Hel has frozen over, and someone has thrown a wedding in it.
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mike Del Mundo
Cover Artists: Mike Del Mundo
Colorist: Marco D’Alfonso
What You Need to Know:
Through Loki’s magic, Thor Odinson has descended into Hel in the hopes of stopping a war which will send it’s ripples out across every world there is. In doing so, he has inadvertently freed Hela to wreck her particular brand of havoc. Things have gotten a bit out of hand, since then.
What You’ll Find Out:
The comic opens in the most unexpected of places (considering the cliff-hanger the last issue left us with) at a wedding. A dreamlike, icy hall is laden with hoards of the undead (including a giant, cycloptic panda — gnawing on a cowboy boot— and a creature that I’m 90% certain is a reference to Eric Powell’s Goon) and the giant skeletal officiant (clad in a Victorian suit) welcomes us with the words, ‘We are gathered here today, among the frozen gardens of the sacred Hvergelmir wellspring, to show that even in the dusk lands…the power of True Love conquers all.’
The groom is Baldur. The best man, Thor. Thori is possibly the world’s best flower-girl, and he seems ridiculously happy about it. The officiant asks, ‘And who among the dearly departed presents this bride to be married to this Deadman?’
The bride, has not been revealed yet, but she is on the next page when Loki answers, ‘Her Father does!’ and escorts Hela (clad in a jet-black bridal robe and clutching a bouquet of bloody red roses) down the aisle where she will join her groom (adopted uncle?) In what is certain to be the exact opposite of matrimonial bliss.
Watching them make their way through the sea of the dead, Thor muses on the fact that you cannot choose your family, ‘all you can do is endure them. Forge yourself in their fires.’ He goes on to say that most of his problems have sprung from his interactions with his family. And that is absolutely true.
His musings inevitably lead to a flashback of him a few seconds after we last saw him in the previous issue; riding his nephew (a giant wolf) and trying very hard to hit it with a hammer.
While Thor is busily engaged in attempting to concuss Fenris, Loki has uncovered the fact that Tyr was behind the attack and he draws his knife, in order to better disembowel him.
The scene cuts to Baldur who is battling the many monstrous hands which were summoned from the depths by Hela as she taunts him to return her crown. Hela is attacked by Karmilla (who is riding a skull-laden motorcycle and wielding a bazooka, because of course, she is) but she is knocked aside by the tendrils of Hela’s mucousy monster.
Karmilla calls on Skurge for help, but the mercenary decides to sit this one out, in the hopes of inheriting Baldur’s Mad-Maxian truck.
Meanwhile, Loki and Tyr are fighting it out. The battle is matched before Thori leaps in (shouting, ‘Thori not sure who on which side now! So Thori murder everyone, sort it out later!’) and knocks him to the floor. Loki, grinning maniacally, leans in to relieve the Asgardian of his beautiful mustache.
While this is going on, Thor has his own problems. Fenris plunges them both into the waters of the Gjoll (the stream of despair) and Thor loses his hammer to the waves. He cannot think about misery, here. He’ll drown in it. So instead he thinks ‘happier thoughts’. He thinks of drinking mead with his father, the warm flesh of wenches. He thinks about his fellow Avengers. He thinks, ‘Cold ale and a warm hammer. Thunder in my ears. Jane Foster is alive. And so the hell am I.’
These thoughts lend him the strength to strike and he does. The surface of the water is lightning-lit.
Thor emerges, dragging his unconscious nephew behind him like a wet fur cloak.
He meets his family by the banks of the river and they argue over lineage, but it isn’t long before they are interrupted by the appearance of a glowing pirate vessel, from whose cracked and burning flanks emerges, ‘Death to the rulers of Hel! All hail The Queen of Cinders!’
There’s a sudden scene change on the next page: a gorgeous splash in which that self-same queen has slaughtered the mightiest dragon in the land with her magma-seeping sword.
One of her minions brings the news that the train has been lost, the prisoners escaped, but that they’ve all been located. She gives the order to saddle her firehorn and rally her armies for war.
She leaves six corpses, hanging, in her wake.
The next page brings us back to the Odinson siblings (et al) who have ceased their squabbling exactly long enough to watch Thor blast the pirate ship to cindery splinters. As soon as that is done, they begin fighting again, with Hela ordering Tyr (now patchily shorn about the lips) to, ‘summon your dino-steed!’
(Can I just pause a minute to say that one of the best things about this book is the way that the writer and artists all lean into the fact that the story and characters are all ridiculous, operatic, and deadly serious in exactly the same moment? Dino. Steed.)
