In the second and third volume of Northlanders, Brian Wood continues to explore the historical world of the vikings. These are grim and gritty stories, continuing the style from the first volume, with rotating artists on each subsequent story. In the second volume we get a longer story about vengeance and grief, while the third is more of an anthology collecting the shorter stories told in the series.
Northlanders v.2: The Cross and the Hammer
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Ryan Kelly
Publisher: DC / Vetigo
In the second volume collecting Brian Wood’s Viking saga, we see the cold barren wastes give way to brighter pastures, the green hills of Ireland. Instead of a northlander taking the lead, we instead see the story unfold through the eyes of an Irishman whose single-man insurgency has been striking back at Viking occupiers. This shift in perspective has been planned from the beginning, as Wood has stated that these stories will not only be inspired by Vikings, but also by their contemporaries and other aspects of the concurrent times. This is one of the series’ best assets and could already been seen from the start and the back story hinted at from the first volume’s protagonist.
In volume two, this shift in perspective allows us to enjoy a character whose dark and tragic story continues the tone the series has set for itself. We once again see an archetypal figure, one quite reminiscent of Lone Wolf and Cub, as a disgraced warrior skulks through the countryside, child in tow seeking to recapture his honour. This familiar hero soon begins to slide however, as his facade begins to crack and more and more he resembles Marv from Sin City. By the end, he falls to darker places still, or rather is pulled there, and we’re left with a twist and an ending that’s hard to describe. While in some respects, it’s very much a downer and an anti-climax from what we thought was building, these results don’t detract from the story, or the series, but only make it better.
As in the first volume and probably all others to follow, we aren’t reading a heroic epic of glory and renown. We’re reading dark and brutal stories that try to reflect the times. The ending to this story, which began as a tale of love and rebellion and ends with desperation and collaboration, is the ending we’re most likely to see in real life, stretching from a Viking occupied Ireland to a Vichy France and all warzones far and wide.
Northlanders v.3: Blood in the Snow
Writer: Brian Wood
Artists: Ryan Kelly
Publisher: DC / Vertigo
The third volume of Brian Wood’s bear and battle axe serial breaks with the format of the first two volumes and instead collects the shorter stories of the series, interspersed between the longer narratives. In Volume 3 we get four stories, collecting six issues spread amongst the first two years of publication.
The first story, Lindisfarne, features art from Dean Ormston and follows the familiar story of a young boy daydreaming about going to war. This little boy, however, seems to be a bit resentful of his life, and just happens to dream about joining the other side. But when longboats start to appear out of the mist, his dreams may soon come true, or turn into nightmares.
The second story, The Viking Art of Single Combat, features a duel between the champions of two villages. I could explain that this may be one of the best stories in the series and that Wood manages to cram incredible amounts of depth and character into two men whose story lasts only a single issue. I could go on and on about the tension and the drama and the action. But what it really comes down to is that it’s two Vikings dueling to the death. What else is there to say?
The Shield Maidens continues the strong trend from the second story and shows again that Wood doesn’t need a long issue run to tell a powerful story. Another tale of rebellion against invaders and occupiers, this story sets itself apart by using strong women as it’s leads whose ferocity and determination know no bounds. It’s an excellent story, reminding us that while our first thought of toughness will always swing to the brawniest berzerker running ahead of his shield wall, true guts and grit can be found anywhere and were a requirement to survive in such a trying time.
The final story closes the book with a familiar face. Sven from the first volume makes a return appearance, older for his years and the worse for wear. If you’re interested in the third book of the series then you’ve probably read the first. This means you know exactly what to expect and you won’t be disappointed.