I like to think I do a pretty good job keeping up with what's out on the stands, but somehow, some way, I managed to completely miss IDW's Ragnarok from Walt Simonson, Laura Martin, and John Workman,until just this week --- and believe me, I'm kicking myself for it. Ragnarok offers action-packed high adventure and sweeping storytelling from some of my favorite creators in comics, with a story that hooked me from the first page.
Of course, the bright side to coming late to the book is that I managed to catch up on the first three issues all at once rather than wait, and with how much I loved it, I'm pretty sure the bimonthly schedule that the book seems to be on would've been a nightmare. If you've been on the fence about picking up Ragnarok, here's five good reasons to give it a shot.
It's Walter Simonson, Laura Martin and John Workman
Every time I think Walter SImonson is done being awesome, he comes out with something new that makes me remember just how great he actually is. It happened a few years ago when he put out The Judas Coin, a graphic novel that followed one of the thirty pieces of silver that Judas was paid for betraying Jesus through the history of the DC Universe, throwing in everything from Jonah Hex to a Batman adventure structured like a newspaper strip to an anime-influenced far-future sci-fi story. Forty years into his career in comics, you could probably be forgiven for thinking that maybe he'd stop being fantastic, but turns out that's not the case.
Ragnarok is Simonson in top form, and while a lot of that has to do with the dynamic energy he's bringing to the table as writer and artist, it also has a lot do do with who he's working with. Laura Martin is an amazing colorist and has been for years, and she works beautifully with Simonson's line art to make the book look incredible. On top of that --- literally --- is John Workman, arguably one of the best letters in comics.
Workman's been a pretty frequent collaborator with Simonson over the years (he did Judas Coin as well), and he's almost as much a part of the distinct look of those comics as Simonson himself. Those massive sound effects that blast through panels, the big word balloons, the boldface shouting that explodes out of characters, it all works perfectly. It's three creators bringing everything they have to the table, and it's amazing.
It's Simonson, Martin and Workman Doing Thor
You know, now that I look at it, that... that maybe should've been the selling point I led with.
Simonson's run on Thor at Marvel is, with no exaggeration, arguably the single greatest run in comic book history. There are others you can stack up against it, sure, but there's not a whole heck of a lot that beats those four years of world-shattering adventure blending mythology and supeheroics in a long game with a massive cast, building tension and then bringing it crashing down like almost nothing else.
At the same time, that's a setup that's going to put a lot of pressure on the team to deliver. Everything Simonson's done since 1987 has been compared, fairly or not, to what he did on Thor, and when a creator is as strongly identified with a single run as Simonson --- and Workman, for that matter --- with that book, then the pressure of working with something so close has to be off the scale. The idea of trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle is one that, as tempting as it might be, almost always falls flat.
Here, though, it's not just better than I expected, it's better than I hoped, largely because the team gets to sidestep around the trickier parts of going back to a character they've worked with before, and amazingly, they manage to do it in a way that feels fresh.
It's Simonson, Martin and Workman Doing Thor... Just Not THAT Thor
The brilliant thing about Simonson's Thor for Marvel was that it was the perfect blend of Norse mythology and the Marvel Universe. It was undeniably and inextricably a superhero book, built on the foundation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in a way that defined it. And that's great, but that's not what they're doing here.
Don't get me wrong, there's still a level where this definitely feels like a superhero comic. That is, after all, the language that Simonson speaks most fluently as a creator, and this book has certainly got the hard-hitting grandeur that you expect going in, but Ragnarok is a story that's based more purely on the mythology, in a way that Marvel's Thor could never be.
Mostly because, you know, it takes place centuries after the end of the world. I mean, yes, they've flirted with Ragnarok in those comics before --- I can think of three separate ends-of-the-world that I've read for Marvel's Asgardians --- but just by virtue of how it's not part of that bigger universe, Ragnarok takes it further than Marvel ever could.
Oh, And Thor Is Also A Zombie
Like just a straight up corpse, bashing people with a hammer. Not gonna lie, it's pretty great. In fact...
Everything about this book is about as close to being perfect as an adventure comic can be. It's set in a world where the bad guys won, where Asgard is shattered and everything is in ruins, but as Simonson is quick to point out, it's a world where hope is almost gone. There's still some there, and you can see it in how he builds the first issue around an assassin taking a job because she wants to do what's best for her daughter, and how the very idea of sending an assassin to kill a god who's already dead hints at how the enemies are afraid that their conquest isn't quite as complete as everyone believes.
Thor himself is a dead man walking, trying to figure out where he needs to go and who he needs to go after to get his revenge, but in the process, he's still going to protect the mortal humans left in his shattered world. There's a heroism to it that makes it compelling.
It's not just the story, though, it's the craftsmanship. The entire second issue is basically one fight scene of Thor taking on a cadre of assassins, and in each moment that one gets killed, a little mug shot appears beside the action with a red line slashed through it indicating their untimely end. It's a clever way of conveying what's happening even while a scene is designed to look hectic and chaotic and distracting, and the whole book is full of similar amazing touches. It's innovative and fun and brutal all at the same time, which is exactly what I want out of my comics.
And also things get smashed with a magic hammer. A lot of things. And I think we can all agree that's a plus.