There were many breakout stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2017, but perhaps the greatest of them all was The Grandmaster, Jeff Goldblum’s character in Thor: Ragnarok. Along with Benecio Del Toro’s The Collector from Guardians of the Galaxy, The Grandmaster is one of the Elders of the Marvel Universe, a group of uber-old and uber-powerful characters who can trace their origins back to the earliest days of Marvel’s fictional comic book multiverse. In general, if readers encounter the Elders of the Universe while reading a Marvel comic, they know some serious cosmic happenings are about to go down.
With a few exceptions, Marvel’s Elders of the Universe all carry official titles that act as one-word descriptors of their purpose in life. The Collector lives to collect things, The Grandmaster enjoys organizing large competitions, and The Runner, well, runs. However, this doesn’t mean that the Elders are boring, one-note characters. Each of them has a rich comic book background that has seen them take center stage for some of the biggest events in Marvel history.
As their name might imply, The Elders of the Universe are a group that have been around for a while. Subsequently, their origins are often portrayed as ambiguous and shrouded by the mists of time. What is certain is that the Elders, a group of cosmic beings whose level of affiliation is also ambiguous, are all virtually immortal and some of their members are among the most powerful in the Marvel Universe. Most importantly, the Elders of the Universe feel that their shared experiences have united them as a sort of cosmic family.
Most of the Elders are not related to one another, outside of a few exceptions, and the group is actually made up of the last remaining survivors of the oldest sentient species in the universe. Each member of the Elders of the Universe has outlived the other members of their race, along with their original galaxies, and they draw their abilities from the Power Primordial, which is leftover energy from the Big Bang. In other words, they’ve been around. At that time, each of the Elders of the Universe took on a single-minded obsession that defines their life mission, which is usually reflected in their title.
In their millennia of existence, The Elders of the Universe have found time to be involved in several of the most cataclysmic events in Marvel history. The nature of the group has brought them into conflict with other ancient or extremely powerful beings, and it hasn’t always worked out well for the Elders. Once, the Elders came together in a plot to assassinate Galactus and jumpstart a new universe, but that failed. Thanos has taken on the Elders on multiple occasions, and once banished them to the Cancerverse with a version of the Cosmic Cube.
One of the most frequent Elder visitors to Earth is also one of the most well-known Elders in general, thanks to Jeff Goldblum’s portrayal in Thor: Ragnarok. The Grandmaster, whose real name is En Dwi Gast, is obsessed with games, tournaments, and all manner of contest. He likes to travel the universe using his power to construct large events and challenging opponents to high-stakes contests. The Grandmaster is responsible for multiple “hero-on-hero” fighting tournaments, including multiple Contests of Champions, and seemed to come into contact with The Defenders more than any other Earthly group. The Grandmaster was even partially responsible for the infamous cross-company Justice League Vs. The Avengers crossover.
The first member of the Elders that Marvel Cinematic Universe fans got a glimpse of was The Collector, portrayed by Benicio Del Toro in multiple films. As his name indicates, The Collector is obsessed with collecting all manner of things, including powerful weapons, Infinity Stones, and especially living beings, which has drawn him into conflict with the heroes of the universe on multiple occasions. The Collector, whose real name is Taneleer Tivan, is generally portrayed as one of the more villainous Elders of the Universe, and has faced off with all manner of Marvel hero, from the Hulk to X-23 to Howard the Duck!