The RG gets a little bit of Vertigo this week, with a standalone issue of Viking fun in Northlanders #41. Surely they won't be so negative this week?
The Review Group is a collection of posters who get together and review a new comic each week. Our threads can be found in The Outhouse's News Stand forum and is open for anyone and everyone to participate.
NORTHLANDERS #41! VIKINGS! BRIAN WOOD! STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER! GO!
I don't know what to say about this book. I felt like perhaps if I had read this series prior to this issue I would care about what was going on in the pages but I really didn't. It felt like a very typical "girl makes it in a man's world" type of story, very cliched with some foul language thrown in there to spice it up. Overall the story wasn't bad but I just didn't care and I was glad it was over so I could do something more interesting. The art was very good though.
Eegah, it's hard when you want to like a comic book, Northlanders #41 for example, more than you actually do like it. Especially when the book has gotten the old Viking axe as well. It's not so much a bad story as it is a fairly familiar one made slightly confusing to read by the movements in time and the fact that all the men in the story look more or less alike. As a done-in-one, Northlanders #41 suffers for the fact that there's little investment on the reader's part in Birna or any of the other drab cardboard-cutout Vikings . It's a Too-Short Story, with all the weight of a predictable little vignette, and it gives us the end at the beginning much to its detriment because that's all there is to it beyond a lot of frowning Norsemen.
The art looked faded and I thought it was an opportunity wasted to make the story richer by really depicting the island and its inhabitants' lives there in more detail than just the empty washed-out backgrounds. Unless empty and washed-out was how the artist meant it to feel--but again, I don't think that did the story any favors even if so.
Good comics stick with you, make you want to re-read them and keep them to re-read in the future. Northlanders #41 just doesn't.
Northlanders #41 is badly written. Not because it has hokey moments or stilted lines or illogical plot developments, but rather because it tells a story in a very inefficient manner. It's amazing that, three pages into the issue, there is no indication of what the story is about. There is a page of slight, mostly pointless narration, followed by two pages of wordless panels. After 15 percent of the issue, in other words, the reader still has very little reason to flip the page and see what happens next.
I understand that these pages are meant to provide a mysterious opening. But in a 20-page one-shot, the writer has to get to the point, fast. A 20-page book is probably the equivalent of a 2,000-word short story. There's no time to build an atmosphere of mystery. Just get to the main conflict and then wow the reader with tight plot twists. Brian Wood uses a modern, semi-decompressed storytelling approach here, and the book fails as a result. Fundamentally, there isn't enough story in this issue to make it a compelling read.
The art, on the other hand, is excellent. The clean, simple line work, coupled with the faded color, gives the book an appropriately ancient feel. I'm not familiar with Marian Churchland, but I'm now interested in seeing more of her work. She has a quiet style, but I can imagine her being a very good illustrator of non-action stories.
Story - I kind of think Vikings get a short shrift when it comes to historical fiction, most writers seem to prefer the Romans or the Middle Ages, and when we see Vikings they are just portrayed as savages out to rape and pillage whatever they can and drink as much mead as they can. And whilst they did do that, they were deeper than that, and Brian Wood knows this, and it's why Northlanders is such a good book. It's a comic about Vikings, but it's not just mindless violence, it's about people, and about a society very different from ours. And this particular issue focusses on the place of women in Viking society.
The story of this issue, like most of the shorter Northlanders stories is fairly lightweight. Birna is the only child of a clan-chief, and even though she is a girl she is treated well by the Clan. But when her father dies she is not allowed to take charge, even though she has been groomed to take over.
That's pretty much it, there's some back-story detail about how Birna's mother killed herself, but that's not really important. What's important here is the tone of the story, the world it creates and the themes it expresses. This is a one-shot story, we'll never see this character again, so we don't really need to know a lot about her. Birna is here to show how rough it was for a woman in Viking times, and I think Wood expresses this well. She has no real place, unless she takes it, unless she in some ways becomes a Man herself, and leads an army to battle. In today's modern times of (more or less) gender equality it's interesting to see what things were like when women were basically treated as property, and it's great to see one woman fight back. It's something Wood has done before in this book, with the 'Plague Widow' and 'Shield Maidens' storylines, and it's something that's needed. Viking stories are often hyper-masculine action-fests, but without women, these bearded bad-asses would be nowhere.
This was a good issue of Northlanders, like last month's 'The Hunt' it was a contemplative, complete short story, and it's to this book and to Brian Wood's credit that he can do both these short vignettes about Viking life and also epic 9 and 8 part serials. It's a shame it's been cancelled, but stories as strong as this will live on in trades.
Art - I wasn't familiar with Marian Churchland before this issue, but I was really impressed with this issue, it was beautiful. The art reminded me of illustrations from a children's book in some ways, and as this is a story about a young girl trying to find her place, it was very appropriate. The colours by Dave McCaig also contributed to this effect, it looked like he had used colouring pencils and crayons.
Best Line - 'You're going to have to convince yourself before anyone'll listen to you'
Northlanders was always a tricky sell. A historical comic anthology comic with a rotating art team and a writer best known for writing stories in a far more urban milieu it was only because I had a light week that I picked up issue #1 back in 2007. Since then it's been probably my favourite monthly read featuring a flawless list of artists and a great mixture of long and short stories.
Thor's Daughter is one of the single issue tales that Brian Wood has always excelled at and as the last one in the series it seems fitting that it draws on a pair of Wood's go-to themes: Adolescence and a strong sense of place. Birna Thorsdottir has to decide who she is and what place her island home will be for her as it looks like it's all about to fall away from her. The unusual structure ought to make her choice clear from the off, but Marian Churchland manages to sell Birna's doubt and fear well enough to make the buildup to the already known an interesting one. Brina's facial expressions balance the subdued narration and brief plot to keep the story moving along and the final splash captures the danger, the exposure and the beauty of the island setting perfectly.
A great issue of a comic I'll miss dearly, this issue makes an excellent counterpart to the Lindesfarne story from the book's early days and expands on themes already seen in The Plague Widow and The Shield Maidens. In a book with no continuity, the recurring themes have managed to weave a strong thread to tie it together, and while any of the stories will make for excellent re-reads, thanks to issues like Thor's Daughter Northlanders will stand together as a whole very well indeed.
Northlanders has been something of an odd series. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's just okay. Early on I came close to dropping it on more than one occasion, but I'm glad I didn't as the fourth volume turned out to be the strongest of the series so far.
While Thor's Daughter may have been a bit cliche, Marian Churchill's wonderful art made this issue one of my favorites of the entire series. I was first introduced to Churchill through Brandon Graham's brilliant King City series where she contributed the occasional cover, pin-ups and vignettes. I've since picked up her OGN, Beast from Image comics, but being overwhelmed with reading material I haven't gotten around to it yet. Her art in this issue was very much a departure from what you see in the Western comics mainstream and made what could have been something quite forgettable into something I can see myself reading over and over again.
A shorter week than usual, but still brilliant stuff, you have to say. The overall score for Northlanders came to 6.48. To read the whole thread, with all the reviews and a fascinating discussion of the Canadian postal service, click on this. Next week we've got All-Nighter #1, woah.
Written or Contributed by: Niam Suggitt