By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
July 27, 2010 -- Welcome to the all-Viking edition of Captain Comics! Rub yourself down with bear fat, polish your sword, work yourself into a berserker rage, and enjoy:
– an anthology series about the Viking age – has been big fun for a long time, especially for those of us who grew up reading the Elder Eddas at the junior high library. The latest story, “The Plague Widow,” is the best yet – and that’s saying a lot about this quality series, written by Brian Wood (DMZ
) and illustrated by a rotating crew of artists.
“Widow” is set in Viking Russia during a plague, during a harsh winter. That’s two strikes right there, and our protagonist is a woman in 1020 A.D. whose husband just died, leaving her with a young child – which should be the whole ball game. But our plague widow is made of pretty stern stuff, and her eight-issue struggle to survive is a terrific read.
To be honest, I don’t know how realistic this story is. I’m pretty surprised our pretty young thing isn’t gang-raped in the first 20 pages, and the old leader of the settlement is a pretty enlightened governor for a guy who’s never heard of democracy, plus the village priest seems to know an awful lot about germs for a fella who lived 800 years before Louis Pasteur.
But who cares? Wood brings his usual sure-footed storytelling, engrossing us in a story reflecting verisimilitude if not verity. The village has that claustrophobia from constant low-level fear you find in a good zombie movie, plus the villagers really do have to stay inside and keep bundled up all the time – or freeze to death fairly quickly. Plus, what is there to eat? What do you burn when you can’t forage? How long before the strong start preying on the weak? Death is all around, and comes in many forms, some of which you can’t see – and Wood gives you a taste of most of them.
"The Plague Widow" is illustrated by Leandro Fernandez, whose art is clear, sharp and stark as ice. It’s beautiful and haunting, like the story. The trade paperback ($16.99) arrives October 27, and you really ought to pick it up. Before, y’know, it gets too cold.
As I tweeted a few weeks ago, DC’s Viking Prince
hardcover ($39.99) scratched an itch I didn’t know I had.
“Viking Prince” originally ran in the first 24 issues of Brave and Bold
, long before that title became a Batman team-up book, in its original incarnation as a showcase for adventure from bygone days. B&B
starred Roman gladiators, Robin Hood, Arthurian knights – and from 1955 to 1959, a Viking prince.
Well, he didn’t know he was a prince. “Jon” was found floating in the sea, with amnesia, and was adopted by a fishing village in the frozen north. He knew how to fight like a nobleman, so they called him a prince – which he actually was, and the guy who had stolen his throne spent a number of issues trying to kill him. Then the series veered off in an entirely different direction, where our blond warrior fought a new supernatural threat each issue, and met a new hot chick in each issue, and apparently completely forgot about the old fishing village and the guy trying to kill him and his sweetheart Gunnda. Oops.
Obviously, “Viking Prince” wasn’t the best-written series, even for the time. And though it was drawn by the legendary Joe Kubert, he wasn’t quite at the peak of his powers yet. But “Viking Prince” is just old-fashioned fun, hearkening to a time when comics weren’t complicated. That’s an itch I haven’t had scratched in forever.
* Speaking of old-fashioned fun, Marvel has re-released the "Tales of Asgard” stories Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used to do in the back of Thor
when it was still called Journey Into Mystery
in the 1960s. Lee and Kirby clearly had a blast spinning these new takes on old Norse legends, and the Tales of Asgard
hardcover ($29.99) uses today’s coloring techniques to make Kirby’s art explode with magic, grandeur and power.
This is how Kirby should always have looked, and probably how Norse gods, frost giants, trolls and world serpents really did look. Plus, it’s the first appearance of the Warriors Three: Hogun the grim, Fandral the dashing and Volstagg the voluminous!
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at