For those comic books fans weaned on Vikings through The Mighty Thor and Arak, Son of Thunder, Vertigo-DC’s Northlanders is going to be a little more, shall we say, flavorful. The Vikings of Northlanders speak in contemporary potty mouth, which won’t be difficult getting used to if you follow other Vertigo titles.
Then there are the relentless arrow and spear piercings through human flesh. When it comes to graphic violence, Northlanders is several bloody notches above the oozing of plasma regulated by the Comics Code Authority in decades past. However, once you’ve developed a taste for the enhanced flavors, you’ve got quite the adventure story in Northlanders.
I have nothing against the book, it’s an outstanding comic by writer Brian Wood and artist Davide Gianfelice, but reading the first seven issues straight through put me in the mood for something lighter, verging on mindless–so I plucked from the Bronze Age humor pile the seventh issue of Debbi’s Dates (April-May, 1970). No Vikings, no killing, no swearing. What a relief.
Debbi’s Dates was one of DC’s attempts (which also included Swing with Scooter and Binky) to cut into the Archie comics market. If you look closely at the cover, you’ll notice that the girl standing behind the distraught Debbi bears a striking resemblance to Veronica Lodge. Maybe she was visiting from Earth-Archie. Debbi’s dates in this issue are Benedict, Buddy, and Bernard–all nice young teenagers who find themselves, mostly through sheer bad luck, in mild trouble with adults and the opposite sex.
The humor in Debbi’s Dates is strictly at the Archie level, a far cry from the savage plundering of 10th-century Norsemen. The Hardy Hair Hair skits sprinkled throughout the issue are a harmless insult to long-hairs like myself.
The closing exploits of The Ding-a-Lings, whose guitarist, Yo-Yo, looks like Ringo Starr, involves the group’s search for inspiration in writing a country song–which was enough to send me screaming back to Orkney Island and Northlander Sven’s quest for the riches and birthright due him from his despot uncle. Oh, well, it didn’t take long for me to realize my preference for potty-mouthed Vikings over diluted Archie wannabes.
Reading these two vastly different titles in one sitting got me thinking of a loose connection between them. A 10-year-old girl living in Scotland or eastern England during the age of the Vikings, circa AD 980 when Northlanders is set, would live in fear of Norsemen plundering her town. A thousand years later a 10-year-old girl living in 1970 America could safely buy an issue of Debbi’s Dates at the corner Five-and-Dime–but maybe she had an older brother serving in Vietnam, or perhaps she knew a neighbor’s son who had gone off to battle.
Civilization had certainly improved in the thousand years between the age of Vikings and the Vietnam War, but there still remained fear and concern for survival–in large part due to man’s inhumanity to man (not to mention to the animal kingdom and the environment).
I suddenly realized that reading comic books didn’t always fill a need for escapism. In this particular case it allowed me to put history in perspective in a way that startled me. A reading of Northlanders and Debbi’s Dates had brought me to a thoughtful mental state that I had not sought to arrive at.
That insight was too much for me. The time had come, for a little while, to seek escapism from the escapism, and I began gearing up for the San Diego Comic Con.