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Northlanders Vol. 1: Sven The Returned Paperback – October 28, 2008
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The story is about Sven, a kinda of amoral cat who fights for the Byzantine Emperor as part of his elite Varangian Guards. The Varangian Guards were Norsemen specifically recruited by the Greeks due to their legendary ferocity in battle. Sven loves Constantinople...it's a city of wonders, where all shades of skins and religion and culture mingle in the streets. He has turned his back on his cold, snowy homelands and couldn't be happier for it. That is until the day, messengers arrive with the news that his father, a king in the Orkneys, has died and that his uncle has usurped his throne, kingdom, wenches and riches.
Sven could care less about ruling a northern wasteland...he just wants to take his inheritance and come right back to sunny, golden Greece...where the story takes us after that is what really makes his book a rarity: a mature look at war and culture and how enemies deal with each other.
About the art. I'm a picky fan when it comes to art. I want to see beautiful, eye popping things and any other day I would dismiss the art of Northlanders as simplistic. But at closer inspection you see that the art is subtle and efficient. It's filled with details you'll miss until the second reading, the characters all have their own "look" unlike the pin-ups of so many popular artists who draw all their characters with bulging muscles, rage lines and huge breasts. I wouldn't want the art any other way.
I highly recommend "Northlanders". A true graphic novel epic and a blockbuster film just waiting for Hollywood to notice it.
As the comic opens, Sven the Varangian Guard of Byzantium ruthlessly kills a messenger sent to inform him that his uncle has usurped his birthright back in the Orkney Islands. This is about par in the sense that violence supercedes sensibility throughout the comic. The protagonist is a worldly, materialistic, atheistic, nihilist who, over the course of the comic, transforms into an isolationist pagan family man. However, there are no real turns in the storyline that explain this transformation. Predictable characters appear (e.g., the girl-left-behind who has grown into a hot blonde bombshell... Ophelia for an age of violence and porn), and everyone changes loyalties and motivations for no apparent reason (except the deus ex machina ending). Ultimately, you can judge characters in literature only by how much they affect you. At the end of the comic, I really didn't care what happened to Sven or the other characters.
The illustration has left me conflicted. It is cartoonish in a way I was not quite expecting, although the landscapes depicted are of a much higher quality than the renderings of people. Perspective, angle, and foreground/background are all used effectively, but equally as often individual panels are laid out awkwardly. People appear in poses that interrupt the eye and that could be avoided by consulting a text on figure drawing.
Although this is supposed to be an "historical" depiction of Scandinavian life circa 1000, anyone who has been to Scandinavia or Scotland will notice that the plot takes place exclusively on overcast days in the dirt. This is supposed to feel "gritty" and "realistic" but is actually just a visual reflection of the nihilism and lack of imagination shown in the plot. Yes, the norsemen lived close to the earth in an extreme climate and harsh social conditions, but they also had summers, celebrations, love, art, and the range of human experience. This comic perpetuates the notion that you are either a young, beautiful, and rich swinger living on the Mediterranean coast, or your life is barely worth living and consists of a series of hardships interspersed with social conflicts.
After being disappointed by this purchase, I read through some reviews of Northlanders on the web. Most liked it, although I did find one review by someone who panned the first series, but quite liked subsequent stories. So, I'll probably try the next two volumes anyhow. I can't recommend this one, though.
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