Thor Ragnarok owes much of its visual design to two comic book legends

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If there’s one common theme in Thor Ragnarok that stands out, and you’re going to hear this often from anyone who sees it, it’s that it’s easily the funniest Marvel movie to date. There’s a good-hearted number of chuckles within Thor Ragnarok, that elevates it far beyond the previous two films that starred the Odinson in the lead role.

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A series of giggles and jokes from director Taika Waititi’s grand odyssey of action, deicide and a team-up with the jade goliath known as the Hulk. Thor Ragnarok is much more than that however. Because while it may be a grin-inducing adventure, it’s also the most beautifully visualised film in the Marvel library. From the concrete jungles and gleaming spires of Earth and Asgard to the alien planet of Sakaar, Thor Ragnarok is a film which is just a treat for the eyeballs.

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Riding the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard, flashbacks of a tragic battle against Hela and a visit to a certain sanctorum most sanctum evokes plenty of fantastic set design and amazing special effects in action. But Thor Ragnarok’s combination of its various visual components rightfully deserves all this praise. What Waititi and his crew accomplished, is a comic book translation from page to silver screen. The number of hours and labour that must have gone into creating even the smallest of scenes or discarded prop for the actors to manhandle each other with, cannot be ignored.

Neither can the contributions of comic book writers and artists such as Walt Simonson.

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While Simonson drew a brief number of Marvel’s Thor comics in the 1970s, it was in 1983 when he returned for a new lengthy run that he really flexed his creative muscles and created a truly cosmic new world for the Thunder God to explore. This was the age of Thor as a frog, of Beta Ray Bill proving himself equally worthy to wield Mjolnir and the vengeance of Malekith the dark elf.

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Simonson’s Thor was a god in a wider universe, with a mythology that felt more dangerous than ever before. That alone was an epic source of inspiration for Thor Ragnarok and its decidedly 80s vibe of sense and wonder, while its more science fictional plot beats went back even further in comic book history to reference the art and stories of a man who to this day is known simply as the king of the medium: Jack Kirby.

While Sakaar might borrow many an element from writer and artists Greg Pak, Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti’s Planet Hulk story, it visualises those ideas with the ideas of the co-creator of many a Marvel hero and villain. Jack Kirby’s influence and style cannot be praised enough for rebuilding the foundation of comic books, let alone the lasting impact that his epic art had on Thor Ragnarok.

It’s as if the film took actual comic book panels that he had drawn and blown them up to a massive size to be used in the set dressing and oh wait they did exactly that. “Walt Simonson has always been an influence on the Thor series for us, obviously, he’s done such amazing work in Thor,” Waititi said to Screen Rant of the design influences.

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Jack Kirby has been an influence on every Marvel movie we’ve ever made because he built the Marvel Universe with Stan, Steve Ditko, and the whole gang there.

But this movie, and coincidentally being the 100th year anniversary of Jack Kirby’s birth, we really wanted to be that unabashed love letter, and a film by Taika [Waititi], when talking to the art department, and saying,  ‘Oh, look at that, it really should be like this,’ looking at Jack Kirby costumes and background panels, and the art department doing something inspired by it and then Taika going ‘No, no. Do this!’

And that’s why you have, it’s a direct translation of Kirby’s artwork, which hasn’t been seen in a movie before.

“1960’s Jack Kirby was our inspiration,” Production Designer Dan Hennah said to Marvel of the exotic locales across space.

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I’ve read Jack Kirby comics since I was 15 years old. So for me it was fantastic and to really get deeply into it, I was always just influenced by this big star of the comics. Now our set design becomes another world, you have to analyse how he got his shapes, what they wore, what was put on them, how he used them.

You know, it doesn’t look anything like Jack Kirby, but it does have the influence. So that’s really cool for me to find something—which is the process to design—finding things, subconscious things.

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That’s one way to sum up Thor Ragnarok. It may have plenty of substantial laughs within it, but stylistically it’s a love letter to the past and to the imaginative power of comic books as it effortlessly blends fantasy and science-fiction together.

Last Updated: October 30, 2017

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia’s M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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