"Ragnarok's" sporadic publishing schedule has left fans of the book clamoring for months between issues and can prove to be a frustrating ride, but -- once it arrives -- it's easy to forgive as readers discover just how much work has gone into the issue in their hands. This week's issue proves that point once again as Walter Simonson takes the Stone God to the foot of the world tree in his search for answers about the fallen realm of Asgard. The story pulls in readers and the old-school craftsmanship of the narrative means the book has much to give.
What makes "Ragnarok" work is the history the creator has with this material as well as his own expertise on the subject matter. Simonson, a mythological scholar in college, revels in the minutiae of the Norse gods down to the last detail. The character designs are all vibrant and befitting; it's a testament to his skill that the protagonist of the series is missing half a face and is somehow still expressive. As Thor is guided through the odd trappings of reviving the well of knowledge, which includes the removal of his own eye as it had Odin's millennia before, Simonson has fun with the process, embracing the gore and the pageantry that is closely associated with these gods in their lore. His art style has developed a texture to it, the depth and shading represented by harsh scratched lines, that has yet to find a true color companion in the 21st century. His work was so associated with the flat coloring process of 80s and 90s and, with the improvements in the technology, it wasn't until Laura Martin's understanding of the page in this book that Simonson's art has really taken off once again. Martin adds subtle hues to the scratches, embracing them and giving them added depth while striking the balance between cooled and dusty color palettes. John Workman's lettering bridges this gap well, always looking completely at home over Simonson's art; it's hard to imagine one without the other.
If it hadn't been clear from the start, it is certainly clear now that this story is Simonson's spiritual sequel to his legendary run on Marvel's own Thor. The Thunder God is on a quest for revenge and the quest finally intensifies here as Surtur is made aware of Thor's return to the realms of the living dead. This is a Thor whose stoicism and relentlessness drive him ever forward to atone for his sins and seek retribution for those fallen members of his family. In between, Simonson continues to develop the journey of a widowed dark elf and his daughter as he seeks out his own revenge for the death of his wife at Thor's unbeknownst hand in issue 2. The balancing of all this is handled so simply by the team that their veteran skills make the pacing seem easy to control.
"Ragnarok" is an incredible gem of a series, surprisingly overlooked in a market that has much love for the original material and another company's interpretation of the same idea. Simonson quietly creates a title that he seems custom built to create and, though it's unknown when readers will see the next issue, it's always a joy when it arrives. Woe to those of any realm who sleep on this title.