After the intense climax of issue #7, Brian Wood and Davide Gianfelice conclude their first “Northlanders” story arc with a calmly measured look at the consequences of one man’s decisions. That one man is, of course, Sven, the protagonist of this now concluded, eight-issue arc. It was a bold move for Wood to launch a new series — a Vertigo series — with such a long opening story. Many Vertigo comics seem to live or die based on sales of the first trade paperback, and having to wait for eight full issues to be collected before gauging true audience reaction might have put this comic in jeopardy within its first year. I hope that’s not the case. I hope DC gives this title a chance to develop an audience, and I hope you and all of your friends by the first trade when it’s released because “Northlanders” is one of the best comics on the stands and it deserves to live for years and years.
Apparently, Brian Wood is jumping to a new location and a new protagonist (and a different time period) with issue #9, not because of sales, but because that’s always been the plan. That doesn’t make “Northlanders” an anthology book exactly, but it does make it less of a continuous story than almost everything else on the shelf. And that, too, might keep people away. People want more of the same, usually, even if it’s the same mediocrity over and over.
But “Northlanders” is different, because (a) it’s actually very, very good, and (b) it’s the type of comic where Wood and his collaborators can tell stories with real endings. He doesn’t have to prolong a plotline just to keep churning out more issues, and he can kill characters who need to be killed and let other characters go off and die in their own ways. He can tell real stories in this comic, because he’s not bound by an artificial continuity from arc to arc (although, from what I’ve read, Wood does plan on revisiting some of the same locations and families in future issues, even if Sven’s story may be over). So while it might have been a risk to begin with such a long story arc, it also gave Wood and Gianfelice time to tell Sven’s story in a way that the character deserved. “Northlanders” may be about Vikings, but it’s not of the “rape-and-pillage” genre. It’s from the thoughtful, violent, weighty, moral, family genre. It’s a saga, or at least Sven’s story has been one. And a saga shouldn’t be compressed just because the audience might not be willing to commit to eight issues. I’m glad Wood took the risk, and I’m glad Vertigo let him.
I haven’t written much about issue #8 in this review, because it’s the conclusion and I don’t want to spoil everything. The story ends, as many stories do, with a burial and a bit of hope. It also includes a twist that’s not a surprise exactly, but gives the story a slightly different resonance in the final pages. And the Sven who narrates issue #8 isn’t the same vengeful young man who arrived back in the Orkney Islands seven issues ago. It’s what a conclusion should be.
Every time I review “Northlanders” I tell you how good it is, and I’m not going to stop now. “Northlanders” is the comic book you should be reading. And if you haven’t been picking it up, you can jump on board with a brand new story next issue and pick up the trade paperback of “Sven the Returned” in a couple of months. You won’t be sorry.