12.23.09 Reviews (Part 2)

Northlanders #23 (DC/Vertigo): Northlanders is always a tough book for me to review because it’s so unlike anything else out there and not a typical book I’d read based on the ostensible content alone. It’s a good example of loyalty to a creator I trust, the consumer process of following a creator around to divergent properties, regardless of company, genre, character, or basic content. The method by which Brian Wood tells these stories is pretty unique as well. There are longer epic feeling arcs which alternate with shorter fast paced arcs or one-shots. They don’t always feature the same characters, locations, artists, or even time period. Even the graphic design of the covers and numbering variations from arc to arc appear like a series of mini-series rather than a singular ongoing title. I think many readers would find all of those things off-putting or inaccessible, but it’s actually one of the coolest things about the book that I’m drawn to, and it's actually very accessible, offering multiple jumping on points for new readers. I like the ability to shift focus and highlight different aspects of the larger world. It’s a liberating, smart move on Wood’s part, allowing him the freedom to explore higher level themes and concepts without necessarily having to follow the same character or place around doggedly. As much as I’m drawn to Northlanders, I’ll confess that sometimes I feel like I don’t have much to say about specific issues. They’re illustrated fantastically by some of the most talented artists working today. They’re written extremely well, always bearing clever and informative turns of phrase. However, particularly in these longer arcs, it feels like trying to review the third chapter of a really good novel. Trying to review just the third chapter in a vacuum, which is difficult for me and I’m not sure my comments are terribly helpful to potential readers. In any case, let’s give it a go. I tried a mental exercise this issue in which I forced myself to reduce what I liked about the issue into single words that ran throughout the work. The two words I was able to settle on were “detail” and “dichotomy.” The details are obviously there visually in Leandro Fernandez’s art, in Dave McCaig’s coloring (who certainly deserves an Eisner nod for his work on this book, I repeatedly notice how grand the palette is), but also in the script regarding the various speculative mechanisms by which the plague could potentially spread, and even down to the composition of the city walls reinforced by the frozen turf. Wood never skimps on research and richly scatters the results around for us to absorb. In terms of dichotomous forces, we’ve got the inborn fatalism that comes to the surface when the inhabitants are faced with insurmountable odds, but that’s balanced against the sharp focus that provides them, a sense of achieving the seemingly impossible. Boris and Gunborg are literal opposing forces, paradigms of progress and change grappling with tradition and conservative values. Similarly, science and reason seem to always be at odds with faith and base emotions like greed. There’s the beautiful visual dichotomy of fire and ice. Perhaps that’s a visual representation of the incongruous parts that comprise these people’s lives, of their very existence they said poetically “each day a battle… and a miracle.” Grade A.


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