In “The Plague Widow Part Three: The Death Ships,” the settlement on The Volga is facing incredibly difficult times. Food rations are running dangerously low, and deep winter is settling in. When a few, seemingly “dead” long ships are spotted on the river, Gunborg, the settlement’s chief of security and self-serving despot in waiting, orders the ships investigated. Boris, the settlement’s Christian priest, and chief rival of Gunborg’ (namely because he sees Gunborg for what he is), cautions against Gunborg’s plan. His argument is for naught though, and when Gunborg’s “volunteer,” Odda, reaches the first ship he discovers, quite gruesomely, that Boris’ cautions should have been heeded…
Wood’s latest epic tale from the Viking Age continues in Northlanders #23. In this installment of “The Plague Widow,” Wood presents, through the eyes of Hilda, the alternating prison/sanctuary that the sealed off settlement represents to its inhabitants. Within the settlement, vile characters like Gunborg await their moment to seize power, while some more seemingly enlightened characters, like Boris, stand ready to oppose Gunborg if they have to. Inside the walls of the settlement, conflicts and threats of violence brew, making for an inescapable prison-like atmosphere. Outside the walls though, the world has already turned violent and feral. The plague has reduced many men to raving madmen with no fear of violent death, as they are already dead men walking. So in another very strong sense, the settlement represents a sanctuary, however flawed, from the deteriorating world around them. How this tension plays out amongst the settlement’s characters forms the basis of “The Plague Widow’s” appeal.
Fernandez continues to create stark and powerful visuals with little background detail, but plenty of up close and savage battle and character detail. The landscape is covered with a thick blanket of snow, which nearly whiteouts the environment. This allows for Fernandez’s characters to stand out in sharp contrast to the landscape, making them appear as foreign beings to the world they inhabit. Ironically, they are just that. Winter and Plague rule as king and queen over the land, and there’s no place for men or women in this cruel court as long as they reign.
Northlanders continues to be one of those rare series that is truly worth the wait each month. It’s also continues to get better with each story arc. There’s nothing surprising about these facts, as Northlanders is a DC Comics’ Vertigo title, but this series stands out amongst a crowd of great Vertigo titles being published right now.