A swift glance into the coming age...

Northlanders #1

This is a new ongoing series from Vertigo, set to debut in two weeks. Brian Wood is the creator and writer. It's about Vikings.

It'd do you well to check out the official site; there's already some content up, including promo materials, a partial bibliography of research sources, a reference photo, and links to preview art (scroll down) and various interviews (here's a detailed one). Still, the premise is easy enough to summarize for now - Vikings; their exploits. Each storyline will stand alone, with unique characters and settings, and rotating art teams. The first volume is eight issues long, and features the drawings of Italian artist Davide Gianfelice (in his English-language debut, I believe), and the colors of Dave McCaig.

This first issue suggests a very straightforward affair, I daresay almost exactly what you'd expect from a Viking comic written by Brian Wood in the broad adventure mode. There's youth chafing against established structures, the specter of fearsome politics, and an immersion in fringe living. Lots of heavy beatings handed out by excellent fighters too; it reminded me a little of The Couriers, only with swords and shields, a glaze of history's gravitas, and man-of-action dialogue somewhat awkwardly pinned between solemn/hot-blooded warrior speak and modern cadence.

The plot itself, set in 980 AD, involves Sven, a proud commander of the Varangian guard of Constantinople, a real-life mercenary klatch of Scandinavians hired to fight the worst battles for the city's Byzantine populace. Like a callow youth from the sticks gone off to live in the big city, Sven has tossed out the old gods and embraced 'civilization,' the visual shorthand being his well-groomed hair and chin tuft. But soon enough (page four), he learns that his wicked Uncle Gorm has stolen his birthright and enslaved the people back home under a rule of fear, so he heads back to the appropriately-named Grimness Settlement in the Isles of Orkney to take back the family fortune.

Troubles await, but none that you wouldn't expect. If there's any overriding problem with this first issue, it's that absolutely nothing is presented to distinguish the book from any other story involving a long-missing hero returning to reclaim his rightful stuff from a false rule, save for the historical setting, kept firmly as backdrop for now, and the presence of Wood's favored themes, sunk deep into blandly conveyed archetypes and routine travails. Hell, there's even a bit where Sven finds a child's doll laying around outside the house of his birth, reflects on the nature of time's passage ("This is just the trash of someone else's life, a character from an old history."), and tosses the toy into a bazing fire. It's that type of story. Did I mention the sultry, cunning-looking woman from the past? Or the local bow-toting mystery girl with her eye on Our Hero?

I can say that Gianfelice offer some decent, straightforward visuals; the preview above contains all the action for the issue, and it comes off nicely enough, although I'd prefer a little more layout abandon with the sword-swinging. Clear storytelling, though; a very unobtrusive style, which I expect will convey Wood's scripts with little fuss and some grit. I do hope there'll be more energy to come all around, maybe some elaboration on Sven's vague, roguish set of traits - Wood may be playing toward a sense of isolation among those who believe themselves at the fore of culture, when let back into the wider, slower world they can't ignore, and I think that might prove to be something.

As of now, I can only say this issue will probably not irritate those already looking forward to it, and will do little to press wary or nonplussed sorts toward deeper attention. It kinda sits there.