Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here's the archive of the moments posted so far!
Today we look at the first volume of Brian Wood's Northlanders, "Sven the Returned"...
First off, Massimo Carnevale's cover for the trade is amazing. Just getting that out of the way.
This book collects the initial Northlanders story arc of eight issues (all for the insanely cheap introductory price of $9.99!), and Brian Wood really takes advantage of the extra-long first storyline, as he tells an absolutely epic tale.
The gist of the story is that a young man named Sven, who is living in Constantinople, learns that his father has died back in Scotland, so he returns home to gain his inheritance from his uncle, only to learn that his uncle has no intention on giving him anything, which leads to a long-out confrontation that takes many twists and turns.
The concept of Northlanders is that each story arc will feature a different story of different vikings, from all sorts of different perspectives. Such a system gives Wood what is one of the most powerful weapons in serial storytelling, and that is finality. Knowing that your story ends when it is finished gives you all sorts of freedom you just don't have when you need to stretch your characters to an ongoing series, and Wood uses all of that freedom beautifully to gives us a story with a true ending, and a striking ending at that (although, do note that Wood DOES end up returning to the setting of this story later on in the series, but you don't need to know that to appreciate this story).
The style of storytelling Wood uses will be quite familiar to anyone who follows either the Sopranos or Mad Men, as both shows spotlight characters while interspersing a healthy amount of flashbacks for the main characters to inform their current actions. With eight issues to work with, Wood is able to fit in an extensive flashback to Sven's time in Constantinople.
Davide Gianfelice's artwork is strong, and he captures the starkness of the time period impressively. I also love the way he depicts violence - he makes sure it is visceral, and it is not cartoon violence at all, you really feel it throughout. This is never more evident than in an unexpected battle scene towards the end of the book.
The main character, Sven, is a fun guy to follow - I especially love how Wood handles his thoughts. He makes Sven a horribly unreliable narrator, so when he says stuff like, "I knew then that ___ would happen," we know that that is just Sven trying to convince himself, and not that he has any keen insight into what will ACTUALLY happen.
One thing to note about Northlanders is that Wood uses the approach of "have the characters talk modern even though the book is set over a thousand years ago." It's an acceptable approach for historical fiction, but I know some folks get put off by that sort of thing, so I felt it is worth noting.
This is a comic that can truly be termed "grim and gritty," but only because that is the times that it is depicting.
It's a strong read, and even if you're not totally sold, it's eight issues worth of comics for ten bucks - hard to beat a deal like that!
I basically gave this same review when the trade first came out - BC.