Brian Wood made a name for himself in comics by never sticking too close to one genre. DMZ and his breakout hit Channel Zero both focused largely on politics, while Demo and Local were more about the perils of being young, gifted, scared and sometimes alone. With his latest ongoing series Northlanders, Wood is able to employ just about every one of those themes while adding one last element to push it into the realm of pure greatness: Vikings. With a seemingly endless supply of facts and no shortage of inspiration, Northlanders is the Viking book that you always wanted but never expected to see.
Northlanders takes place throughout the first century A.D. and in locations all across Europe, setting up almost endless possibilities for stories. It jumps from the Scottish archipelagos of Orkney to the tidal island of Lindisfarne without hesitation, and both locations are prime settings for either invasion or holy war—both of which are delivered in full.
One aspect that makes the book unique is that even though it is a monthly, ongoing series, there’s no central character. Each story focuses on a new protagonist, a new location and sometimes even a different era. Using this format allows not only for greater creative freedom, but also makes it easier to attract new readers. The first story arc Sven the Returned focuses on a man returning home to Scotland to collect his inheritance only to learn that his uncle has no intentions of handing it over. Another arc features a young boy who feels out of place and unloved but finds acceptance with the soldiers invading his homeland.
Both stories benefit from the format because they are allowed to be finite and completed within as few or as many issues as are needed. Wood can also use this to his advantage by creating a whole new character to fit with whatever theme he may want to explore. He never has to struggle to find a way to shoehorn something that isn’t quite right into the overall arc of a character, which is a pitfall that many characterdriven titles suffer from.
The artist rotates with each story as well, something that’s being done more frequently to keep the quality high while maintaining a monthly schedule. Artists David Gianfelice (Sven the Returned) and Dean Ormston (Lindisfarne) are both relatively unknown, but have distinctly gritty and detailed styles that work perfectly for stories with as many quiet, reflective moments as bloody, destructive ones.
While Northlanders doesn’t boast a central driving force, it is in no way devoid of meaning or depth. Brian Wood has found a way to embrace everything he (and everyone else, most likely) loves about Viking culture—war, the gods, sex, violence and love—and still makes themes resonate with the reader. It’s by far the most entertaining history lesson you’ll ever have. Plus, who doesn’t like Vikings?
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