Walt Simonson’s ‘Ragnarok’ is a must for lovers of Norse myth

(IDW Publishing)

It’s a story that I never want to stop reading.

Which is ironic, of course, given that Walt Simonson’s Ragnarok starts at the end of the story of the Norse Gods. For those who have lived in a cave for the past forty years, Walt Simonson is the undisputed Jarl of Norse mythology in comics. His run on Marvel Comics’ The Mighty Thor remains a masterful piece of work (issues 337 to 382) in comic history and it is also the period when authentic Norse elements made their way into this comic.

What happens after Armageddon? Every religion – every mythology theorizes what the end of everything will look like. The Norse legends are no different. But Simonson asks the question, what happens after that? Ragnarok is not just simply a tale of Norse legends, but projects what happens after the Vanir and the gods have fallen and Asgard’s gleaming spires are no more.

From IDW Publishing, Ragnarok is a 160 page hard cover compilation of the first six issues of this amazing re-imagining of the twilight of the Norse gods, along with finished artwork and structural drawings. It is mythologically epic in nature, but so humanistic in execution that a reader is emotionally moved by the plight of the broken Nine Worlds.

(IDW Publishing)

Our hero is Thor himself. But this is a different Thor than the stalwart, handsome blonde hero that we are used to seeing. This is a Thor who has been brought low. His world and his life have all been reduced to dust. Thor is a shade of his former self – a desiccated draugr – one of the undead – who has slept for centuries while the Nine Worlds have been chaotically transformed. There are no borders and races from all the various realms live hither and yon without a thought to their former allegiances or kingdoms. Surtur reigns and Odin, the All-Father is no more; trolls live with humans and Dark Elves no longer fear the sunlight. It is a mixed world where the laws of the gods are dead, like them.

Except Thor. Somehow, preserved by old magic, Thor has returned from the dead to this place where chaos reigns supreme. The gods have no place anymore and Thor needs to make sense of it all in order to regain his.

Can mortals feel pity for an immortal? When Thor holds the long-dead corpse of golden-haired Sif, his love, and beholds the remains of his children, we do. This is a poignant tale of loss that even gods may feel and that we can sense. Thor has lost his family, his home, his status and even his face. As each loss is made apparent, it also becomes the reader’s.

The Great Enemies of Asgard still live. This is heart-rending for the Odinson to discover and further accentuates the emotional loss that we feel for Thor. All that Thor has known has been lost yet he still lives. Not only does this make us pity the last of the Aesir but it heightens a mutual desire for revenge against Surtur, Fenris Wolf and Jormungandr, the great serpent. We are driven to see Thor finally crush these foes and exact a much-wanted sense of revenge upon these beasts. We are driven to see Thor defy the skein of fate and destroy the Great Enemies.

Simonson has re-written Norse cosmogony. Ragnarok really hasn’t happened if Thor still lives. Or by returning as an undead draugr, has this created a metaphysical loophole where the last of the Aesir has cheated death and managed to return to finally defeat the Great Enemies? It’s a uniquely fascinating concept and the saga Simonson tells is truly worthy of its own place amongst the ancient epics.

(IDW Publishing)

Simonson is a legendary artist, but his writing takes front stage here. It is the unique nature of this story that stands out. When one considers that he has taken a mythological structure and applied a post-apocalyptic setting to it, it is an amazing fusion of ideas. He states that it took about sixteen years for this arc of the story to unfold; truly it is a wait worthwhile and only serves to highlight the amount of thought and care that has gone into its telling. This is a labour of Herculean effort and love as he shares all these worlds with us.

While lovers of Norse myth will certainly be transfixed by this tale, comic lovers will appreciate it for the freedom the medium offers a story. Only in a comic can an entire mythological belief system be supplanted for the sake of making it even better. If it is possible, Simonson has elevated the stuff of legends even more. For stories that originally existed on a metaphorical level, that’s no small feat.

Scintillating colour work by Laura Martin and wonderful runic lettering by John Workman, this is a book that bleeds authenticity. The fabric of legends is woven into these pages and Simonson’s knowledge of the Elder Eddas and other Norse lore imbues an overwhelming sense of the epic that draws readers in and makes Thor’s plight theirs. This is a real story, driven by a powerful sympathy and crafted by belief.

Ragnarok is a must for any comic reader. It is a compelling tale drawn and written by a legendary skald that demands worshipful attention. Is this not what all tales should be? If not, then Simonson has shown us an age of storytelling and summoned it forward through the ages for us to behold.

May this age of storytelling never end.

About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.

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