But the tyrannosaurus-mount has already been incapacitated by Thor’s nonverbal goat.
There is some back and forth about how, exactly, they’re going to settle this business and unify their armies before The Queen of Cinders destroys everything, but (possibly) luckily, Loki has a solution.
This brings us right back to where we came in.
Thor and Loki are whispering to each other as the ceremony progresses. Thor tells Loki that even if this works, they’ll need the power of Valhalla to win over the Queen. Loki points out that he can’t get there, so Thor asks his brother to kill him, and Loki is taken aback. Apparently, he only attempts murder on his own twisted terms.
At the bottom of the page, Karmilla flees from the hall, unable to bear the sight of her beloved marrying someone that he cannot stand, so she runs outside to weep by the truck and converse with Skurge about the fact that the norns are gone and so, ‘Our fates are our own now. For better or worse.’ Skurge replies, ‘Oh. Well, that explains why everything sucks now.’
On the next page, Hela and Baldur are exchanging their olive-branch of bitter vows while Loki and Thor continue to argue. This is actually a very tender moment. Loki is forced to reveal that he wants Thor to live, but before he can go too far, Thor inadvertently gives him an out, saying that he wants him to help him, ‘just like you claim to have saved our mother when you buried her knife in her back.’
And just like that, Loki understands.
The next page is a beautiful splash of Loki standing above the bloody corpse of Thor. There’s a white-glowing knife buried in the Thunder God’s chest. Loki says, ‘It’s not…what it looks like. Except I suppose it probably is.’
Thor’s white-clad soul stands before the gates of Valhalla where a Valkyrie holds her sword against his neck and says, ‘You’re dead. But not really. You have the stench of Loki magic about you.’
While we leave Thor behind to deal with that, Loki finds himself in an uncomfortable situation, pinned beneath Thori (‘Master can’t be dead! Who will tell Thori he’s a good dog? Unmurder Master now!’) and a very angry Baldur who decides to call off the wedding in favour of an execution, despite Karmilla’s selfless offer to forgo their love for the sake of the throne.
Eventually, he is made to see what passes for reason in this place. The ceremony resumes.
The skeletal celebrant continues, saying the usual line ordering the audience to ‘speak now or forever hold their piece’ — peppered with a few hellishly appropriately tweaks, and he is interrupted by a voice ordering them all to, ‘Stop this farce.’
Smirking, Hel says, ‘I’m spoken for.’ And the next page reveals who, exactly, it is who has spoken.
The final page is a full spread of Thanos, walking up the aisle.
He would like to have a word with the groom.
What Just Happened:
The film critic Mark Kermode says that he has to laugh at least six times over the span of a ninety-minute comedy in order for him to consider it a success. I laughed out loud eight times, reading this 24-page book. The tone in this issue is perfectly balanced, shifting between weighty themes of family and the nuances of love and gags (both verbal and visual) which often feature the Hell-dog, Thori.
This issue does a much better job of maintaining that balance, primarily by absolutely leaning into the overblown, operatic trappings and dialogue which a story of this kind almost seems to require. Because we have scenes where Hela is calling for a giant Dino-Steed to smite her enemies, because we have Thor’s deadpan monologue about his nephew being a giant wolf, because all of this is delivered with absolute, hilarious sincerity, the serious emotionally revealing moments hit home with some weight. If any of this were given with a nod and a wink, if the characters weren’t themselves taking it absolutely seriously, the story would fall apart in five minutes. Instead, we care about the fact that Thor loves Loki. We care about Karmilla’s potential heartbreak. It matters to us because it matters to them, and the laughs we get along with it only serve to add to the effect.
The pacing in this issue was absolutely wonderful. The story flowed with energy and style; there was no drag or wasted panels. There wasn’t a splash page every five minutes, but when they appeared the painterly panels were beautifully rendered; dreamlike and vivid, with an eye for effect.
The one exception was the appearance of Thanos on the final page, and that’s due to a clash in genre rather than a failure of art. The style of this book, in terms of writing and design, is Wagnerian. It’s a Victorian production of Das Valkyrie, as staged in an overblown Pre-Raphaelite production, while all of the audience is high on laudanum. Thanos belongs in space, surrounded by a Kirby krackle. Seeing him here was a bit of a shock, like biting into chocolate and tasting steak. Somehow though, I suspect that the creative team will make it work.
I am interested in seeing where this story leads.
Final Thought: Hel has frozen over, and someone has a wedding in it. A story this operatic needs a Wagnerian score and a deep draught of laudanum to wash it down with.
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