The fourth issue of a six-issue mini-series is often a problematic issue. The premise of the series has already been explained in the previous issues, while the conclusion lies ahead. Sometimes, that means the fourth issue raises the stakes and piles more challenges upon the protagonists, driving the story forward. Robert Rodi tries to do that here with Thor’s trip to Valhalla that goes wrong, but it feels like more of the same. So far, “Thor: For Asgard” has had three issues of ‘things aren’t right in Asgard and the natural order of things,’ and nothing changes. That idea continues, but doesn’t become more urgent or compelling. It’s a flat line that isn’t nearly as effective as it was for the first three issues.
Last issue, Thor enlisted the help of the Valkyrie Brunhillde to visit Balder in Valhalla and, hopefully, reveal the meaning of portentious dreams the Thunder God has been having about his deceased friend. With Asgard decaying and Ragnarok on the approach, Thor hopes that Balder will have some knowledge about what is happening and if there is any way to fix it before it becomes worse. Instead, Thor finds that Balder is not in Valhalla and Hela has plans to further upset the natural order of the Nine Realms, no longer fearing the wrath of the Asgardians. What she does is surprising and somewhat shocking, but it becomes merely another symptom that something is ‘not right’ anymore. Since it only affects the dead, it lacks the immediate punch to the gut that’s required. Hela’s disruption is more trivial at this point in the series than it should be.
The most intriguing scene in the issue is the continued subplot focusing on Odin and his answer to the charge that he raped his wife. This subplot has moved at a snail’s pace of two pages per issue, but, at such small intervals, Rodi is able to focus and deliver concise, compelling dialogue that packs a punch and also makes the reader want to see more. We still don’t know what Odin is doing with Asgard in such dire straits. His short conversation with his wife is illuminating as Odin relies upon fate as an excuse for his actions. But, as Jord says, “Prophecy is not permission…” and ties into the theme of the series that fate in inevitable and, possibly, immoral. No matter what any of the gods do, Asgard continues to degrade and Ragnarok seems to come. Should knowing that it will happen make everyone embrace fate or should they fight against it, even if it’s simply by saying “No”? That idea is worth exploring in the context of the Asgardians and is a smart subtext for the series.
Rodi’s writing may lack the punch necessary to drive the series forward, but Simone Bianchi’s art is heading in that direction as well. For this series, he and colorist Simone Peruzzi have used washed out, muted colors, sometimes avoiding hard blacks. In this issue, that effect is more pronounced than ever, moving away from clear and crisp line work. Take a look at the preview pages and notice how faded the art looks with the lines a little less defined than Bianchi’s art usually is. With scenes with numerous characters and somewhat detailed backgrounds like Valhalla here, the lack of clarity is a problem.
More than that, Bianchi’s pages lack the same strong designs that previous issues had. His panel-to-panel storytelling is serviceable usually, made up for in ornate and stunning page layouts. Some pages look intricately designed, but not as many as previous issues. Hopefully, this isn’t a sign of deadlines catching up with Bianchi, because his art has been a perfect match for both the world of Thor and the tone of Rodi’s writing so far, and it would be a shame if the series ends on a lackluster note.
It’s not unusual for the fourth issue of six-issue minis to be less compelling than what came before; Rodi tries to work against that problem, but provides more of the same. Instead of raising the stakes, most of the issue maintains the same general level of threat to Asgard. The final page does take things to another level, following up on an idea introduced in a previous issue, suggesting that issue five will get things back on track and pushing strongly to the conclusion.