The On-Screen Characters
Thor: The Dark World picks up where the prior movies Thor and The Avengers left off, with many of the characters from the first Thor movie returning for their second appearance.
Hailing from the halls of Asgard are Thor, his father Odin, mother Frigga, on again, off again love interest Sif, comrades in arms The Warriors Three (Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun), and Heimdall, the keeper of the bi-frost bridge that leads from Asgard to the Nine Worlds. Loki will also return for the second film, though it’s purposefully unclear whether he’ll be hero, villain, or a bit of both.
Making their second appearance as well is the main cast from Midgard (Earth), Jane Foster, her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig, and their assistant Darcy Lewis.
New to this film are the Dark Elves. A race created by Walt Simonson for his epic run on the Thor comic in the 1980s (more on that momentarily), they live in the shadows and wish to bring darkness to the world – all the worlds, in fact. Led by Malekith (another creation of Simonson), they are on a quest for revenge in the sequel.
The sequel’s premise, as derived from promotional materials, is that Malekith and his warriors can only rise to power and cross into others of the nine realms once every thousand years. Time, as they say, has run out.
Comic Book Connections
From the information provided so far about the movie, the plot of Thor: The Dark World appears to be heavily influenced by the first story arc of Walt Simonson’s run on the Marvel Comics book, Thor. While Simonson’s comics included elements that are unlikely to show up in the film, such as the creation of fan-favorite Beta-Ray Bill (think of him as an alien Thor with a horse face) and a subplot for Balder the Brave (a character that has not been utilized in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far), one of the villains Thor faces early on is Malekith.
In Simonson’s story, Malekith is after the Casket of Ancient Winters (which Thor fans will remember from the first film), which will spread cold across the realm of Midgard (Earth). He must fight against Thor and a human guardian, but eventually gets his desire, which leads to the release of a perpetual winter on Earth and the appearance of Surtur, the Fire God who can bring about Ragnarok. With some help from the rest of the Marvel Universe and eventually the aid of Loki (sound familiar?) and Odin, Thor stops Surtur, but only at a high cost, defeating Malekith along the way.
The Dark Elves show up a few times in comics since, primarily in Thor, but none of these appearances seem likely to have strong ties to the upcoming movie. In Jason Aaron’s ongoing Thor: God of Thunder, Malekith and the Dark Elves have just recently appeared, only months before the film, however.
Mythology and Mayhem
If the first Thor movie was primarily about taking the Norse Gods and giving them a Shakespearean feel via the Marvel Cinematic Universe lens (which was appropriate given the director was Kenneth Branagh, a Shakespearean legend), then this one appears to be grounded more directly in Norse mythology. In the promotional material for the movie, there’s a greater emphasis on the idea of the Nine Worlds, and the comic story on which it’s apparently based was designed to bring Thor and his cast closer to their origins as a pagan religion. Simonson wanted to create a Thor story that had its roots in the myths, and it looks like the movie plans to accomplish the same thing-though how deep into Norse mythology they’re planning to go remains to be seen.
Slimming Down Simsonson
While it’s clear that the new movie takes its cues from Simonson’s story, there is no way that they can do everything that was in his multi-issue epic. We’ve already mentioned two elements that are unlikely to feature in the movie, based on casting information, Balder and Beta-Ray Bill. In addition, in the comics Thor was tempted by a lesser female goddess, Loreli, a sideline that can easily be jettisoned without harming the plot. We also imagine that instead of creating new mortals who protect the prize Malekith so desires, it will fall to Dr. Selvig, who would be a natural fit as a human who can deal with getting thrown into the world of the Dark Elves.
The big question - and we mean that literally - is whether Surtur will feature in the movie at all. In the comics, Malekith’s goal was to freeze the worlds so that Surtur could break free of his prison and use his world-ending sword to bring about the end of days. Malekith was more of a mini-boss for Simonson’s story, borrowing a video game term. Based on the promotional materials, it looks like he’s the main villain for the movie, so audiences may not get the full immersion into Norse lore that Simonson provided.
Unless he shows up in the credits scene, lurking about to be the villain of Thor 3 - which could lead to comics geek heart attacks across the country when the movie finally airs.
Yes, there will be Loki
Loki has quickly become a movie villain that audiences love. A quick dive into Tumblr will show just how popular he is, especially among female fans. His brooding, tragic portrayal in the first movie wasn’t dulled by a more villainous take in The Avengers, and he was a major player in the Simonson story on which this movie is based. Fans of Thor’s half-brother are sure to have a lot to cheer about after watching the movie-especially if he ends up fighting side by side with Thor, as occurs in the original plot.
There are hundreds of stories featuring Thor. These are the ones most likely to be of interest to those seeing Thor: The Dark World, either before or after the movie.
Thor by Walt Simonson Volumes 1 and 2: Though it covers far more ground than the movie will, anyone wishing for the “extended-extended Director’s Cut” of Thor: The Dark World needs to read Simonson’s storyline, which Marvel has conveniently reprinted. Across these stories, Thor must find a new identity for himself, work to outwit Loki, fight the Dark Elves, and eventually, with his father and half-brother by his side, defeat the greatest menace of them all, Surtur. The stories don’t require much knowledge of Thor’s comic history (which is good) but they do lean heavily on Norse Mythology and are best appreciated by those with grounding in the legends. Fans of Loki will appreciate how cunning and crafty he is in Simonson’s hands. Bonus points for a Nick Fury cameo in the early going.
Essential Thor: If readers want to go back to where it all began, the Essential collections of Thor, which are packed full of comics at an affordable price (but, to be clear, are in black and white) introduce all of the main characters you’ll find in the Thor movies, though their presentation is quite different since it’s the 1960s. Jane Foster is not going to be the independent woman you see in the films, Loki is far less complex, and the artwork may not be to the taste of the modern reader. Still, these are the stories that are the influence of all that has come after, whether it’s the movies or the current Thor comics.
Thor: The Mighty Avenger: Movie cast? Check. Romance between Thor and Jane Foster? Double Check.
Instantly accessible, the two volumes of Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee are an ideal entry into comics for Marvel Cinematic Universe fans. The comics are also geared to be nearly all-ages, and have a tone that mixes humor and a sense of joy with the adventures and perilous situations. It didn't stick around for too long, but the two volumes (or the deluxe complete edition) are well worth checking out for movie fans and comic fans alike.
The Mighty Thorcules: Finally, a more lighthearted take on the Dark Elves can be found at the hands of popular writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente in an arc of their Incredible Hercules series. When Hercules must hide his de-aged father, he ventures to Asgard and immediately gets caught up in things beyond his ability to understand. Still deadly and dangerous, Malekith is not nearly so serious in this appearance, which is also notable for Thor dressing up as Hercules. The trademark style of strong storytelling, deep understanding of the Marvel Universe, and a talent for broad comedy makes this a fun collection to read.