Tuesday, 30 September 2008

LLC Recommends: Northlanders #9-#10

VIKINGS! You need to read comics about VIKINGS! Specifically (given that I think it's the only viking comic on the stands) Northlanders from Vertigo. The first eight issues were excellent, but with the second and much shorter story in Brian Wood's ongoing series, the book really comes into its own.

It reminds me a lot of Criminal. Different setting obviously, but like Ed Brubaker, Wood has built a world and populated it with enough characters to be able to tell a variety of different stories. He's not limited himself by focusing on one character in particular, so while he's arguably constrained by the genre, he still has the scope to explore different themes by introducing new characters with every arc.

Issues 9+10 are dramatically different to the first eight which told a traditional tale of homecoming and revenge (similar to the Lawless arc in Criminal in many respects). They tell the story of a young Saxon boy who grows up hating his violent Christian father and by extension the monks on the island of Lindisfarne where he lives. This hatred drives him on to help the vikings as they launch the first of their infamous raids on the monasteries of Lindisfarne.

It's a fast paced short story, with a smaller cast than the first arc in the series. But it's also much tighter than Sven the Returned was. The art by Dean Ormston is perfect, his characters look suitably windswept damp and bloody while the landscapes are rugged, full of spindly trees and shadows. The battle scenes often look like they could have been torn straight from a dark age tapestry.

It's a style that proves to be a perfect match for Wood's script. Perhaps the writer takes some liberties by putting contemporary turns of phrase and expression into the mouths of 6th century characters, but he does it for a reason and while there may be very few "arts" "thous" or "verilys" in Northlanders, there's no doubt that Wood has captured the brutal spirit of the age.

There's nothing particularly sympathetic about most of his characters, they live in a rotten world filled with violence and greed, where the struggle to survive often precludes sentiment. The reader can feel sympathy for the child in Lindisfarne, but by the end of the two issue story it's clear that the child himself has had to abandon any thoughts of sentiment to stay alive.

The conclusion of his story is a fitting one which makes me hope that we see him again. One of the strengths of Criminal is that characters who were the focus of earlier arcs often pop up as bit part players later on. It's a device that would serve Northlanders equally well. I'd also like to see Wood take another leaf out of Brubaker's book and include some back matter with the comics. A potted history of the viking raids on Lindisfarne for example.

Even without these, Northlanders is an excellent series. If you missed the first arc it's coming out in trade pretty soon and is well worth picking up. The second story is better though. At two issues it's a decent taster for what I hope is going to be a long running series.

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