Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest: Northlanders #6

Posted: Sunday, June 1, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Brian Wood
David Gianfelice, Dave McCaig (colors)
DC Comics/Vertigo
Joey Davidson: 4.5 Bullets
Martijn Form: 3.5 Bullets
Erik Norris: 4.5 Bullets

Joey Davidson 4.5 Bullets

One of the most "flawed" points critics have been picking out in the Northlanders series thus far has been the fact that its scope feels incredibly narrow. Perhaps it's the barren landscapes that David Gianfelice has given us readers that give the book a sense of singularity and narrowness. One can't deny that every scene in issues one through five felt very thin and open. I personally never saw it as a bad thing. From its start, Northlanders has been focused on Sven and the way he's taking on his problems. Well, as Sven evolves into a better man so goes the story and the feel. It's almost as if the beginning of the story started with Brian Wood slamming a rolled up map down on the table. As each issue progresses, Wood slowly unfurls the map from the center, exposing more and more of the Northlanders' world and of the mind within Sven. To think that we started with a completely jerk of a man in Sven six issues ago nearly feels unfathomable now; our little Sven is all grown up!

Issue #6 opens up with some visceral gore, which Gianfelice has been on point with since the start. Sven is determined to hack and slash his way to vengeance and redemption. As the pages turn, readers learn more about the woman Sven has taken refuge with in the mountains. Some nice fleshing out that will most certainly have repercussions over--at least--the rest of this arc. Sven learns that the only way to win in this world is to provide a united front. Without ruining the rest of the issue, it is this nice moral that drives Sven to perform the rest of the action within. It is also this moral that makes the cliffhanger that much more nerve wracking. As they say, "It's about to hit the fan."

Certainly, with the events that happen in issue #6, fans won't have much room to call out this book's narrow scope. It fades halfway through the issue and feels nearly gone at the end. The world is coming to Sven, and it's going to be a month before we learn how he handles it.

As I've mentioned already, if you've grown to love Gianfelice's presence on these pages then you certainly won't be disappointed by anything in this sixth issue. The gritty carnage and characters all return and, as it appears, are here to stay until Gianfelice is down with this arc. For those of you who do not know, it has been said that Northlanders will be changing artists as the arcs change. Part of me is excited… but the other part of me really hates the thought of seeing Gianfelice grow. With every rip and tear, he's been there to drive the point home: Sven is not messing around.

Northlanders is growing, it's undeniable. The series already feels much larger than its page count, so for those out there looking to step into something epic that isn't about men in tights, look no further. And for those who have felt so-so about the series thus far, let's hope that this one puts your anxieties to bed like it did for mine. Northlanders is frighteningly epic.

Martijn Form 3.5 Bullets

Does this issue present a crow or a raven? I'm not a bird watcher, so I don't know the difference, but I do know the symbolic meaning of a crow. Crows are associated with death, specifically the transition of the spirit from the world of the living to the world of the dead. In some mythology they represent a more neutral point of view or as a messenger of change, whatever the change may be, good or bad. Wood uses this symbol in both ways. There is a major change on the horizon, but the pages are also filled with blood and death.

Sven, our anti-hero, is a tormented soul. He feels betrayed, and he wants revenge. The thing that keeps him more or less sane is this mysterious woman, who is just as good with a bow and arrow as any super-hero archer.

Northlanders is a bleak and depression story. Even the sunsets are depressing. But then again the year 980 A.D. wasn't about rose peddles, I guess. Don't get me wrong, I love Northlanders, but it's not a book that should be read during a lunch break. You have to sit down in silence, and soak up the atmosphere that artist Gianfelice is so brilliantly creating. Every page and panel shows us a world that is broken and fractured. And even though our world is at least a millennium removed from Orkney Islands, human behaviour hasn't changed much. We are still scared of people who are different from us. Hell, that's Bush's whole political manifesto, which could have included this line Northlanders: "I understand that bad people are here and that sometimes it's necessary, in order to survive, that the bad people must die."

Wood shows me his different points of view of life. A line like that stimulates me to think about my own morals and fears. A few years back a Dutch filmmaker was murdered in Amsterdam; it was a murder motivated by politics, and it occurred just minutes from my house. There weren't any crows or ravens, however. With Northlanders (and DMZ), Brian Wood kicks my status quo and challenges my moral assumptions of what is right and what is wrong. Who decides that sort of thing? The majority? Is that democracy? In Northlanders there is no majority or democractic opinion to be the judge and jury on matters of life and death. There is only Sven and Gorm.

Wood and Gianfelice are slowly building a saga that transcends Viking folklore. The book's pace can be frustrating sometimes. Wood builds this story with a lot of teasers, and swings it in opposite directions, not rushing it to a crescendo. But if you are just waiting for the climax, then this book isn't the right one for you. If you enjoyed those flashback issues then the true power of this saga will hit you like a hammer; or in this case, an oversized sword. I just hope Sven is right about who is right and who is wrong.
Sven: "It's morning. Are you coming outside?"
Woman: "I don't like it out there."
Sven: "That's madness. It's a beautiful day."
And Davide Gianfelice draws a heroic Sven, standing between chopped off heads, while Dave McCaig colors a bleak sky with a hint of sunshine.

It's a beautiful day on Orkney Islands. It's a beautiful saga.

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Erik Norris: 4.5 Bullets

All I have to say after finishing issue #6 of Northlanders is it's the best installment yet. After issue #5 caught readers up with Sven's past, issue #6 gives us that much needed message to make Sven's actions justified. It's also great that it comes from a supporting character, Enna, which was much needed. Not only did it give her a place in the overall story other than being a bed buddy, her back story really helps place emotional weight on Sven's impending choices.

The issue also accomplishes a genuine sense of epic. I'm usually not a fan of "calm before the storm" issues because they instantly mean everything is setup, and I will be hanging on yet another month for any payoff. However, Northlanders #6 gives the best of both worlds. As an obvious setup to the big showdown, issue #6 also gives some of the best character beats to flesh out pretty much all the main characters, save that asshole Gorm. Besides Enna's great moments, Thora’s subplot is revisited in a fitting manner, Hakkar shows some sense of humanity, and of course Sven is connected to all these characters, each giving him deeper character development.

Then there is the finale of the issue. What a kick-ass cliffhanger. Seriously! I should have seen something like this coming but because of the content of the rest of the narrative that preceded it, I truthfully didn't see Wood take this angle with his story. However, it makes complete sense, and I'm interested to see how the rivalry of Hakkar and Sven plays out with this new development which can only be described as exciting.

Brian Wood's script is once again fantastic, with less emphasis on the contemporary swearing, and more on the epic Viking story. David Gianfelice also adds some amazing looking Vikings to accompany Wood's words. I absolutely love his depiction of a war torn, tired Sven with a beard. It just looks so cool. I also noticed a lot of panels were drawn with characters' eyes shadowed out which I found fitting. Whether it was intended or not, the shadows casting over characters faces show the impending doom and probable death of the inevitable coming battle.

With the last few issues, specifically last month’s #5 and this month’s #6, giving a much deeper understanding of Sven, I think Northlanders is finally showing its worth as a high caliber Vertigo imprint. The series is great, simple as that, and Northlanders #6 is the fulcrum of Brian Wood's masterpiece, so far.

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