Ragnarok (Vol. One): Walt Simonson (author), Laura Martin (art), John Workman (letters)
Although Thor was one of my favorite Marvel titles back in the Lee-Kirby era, I never made it to the fabled Walt Simonson run in the 80’s (a problem I intend to rectify eventually). But I have picked up his return to the character via his comic series Ragnarok, which takes place outside the Marvel universe, picking up Thor’s story after the titular great battle, when as foretold in the sagas and myths, the world as once known has ended. Oh, and when Thor is a zombie (or draugr as the Norse call them). So far I’ve read the first six episodes, collected in Ragnarok Volume One and while I have a few quibbles, generally I’m a big fan of both the narrative and the look (art by Laura Martin, lettering by John Workman).
The story starts out with a bang, as we see the end moments of Ragnarok, and a great starting image of Fenris the great wolf looming, jaws agape, over a battlefield filled with bodies, and fighting gods, trolls, and undead, all while a series of volcanoes erupt in the background. The next few panels don’t let up either, with the arrival of the huge Midgard Serpent and then Thor, who slain by the serpent slowly sinks in water into water and flame (an important motif for later) and then all is black, save for a small circle of dialogue: “Don’t go mama.”
Thus we’re introduced to the second storyline. The first is born out of those great opening panels, and involves an epic not-over-yet battle between gods, as Thor eventually (no spoiler here) rises again and seeks vengeance for the destruction of Asgard, the world, and more movingly, his family. The other storyline belongs to that voiced plea, which comes from a young girl asking her dark elf mother to stay home, rather than take on the job she’s accepted — to kill a dead god. What the girl doesn’t know is that her parents have signed up for the task to save their daughter.
The spectrum of storytelling “size” is one strength, as the epic scale of Thor’s adventures (depicted in larger-than-life fashion in terms of color, light, and panel size) is nicely balanced by the more human-scale story of father-mother-child, often portrayed in much more muted colors and smaller panels.
Another strength is the emotional depth of the work. The love of a parent for their child, and the child for the parent, the love of a spouse for their other — these come into play in both storylines, as when the mother must say goodbye, a lovingly depicted scene as she fades away into the distance), or when Thor comes across the bodies of his slain children in the ruins of Asgard. Less intense moments, meanwhile, still convey an emotional impact, moments of friendship or respect, for instance. That isn’t to say it’s all heavy; humorous moments pop up regularly throughout the tale, including a funny stretch of scenes with a troll.
The story is imbued with a lot of action and fight scenes, and admittedly, for me these were less interesting. That said, Simonson and Martin do find ways to freshen things up a bit, as in one fight scene where Thor takes down a host of assailants one at a time. Each time he kills one in the chaotic hard-to-follow-at-times swirl of combat, a little “pop-up” postcard headshot appears depicting the face of the dead attacker with a red slash through it. It’s a nice way to balance the attempt to mirror for the reader that frenzied sense of disorientation due to the fight and the need to make clear to the reader exactly what is happening. My only quibble is that at times the panels were a little too small and thus a little too muddy in terms of what exactly was happening. But that was a relatively rare occurrence and a pretty minor complaint.
Really, I found almost nothing to complain about in Ragnarok and a lot to thoroughly enjoy, especially the somewhat pleasantly surprising emotionality. Volume One ends with a big colorful battle, but points clearly to an epic build-up from battle to war. I’m looking forward to that conflagration, as well as to the quieter resolution with regard to the young girl and her parents. Highly recommended.