REVIEW: Dark Horse Comics’ “Norse Mythology – Volume 1”

Characters from Norse mythology remain a popular facet of modern pop culture. These days, most people are probably familiar with the Marvel comics/film versions of deities like Thor, Loki, and Odin, but elements of Norse mythology frequently pop up all over the place. Famously, Neil Gaiman borrowed heavily from Norse mythology for his 2001 novel, American Gods (which got adapted by Dark Horse Comics as a comic series in 2017, so it’s only appropriate that he published his own retellings of Norse tales in 2017’s Norse Mythology. And now, Dark Horse is bringing these closer-to-authentic Norse tales to the world of comics—where the Marvel versions of these characters got their start. The first volume of this series—adapted by P. Craig Russell and illustrated by Russell, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway, Piotr Kowalski, David Rubín, and Jill Thompson—is a very faithful adaptation of Gaiman’s source material. Like Dark Horse’s American Gods adaptation, very little is changed here—but it works very, very well. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: Thanks to Edelweiss and Dark Horse Comics for providing a digital ARC of this title. All thoughts are my own.

Norse Mythology: Volume 1
Adapted by: P. Craig Russell
Illustrated by: P. Craig Russell, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway, Piotr Kowalski, David Rubín, and Jill Thompson
Gaiman and Russell team with a legendary collection of artists to take readers through a series of Norse myths, including the creation of the Nine Worlds, the loss of Odin’s eye and source of his knowledge, the crafting of Thor’s hammer and the gods’ most valuable treasures, the origin of poetry, and Loki’s part in the end of all things—Ragnarök.

The first volume of Dark Horse’s Norse Mythology collects the first six issues of the series. Within those issues are adaptations of the first several stories of Gaiman’s book. Unlike most modern comics, Norse Mythology is episodic, with each story standing more-or-less on its own. The seven stories collected here are also split between the six issues—there isn’t a lot of consistency to the length of each story, but regular issues of a monthly comic tend to be around 22 pages long, so some stories end up being split across two issues of the series. Contrary to what the volume’s synopsis suggests, there isn’t really an arc that’s being collected here—not in the traditional sense, at least. This isn’t a bad thing, though. The book doesn’t feature an overarching plotline that connects the stories together; it’s just a collection of tales about the Norse gods, spanning from the beginning of time to (eventually) Ragnarok. So, it only makes sense that the comic adaptation would feel the same. The episodic nature works very well, allowing each story to feel like a complete experience. Though, I wonder what it’s like reading this title month-to-month given the varied lengths of the stories.

As I said, there are seven stories collected in this volume. The first two, “Prologue” and “Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds” (art by P. Craig Russell), tell the Norse creation story—how the Gods, giants, dwarves, humans, etc came into existence and how the Nine Realms were formed. The third story, “Mimir’s Head and Odin’s Eye” (art by Mike Mignola), explains how Odin traded his eye to Mimir in exchange for knowledge. The fourth story, “The Treasures of the Gods” (art by Jerry Ordway), shows how a prank played by Loki resulted in the Gods being given some of their iconic tools—including Mjolnir. The fifth story, “The Master Builder” (art by Piotr Kowalski), is a fun story about how the wall surrounding Asgard was built. The sixth story, “The Children of Loki” (art by David Rubín), introduces readers to Loki’s children, Jormungundr, Hel, and Fenrir, and explains how Tyr lost his hand. The final story, “Freya’s Unusual Wedding” (art by Jill Thompson), sees Loki and Thor (disguised as Freya) traveling to an Ogre kingdom to foil an attempted marriage between Thrym and Freya in exchange for the return of Thor’s missing hammer. All of these stories are delightful, each of them expanding upon some of the most popular Norse concepts that have crept into modern pop culture. My favorites, though, are “The Treasures of the Gods,” “The Children of Loki,” and “Freya’s Unusual Wedding.” These three stories rank among the longest in the collection, and they’re the ones I had the most fun with. The artwork from each story’s respective artist fits perfectly with each tale, and these three tales are just a lot of fun to read. All of the stories are great, but those are the ones that have stuck with me. 

Like the American Gods adaptation, Norse Mythology is incredibly faithful to Gaiman’s text. All of the words are sourced directly from the book, with Russell abridging some of the prose. Unlike with his American Gods adaptation, I think this approach suits Norse Mythology very nicely. The whole idea of Gaiman’s book was to remain as faithful to the original stories as possible, with Gaiman simply updating the language to something modern readers would have an easier time understanding. So, the comic following the same formula both makes sense and makes for an enjoyable read. It helps that Russell also seems less reliant on copying large swathes of Gaiman’s prose for use as linking narration as he did in American Gods. Here, he allows the dialogue to speak for itself and only uses narration in stories where there’s little-to-no dialogue or in situations where a scene needs some kind of linking narration. It’s a nice balance that results in a more fluid and enjoyable reading experience. Basically, he took what worked about his American Gods adaptation and improved upon it.

The real highlight of this adaptation, of course, is the artwork. In Norse Mythology, every story (aside from the first two) is illustrated by a different artist. You might think this would result in a series that lacks a consistent visual identity, but you’d be wrong. Russell provides the series with a great starting point, illustrating the first two stories and establishing a general look and feel for the series. Every artist that follows him takes that established style and melds it with their own. The designs of the characters remain consistent between artists, with each artist interpreting the designs through their eyes. What results is a series that has both a unified and an endlessly varied visual identity—and it works brilliantly. I love that each story looks a little different; it only furthers the idea that these are stories being told and retold. Plus, the artwork is all fantastic. All of it is super solid, but I especially love Mike Mignola’s artwork in “Mimir’s Head and Odin’s Eye,” David Rubín’s artwork in “The Children of Loki,” and Jill Thompson’s artwork in “Freya’s Unusual Wedding.” I hope future installments of the series continue bringing in such a wide variety of artists because the ever-changing visuals contribute greatly to the uniqueness and enjoyability of the series.

All in all, Norse Mythology is a great adaptation of Gaiman’s retellings of these Nordic myths. P. Craig Russell takes what worked from his adaptation of Gaiman’s American Gods and improves upon it, delivering a tightly-written, well-paced, and extremely faithful work. His scripts are buoyed by some truly impressive artwork from a collection of some of the comic industry’s best artists. If you’ve read the book, you’ll enjoy seeing these myths (and Gaiman’s versions of them) brought to life by such a talented group of artists. If you’re wholly unfamiliar with Norse mythology as a whole, this is a great place to start becoming acquainted with this widely-utilized mythology. Overall, it’s a quick, enjoyable read that’s well worth your time.

4.5 out of 5 wands

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