01/11/2011. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin
pub: Titan Books. 143 page softcover graphic novel. Price: GBP 10.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84856-558-6).
check out website: www.titanbooks.com
Brian Wood is one of my favourite comic book writers. Possessed with a great sense of timing and mood, his work rarely wastes a panel and is filled with great dialogue, moving plots and clever telling details hidden amongst the pictures. Plus his ideas are often streets ahead of the competition, telling compelling new ideas without falling back on genre tropes. ‘DMZ’, his comic series now into its tenth graphic novel, describes a civil war in modern America through the unique viewpoint of a citizen reporter embedded in the demilitarised zone of Manhattan, pulled every which way by political wrangling. In my opinion, it’s one of the best comicbook series currently being written.
Wood’s other major project at the moment is ‘Northlanders’, a series that differs from ‘DMZ’ in just about every way imaginable, bar the excellent writing. ‘Northlanders’ is only a series in the loosest of senses, as we follow many different characters in often standalone stories. What brings them together is the setting and culture that Wood is exploring.
The Vikings aren’t a setting trodden often by this kind of medium, especially with the grace and deft storytelling that Wood brings. The Vikings aren’t all mindless savages and much care is taken to show that even some of the more barbaric traits are actually due to a deep and complex culture.
This volume comprises four stories. The first, ‘Lindisfarne’, follows a small boy who witnesses the brutal invasion by a Viking horde of his village. Still surviving after the battle, the boy challenges a Viking warrior to battle so that he can join their army. Dean Orstom’s art is more standard than some of the others in this volume, but is packed full of detail and emotion.
The second story, 'The Viking Art Of Single Combat', is shorter and almost pop-like in style, being an annotated depiction of a duel between two Viking warriors. The story pauses to give us a plethora of analytical information on Viking warfare, tactics and philosophy. The cruder artwork by Vasilis Lolos for this story is visceral and characterful.
‘The Shield Maidens’ shows us the fierce nature of the Viking women as a trio of Danish shield maidens digs into an encampment against an invading Saxon army. Danijel Zezelj’s art is much more free-flowing and expressive, with a washed, flowing look to it that suits the feminine theme.
Davide Gianfelice draws the last story, ‘Sven The Immortal’, which revisits the character of Sven of Orkney, who was the main protagonist in volume 1, fighting off a Viking invasion of his homeland. Now grey and old, his family is put in danger by a group of mercenaries who have come looking for the legendary warrior that tales of his victory have spread over the past twenty years.
All of the stories in this volume are compelling and full of engaging characters and moral dilemmas, despite the almost gratuitous violence of the culture they inhabit. Wood shows us the dark and savage world of the Vikings without dehumanising them. Whilst I don’t find it as essential reading as ‘DMZ’, it remains a uniquely enjoyable spectacle in the current stable of modern comics.
Tomas L. Martin
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