By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Aug. 25, 2009 -- I love Vikings. And the existence of Northlanders,
a series from DC’s mature-reader Vertigo line, tells me I’m not alone.
doesn’t have a continuing storyline or characters. It’s just a series of disparate stories set during the Viking era, all written by Brian Wood (DMZ
) and each drawn by a different artist.
The first Northlanders
story was an eight-parter called “Sven the Returned,” about a fellow who returns from the Varangian Guard in Constantinople to his homeland in the Orkneys in 980, which has been usurped by his uncle. (Violence ensues.) The second was a two-parter called “Lindisfarne,” the story of a young lad who sees opportunity instead of terror in the famous 793 raid that historians peg as the beginning of the Viking era. They were both absorbing, but I’m not here to review them.
Instead, let me recommend the third story, “The Cross and the Hammer,” which has been collected in trade paperback. It’s about Magnus, a Celtic resistance fighter (against the Hiberno-Norse king of Dublin, Sigtrygg Silkbeard) in the important months leading up to the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Magnus, accompanied by his young daughter, busies himself slaying the “occupiers” of Norse descent, while the king’s brother (probably invented for this story) uses primitive CSI techniques to track him down.
One of the reasons I like Vikings so much, I guess, is the sense of fatalism that infuses their mythology, their culture and, eventually, their history. Cold and hard like the land from which they rose, the Vikings never had a grand, nationalistic scheme to conquer or occupy – possibly because each band was pretty independent, but also because they believed nothing lasted forever (even their gods were fated to die). The best a Viking could hope for was to be killed with a sword in his hand, so that his soul would go to Valhalla, rather than Hel or Muspelheim. Even their afterlife was bleak!
“The Cross and the Hammer” – a reference to Christianity vs. the worship of Thor – is a Viking story. So with that in mind, there are only a few ways one can imagine Magnus’s story ending, none of them happy – but when it does, it is still shocking. Northlanders: The Cross and the Hammer
($14.99): It’s not what you think it is, but it is recommended.
* We live in dangerous times – but in Geronimo Stilton books, it’s time that’s in danger!
Stilton is the hero of a series of children’s books in Italy, about a mild-mannered newspaper editor mouse (of New Mouse City’s Rodent Gazette
) who must travel through time to stop the Pirate Cats from changing the past.
Sound like fun? Since the Stilton books have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, a lot of people think so.
And it’s more than fun. Like the grand quests that Carl Barks would write and draw for Scrooge McDuck and the Disney ducks, Stilton’s adventures are educational as well. And I don’t mention Barks casually – because Stilton is now available in graphic novels as well as prose, just like the Disney ducks, and they hold up well in comparison.
That’s pretty high praise, I know. But take a peek at Papercutz’s first two offerings in a proposed series: Geronimo Stilton: The Secret of the Sphinx
and Geronimo Stilton: The Discovery of America
(both $9.95). These are grand time-travel adventures with sympathetic, heroic mice who just happen to give history lessons on ancient Egypt and Christopher Columbus.
But I don’t need to say any more, because Papercutz has an animated trailer that does it better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HAwzNfPBoE
* I never collected Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery
when it was published by Gold Key from 1962 to 1980. Thanks to Dark Horse, I’ve now read the first four issues in hardback ($49.95).
Turns out it was a fairly typical suspense book of the period, an anthology of bloodless – thanks to the Comics Code – supernatural stories with twist endings, where bad guys predictably got their comeuppance.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it; I find this well-traveled road mildly diverting and vaguely comforting, in an old-slippers kind of way. And the stories are thoroughly professional, with the credits reading like a who’s who of early 1960s comics pros, including Don Heck and Mike Sekowsky.
I’m not sure even I’m prepared to buy the entire run of Boris Karloff
should Dark Horse reprint it, but I am looking forward to volume two.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at email@example.com.