Get ready for ‘Ragnarok’

By L.A. WILLIAMS and PROFESSOR WILLIAM H. FOSTER | 10/26/2017, 4:33 p.m.
L.A. Williams: I doubt he’ll win. He should. After all, Thor is a weather-controlling immortal warrior who is much stronger ...
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

L.A. Williams: I doubt he’ll win.

He should. After all, Thor is a weather-controlling immortal warrior who is much stronger than Spider-Man and usually depicted as stronger than Wonder Woman, too. (Gasp!)

But over the summer, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman proved to be box office powerhouses that even the God of Thunder is unlikely to beat when “Thor: Ragnarok” hits theaters Nov. 3. One of the advantages Spider-Man and Wonder Woman have over Thor is that they’re instantly recognizable to people who’ve never read any of their comics or seen their films.

But there’s a reason why Thor appeared consistently in comics since 1962. Professor Foster, what’s his appeal?

William H. Foster: Perhaps it is because he is a god and a prince. These two factors definitely make him stand out as larger than life.

Williams: Spider-Man is like Rocky Balboa: an everyman and an underdog who prevails against the odds. Thor is like Apollo Creed: fearless with swagger, and to quote Beyoncé, “He talk like this ‘cause he can back it up.” And audiences like both types of heroes: the guy who is like we are and the guy who’s the badass we wanna be.

Foster: In the early comic books that featured Thor, he was presented in a way that reminded me of a young King Arthur. As a teenager, the parallel of a young man becoming an adult was never lost on me. Thor was the perfect hero—brave, adventurous and full of a sense of mission about his coming responsibilities.

Williams: Professor, why are Thor’s father, Odin, and his half-brother, Loki, important to the mythos? What does he have that they lack?

Foster: It is not so much what they lack, as it is what the interactions between them and Thor bring to the storytelling. Father/son, half-brother and half-brother—these are classic storytelling elements that will never grow old.

Williams: “Thor: Ragnarok” will feature Cate Blanchett as Hela and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie.

Foster: If movie viewers fell in love with Wonder Woman as a strong female superhero, they better hold on to their hats! Hela and Valkyrie stand on equal status in power, beauty and bravery. I believe the world is more than ready for both male and female characters of character. Hela and Valkyrie provide insight from a female perspective. In movies, as with the comic books, not all fans are guys.

Williams: Which may explain why since 2014, a female has served as the God of Thunder in the current comics.

“Thor: Ragnarok” will also feature Thor with one of Marvel’s most iconic characters, the Hulk. The two first shared live action screen time back in 1988’s made-for-TV movie, “The Incredible Hulk Returns.” Professor, what was the set-up in the TV movie and what did you think of it?

Foster: In the 1980s, there was a trend where a person supposedly went into a trance and “channeled” the personality of someone from the past. This made-for-TV movie hoped to capitalize on the craze and presented Thor as no more than an obscure strongman from some distant time. It was horrible in both conception and execution. I’m being polite, believe me.

Williams: We know alterations often happen when stories are adapted into different mediums. Was the TV Hulk very different from the comic Hulk?

Foster: It was different, but still enjoyable. The same things that Stan Lee used to attract fans to “The Incredible Hulk” comic books worked to create fans for the TV show: sympathetic stories told with heart. It’s a winning formula every time.

Williams: My stepmother once told me we need jerks in our lives so we won’t take good people for granted. Perhaps we needed the TV Thor to appreciate the movie version. He’s flawed in the sense that he can be arrogant and reckless, but he’s also loyal, honorable, brave and a champion for the less powerful. Chris Hemsworth effectively captured the qualities that make Thor work in the comics, so I’ll be in the theater when “Thor: Ragnarok” opens.

Professor William H. Foster III is an internationally-known comic book historian who appeared on the 2017 History Channel documentary, “Superheroes Decoded.” L.A. Williams is a former comic book editor.