Thor: Ragnarok – Who is the Grandmaster and What is the Contest of Champions?

Oh hell yeah, Jeff Goldblum is now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Get ready to meet the Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok.

Grandmaster has long been using the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe like a dungeon master uses pewter miniatures and eight sided dice. So let’s open the game box on Grandmaster with a particular focus on one of the greatest and earliest Marvel events: the unforgettable first Contest of Champions!

Grandmaster is a master of the “power primordial,” a raw cosmic force that is the same energy left over from the big bang. With this might, ‘ol blue skin can manipulate probability fields, create and destroy just about anything, and has enough raw power to go up against Galactus himself. Cosmic entities like Eternity, Living Tribunal, and the In-Betweener see Grandmaster as an equal and even the most powerful heroes like the Silver Surfer and Thor have been easily felled by Grandmaster. He might look like a stretched out Smurf, but Grandy is a badass on the ultimate cosmic level.

The first thing you should know is that fans already met Grandmaster’s brother in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Yes indeed, the Collector and Grandmaster are siblings and both Elders of the Universe have had a one-upmanship relationship for decades. Grandmaster also once possessed one of the Infinity Gems, the Mind Gem, which he lost to Thanos right before the legendary Infinity Gauntlet event.

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From these fun facts, you can tell that Grandmaster has long been a major cosmic player whose machinations have often shaken the MU. Cosmic brother and cosmic jewels aside, Grandmaster’s favorite modus operandi is to pit two super teams against each other and bet on the outcome. And Grandmaster has done this many times over the years and the result usually leads to some truly legendary comics.

Some other bona fides, Grandmaster’s real name is En Dwi Gast and he is one of the oldest beings in the universe. As far as comics go, En Dwi Gast made his first appearance in The Avengers #69 (1969) and was created by Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema. In this debut, Grandmaster challenged the arch Avengers villain Kang the Conqueror to a contest. Kang chose the Avengers and Grandmaster chose the Squadron Sinister (analogs of DC’s Justice League) and the two sides did battle. If Kang won, his beloved Ravonna would be resurrected. But Kang lost due to Grandmaster’s careful planning and comicdom at large learned that when one plays a game with the Grandmaster, one will always find a stacked deck. 

Grandmaster’s games took him around the known galaxy as he continued to use the Avengers as pawns. 

He gave the same treatment to the Defenders before taking part in a comic and story event that would be long remembered-1982’s Contest of Champions. In this series, Collector came down with a bad case of being dead, so his loving brother Grandmaster challenged Death to a contest. Death and Grandmaster each chose from a grouping of Earth’s greatest heroes and would set their heroic pawns against each other in epic battles. These contests were epically crafted by writers Mark Gruenwald, Bill Mantlo, and Steven Grant with art by Bob Layton.

Grandmaster’s team consisted of Captain America, Talisman, Darkstar, Captain Britain, Wolverine, Defensor, Sasquatch, Daredevil, Peregrine, She-Hulk, the Thing, and Blitzkrieg while Death’s team was made up of Iron Man, Vanguard, Iron Fist, Shamrock, Storm, Arabian Knight, Sabra, Invisible Girl, Angel, Black Panther, Sunfire, and the Collective Man. Yes, the contest had some international flavor as Marvel used Contest of Champions to introduce new heroes like Shamrock, Collective Man, and Peregrine.

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But it was the invidual contests and the high stakes that made this series so unforgettable. Oh, lest we forget, Contest of Champions was also Marvel’s first mini-series! And what a mini-series! The huge cast of characters, the cosmic life and death struggle, and the shock ending set the standard for such future event mini-series such as Secret Wars. In the end, Grandmaster won, but learned that in order to resurrect his brother, Grandmaster must sacrifice his own life. Appreciating the rules of the game, Grandmaster nobly gave his existence so his brother might live.

But do you think Grandmaster stayed dead? Of course not!

From beyond the grave, Grandmaster and the Collector conned the Avengers into resurrecting Grandmaster in Avengers West Coast Annual #2 and Avengers Annual #16 (1987). From there, Grandmaster returned to the cosmos and played games with Silver, Surfer, Quasar, and many more. And if you think Contest of Champions was huge, listen to this madness.

We discussed the Squadron Sinister earlier, a team of heroes that were (ahem) an homage to DC’s Justice League. It’s pretty badass to manipulate a Justice League adjacent super team, but what if we told you that Grandmaster also manipulated the JLA itself? Yes, Grandmaster is so cosmically powerful that he even used his the powers to bypass Warner Brothers lawyers. That’s right, Grandmaster was one of the catalysts of the only meeting of the Avengers and the Justice League.

In JLA/Avengers #1-4 (2004) by Kurt Busiek and George Perez, Grandmaster challenged DC’s Krona to a contest the likes of which nerdom never imagined. Grandmaster choose the Avengers and Krona choose the JLA and each publishing pantheon fought to find twelve cosmic comic book artifacts. This was the biggest thing, like ever, the mashing together of two publishing juggernauts and it all came about because of the sheer gaming acumen of the Grandmaster (and because of the need for money by both publishers in the early 2000s).

And now this master of all games is coming to the big screen. Will the MCU’s Grandmaster measure up to his comic book counterpart when it comes to raw power? The comic version of Grandmaster has manipulated the most powerful entities in a number of universes, and each of these heroes, monsters, and gods were but pawns in the greedy fingers of Marvel’s ultimate manipulator.  

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Thor: Ragnarok opens on November 3.

Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!