Review: Ragnarök #4 (IDW)

Ragnarök is back on the stands after two months with its fourth issue, jam-packed with the adventures of Undead Thor the Stone God, and the many inhabitants of what used to be the Nine Realms, post-Twilight of the Gods. When last we left Thor-- I mean, the Stone God-- he was facing off against a troll that was stationed outside of a village of men. After confronting the troll and finding him more unusual ally than foe, an army of Draugr show up, as the Stone God discovers a hidden secret about the village elder, and his original home. Meanwhile, the storyline checks in with the Dark Elf whose wife died in the first few issues bringing the Stone God back to life. He makes (and unmakes) a very public mistake before righting some wrongs in the local tavern. Both he and the Stone God make their way to the dwarven gateways by the end of the issue, and that’s where we’ll check in with them in 60.

Simonson manages to make his Ragnarök series feel like just as much of a continuation of his Mighty Thor work as its own work entirely. For a particular bumbling metaphor, if his run on Mighty Thor was power metal, with a lot of pop overtones and satisfying resolves, Ragnarök is true Viking metal, dark, powerful and in general, rad as hell. This story certainly isn’t the first time Ragnarök has taken place in the land of comics (I mean, hell, Kirby hit Asgard with Ragnarök almost immediately after he and Lee started working on Journey Into Mystery 50 years ago), but it’s the first time that post-Ragnarök has led to a land markedly changed and different. This Stone God has some of the hallmarks of a Thor with more popular appeal--he still calls down the lightning like one hardcore god, and he finds unlikely allies in his enemies (shades of Skurge); but he will not be able to merely track down the souls of his fallen brethren and restore them to their bodies-- they died. Simonson’s stranger-in-a-strange-land version of Thor is an excellent audience substitute to introduce us to the new realm (which seems to be singular, as if all nine were stacked on each other and then collapsed into one hodgepodge pancake of a realm). This seems to scratch Simonson’s itch for staying true to the Eddas themselves (his version of Ragnarök itself in the first few pages of issue 1 was majestic and brief), but also lets him extrapolate into a sort of “What If?” scenario for the necessary rebirth of the realms after Ragnarök.

Ragnarok04_cvrAOnce again, John Workman is an unsung hero in this series. His lettering style is one of the few that gets away with breaking the rules on a regular basis, and making a book the better for it. His balloons are almost always perfect spheres, or they have these jagged, monstrous edges on them, and his sound effects are works of art unto themselves. There was a long essay in the back of Shutter a few months ago when Workman took over the letters that basically says everything I can say here about the guy’s ongoing genius, making an “invisible” art into something that still manages to support the art, even while at times becoming art itself. (Seriously, though, go find a copy of Shutter issue 7 at your LCS and read not only the issue, but the essay in the back. Massive props to the team for putting that in their book.)

But I digress. If I had to pick something I didn’t love about this Ragnarök series, it’s that the bimonthly schedule changes the pacing of the book. Last time, I was worried that I would forget what had happened in issue 3 by the time issue 4 came out; I did, to some degree, but the catch up page at the beginning and the first couple pages of the story caught me up deftly, and made me feel smarter than I actually am (which I love, as a reader). But in this issue alone, you’ve got a few dangling threads from the last issue, a few pages with a troll, a dark elf subplot (I’ll be honest, I don’t remember those elves’ names), and some Muspelheim shenanigans. It feels like two issues’ worth of plot, which I’m okay with, but it’s single issue sized. I opened up the file and saw the page count, expecting a slightly epic book, but it turned out that was just the literal ass-ton of IDW ads at the back (IDW, you don’t have to advertise every single book you’re putting out in every other book--there were two separate ads for your The Fly comic. Two.) I don’t begrudge Simonson for working at the pace he wants to work, but if he’s going to go bimonthly, he may need to let the book be a little slow. We’re exploring this new world with him, and the fights aren’t what we’re tuning in for, so there doesn’t necessarily have to be a bunch of them in each issue.

Even with that nagging at me, I loved this book. It’s like putting on your favorite pair of viking boots and getting back into this world, created by a storyteller you love. It’s not the same as Mighty Thor (which I’m sure I’ll bring up in every review, lest someone unfairly lob that accusation at Mssrs. Simonson and Workman), and it’s exploring this whole new, post-gods, super-metal world. So throw on some music (I prefer Leviathan by Mastodon, but that’s just me), and get into it.

Score: 4/5

Ragnarök #4 Writer/Artist: Walter Simonson Colorist: Laura Martin Letterer: John Workman Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Release Date: 3/11/15 Format: Ongoing, Bi-Monthly; Print/Digital