REVIEW: Northlanders, Vol. 1: Sven The Returned (3/10)

Scalped, Vol. 5: High Lonesome

Northlanders, Vol. 1:
Sven The Returned
Vertigo
2008
Story: Brian Wood
Art: Davide Gianfelice
ISBN 978-1401219185

Score
3/10

Greetings, friends! It’s been a minute since I got at ya! Well, that’s on account of me laying off the bottle a bit as a result of my New Year’s health kick. (As my regular readers may know, I typically do my best review work with a solid buzz.) But tonight I’m putting it down with my good friend Jack Daniel’s, and I’m doing it just for your benefit, dear readers, so you’re welcome. 😉

So what are we talking about tonight? We’re talking about Northlanders, Vol. 1: Sven the Returned, which is a Viking comic. Not a comic book created by Vikings – although I would pay to see that! – no, I mean a comic book about Vikings, of course. At least that’s the premise, although I’m not sure I’m any more informed about Vikings after reading it, but we’ll get to that…

I’ll preface this review by saying that I was pretty stoked about this comic when I ordered it from the library. Not that I knew anything about it, mind you – I believe I learned of this series from an advertisement in the back of a Scalped book. I just thought it looked cool, and I was frankly excited at the mere prospect of a Viking comic book. I’d never read a Viking comic before, and let’s face it, there’s so much potential for great material there, right? Well, let me tell you how it went…

Story

I’ll just cut to the chase here. Unfortunately, this story (which is penned by Brian Wood) was not all that great. That more or less sums it up, but if you care to continue reading, I shall explain…

I’ve read a lot of good comics over the past 4 years or so, and I know just how riveting they can be. I often try to explain to my non-comic-reading friends that the writing in a really great comic book can be just as rich and deep and meaningful as the writing in any “regular” (a.k.a. pictureless) novel. Hell, there’s a damned good reason that half the movies that Hollywood is putting out lately are based on comic books.

Anyway, “Sven the Returned” is unfortunately not one of those well written stories. Sadly, the writing in this book is almost painfully shallow and one-dimensional. I’m sure you’ve read books or seen movies where the plot turns just frankly don’t make sense. The characters’ decisions and motivations seem unrealistic, and you can hear yourself asking, “why the hell would they do that?” A good story should submerse you completely, and distractions like that only serve to pull you back to reality and break the whole experience. Bummer.

Furthermore, in a “historic” story, one would expect the dialogue to be at least passable, historically speaking. Well, not so in Sven the Returned. The players here speak less like Vikings and more like characters from a Guy Ritchie movie. Don’t get me wrong – I love Guy Ritchie movies, but don’t ever show me a Viking saying things like “burn this shit box of a boat”. Shit box? Really? It’s completely jarring and out of place. I guess what I’m saying is historical accuracy is not an overriding theme here, and that does bother me. On top of that, the narrative was often too sparse, leaving you wondering what just happened, forcing you to go back and reread previous pages to figure out what the hell is going on.

Finally, the whole story arc felt wandering and aimless, and when finally you fight your way to the end of the book (and it does seem like a fight at times), the “climax” is decidedly anti-climactic. Sure, there are a few exciting moments, but overall it’s confusion and inexplicable plot choices. I was definitely left feeling less than satisfied. The whole thing felt like a bad, historically-inaccurate-historically-set movie. Probably one with Nicholas Cage in it. I’m just saying, this book tried hard, but fell flat by most measures.

Art

After all my criticisms of Brian Wood’s story, I must admit that Davide Gianfelice‘s illustrations are reasonably pleasant. His pen is clean, with a definite style, but not overdone. I do question how historically accurate his characters’ wardrobes are, but may just be collateral damage of Brian Wood’s decidedly loose writing. At any rate, the players do look good.

Regarding the coloring of the illustrations, it’s OK, but there’s an oddly distracting wash effect applied to every page of the book. This succeeds in darkening the mood of the book (which I assume was their intent), but also makes all the detail a little hard to see.

At any rate, the art often helps tell the story and fill in some of the details where the narrative wasn’t explicit enough, which is a sign of a good illustrator.

One additional note – Gianfelice’s rugged and sparse landscapes are gloomy and absolutely beautiful. It seems he has a special aptitude in that department, and I found myself examining his panoramas at length. Good stuff.

Summary

Long story short, I was disappointed by this book. I’m not sure if subsequent volumes of the Northlanders series will be dealing with the life of Sven (I suspect not), but unfortunately I’ll never know, because I won’t be reading them. Brian Wood’s story and writing just weren’t up to par with the other quality works that I know are out there waiting for me. It’s just not worth my time.  😦  Consequently, I’m giving Northlanders, Vol. 1: Sven the Returned a 3 out of 10 for mediocre writing, in spite of the fact that Davide Gianfelice’s art is quite nice.

So once again I bid you happy reading! (Just not this book.) Good day!

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