Fans, scholars, and academics have often referred to comic books as “The Mythology Of 20th Century.”
However, many comic books have borrowed heavily from myths that are much, much older.
Wonder Woman has always been steeped in Greek mythology and many of her friends and allies through the years of been gods of the Greek pantheon. Thor, Hercules, and now Aries have long been featured characters in Marvel comic books and have fought with and beside standard superheroes. (In fact the trickster god Loki, in an effort to defeat Thor, inadvertently created the first team of The Avengers.) Captain Marvel gets his power from several mythical gods (and, for reasons I’ve never understood, the Biblical King Solomon — what’s HE doing hanging out with Mercury and Hercules?).
Now, Erik Evensen has produced a new look at the old gods in God Of Asgard, one of the most ambitious graphic novel projects of recent years.
Make no mistake — this is not a gods-as-superheroes project or even a gods-as-valiant warriors comic book. Using source material from the translation of Snorri Sturluson‘s Prose Edda; Bulfinch’s Mythology; Kevin Crossley-Holland‘s The Norse Myths, and numerous other sources, Evensen has created a work as richly satisfying as happy hour in Valhalla.
Although there are action/adventure stories in Gods Of Asgard, there are also plenty of “origin stories” of the various gods, stories of deceit, lust, friendship, loyalty, and just about every other aspect of the private lives of the Norse gods. All told clearly and orderly and all told with an obvious interest and affection for these ancient tales.
Gods of Asgard begins with the Norse creation myth. Ymir, first of the Frost Giants, was created in the mists between two realms of fire and ice. From the Frost Giant’s sweat, sons and daughters were born. But it took a scared cow, Audumla, to lick a being called Buri from the ice realm. Buri had a son, Bor, and Bor had three sons that included Odin — and the Norse pantheon was off and running.
Having slogged my way through some of Bulfinch’s Mythology and a few of those long, digressive old Norse poems in college, I was incredibly impressed with Evensen’s presentation of these stories. Evensen tells these myths concisely with solid art and no unnecessary exposition. This is the first time I have truly comprehended the point of some of these stories.
And for those who think they are familiar with Norse mythology after reading Marvel’s Thor comics, there are many surprises. Thor had a wife, two sons, and a daughter who was a Valkyrie. Loki was Odin’s blood brother, not Thor’s half-brother. Loki had both a wife and a mistress. Odin kept the severed head of his friend, Honier, alive by magic to give him counsel and advice. Gods Of Asgard may be a story told as a graphic novel, but it is far from being a comic book.
Readers will also want to put aside some serious time to read Gods Of Asgard — because you’ll want to read as many short stories as possible before setting the book down. You can read and enjoy each tale as its own short story, but most of the stories are linked together. Reading one story makes you want to proceed to the next one and on to the one that follows.
The myth of “The Theft Of Idunn’s Apples” gives you the background to thoroughly enjoy the following tale of “The Marriage Of Skadi” (where a Princess must choose a god for a husband based only on the appearance of his feet) and both myths reference “The Apples Of Youth” that is a key element in the tale of “Skirnir’s Journey.” Read the stories carefully, because there are great details in each myth that give depth and understanding to the other stories.
(Don’t miss “The Lay Of Thrym,” where Thor has to dress up as a woman to retrieve his stolen hammer.)
The final story, “Ragnarok,” the end of both gods and men, has a few things in common with the Christian story of the Final Judgment — the dead rise for a final great battle and the Earth is consumed in fire — but the end of the world in Norse myth is also a new beginning, with a new Earth rising from the ashes and two humans left to repopulate the world.
In the end, the human capacity for hope is celebrated. Ultimately hope becomes the only thing that endures and lives beyond even gods and men.
Often critics of comics as an art form have sneered that there has never really been educational comics. Even Classics Illustrated comics have been roundly criticized as presenting painfully abridged versions of great literature.
But Gods Of Asgard is both literate and entertaining. It also gives the reader a good background in the kind of heroic fiction that has evolved into the modern comic book.