Sven the Returned, the protagonist of Northlanders’ first story arc, returns to the pages of the title that birthed him and his story. Taking place 20 years after the events of “Sven The Returned,” Sven, his wife Enna, and their two children are living on the remote island of Faroe where the “summers are brief and the winters deadly,” but it is a life of well earned peace and quiet for Sven and his family. The skalds (Scandinavian and Icelandic courtly poets) have been busy though, and have sung of the fierceness of Sven the Returned, causing many young men, eager to prove themselves in the harsh Viking society, to desire to seek out and vanquish Sven, thus proving their prowess in battle. Sven is aware of the skaldic poetry being sung in his honor and the threat it brings. He is still more than ready and able though, to defend his home, his children, his wife, and himself.
Northlanders, written by Brian Wood, who also brings us another critically acclaimed Vertigo series, DMZ, is a rarity among Viking comics, which are a rarity in the sequential art world themselves. Northlanders is a serious, historically accurate (albeit inhabited by fictional characters) look into the world at the turn of the previous millennium. Like Greek Street by Peter Milligan, Northlanders’ main theme can be summed up as: the more humanity changes and progresses through the years, the more humanity remains the same. The struggles, fears, desires, and motivations of humans living 1000 years ago in the Viking northlands of Europe are very similar to the struggles, fears, desires, and motivations of humankind today. The lack of supernatural elements in the book is part of Northlanders’ uniqueness among Vertigo’s most high profile books. The visible presence of supernatural elements in Vertigo works, like the aforementioned Greek Street, Hellblazer, and the superb Fables, is not a bad thing. Vertigo would not be Vertigo without supernatural titles and elements, but a series grounded in gritty reality (much like DMZ) can be great as well, and Northlanders is definitely great.
Speaking of greatness, artist Davide Gianfelice returns to the book he helped launch. Currently the regular penciller on Greek Street, Gianfelice manages to find time to recreate, with Wood, Northlanders’ first lead character. Northlanders has had some great artists over its run, but Gianfelice is the only artist who could reintroduce the series’ first lead. His jagged and roughly proportioned work creates a perfect visualization of the chaotic feel the Viking berserker must live through during the heat of battle.
DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint has been going through a bit of a renaissance here recently, as the quantity of quality titles being produced is at a high which Vertigo fans haven’t seen in quite a few years. With its near two year run thus far, Northlanders is one of the leaders of this pack of great new books.