Beards. Swords. Blood. Freakishly giant nipples. Apparently all of these are essential in writing a surprisingly great viking age comic. Northlanders, created and written by Brian Wood in 2007, having ended this past April, had been a series that I had thought wouldn’t appeal to me. I love me some good ol’ hack and slash in my comics, but there are just certain periods in history that just seem so violent that I don’t know how a comic book set in that time could have much substance and deep thinking. Mr. Wood went above and beyond my expectations.
The story started just as one would expect, with a spectacularly bloody siege of a ship, led by the protagonist Sven himself. Sven comes off as you usual confident and powerful warrior, heading back to his homeland to claim the money that is rightfully his from his uncle, Gorm, who has illegally taken control of Orkney. Initially, I thought Sven was cowardly and selfish too, because all he wanted was the money and not the title to the land or to take on the responsibility of being the lord of Orkney. Also, Sven got beat up pretty easily in the beginning by Gorm’s right hand man, Hakkar, pretty easily, so he looked like a pampered warrior who shouldn’t be messing with these real Northmen. But, Sven’s survival skills kick in when he is abandoned by the shore, so he gets some tough guy points there.
My favorite aspect that Wood touches on in this book is that Sven doesn’t have a religion. Earlier he chides his uncle’s belief in the old gods and ways, but later on he states, “I have no religion.” I have yet to come across another series set in an era where gods and superstitions were prevalent, and have an atheist character. Sven’s character became so much more fleshed out, and I actually started rooting for the guy when a fallen comrade had died without a sword in his hand, dooming him to an afterlife in purgatory, and Sven felt genuinely sorry for his friend’s fate. He develops a relationship that’s more a survival type than a romantic type with a woman named Enna, who is the last Scot of her clan. She believes in outside forces and signs like the majority of the world, but Sven never tries to derail her beliefs and listens to what she has to say. Sven also busts out of a stag carcass, wearing the animal’s head as a hat and then slaughtering four guys, which was probably the second best part of the story.
The art for book one was done by Davide Gianfelice (Hope y’all can read Italian), whose first major work was actually this first volume of Northlanders. His pencils really put the whole book together. his fight scenes are awesome, he’s great with expressions, and his art is far from generic. My only complaint is that one woman in particular had really massive nipples that were far from proportionate in comparison to her actual breast. But it’s just a small complaint. Dave McCaig’s colors fit perfectly with Gianfelice’s art. The colors are crisp and solid, and McCaig has got the blood down pat. I like his touch of having Sven’s beard already greying but his hair is still black.
I would definitely recommend Sven the Returned not only to fans of viking age stories, but to people who are skeptical about the genre, because Brian Wood makes it so much more than just blood and guts. But man, Brain Wood can come up with a fantastic blood and guts scene. Wood brings a depth to the genre that I didn’t think a writer would even want to bring to it. The overall art and writing makes this a great read, and an excellent way to kickoff a series.