The strength of Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein’s “Viking” hits you before you even open it. You’re walking down the New Comics shelves, your brain is used to this by now. You go through the DC books, almost absentmindedly picking up your usuals, Vertigo perks your attention up slightly (“Oooh! The new “Scalped”!) but as exciting as your haul might be, you’ve mostly been expecting it, anticipating it. “Viking” caught most people’s attention, I’d imagine, by the easily discernible greatness of its design. In all the solicitations, its bold logo and cover design made it look fantastically appealing. It was unmistakably modern, but Klein’s panting style also had a Bisley-meets-Brereton grit to it that lent just much organic style to the ordered and clinical freshness of its design. It was, to be sure, eye-catching.
What solicitations didn’t tell you (at least not overtly) is the first thing that caves your head in: This Book Is Big. It’s not overwhelmingly big, just a few inches wider than usual and a hair taller, but on the stands, next to what can only be described as Little Tiny Baby Books in comparison, “Viking” practically careens off the shelf into your hands. (And these days, only having to pay $2.99 for it erases any remaining trepidation you might have had.) As great as the cover looked on a web solicitation, the oversized format gives it a weight that you kind of can’t really get without seeing it in front of you.
So, you’re hooked in, probably before you’ve even opened the book. It could be the most run of the mill stuff ever and you’d still already be even mildly interested. Luckily, Brandon has crafted a story that’s surprisingly almost no-concept in terms of its simplicity. It’s not a re-imagining or a reinterpretation of the Viking story, it’s just a simple tale of two thieving brothers. And, remarkably, in such a short space, it’s an affecting one as well. This first issue (which actually tells us that “viking” was at one point a verb) is setting the stage for the story of Egil and Finn. They murder merchants and steal their goods (the aforementioned “viking”). Pretty simple. There’s also a King, his court, and his daughter. There are no grand schemes yet, just a handful of small scenes, dotted with appropriate levels of violence. Brandon does a great job of having his characters speak in dialogue that sounds authentic but not parodic or stilted, and that is easily accessible. This is critical to the story carrying the appropriate weight in the final scene. We only get a few dozen pages to care about these people, and to the story’s credit, the final note of the issue hits with heartbreaking success.
Much of that emotional tether also can be attributed to the work of artist Nic Klein. His interior work is mostly pen and ink, and it has traces of Ashley Wood and David Mack to it, but it is above all a singular style. His color work is also exceptional. In this format, the bright and dynamic pages are transporting in their vividness. The world of “Viking” might never be described as visually naturalistic, is no less enveloping thanks to the combination of size and artistic boldness.
I can’t remember a comic that felt this physically vital when you held it in your hands. Everything from the characters to the design to the artwork to the dialogue feels rich and alive in its own remarkably singular voice. It is an engrossing and emotionally involving debut for a series that can’t have been easy to get off the ground. It’s format is uncommon and undoubtedly expensive. Its creative team, while obviously displaying a wealth of talent within its pages, are not marquee stars (yet, but I give it only a few more hours). And not only are vikings a bit of a hard sell in terms of subject (no zombies or ninjas are they), but there’s already a great viking comic book on the stands.
Despite all these things against it, Image somehow saw fit in giving the book a shot, although its hard to imagine someone coming across this on their desk and turning it down. It is a remarkable and intensely readable first issue. It never feels slight, despite its (wonderful) artistic excesses, and it never feels overly dense despite the occasional hard to assign line of dialogue. Like the best first issues, it leaves the reader almost physically angry that they’ll have to wait to read the next page. Not unlike their subjects, Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein have no intention of taking prisoners. This debut is ruthless in its confidence and in its successes. But the most surprising takeaway from such a bold debut, is the book’s simplicity and heart. It is in every way a rare kind of comic book. Luckily it carries with it in inevitable guarantee of more to come.