This has been a fun week in comics for me, and it’s actually been refreshing as both a reader and a reviewer. At some point in the past few years, somebody (let’s label him or her “the man”) decided that comics were important. Block buster movies and corporate dividends have turned much of the comics world into a gloomy miasma, with companies trying to outdo each other in terms of how dark, grim, and serious they can be.
Thankfully, a few comics came out this past week (even one regular monthly title from one of the “Big Publishers”) that go against that grain. And Loki: Ragnarok and Roll by Boom! Studios also eschews all that “dark and gritty” garbage to put out a fun, goofy book, and I mean that as the highest compliment possible. This book is a treat visually, and while the premise might seem a bit simplistic at first glance, I think that’s partly the point of the whole thing. This is a ton of fun and had me smiling throughout.
We start with a great cartoon-like cover of a typical long-haired rock god playing an axe…and then we realize that it’s not just figuratively an axe. It’s an actual weapon with a blade that’s been notched during battle. Our rock god stands on a sea of skulls, while behind him, larger than life, is a huge hammer-wielding…. Something. A giant? A god? One of Jack Kirby’s lost creations? We’re not sure, but we want to find out more.
While at my local shop picking this book up, I heard a fellow customer proclaim that it was nice to see another comics company “reclaim” characters from myth despite Other Company’s efforts to try to pseudo-trademark characters like Thor and Loki. Another shopper, younger than me, was surprised that the creators of Loki: Ragnarok and Roll weren’t going to be sued by said Other Company. After having read the issue, I associated the former customer with Loki of this story, and the younger, less well-informed shopper with his half-brother, Thor.
The creators of this book, Esquivel and Gaylord, have done some really fun stuff here. Gone is the noble warrior Thor, replaced by a somewhat dim-witted brute who only wants to smash things with his hammer. Loki remains a scoundrel character of manipulation, but in this case, so far, he doesn’t seem bent on the destruction of the Asgardians, which honestly gets a little old after a while. This Loki’s main source of frustration is why the “all-seeing” Odin can’t figure out that Thor is a complete tool. Odin, for his part, seems mainly concerned that he may need Thor’s brute strength if something were to go wrong.
It’s the age-old case of “might equals right,” and Loki in this story represents everybody who grew up as the “smart kid” in class who was constantly picked on and cast aside because he wasn’t good at sports. That’s putting it a bit crudely and very one-dimensional, but the pieces are there for readers to pick up. Thor is a brute. Loki is smart and strategic, and people are threatened by that. We see it not only in the way the characters interact through words, but visually as well. Gaylord’s Thor always has this look on his face that seems to indicate that he has no idea what’s going on, whereas Loki’s expressions always indicate that he’s constantly thinking, planning, and, yes, scheming. Based on facial expressions alone you can easily tell the two characters apart. It helps that Thor is also about two-and-a-half times the size of Loki, but even without that visual crutch, there’s enough differences between the two in terms of mannerisms (both spoken and acted) that we instantly get a sense of who these two characters are.
One of my favorite scenes in the book centers around a feast held at Odin’s hall in Asgard. Gaylord and Esquivel pull out all the stops here, drawing on some really deep and obscure mythological beings that would be present at the table. While the scene is an homage to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, in this book the references are extremely deep and go much farther. Yes, Hercules and Horus are there, but the West African god of stories? The Chinese god of “male-on-male love”? Then we get to two of my absolute favorites – Cthulhu (defined as a “god of cosmic nihilism”), and what is perhaps the greatest character to ever appear in a comic book, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (a god of “oppositional defiance disorder,” but also likened to merely being an “internet meme”). This is funny stuff and it’s almost purely throw-away in terms that it really doesn’t advance the story all that much. This feast is mainly there for the delight of the reader, as it doesn’t really propel the story along other than to see how these other “gods” view the sons of Asgard. It’s mainly there because, again, it’s fun.
The conflict in this issue (the first of a four-issue limited series) really comes down to Loki’s relationship with his half-brother and his father. There is no “bad guy” per se. This is really a character study, and a fun and very relatable one at that. There’s nothing earth-shattering here in terms of theme, no huge surprises, no cosmic bad guys threatening life on Earth as we know it. And that’s exactly as it should be. There are enough “big event” comics threatening that “everything you know will change” in their lines (when of course we know that nothing really will change). This comic is the diametric opposite of those kind of over-blown world-ending corporate tie-ins, and it excels because of that. Thor is a brute. Loki is smart, and a bit of trickster, and is picked-on and maligned because of that.
The creators of this book even go a step further and suggest some recommended listening to enjoy while reading the book. The obvious inclusions are there, such as Dio and Marilyn Manson, but they also tip their hat to Mastodon, and also include classic rock in the form of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” It’s a nice touch and immediately gives you the sense that not only is this book a blast to read, but you know that the creators had a blast putting it together. I have the feeling that this wasn’t looked at as “work” by the creators, but rather that Esquivel and Gaylord created this purely because it was fun.
If only more comics these days were produced that way.