, especially Tyr, express strong disbelief, and Heimdall tells them all that he can see no danger. Loki escorts Knut to his room, and tells him that he believes him, for it is already past midnight, and he is here to kill Knut with his knife.

Later, Heimdall awakens to find his entire bedchamber moved and encircled with sorcery to the lowest part of Asgard. Loki tells him that no one could march against Asgard without his knowing, but the trick is in the telling what he knows. Heimdall looks out and sees an army without number swarming towards Asgard, and he is not able to warn anyone.

Oblivious to these occurrences in Asgard, Volstagg is attacked by Ragnarök, the insane Thor clone who had come to “pronounce judgement upon him.” Volstagg readies himself for battle, but then he remembers the collateral damage he caused during his last battle (with a sentry). Unwilling to let the same tragedy happen a second time, Volstagg runs for an open area. Ragnarök follows him, considering him a coward.

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Back in Asgard, Heimdall finally breaks out of his room, but he fails to find Loki. Instead, he sees Thor battling the sentry. Heimdall reminds Baldur that since Thor is exiled, he must be executed for returning — if they survive this war. Baldur remarks that the law would not stop Thor from doing what is right and wishes that all of Odin’s sons were like him.

Right beneath Asgard, Volstagg has stopped, deciding that this field is the perfect spot where there are no bystanders. He attacks Ragnarök in a vicious fight, but the latter easily bests him. Ragnarök declares that he is weak, just like his false Asgard. Later, when Volstagg digs himself out of the rubble with the help of Baldur, Loki arrives trying to manipulate the situation. Loki tells Balder that he knows Baldur’s desire for the throne, for otherwise he would have pardoned Thor instead of banishing him, because that would have torn Asgard apart in civil war. He entices Balder that this is a new age for Asgard and for that, his rule must end.

Later, when they all returned to Asgard, Heimdall brings up all of Loki’s traitorous actions during the siege, including preventing him from doing his job and seeing the siege. Loki pleads innocence, pointing out that the Sentry struck his watchtower first to prevent him from alerting Asgard. If he was in cahoots with Osborn, then why would he bother attacking? Balder demands to Loki why he would deny being the architect of this disaster but he would admit in helping it come to fruition. The God of Mischief proclaims that his subjects were laying around all day. He admits that he did have a hand in the Siege but did not expect that it would end like this. Tyr comes running to Balder, reporting that the men are scattered and must be rallied or all will be lost.

The next day, the Asgardians lament their failure in stopping the attack. Thor returns to Asgard, on Baldur’s request, lifting his exile, to discuss important issues. As the two half-brothers walk side-by-side, Balder discusses how Loki was involved in both the resurrection of Bor and the recent siege. He feels that it is best that Thor reclaims the throne. However, Thor declines. Baldur argues that the fall of Asgard was of his own doing. Thor corrects that this is the result of what him being exiled led to. He agrees to become Baldur’s adviser, but he was interrupted by the sound of thunder is heard. The source is Ragnarök, the cyborg clone of Thor, who has bested all of the Warriors Three. Determined to end this abomination, Thor leaps into battle. As they clash, Ragnarök calls himself the last “true’ son of Asgard, standing against a false one. Summoning all of his power, Thor destroys the cyborg-clone, and walks off with Balder to start rebuilding Asgard.

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So what do we know about the movie so far?

  • Jaimie Alexander will return as Sif, but not Natalie Portman.
  • Loki may cause Ragnarök by disturbing Surtur, and frame Thor by lying to Asgardians to think that Thor had killed Odin because of the death of Frigga.
  • The female Thor from the comics will replace Thor Odinson at the end of this movie.
  • A more intelligent Hulk is going to appear in the movie as well.
  • Jeff Goldblum will be cast as the Grandmaster (An Elder of the Universe and ally to the Collector), and Karl Urban will be Skurge the executioner (an archenemy of Thor).
  • Cate Blanchett will be playing Hela, the Asgardian Goddess of Death and daughter of Loki.
  • Thor will die in a battle with Hela, as will Loki and Heimdall.
  • Tessa Thompson (Dear White People and Rocky) will be playing Valkyrie (real name Brunnhilde), a love interest of Thor to replace Jane Foster.

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Lisa

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