My 13 Favorite Things of 2009 (Part 7 of 17)

Northlanders (DC/Vertigo): If you’re here reading this list it’s probably no undiscovered revelation to you that I’m a big fan of Brian Wood. I think he’s a writer who’s successfully captured the attitude and mental acuity of a generation. But the thing is, I keep telling people that DMZ is my favorite work because it’s easier to explain why in a single sound byte style sentence. I’ve lavished DMZ with a lot of praise, but I’ve just been taking the easy way out all along. It took me until about issue five to really be sold, but honestly, Northlanders has slowly eclipsed DMZ and supplanted the Second American Civil War saga as the work that suits my sensibilities more completely at this point in my life. It sounds silly and New Age-y, but Northlanders is a book about life. It’s about what it means to be a man, or a father, or a lover, or a warrior, or a thinker; it’s the pinnacle of Wood’s fascination with identity, because it’s such a multi-faceted examination of the idea. I don’t want to give short shrift to DMZ; it’s an extremely good and particularly important book for this post-Bush, Obama Generation, but it has a tighter focus, and isn’t as polyamorous with the ideas it chooses to explore. My cousin Jacob and I have this running gag about how Matthew McConaughey basically plays the same guy in every single movie, best evidenced by the attorney Jake Tyler Brigance in the adaptation of the John Grisham novel A Time To Kill. We have refined the core essence of this archetype into a single phrase: “wired into the old boys network, but progressive.” I recently re-read Northlanders: Volume 1: Sven The Returned. I believe this first arc was one of his best and was struck with what a fantastic protagonist Sven was/is. He is very progressive in an environment staunchly rooted in the traditional, and that provides a great deal of storytelling tension. His religious beliefs, sexual relationships, fighting tactics, means of conflict resolution, and general worldview have been widened by his time abroad. It’s interesting that the end to the first arc defies expectations and doesn’t result in him reclaiming the throne he is rightfully heir to, but in bequeathing his birthright to Hakkar out of a sense of mutual respect, weariness, perseverance, grasp of the bigger picture, and understanding of his people’s place in history. I was also moved by Sven’s sense of youthful fascination with big city life; Wood (through Ivarsson) understands what that draw is, but also comments on the underbelly of that lifestyle, being unable to appreciate and value little moments because there’s simply no time for them. This year reached a particular high point with the done in one intensity of issue #17 with artist Vasilis Lolos. Wood’s been skipping around in Viking time, place, and character, with arcs of various lengths, exploiting his own brand of storytelling engine. With issue 17, he takes a hard detour to focus on a singular aspect of the era he’s writing about. There are many examples of this type of exploration in Northlanders, symbolic of the types of ruminations on life the series is capable of producing. Northlanders is somehow simultaneously more considerate and introspective emotionally, yet also more brutal and visceral than other superficial “Viking” era comics that have cluttered up the market ever since the popularity of something like Conan. It’s a pity that works of that nature became the standard, because Northlanders offers so much more. It is poised to redefine the genre. I’ve said before that Wood is particularly blessed as a writer to not only be an artist himself, but has a knack for being paired with some of the best, most underrated artists working today. Becky Cloonan, Ryan Kelly, Riccardo Burchielli, Davide Gianfelice, Danijel Zezelj, Nathan Fox, and Leandro Fernandez read like a string of phenomenal talent that would be on any writer’s professional wish list for collaboration. It’s also been interesting to see Wood maturing as an artist, as his own personal priorities and proclivities begin seeping into his work as he grows. Alas, I don’t have any pithy clever way to end this post. I’ll just say simply that Northlanders is all you can hope for, all I’ve ever really wanted in a piece of fiction, and when carefully deconstructed, I tend to agree with Brian Wood, that it’s probably some of his best writing.


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