When Walter Simonson last got his hands on the Norse God of Thunder, he took his powers away and gave them to a horse-faced alien, eventually restoring them just before turning him into a frog. In “RagnarÃ¶k” #4, Simonson has his way with a different incarnation of the character, having awakened a zombie-like creature who carries a hammer named Mjolnir but doesn’t call himself Thor. It’s actually a post-RagnarÃ¶k world, where the dead roam the realms and the newly awakened, so-called Stone God struggles to recollect his days as one of the living gods. It’s also pure, unadulterated Simonson with plenty of fists, thunder and mythological creatures to remind readers just how larger than life his concepts can seem.
Simonson’s dynamic, off-the-page layouts are evident as early the cover, and it’s a shame that most readers won’t get to appreciate both variants. The standard cover shows an imposing, hammer-wielding not-Thor ready to strike against a no less imposing armored troll, while the colorful subscription variant features an exquisitely detailed, demonic Norse ship bearing down on the reader’s point of view. The opening splash page is almost a continuation of the scene from the standard cover, where a white-haired, skeletal-faced Stone God delivers a stinging blow to an unfortunate troll. These are the kind of images that have the capacity to say hello to readers and grab them, even for newer audiences who have missed out on the previous issues.
Even when the fighting stops and the panel sizes shrink, there is still energy crackling off Simonson and colorist Laura Martin’s pages. Simonson’s gods, demons and trolls all look like they could either be fresh from the set of “Lord of the Rings,” onstage at a GWAR show or both without the big-budget seriousness of the former or the over-the-top grotesqueries of the latter. The rough, almost unfinished look of Simonson’s art is nigh-perfect for rendering a grisly army of the undead; the pale and drably dressed warriors don’t require much from Martin color-wise, but she cuts loose at the same time as Simonson’s other characters with sizzling blues from Mjolnir and crimson red from an uncovered fire demon, and her dark elves take on characteristic dark blue complexions.
The dark elves have long been cast as villains in the superhero incarnation of Thor, but Simonson takes a different approach here. In fact, earlier issues made one of them the apparent protagonist of the comic, which is no longer the case due to the events of last issue. The dark elf’s family, though, remains present, as Simonson sets up these characters for a presumable future role. Although the elves are the husband and daughter of an assassin, Simonson plays up the family connection as they search for their fallen wife/mother, evoking an element of sympathy, just as the Stone God’s undead nature conversely gives him more of a sinister air than fans of Thor might be used to.
“RagnarÃ¶k” #4 reads like the kind of comic Simonson was born to create; it’s an excellent example of how Simonson, one of comics’ most notable and longest-tenured creators, has still got it going on.