I love this comic.
If you’re reading this series, you must know how good it is, but if you’re waiting for the first trade, or if you’re waiting to see if it lasts before investing in it monthly, how about if I throw a little high concept description at you? What if I say, “‘Northlanders’ is ‘300’ meets ‘Braveheart,’ but with vikings”? Would that interest you? Because that’s not too far off from what issue #7 feels like. But it’s more than that, too. “‘300’ meets ‘Braveheart'” cheapens what Brian Wood and Davide Gianfelice are doing in this series — it’s an oversimplification just to get your attention. Yet, issue #7 in particular has moments that evoke both of those films. (And, yes, I know ‘300’ was a comic before it was a film, but let’s keep our comparisons cinematical, shall we?) “Northlanders” #7 has a group of warriors facing impossible odds, using their shields to create a barricade — their only hope of survival. It also features the return of the prodigal son, bent on exacting a violent revenge. It’s also got plenty of blood and cursing. Davide Gianfelice and Dave McCaig’s stark landscapes match anything done by cinematographers Larry Fong or John Toll. It’s “300” meets “Braveheart,” with more than a hint of. . .
I referred to “Northlanders” as “Shakespearian” when I reviewed issue #5, and I don’t toss that adjective around lightly. When I said “Shakespearian,” I didn’t mean “in that vague, high-Renaissance style where people act all fancy and bad stuff happens at the end.” I meant Shakespearean in the sense that Sven in “Northlanders” is Hamlet with an angry streak.
Let me back up a bit and justify the “Hamlet” connection.
Here’s the thing about Hamlet: his tragedy isn’t just that he hesitates and wavers when he should act. His tragedy is that he’s a modern man in a world populated by those with antiquated beliefs. His uncle, Claudius, is a man of Machiavellian self-interest in a world which rates the king as the most noble in the land. Hamlet knows that man is not the center of the universe — he’s a Copernican in a world still governed by the astronomy of Ptolemy. He is a man out of time — ahead of his time, really — and that is his flaw. He is doomed because he is a precursor of a new age in a world that is not ready for him. That is precisely Sven’s situation in “Northlanders,” but unlike Hamlet he does not hesitate to act. He schemes and he manipulates and he takes action like a soldier — like Othello or Macbeth. He is a fine mixture of them both, capable of great emotion and fierce guilt. But he is, most of all, Hamlet. Like Hamlet, he is our gateway into an era we were not born into, and we must suffer as he suffers, and watch has he attempts to do what’s right, even if it is too late.
In my big-picture, high-concept look at “Northlanders,” I’m skipping over many of the small, brilliant moments that make Wood and Gianfelice’s work more than a sum of its influences. The way the Saxon’s speak, for example, or how Sven turns his men around to fight an even greater threat. The questions in Sven’s narration as the violence escalates, or the confrontation with Gorm who does not deserve a hero’s death and will not get one no matter how pathetic his begging. The final moment with Hakkar. These are moments that make this comic great, and turn it from a retread of other movies involving swords and revenge and make it something powerful in its own right. “Northlanders” is worth your time, and whether you pick it up now or wait for the first trade, I encourage you to pick it up. It’s an excellent piece of work.
Just to clarify: it’s “300” meets “Bravehart” plus “Hamlet” with a bloodstained heart.