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Ragnarök #1 – Review

By: Walter Simonson (writer & artist), Laura Martin (colorist)

The Story: “Would you know yet more?”

The Review: Full of strange ideas and epic dramas, Walter Simonson’s Thor remains one of the go-to answers when someone asks what they should read to get into Marvel’s god of thunder. It should come as no surprise, therefore, to hear that Simonson’s return to the realm of Norse Mythology has been hotly anticipated. But despite the undoubted similarity between the forms, Ragnarök #1 resembles traditional sword and sorcery more than the traditional fare of the Norse gods, Marvel-style or otherwise.

In fact, in keeping with the name, there are no gods in this issue, save for what appears to be a corpse in a couple of panels. Instead we explore the post-twilight world through the eyes of Brynja, a svartálfr or black elf. Brynja is an interesting protagonist for this story. While she’s certainly not busting down stereotypes of women or black elves, Simonson does a fine job of representing her complexity and competency. Despite holding the questionable position of assassin, Brynja shows remarkable compassion for her family and has a rather charming relationship with her husband and former sword master, Regn. All of this is expressed in a matter of pages and done in a way that, while it doesn’t sneak information to the reader, is integrated into the story well enough that readers won’t ever feel spoken down to.

Ragnarök obviously rewards those who have some familiarity with Norse mythology but, like many comics, it will likely be the expectation of not understanding that proves the greater barrier than Simonson’s writing. Indeed, much of the content is original and the Thor movies should provide enough background knowledge for most topics raised. As long as you come in with a basic understanding that the Norse gods were prophesized to die and that this was called Ragnarök, you should be able to get your feet, if not understand every nuance.
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The Fearless Defenders #1 – Review

By: Cullen Bunn (Writer), Will Sliney (Artist), Veronica Gandini (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Review:  It’s Ladies Night at the House of Ideas, which I guess is reason enough for a certain amount of celebration; mainstream comics are a bit of a sausage-fest after all.  So, when a book featuring two badass babes going all out to raise a ruckus pops up on the shelf, it is perhaps a debt owed by all red-blooded man-nerds to pick it up. All that ogling of Frank Cho’s libidinous artwork had to come at some kinda price, right fellas?

I jest, of course, but there’s a kernel of truth hidden amongst my pseudo-chauvinistic posturing. We often hear the case put forward in the comic book press that women, diverse ethnic groups and those of a non-hetero persuasion are much maligned when it comes to the world of capes and tights. This book tackles all three hot topics at once, and does so naturally and succinctly. Any move towards equality in the super-powered community deserves at least a respectful nod for trying to make right…but at the end of the day, the main thing we care about as readers is comics that tell a great story filled with engaging characters and dynamite visuals. On those terms I’m afraid this issue comes up a little short.

The basic premise is a good one. I love an Odd Couple pairing and Misty Knight and Valkyrie are nothing if not that. Teaming the “Badass private investigator,” with the “Last Shieldmaiden and defender of Asgardia” is a scenario ripe for terse, witty banter – two more opposing worlds it may be hard to find. It’s a set-up that was at the core of one of my favourite comic runs of the last few years, Greg Pak’s Incredible Herc, where street-smart, likeable techno-brat Amadeus Cho proved a perfect foil for the tragi-comic Greek God Hercules. There’s not a whole lot of interaction between Misty and Valk’ here but the combination certainly has a lot of potential.

The team-up itself takes a while to occur. The story begins with Misty in the middle of a mission from Archeologist Dr Annabelle Riggs to retrieve some stolen Asgardian artifacts from a band of mercenaries. The job gets messy when a villain (who I can only assume is Morgan le Fey) interrupts and makes off with most of the loot. Misty makes her way back to Dr Riggs at her dig site with the one artifact she was able to recover, though she could hardly have picked up a worse one – once activated this Asgardian ‘music box’ plays a tune that reanimates the dead. Zombies ensue, Valkyrie turns up to help Misty, and the book sets up its stall from there.
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Thor: God of Thunder #1

By: Jason Aaron (writer), Esad Ribic (artist), Dean White (Color Artist)

The Story: Thor! In three different eras! With three different weapons! Against one completely bad ass villain. God of Thunder…where have you been?

