Northlanders #17 Advance Review
Northlanders #17 (DC/Vertigo): “…we’ll drink to the lunatics.” With this line, Brian Wood and Vasilis Lolos bring us into a world of insight, where the act of war is a futile and fleeting means of conflict resolution. Wood’s script deftly juggles a couple of concepts that are examined brilliantly. His omniscient narrator speaks in a clinically detached way (“the poets said…”) that quickly dispels any romanticized notion associated with waging war. In short, there are no rules in war. Your goal isn’t to act in a noble fashion, your goal is to abandon any sort of middle class morality and simply win - by any means necessary. There’s more to learn from clever, conniving Loki than from thunderous overbearing Thor. Northlanders #5 has long remained my favorite issue of the series to date; I believe it’s where Wood hit his stride, infusing his work, that could ostensibly be dismissed (wrongly, to be sure) as simple Conan riff, with something more charming, introspective, and meaningful. I stand by that assessment, and now suggest that he’s stretched himself again and achieved something greater with this issue, something that hums with universal ruminations on life. We see heartbreaking analysis of man’s quest for life, liberty, and happiness, the protective spirit of our children and spouses, of hearth and home in the face of adversity. Wood is careful to revel in his research and make the script shine with authenticity, “carbon steel… with a 5mm tapered fuller and solid iron pommel,” to please any purists, but first and foremost he gives us warriors who are men. Men attempting to live lives worthy of consideration. He’s aided this time by Vasilis Lolos (Last Call from Oni Press, the recent Eisner Award Winner 5 with Cloonan, Grampa, Ba, and Moon), whose art looks amazing in color. It has a kinetic quality that makes it dance off the page, wanting to breathe more fully in all three dimensions. Lolos is perfectly suited to depict world weary combatants with grimacing faces and visceral reflexes. As an example, notice how the narrator describes Egil’s ax as a close quarter weapon, then Egil simply and directly calls it “Hel.” This type of artistic synchronicity is rare and shows off the strengths of the comic medium; we have words in unison with the art, art in unison with the tone, and tone in unison with the words, forming a circle of perfection. I’ve mentioned before that I think Brian Wood has a knack for being paired with such a wonderful stable of artists, from Riccardo Burchielli, Nathan Fox, etc. on DMZ, to Becky Cloonan, Ryan Kelly, Davide Gianfelice, and now Lolos, who is certainly no exception. This issue is a done-in-one that serves as a great jumping on point for the series, and I’m particularly excited about Wood being joined by Danijel Zezelj on the next arc, whose book REX was recently reviewed, and who I’ve longed for a monthly book from ever since his run on Desolation Jones with Warren Ellis began and stalled. I’ve been cautiously optimistic about Wood’s choice to use modern dialogue for this series, but when I read the line “hopefully knock up the common-law” as modern shorthand, I was finally convinced that the tone was correct and couldn’t be captured as effectively using any other style of prose. This issue opens with a lyrical quality that has the cadence of an old buddy telling you an interesting story in confidence, regaling you with a tale over a pint down the pub. That first page grabs hold of you and never lets go as it spars its way through the tactics of two very different men symbolizing in a self-aware fashion bits of the Norse archetypes that they may inhabit. When I got to the quote from Armod, the little flourishes that would make Sun Tzu proud, and the line “some… fucker slipping his hunting knife in under the shields and unzipping your thigh,” I realized that I had been unconsciously transcribing nearly every line of dialogue into my notebook. I realized that Wood was laying down line after line after line, in seamless succession, of unmistakably grand, quotable dialogue. Ultimately, I’m reminded of Lt. Commander Hunter’s analysis of Prussian military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz in the film Crimson Tide: “the true enemy is war itself.” But more important than any thematic intent is the pinnacle of craftsmanship Wood and Lolos have achieved with this issue; it’s truly something to be proud of. Grade A+.