In 2007 comic book writer Brian Wood embarked on a new project for DC’s Vertigo Imprint – something of a passion project, from what I can tell.
Northlanders ran for 50 issues before it was cancelled in 2012.
Set during the Viking Age (for the most part) between 793AD and 1066AD, the series was broken into several major arcs, with each following an independent set of characters in a variety of different settings.
The first arc is called ‘Sven the Returned’, and as the name suggests, it focusses on Sven, a Northman (Viking) from the Islands of Orkney (just north of mainland Scotland) that has been away from home for much of his adult life, and at the beginning of the first issue, is serving in the Varangian Guard in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
After learning that his father, the Lord of Grimness (the settlement where Sven was born and raised) has been killed during a raid on a neighbouring kingdom, and that his uncle Gorm has claimed the title, lands and wealth that should be his, Sven determines to return home and claim what he’s lost. He has less interest in the lordship though, than he does in what he refers to as “his money”…
Disdainful of the culture and beliefs of his own people, Sven believes himself superior thanks to his time spent away from the Northlands. But when he finally arrives in Grimness, he discovers that it’ll take more than his fearsome demeanour to oust Gorm. Moreover, as he prosecutes a one-man war against his uncle’s enforcers, he begins to discover something to love in the bleak, frozen lands of his birth.
To tell you more would be to ruin this well-written, and beautifully illustrated (by Davide Gianfelice) omnibus edition. I’ve yet to read the other editions (numbering 2 to 7), but I’m looking forward to it.
What Brian Wood has done here is one the best examples of Viking-themed fiction I have ever come across. Despite the occasional (and inevitable) historical inaccuracy, the feeling of authenticity doesn’t waver. And the ending, while not what many would be expecting, is both poignant and appropriately grim.
Verdict: 5 stars (out of 5).