The Dead ride dinosaurs, and who can blame them?
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mike Del Mundo
Cover Artist: Mike Del Mundo
What You Need to Know:
Thor and Loki are stranded in Hel, searching for the front line of the war started by the Dark Elf King. Luckily, allies abound for the brothers. There are some benefits, it seems, to know a lot of dead people.
What You’ll Find Out:
The issue opens with a shot of a train moving across a map of Niffleheim while a mysterious voice gives a truncated history of the royalty of Hel. The next page reveals that the voice belongs to a prisoner traveling aboard the eerily-modern, graffiti-covered Hel-train. The prisoner is addressing a giant pair of glowing eyes, trapped behind the burning bars of a cage.
The cage is guarded by a pair of giant lava-monsters who talk about a person named The Queen of Cinders. The monsters inform their prisoners that the Queen is planning on executing them as soon as they arrive at their mysterious destination.
On the next page, Thor greets Baldur (his dead brother) who climbs down from his spikey Mad-Max-style roadster. They exchange pleasantries before Baldur notices Loki, who asks if Baldur is still angry at Loki for stabbing him through the heart with a sprig of mistletoe. Loki says, ‘That was so long ago. And I only murdered you a little.’
This uncomfortable reunion is interrupted by Skurge who informs them that a goblin is on the way to slaughter them all. Skurge begins pelting the giant, molten-lava monster with machine gun fire and Baldur orders his brothers into their truck to make their escape, but Thor says that he will not abandon his vessel and although Loki says that Thor’s barge is the ugliest vehicle that he’s ever seen, he uses his magic to levitate the ship while Thor and his Hell-dog Thori begin walloping the lava-monsters with whatever weapons they happen to have at hand. There’s some nice, familial banter, a few jokes at the expense of goats, Loki, and the dog, and Thor’s latest hammer splits in two, conveniently calving into two murder-hammers. Before the God can smash the goblin into a thousand tiny pieces, the monster explodes into a slurry of neon effluvia, courtesy of the dead warrior Karnilla, who has found herself a very large gun.
Karnilla and Thor have a nice little bonding moment which is interrupted by the appearance of his older brother, Tyr, who turns up riding astride a Tyrannosaurus Rex. While Thor is greeting yet another of his dead kinsmen, Baldur asks Karnilla if she has discovered the location of The Queen of Cinders’ secret meeting.
Karnilla hasn’t discovered it, but part of the magic of Comics is that the readers can see whatever the writer decided to show them, so the next page reveals the luscious, molten throne room of the usurping Queen. She’s called the surviving leaders of the realm together in order to test their alliances and consolidate her power.
One of these leaders, Allmour of the Free Love Pleasure Lands, doesn’t agree to fight her war, so the Queen of Cinders sets her alight before beheading another of her dissidents. Both parties burned woman and beheaded murderer, agree to join her side. It appears that while the dead cannot truly die a second time, they can (and do) suffer from the penalties of fire.
The next three pages take place in a frozen cave, far away from the evil Queen’s fires. The reunited Odinsons crouch by a small and ashy fire, eating roast goblin and arguing over whether or not they should kill Loki before he betrays them all. Thor convinces them not to but informs them all that if Loki crosses them, he will flay and quarter his annoying brother himself. In any case, they agree that they have to stop The Queen of Cinders by any means necessary and to that end, they will attack the train we saw at the beginning of the book.
Finally, the group decides to split up. Balder and Co. leave by way of Mad-Max cruiser and dinosaur while Thor and Loki ride the river in their deteriorating barge. They are planning on taking on the Goblins on three fronts, with Baldur and Karnilla distracting the drivers of the train by attacking from either side, holding their attention until the train has started crossing a set of tracks laid across a semi-frozen river. Thor has left a bomb on the tracks and it detonates, sending the cars hurtling into the waves. Thor and Baldur dive in after it, kicking through the debris until they reach the car which was holding the mysterious prisoners we heard at the beginning of the issue.
The brothers open the door then swim back skyward as fast as they can as a shadow rises behind them from the ominous deep. Watching this, Thori says, ‘Uh-oh. Big ugly fish.’ Loki looks down into the water and says, ‘That’s no fish, Thori… it’s my children.’
The final page is a giant spread: Hela, crowned in glory, rises from the waves astride her beloved Fenris. Baldur stands behind her, mounted on the hackles of the beast, while Thor dangles, unconscious, from the Dire Wolf’s jaws. Her voice is written, white on black, dripping with strength and venom as she declares that she is ‘back to reclaim Hel!’
What Just Happened:
There was a lot less subtext to this issue than was promised by the first, but it was a rollicking adventure painted in broad strokes and leavened with humor. Family relationships are central to the story of Thor. People are who they are and they do what they do: Thor alternates between well-meaning bumbler and brutal warrior; Loki simpers, threatens, and (almost despite himself) lets slip the occasional intimation of actual love; the dead children of Odin banter, bluster, and bluff while keeping their motives and desires well-hidden from each other. The fun is in seeing if they can ever really break these patterns. Often, they cannot.
As a villain, The Queen of Cinders is overblown, operatic, and ultimately not much of a threat— she could be a character in a prog-rock album — but that’s not a flaw. It’s fairly obvious that she’s just an appetizer to tease the readers into interest before the real threat appears.
The writing is generally good. The pace sometimes slackens, and the writer’s technique of inserting exposition onto scenes of travel is occasionally clumsy, but the dialogue is witty and the players never act out of character.
So far, however, the art is the real strength of this book. It’s stylised, with painterly qualities (reminiscent of a cross between operatic neo-gothic art and the cover of a heavy metal album) that serve to emphasize the distance between the epic space of this story and the drab mundanity of everyday life.
In short, this was a good set up for the story which is to follow.
Final Thought: While this story lacked the subtext and narrative nuances promised by the first issue, it remains a rollicking adventure story, laden with beauty and wit. Pick it up.
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