Comic-Book Reviews

'Northlanders': Vikings Finally Done Right!

Bloody ''Northlanders'' gives Norse pirates a much-needed makeover. Plus: ''Unbeatable'' combines nerds and mayhem

NORTHLANDERS All hail the Viking
NORTHLANDERS All hail the Viking

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NORTHLANDERS
Brian Wood and Davide Gianfelice
(Monthly; issue 1 out now, issue 2 on sale Jan. 2)
Now here's a comic book that can be summed up in one word — and depending on how you feel about this one word, it will pretty much determine whether or not you're ever going to give Northlanders a chance. That word? Vikings. Yes, Vikings. Specifically, Northlanders is about a Norse pirate named Sven. After years of adventuring and pillaging and generally living the hard-core Viking life (circa 980 AD), he returns to his Scottish homeland to liberate it from his vicious, black-magic-wielding uncle, plus reclaim the fortune said uncle swiped from his father. But as the saga unfolds, we realize there's more at stake: the taming of heathen Europe, the death of pagan culture, the brutal cost of progress. Also, there's lots of cool depictions of people getting run through with swords. FOR FANS OF...Braveheart; Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze comics; Norse myths (minus the fantastical Marvel Comics extrapolation); and stories that so effectively evoke the cold, bleak, grubby charm of pre-civilized northern Europe that they make a squalid, over-heated studio apartment in any ''bad part of town'' look good. DOES IT DELIVER? Chalk up another creative victory for writer Wood (DMZ), who's quickly emerging as one the medium's premier scribes. Like his best work, Northlanders takes you into a well-researched, richly realized world that illuminates politics and culture without getting bogged down in history-book stuff. (He and artist Gianfelice actually establish a brisk, pulpy read.) Wood also eschews the usual horned-helmet/bushy beards/barrels of mead Viking clichés and wisely tells the story with an inviting, intimate, first-person voice that avoids ''Aye, by the Hammer of Thor!'' and ''Nay, I shall smite you with my scabbard!'' jargon. All that said, as good as this comic is, it'll probably never change your mind about Vikings. Me? I still totally hate Vikings. A-Jeff Jensen

UNBEATABLE
Matthias Wolf and Carlos Gomez
(Paperback)
Heiman Dale is a nerdy high schooler with an even nerdier father. Also? He's called Heiman. So far, so slice-of-geek life. Then Dale Sr. beats the hell out of a group of barroom bullies and is subsequently whisked off to parts unknown by an eyepatch-sporting military dude. Gadzooks! Indeed, but there is more gadzookery to come, as Heiman, meanwhile, finds himself staring at the walls of a padded cell and battling history's greatest killers — Achilles, a samurai, a Brooklyn pimp-type — in his dreams. Is he mad? Some sort of Neo-style chosen one? Drawn in way too buff a manner for such a colossal nerd? You'll have to read to the end to find the answers to these questions (except for the last one). FOR FANS OF... A History of Violence (the movie). DOES IT DELIVER? If writer Wolf's ability to juggle an array of disparate plot elements isn't quite unbeatable, it is impressive. Meanwhile, the various artistic opportunities provided by this graphic novel's mayhem-across-the-centuries premise are embraced skillfully by Gomez. B+Clark Collis

COMING NEXT WEEK: Our picks for the 10 best comics of 2007

Originally posted Dec 11, 2007
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