The Review: I’m not sure where to start. Between Jason Aaron’s writing, Esad Ribic’s art, and Dean White’s colors–all three working in perfect unison–we might have the beginning of the best run on Thor in ages. It’s one of those rare comics that reminds you why you love comics. If you had any doubts on this relaunch, set them aside. God of Thunder should not be tied to the run before it. In fact, for those of you who suffered through Matt Fraction’s Thor and Mighty Thor, Jason Aaron invites you into his mighty welcoming beard. It’s warm here. Join us.
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The Mighty Thor #7 – Review

The Story: The original showdown between Odin and the Serpent.

The Good: Here’s the thing…there actually is good things to say about this issue. In fact, there’s a lot of good things to say about it. Fear Itself was a disaster. I don’t see many people arguing that point–the most that can be said is that it had some amazing tie-ins. What came out of Avengers Academy, Uncanny X-Men (at least the later issues of the tie in), and Journey into Mystery was great. But Fraction’s main event… Let’s just move on. It’s over, let it die, right? Well, we can’t yet because of this issue of Mighty Thor, a prequel of sorts to Fear Itself. And damn it, it was actually pretty good. The threat of the Serpent was clear. The power of the Worthy was clear and all they actually did was stand around. But the threat felt strong and seeing Odin stab himself in the eye to learn how to kill his own brother had more impact than I thought the scene could. At first, I was angry they would tie the “one eye” part of him into Fear Itself, but it worked. And Odin’s fear of the prophecy is much more established. He doesn’t even have a son yet and he’s already told he’ll be doomed to die. That’s cold. And the rivalry between the two brothers is so strong, that you almost have to wonder if Odin accidentally instilled this into Thor and Loki (just because you’re adopted doesn’t mean your parents can’t dump their baggage on you). Another thing I am very happy for–the gods sound like gods. One thing that I thought was most annoying with Fear Itself was how colloquial the gods were talking. I mean, they’re gods! But in this story, they are nothing short of deities willing to cross genocidal lines to kill each other. And we get characterization for the Serpent. Looking back at the event, he was so underdeveloped, it’s no wonder nobody cared about the story. Now, after reading him here and in Journey into Mystery, I kind of wonder if I read Fear Itself again, would i care more (don’t hold your breath on that). To put it quite simply, Matt Fraction did in one issue of Mighty Thor what he couldn’t do in seven issues of Fear Itself. He made me care about the threat.
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Unbeatable, Volume 2 – Review

By: Matthias Wolf (writer), Carlos E. Gomez (artist), Teodoro Gonzalez, Bob Pedroza, Shipeng Lee, Simon Bork (colorists)

The Story: So basically Hell is a fire-stormed, wretched pit of beast-ridden filth and death—that doesn’t mean it can’t have some perks.

The Review: The last volume of Unbeatable set up a storyline that was young and exuberant, but lacked much in the way of content.  In fact, it didn’t even seem as if Wolf had a very firm grasp on what kind of story he wanted, as it essentially went from a psycho-thriller to a dark fantasy on the turn of a dime.  Such changes aren’t necessarily deal-breakers—stories are meant to evolve—but they depend on the writer’s adaptability and execution to succeed.

Wolf certainly has no problems in the flexibility department; having gone for this Norse myth spin, he has pretty much stayed true to leading Dale on this more spiritual-cosmic path.  But it becomes painfully clear reading through the volume that committed as Wolf is to this premise, he’s not sure what he wants to do with it.

Now that Dale’s an immortal guard (whose very nature makes him “unbeatable”) it takes quite an effort to pose a challenge for him.  Loki shooting him, thereby sending him to Hell, seems like a ploy to put Dale someplace where he can actually struggle, but you don’t get the sense there’s any real reason he’s there.  In an entire volume of material, not once do you get a hint of what Loki’s up to—nor do you see him again, actually—so the whole deal just seems random.

