First-look review: Brandon and Klein's <i>Viking</i> #1

Viking #1Script: Ivan BrandonArt and cover: Nic KleinPublisher: Image ComicsRelease date: April 1, 2009

"Do you see Finn? What your obsession brings?"

Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein's Viking is about men possessed with ruthless ambition who wield their obsessions like giant swords across the world around them. And as the first issue makes clear, the price these swaggering badasses pay for their obsessions is unpleasant -- and violent as hell.

The first issue of Viking explodes right out of the gate, and wastes no time in establishing its own obsessive ambition. Billed as "a crime book for the 9th Century," this comic features the brothers Finn and Egil, "hungry men" who maraud across the Nordic landscape with reckless abandon, grabbing hard and fast at wealth wherever they can find it, and perhaps something more intangible. Also present is the savage King Bram, who has achieved everything, it seems, but the means by which to satisfy his own heart.

The first thing to mention is all the grim viking action. (These guys aren't infamous for their slumber parties, after all.) The blood doth run freely in this book, over panels, into the gutters, and practically onto your own fingers. Fools and innocents alike meet grisly ends on swords, spears, or bare hands. The creators do not shy away from the lurid nature of the world they have chosen, but it is never gratuitous. There is a sort of bloodthirsty balance between the violence and the constant threat of violence that keeps the reading experience taut without being oppressive.

Beyond the hack/slash, Brandon and Klein do a great job of resurrecting a long-dead society. The dialog is impressive -- characters feel lively and natural when they talk, without a single dude-bro-dude or other embarrassing modernization in sight. Klein draws with a captivating eye for authentic detail -- the atmosphere is so strong you can practically feel the grime under your fingernails. If there were a Lucca Brazzi Award for Best Use of a Horse Head, this issue would win it.

All that said, Viking would be nothing more than a leaded History Channel reenactment without the vividness of its core characters. Finn and Egil practically leap off the page with an endearing enthusiasm for their own short-sighted greed; just two smooth-talking hustlers looking to make a dollar out of twenty five cents (with swords). Anyone with a sibling will find their relationship familiar right off the bat. Brutal Bram is king of all he surveys, but only sees the flaws around him. Haunted by his own entrepreneurial determination, he is perpetually unsatisfied except in the company of his daughter Annikki. "My goal is that the son of your son hold stars in his hand," he tells her. Amidst all these ruthless men, the gutsy Annikki stands out as one of the most compelling characters; her unique perspective on this relentless world makes her the most unpredictable of the bunch.

Brandon and Klein deliver an impressive debut, well worth the anticipation that has been building. Of course, no one (including myself) can talk about Viking without mentioning that other viking book, Brian Wood's excellent Northlanders. The question implied seems to be, do we need another viking comic book? Is there room on the shelves for two of these books? How many viking comics can there be, anyway?

Viking buries these concerns deep in the ground where they belong. This is a bold book, fearless and driven. It may take place twelve hundred years ago, but its fiercely beating heart comes directly from the world right outside your window. These thugs and barons would not be out of place in the present day, "men with time and dedication" prepared to carve their ruthless obsession across society. This is series to keep your eye on, and a hell of a way to celebrate April Fool's day. Who says this isn't the Viking Age of Comics?

Read a seven-page preview of Viking at MySpace Comic Books.

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