Vikings, Vikings everywhere -- and all of it is fun

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:

Northlanders – 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.

Elsewhere:

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 capncomics@aol.com.

Views: 655

Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on July 29, 2010 at 6:15pm
Totally off-topic, but it looks like Thor just sniffed a fart on that cover.
Comment by The Baron on July 29, 2010 at 6:17pm
Travis Herrick = Value-Added commentary. :)
Comment by The Baron on July 29, 2010 at 6:17pm
Oh, and his anybody ever read nay of the Viking Commando stories? Were they any good?
Comment by Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) on July 29, 2010 at 6:42pm
I'm really interested in the first two, especially. Just curious, though -- who did the recoloring of the Thor stories? My friend Len O'Grady is doing some upcoming recoloring on another Thor collection, so I'm wondering if he had anything to do with this.
Comment by Figserello on July 29, 2010 at 8:19pm
Sometimes I forget that Thor was a Viking too! I probably block that out because the Vikings still give Irish people the heebie-jeebies, even after all this time! Being a "Land of Saints and Scholars" was all very well, but didn't set us up to repel ravening hoards of bearded Scandanavian psychopaths.

The Tales of Asgard are wonderful stories. Some real comicbook poetry and power in them. I'd really recommend this collection to anyone who hasn't read them before - even though that's probably a teeny subsection of our members!
Comment by Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) on July 29, 2010 at 10:28pm
I haven't read them, actually. (I've read very little Kirby Thor.) And I do love peripheral-topic backups!
Comment by Philip Portelli on July 30, 2010 at 12:56am
Tales of Asgard was very enjoyable and was Marvel's first experiment in expanding their mythology with actual Norse mythology. It wasn't 100% accurate but it was exciting and a lot of fun. I liked how young Thor looked like Kamandi!


Interesting is that when the future Warriors Three were introduced, it was strongly hinted that they were trouble! But they Stan decided to make them the Three Musketeers!

BTW, Baron, if you really mean the Viking Commando, he was a time-tossed Norse warrior who landed in WWII who wanted a hero's death to send him to Valhalla. There was even a lovestruck valkyrie waiting for him to succeed so they could be together for eternity or til Ragnarok, whichever came first. Unfortunately VC always survived, tended to by a beautiful Army nurse, much to the chagrin of this invisible-to-all-but-the-reader shield-maiden! As you can imagine, this got pretty repetitive pretty quickly!

I
Comment by Figserello on July 30, 2010 at 1:33am
It wasn't 100% accurate but it was exciting and a lot of fun.

I'd venture that most mythology, certainly the Eddas, is an adaptation of earlier mythology. Adaptation, by definition, means "not 100% accurate."
Comment by Philip Portelli on July 30, 2010 at 2:31am
The actual Norse myths have Loki being Odin's blood brother, not an adopted son. And Balder, Hod, Heimdall, Tyr and Bragi ALL being Odin's sons. Not to mention the actual red-bearded look of Thor!
Comment by Captain Comics on July 30, 2010 at 10:06am
I've never read the Viking Commando, Philip, but that is the identical plot (sans the nurse) of the two-issue Viking Prince story with Sgt. Rock in Our Army At War -- not only included in Viking Prince, but by coincidence, also in the Showcase Presents: Sgt. Rock Vol. 3 that just arrived this week. A Viking Prince is thawed out of a glacier by Easy Co., it turns out to be Jon, who's already been dead, but he and a valkyrie fell in love, which P.O'd Odin, who sent Jon back to Earth where he could not be killed by "fire, metal, wood or water," which ruled out most heroic deaths, and therefore a ticket back to Valhalla to pick up where he left off with the hot valkyrie. While he was down here a hot underground chick hit on him, which annoyed the invisible valkryie (which Rock could see for some reason), resulting in a lot of sexist remarks by Rock. (It was 1965, after all, and set in the early 1940s). Turned out -- to no one's surprise -- that the underground chick was a Nazi spy (and it's not a Spoiler because Kanigher is not the most subtle of writers, and she practically had "Nazi spy" tattooed on her forehead). Anyway, the story ended with the usual "Readers! Do you want to see more of Viking Prince in the present day?" And I'm guessing Viking Commando was the result.

It goes without saying that Commando was written by Kanigher, since if anyone else wrote it, it would be improved. Was his lead character named Jon?

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