In fact, almost everything feels like Wolf throwing ideas into the soup to see if he’ll wind up with something substantial.  You have Dale’s nine buxom, clearly non-elderly, assassin grandmothers, who show up in Hell just to tell him to seek out the shape-shifting Lizard King (a figure whose allure and vagueness rivals Alias’ Mueller device) for help escaping, only he and Thor decide to booze it up at a demonic bar/fight club for months instead.
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Unbeatable Volume 1 – Review

By: Matthias Wolf (writer), Carlos Gomez (artist), Simon Bork & Teodoro Gonzalez (colorists)

The Story: He’s met Joan of Arc, Achilles, William Tell…and they all want to kill him.  He may not be a people person.

The Review: The graphic novel presents a very different reading format than your typical episodic comic book.  It invites a longer investment of time and attention, so you come in expecting more substantial and fully-realized storylines.  Unlike monthlies, which can get away with just immersing you in the moment by gripping drama one issue and wild action the next, graphic novels have to balance all these things throughout.

Unbeatable succeeds on this point—somewhat.  The entire first volume works essentially as a prelude, a very long setup to protagonist Heimen Dale’s true, mythic role.  This probably wouldn’t have worked very well read on an issue by issue basis: the early parts of the story move fairly slowly and even when the pace jacks into high-gear, you still end up with a very limited sense of how this world works, which, at an estimated 150 pages, feels too little.

At least when run together, pacing becomes less of an issue.  The straightforward narration allows for quick reading through the chatty, innocent period of Dale’s life.  But once you get to the real juicy parts of the story, you start to realize how unchallenging the plot really is.  There’s a certain repetitiveness to Wolf’s storytelling and to the way the novel’s different sequences work, so it’s a cinch to predict the next twist and what the aftermath will be.

It doesn’t help that nothing seen so far strikes you as outstandingly new.  The series’ primo concept—living through one’s many deaths to overcome pain and become a weapon of war—comes across interesting, but not mind-blowing.  There is also a lot of material, which feel poached from other works: the weakling turned invincible, the pure, teenage romance, the lost father, the fine line between the supernatural and insanity.
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Thor: Reign of Blood #1 (One-Shot) – Review

By Matt Fraction (Writer), Khari Evans (Pencils), Patrick Zircher (Pencils and Inks), Victor Olzaba (Inks), and Matt Milla and June Chung (Colors)

Thor: Reign of Blood is bloody awesome – quite literally! Continuing the story from Thor: Ages of Thunder, this one-shot relates tales from the early days of Asgard and Midgard. It begins with the story of how the frost giant’s witch daughter has plagued Asgard and Midgard with never ending snow and ice. As the gods attempt to rectify the problem, Loki continues to work behind the scenes to sow seeds of trouble. When the long winter is finally solved, Loki’s seeds begin to sprout. Yet another problem involving the Enchantress leads to every single man who ever died to rise again and plague Midgard until they are slain once more. Odin tasks Thor with this battle, so Thor must combat the undead amidst a deluge of blood.

I’ll let that soak in: Thor fights a seemingly endless skeleton army while it literally rains blood. That right there is reason enough to pick up this book. While this battle is also resolved (in an extremely awesome way, which I won’t reveal), we are left yet another problem at the end of this book, which looks to make this be the “Helm’s Deep” before the “Pelennor Fields” (for you Lord of the Rings fans out there). You can bet I’ll be back next time.

Of course, such a huge part of what makes this issue so entertaining is Matt Fraction’s writing. I have no idea how much of this is pulled from Norse mythology and how much is original, but his storytelling is simply impressive. The actual dialogue is extremely readable with more archaic speech mixed in for good measure. As you can see, the story is epic on the level of Beowulf, and the art matches.

Khari Evans’ and Patrick Zircher’s work is beautiful, frightening, and epic in all the right places. Perhaps even more amazing is their similarity in style. Evans pencils the entire first half, and Zircher the second, but unless you are specifically looking for the transition, it is hard to tell the difference. There is absolutely nothing to complain about in this issue. Anyone who loves stories like Lord of the Rings or Beowulf needs to do themselves a favor and pick this up. (Grade: A)

-M. Staples


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