Advance Review – Norse Mythology #1 (Dark Horse)

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell
Artist(s): P. Craig Russell, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway
Colorist(s): Dave Stewart, Lovern Kindzierski
Release Date: 7th October 2020

In 2017, Neil Gaiman released his novelistic interpretation of the great Norse myths and legends. Beginning with the Creation of the Nine Realms, and looking at the fantastic races, gods, heroes and villains who inhabit them. Stories of heroic deeds, devilish mischief and treachery, great wisdom and great folly that weave their way inexorably towards Ragnarok, the time of oblivion and renewal.  2020 brings us a comic adaptation of this novel, with this first issue boasting artwork from P. Craig Russell, Mike Mignola and Jerry Ordway.

I’m a long-time fan of Gaiman going back to the first issues of The Sandman. I’ve also been an avid reader of Norse Mythology since childhood. When the novel came out in 2017 it was, therefore, a must read for me that nicely satisfied my love of Gaiman’s narrative with a topic that I devour every chance I get.

The novel, to be fair, has its flaws, but Gaiman’s delivery more than makes up for any poetic license. Comic adaptations of novels are tricky things, and in my experience tend to lose something vital in the translation. I love Gaiman’s American Gods; it’s a book I’ve read dozens of times and it’s one I regularly listen to on Audible (other audiobook formats are available). When this story was adapted to a comic series I was right at the front of the queue to buy it, and my burgeoning OCD means that I have all the hardcover editions sitting on my shelf, but it doesn’t quite have the soul and the magic of the novel.

Norse Mythology has an advantage over other novels that I’ve seen adapted to the coming medium in that it’s naturally delivered in a format that can be presented in individual chapters, allowing different approaches to the narrative and artistic style which provide variety and pacing in the flow of the series.

This issue gives us three such chapters, the first being the exploration of the Nine Realms. I really enjoyed the presentation of this chapter, for me it felt reminiscent of the world building histories of Tolkien and Howard, but delivered in a much more compact format. Overall, I thought the artwork was pretty good, and lent itself to the illustrations in the fantasy fiction books of my youth. Not every panel landed for me but there are so many that did that it’s barely worth mentioning. Russell’s artwork is perfectly suited to this genre of fiction and fills me with nostalgia for my first introductions to myths and legends, and swords and sandals.

Mimir’s Head is, for me, the best of the three stories in this issue by a considerable margin. Not only is it a great example of the darker side of the stories surrounding Grimnir, but it’s illustrated by my favourite artist of all time and coloured by my favourite colourist of all time. With apologies to anyone else involved in this series, I think that if you’re going to produce a work based on myth and legend then the top of my list would have to be Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart. This chapter is quite a short, self-contained story, which really plays to Mignola and Stewart’s strengths, their ability to convey so much with so little, and the knack for making every panel its own work of art.

The final chapter is the only one in this first issue that isn’t a self-contained story and will be continued in the coming issues. Of course no anthology of Norse Mythology can be told without stories of Loki, and his perpetual bedevilling of his long suffering brother Thor. To be honest, there are times when I’m not sure that Thor didn’t deserve what he got, but that’s another story. This particular story is a great example of Loki’s pranks backfiring when he steals Sif’s hair and is forced into creating schemes within schemes to avoid repeatedly having his bones broken by his brother and his head removed by vengeful dwarves. The artwork in this chapter reminds me of that late 80s/early 90s style that adorned many of the fantasy series of my youth, and while it’s the third distinct style in as many stories, it works really well alongside the story it’s telling.

I’ll admit that I approached this issue with some trepidation. I’ve been let down far too many times by this style of adaptation, but hand on heart this is really good. Is it a series that I’d collect as a monthly publication? Probably not. I think that this is something that should be read in one of Dark Horse’s trademark oversized Library Editions that you can sit down and with take a Sunday afternoon to savour and enjoy, and when that comes out I’ll be all over it!

Rating: 3.5/5.

The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek ‏

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