Riders of Berk: Underworld is the last graphic novel under the Riders of Berk title. It’s safe to assume that the confines of these events also align with the Riders of Berk TV series. The How to Train Your Dragon world is vast and expansive, with plenty of films, games, shows and books to sift through. That’s why the end of this era of comic books is such an important event for the franchise. Not only does it move the story forward, but it finalizes the departure of specific characters. Underworld calls upon Simon Furman and Iwan Nazif – original writer and artist of Dragon Down, the first in the long line of graphic novels under the Riders of Berk title – to work together one last time for this era of How to Train Your Dragon.
Underworld is a very father-and-son-focused issue. Understandable, given how this specific comic ties the first film to the second. It’s preemptive preparation for Stoick’s oncoming death. While his death can’t be changed; the events between the first film’s ending and the moments leading up to his demise are worth exploring. It gives the audience a few more moments of bonding between Stoick and Hiccup; some sort of hope to cling onto. Even more than just an exploration of Stoick and Hiccup’s father-and-son dynamic; this issue provides a bit of Stoick’s backstory and personal history. That’s something I find really interesting.
The general rap of what happens is that Stoick was once the second-in-command of Fiske. Fiske used to lead a vanguard squad that protected Berk in the midst of dragon raids. An incident with a vicious Submaripper left Fiske with one foot down. Still, the Viking did not give up and instead continued on to chase the tidal dragon. Stoick, worried for his friend, tried to stop him. But Fiske saw this as betrayal, and severed their relationship. Fast forward to now. As the Submaripper comes back and wrecks havoc across the waters of Berk; Fiske is digging underground, trying to collapse the village from underneath. Both Stoick and Hiccup fight their own battles, a show of their differences in leadership. I particularly like that Underworld has Stoick battling a dragon while Hiccup fends off a Viking – the complete reverse of their usual situations.
What’s excellent about this issue is how well it highlights the contrast between father and son. Stoick and Hiccup are only together for a few panels, but you can still feel the strength, yet divide, in their relationship. This is all due to the impactful imagery used by the art, recalling specific scenes from the first film. The spread of Stoick walking away from the great hall is parallel to the scene in which he disowns Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon. In that same film, we also see their awkward goodbye, in which Stoick doesn’t listen to Hiccup. Underworld flips this with Stoick demanding Hiccup to promise not to get into trouble, and Hiccup doing the exact opposite. The two scenes have the same bravado in terms of how Stoick overpowers Hiccup with his mere authority, and Hiccup passively agreeing.
Other recognizable references to the greater world of the franchise are in the familiar tropes. There’s Hiccup and his never-ending lack of self-preservation. It’s like he never learned from the last issue! There’s also the reappearance of familiar faces. We get to see Torch and how big he has grown. Although, this little cameo poses question to the overall continuity of the comics within the timeline of the franchise. Then there are the quotes referencing the previous and future enemies of Hiccup and Berk. These inlcude the likes of Alvin, Dagur, Drago, Ryker, Viggo, Johann and Grimmel: “Know what I think, Fiske? You’re just another would-be invader in a long line of would-be invaders who think they can walk in and take over. Pretty soon, you’ll join the others who’ve tried and failed”.
As always, the art by Nazif delivers, as does the colors by Digikore. Together, they bring the comedic flair of the characters and banter to life. Even in the midst of mortal peril and invasion, there’s still humor and a lightness to the interactions. This is something very similar to the TV series. Even the action sequences are impeccable. They have this one scene of the Submaripper chasing Astrid. The imagery for that is very much a callback to Hiccup’s battle with the Red Death in the first film. One thing I can’t get behind is that the Submarriper doesn’t look at all like its TV series counterpart. Again, this is a question of consistency and continuity.
The first page of Underworld has Hiccup explaining: “I like to think that there’s a hidden side to Berk, a softer center. And that deep down, we care. Not just about our friends, neighbors and loved ones. That’s a given. But also about our place in the wider world, and – more specifically – what we leave behind”. I like to think this is a metaphor for Stoick and his love for Hiccup. It’s also a hint towards his future death. What’s jarring about this issue is that it’s the only one of the six that features a possible death. The disappearance of Fiske and his crew is rather vague, but it’s implied they died undersea. That thought hits harder when you consider that not long after, Stoick too will meet his own end.
We’re reviewing every single comic from the Dreamworks Dragons series every month in anticipation of the How to Train Your Dragon 2’s ten-year-anniversary. If you love animation and dragons, miss this 2010 classic, and want more of the dragon riders; you may want to check back in every now and then for the rest of the series! You can pick up a copy of Underworld on Amazon. Let us know what you think of Dreamworks Dragons on our Instagram or Twitter!