I can’t help but think that when most people first heard about Brian Wood’s Viking comic “Northlanders,” what they expected was a lot of comics like this one. Lots of Viking-on-Viking action, and by that I mean massive fight scenes. But even when Wood devotes an entire issue to a duel, there’s a lot more to the comic than just two people attacking each other.
Wood’s script is in many ways a massive essay on the life of a Viking: why they make their choices in life, what their lifestyle has waiting for them, how it makes them feel. It walks a fine line, too, between talking about Vikings in general and then applying this information specifically to the characters. Every time it seems like the script is becoming divorced from the visuals, Wood suddenly shifts the focus back to the single combat between Snorri the Black and Egil Sleggja. It works well, and it keeps the comic engaging.
The real star of “Northlanders” #17 for me, though, was the art. Vasilis Lolos is an artist who continually improves with each new project. Lolos’ art reminds me more and more of being in the same school as Dean Ormston, with rounded faces, crinkly hair and beards, and lots of little line fragments that help bring a texture to the surfaces they’re scattered all over. It’s a gorgeous finished product; Lolos’ art really pops thanks to Dave McCaig’s muted color palette, so that you can really feel the cold weather over the stark landscape. Lolos really nails the fight here, too. I love how he makes you feel the motion of the characters, and how the sound-effects are drawn into the fight in such a way that makes them feel natural and organic. Even the small details, like the shapes of clouds in the sky, or the edges of the circle boundary drawn in the sand, have a sense of grace about them.
“Northlanders” #17 is, at the end of the day, a very satisfying comic. It’s not the sort of story you’d want to read every month, certainly, but Wood nicely confounds reader expectations with his “all fight” issue, giving it a level of depth and sociological examination that you might not expect to see. It’s another good issue for “Northlanders.”