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Northlanders #4

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2008
By: Martijn Form

Brian Wood
Davide Gianfelice, Dave McGraig (colors)
DC Comics/Vertigo
Would it be a crime to say that Vikings and their history and stories don't interest me at all? I would never walk into a museum to learn about their history, and no, I don't consider myself a cultural barbarian.

But I have great confidence in the Brian Wood's storytelling. Ever since Channel Zero I've been captivated by Woods' words. So I'm delighted that Vertigo is going to publish his Demo stories, and I'm even more ecstatic that Wood is going to write some new Demo stories. Hurrah! So Vertigo editors, when can I expect Channel Zero with some great coloring by Dave McGraig huh?

But let's stick to this Viking story. The first two issues of Northlanders couldn't convince me that this is going to be a great epic, but issue #3 was very unsettling, good for some lovely nightmares.

Sven has got the full attention from his uncle Gorm, who has become his sworn enemy. Sven's lugubrious stunt--by dressing into a fresh deer's carcass and rampaging through the landscape--made an impression, both on Gorm and me the innocent reader. Now his uncle thinks that he is dealing with an invincible, half god-like enemy. Hakkar, Gorm's loyal companion, isn't convinced that it is a god trying to kill Gorm. Hakkar isn't that superstitious. He feels it in his gut that Sven is behind the massacre, and Sven is still a man of flesh and blood. Especially blood.

Wood takes all the time in the world to spread out his narrative. It is a heavy dragging style that mimics the grave, long winters of Okney Islands 980 A.D.

When I look at Gianfelice's panels I can feel the winter and have to put an extra log on the stove (Okay I have central heating, but that isnít romantic, right?). Gianfelice is the latest find for Vertigo. Man, do they have a knack for talent or what!? His compositions flourish like any great action-adventure. He splashes blood around like it's a beverage which just barely stays on paper and not into your face. The characters are detailed, but have this raw squirminess that is very suitable for the unwashed faces.

Despite the story's slow pace, there is decent, lovely rhythm to this book. It is also quite clear that the surroundings are a character all by themselves and more than just a setting. I can see Gianfelice's European style going hand in hand with colorist Dave McGraig. They make a great team.

Because, man, this guy McGraig is good. His colors make the drawings and text a nightmarish cohesion. The nuances of the colors are sublime. Look for the scene where Sven comes across the two bodies in the snow. That blood is sticky and you can almost smell the fresh corpses. McGraig is a colorist to be reckoned with. He will provide us with some sleepless nights.

The confrontation between Sven and Hakkar is the most disturbing scene so far, making a similar scene in the movie Se7en that much more pedestrian.

Northlanders is so much more than just a Viking story. Spartans don't interest me either, but that didn't stop me from enjoying Frank Miller's 300. Northlanders is on the same level of 300.

I read on Wood's website that he did a lot of research for this story. I can't say if any of Northlanders is historically accurate, but Wood isn't telling history here a la Discovery Channel, but he and his team might well be making comic history with this book.

This book is strong and harsh like any good old fashioned winter.

For more information about this reviewer, go to www.martijnform.com



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