In Review: Ragnarök: The Breaking of Helheim #1

Required reading for every comics reader. Highest possible recommendation.

The covers: Four frontpieces to find before the enemies of Thor find them. The Standard cover is by Walter Simonson with colors by Laura Martin. Odin stands strong with a staff in his hand, flanked by two warriors behind him. Below the armies of evil battle those of Asgard. High in the sky, the new face of Thor watches the battle like a demon. Great images and excellent coloring, with yellows and oranges dominating, makes this look like hell has arrived. The first Retailer Incentive is by Simonson and is the pencils only version of the Standard cover. If one is a Simonson fan — and who isn’t? — this is one to seek out! The second Retailer Incentive cover features artwork by Stan Sakai and Simonson with colors by Martin. Thor raises his hammer to smite the enemies that surround him, while the end of the Midgard Serpent can be seen in the background. I’ve seen several artists do their take on Simonson’s current version of Thor and am happy to see that one, by Sakai, is used for this cover. More of this would be neat to see for variant covers. The SDCC Exclusive cover is also by Sakai, Simonson, and Martin. It’s the same as the second Retailer Incentive cover, though without any text. Absolutely recommended to see the art in its original state. Overall grades: All A+

The story: For six months Thor and Ratatosk have been looking at the never ending pyre the last remaining god has crated as a memorial for those who have died. Ratatosk is, has been, ready to leave. His comments upset Thor, who sends a blast of lighting the squirrel’s way, though it only singes its tail. At this point the God of Thunder hears something and it hits him like a blast of lightning, “thor thor thor thor thor thor thor.” It is Odin! Thor leaps to his mount and takes off following Odin’s summons, with Ratatosk joining him. Unfortunately Thor does not notice one of Surtr’s minions emerge from a hiding place and quickly departing to tell its master of Thor. “A few days later…in a rugged little town on the edge of desolation…” Thor rides in. His visage drawing the attention of all in a bar, he is initially denied service because he is a draugar. The many gold coins he tosses at the barkeep convinces the man to bring him a bucket of mead. As Thor speaks with the man about the land beyond the town, two men leave the room. Writer Walter Simonson has a fantastic scene occur on Page 6 that is funny and violent, yet ultimately shows how Thor is not a character to be trifled with. The Conclave of the Great Enemies is outstanding, with all wanting one goal, but unable to achieve it. I like how it’s one of the smaller characters that says he will be able to aid them in their quest. The remainder of the book is devoted to how the gods fell. Readers have been aware of this event, but not witnessed the epic events that led to it. Simonson has now shown it. When the story returns to Thor I was glad to see how the tale impacts him and what he does to the land. It reemphasizes his heroic nature for the emotion the tale brings to him and the wrong he wants to right. A familiar face returns on the last two pages and her appearance triggers someone on the final page to learn something that was better left hidden. Ragnarök is back and it rocks. Overall grade: A+

The art: If one doesn’t know the artwork of Walter Simonson, one is missing out. Looking at this book’s visuals any reader will realize they’re looking at something epic and unique. The first page is a full-paged splash showing Thor and Ratatosk before the massive pyre Thor has created. It’s a nice way to tease Thor’s appearance without showing him. The pair of accouterments at the bottom of the page remind the reader of the Norse origin of these characters. Thor’s first full appearance is the first panel on the second page. The reader is looking down at his visage, making him look a horror. Ratatosk is entirely sympathetic because, well…he’s a squirrel. When Odin appears to summon Thor he is fully helmeted, yet resembles his son’s current state with the bottom of his helmet resembling teeth. The demon that climbs out of its hole on Page 3 looks old, due to his having a beard, yet frightening because it’s a beard of fire. Very cool. Everything on Page 4 just makes me exceedingly happy: the stone faced barkeep, the close-up of the swords, the money tossed, and the mead consumed. I’m also deliriously happy with 6, which is funny, graphic, and flat out cool. The rogues gallery on Page 7 is epic and when shown on 8 they are a gigantic collection of all that one would assume is evil. The pages that show the fall of gods should be in textbooks. Characters of all shapes and sizes clash. Everything you’ve ever read about the Norse gods and their fall is here and it’s breathtaking. I love how Odin is at the top of each page, telling the tale. The hero’s reaction on 17 is perfect. I loved what was shown on 19, bringing visual hope to this series and the world after all the death that preceded it. This book looks exquisite as it captures the magic and scale of the Norse myths. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Laura Martin is the colorist on this book and her work is just as impressive as Simonson’s. The coloring on the first page gives the pyre the strength and power that the text proclaims it possesses. Thor’s armor is blue, which mirrors the blasts of lightning he employs throughout this issue. The town that Thor enters on the bottom of the third page is colored in every possible shade of brown, making it as disreputable as the bar that’s entered. I love the golds used for the mead that Thor imbibes. The red on Lady’s maw on 6 is funny and horrific. The villains on 7 are in every possible color and they are glorious. Their gorgeous colors continue on 8 with more of their bodies shown. The fall of the gods uses yellows, blues, greens, and browns to differentiate the forces and they make every character look powerful. The main character shown on Page 17 is glorious in blue and yellow. The blues on 19 are heavenly. And speaking of blues, I love how they are used for a character on the last two pages to make her stand out. Martin is a coloring god. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Dialogue, narration, the story’s title, sounds, Odin speech, yells, and the final three words are created by John Workman. If you’ve been reading comics for some time, you’ve come upon Workman’s talent. His dialogue is instantly recognizable and very easy to read. The title on the first page is powerful and more than a match for the characters that populate this tale. The Odin summons look unlike any other speech seen in this series and it’s hypnotic. The sounds are subtle (KLINK) and explosive (THROO BOOM!). When Thor yells for his father it’s heartfelt, just as much as the scream on 17. And check out how cool the tease is for next issue: it looks as though it was created back in the age this story is set. Workman can do no wrong. Overall grade: A+

The final line: This should be required reading for all comic book readers or anyone who wants to read a good story. Heck, this should be required reading for anyone curious about Norse mythology. This is solid storytelling combined with epic visuals. It doesn’t get any better than this. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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