Welcome to “What’s Actually Good,” the column that looks at the best the comics industry has to offer. This week, I review Brian Wood’s Northlanders and provide some analysis and discussion of Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil run so far. This as well as my weekly picks to come and news. Check it out!
Brian Wood’s new Viking epic Northlanders is an ongoing series published by Vertigo and is now in its fourth issue. The first eight-part story tells of the return of long lost Viking heir Sven and his efforts to retake control of his homeland and, more importantly, his wealth after the death of his father. Northlanders plans to tell a different Viking’s story each time around, with the eight-issue stories broken up intermittently by smaller two-issue ones. Eventually what we will have is a broad selection of tales taken from various periods of Viking history, the first set in 980 C.E.
The Viking-turned-Vanagarian Sven is the main protagonist of the story, but he is by no means a hero. He is willing to do anything to get what’s his, including murder, and he’s not there to help his destitute people. Despite this, one can only admire his courage and single-mindedness as he begins a guerrilla crusade against the usurper of his rule/wealth, Gorm.
The Dark Ages setting tempts you into putting on your historian cap when reading the book, but I assure you it’s unnecessary. While it seems that Brian has done his homework before starting the series, the book largely maintains a very modern feel in its structure, pacing and dialog. It may be a point of contention for other reviewers, but I feel the lack of archaic dialog and modern feel make it that much more accessible and allow you to enjoy what is really outstanding within. That is, its rampant violence and vivid savagery in a dark period of human history.
The artwork, supplied by Davide Gianfelice, captures both the fast paced, bloody action as well as the vast wasteland that is the book’s setting. Brian gives Davide plenty of opportunities to show us his talents, with the parade of violence only halted by the many full-page spreads of the harsh landscape. It’s a useful technique that reminds us of where we are despite the mindlessness of the time.
What we get, then, is a violent romp through the dark ages articulated by Brian’s modern style and Davide’s strong pencils. There is something to be said about Northlanders and the how the period in time (that is, the beginning of a new millennium) affects those still clinging to the past. This seems to be one of the ongoing themes that Brian is weaving into the book, and I imagine it shall continue to be a point as the series progresses.
The next issue is on sale on April 25. Enjoy something a little different from Brian Wood and Vertigo and pick it up.
One of my favorite writers for Marvel at the moment is Ed Brubaker. Ed’s work mixes realistic characterizations with superhero stories to give us a unique look at our favourite heroes. Breaking down his many books to find the base appeal is difficult, but let’s take a look at one of his key works and discuss his run on Daredevil so far and how it reflects on Brubaker as a writer.
Ed originally picked up Daredevil after Bendis’ run on the series, wisely continuing the noir-ish style that we had seen before (heck, really, Brubaker was the only man for the job when you think about it) and immediately beginning to rock the boat and take Matt Murdock down a dangerous path.
This book seems to be a great example of Brubaker breaking a character down through tragedy and hardship. At this point in the series, due to a mix of villainous acts and his own characteristically uncompromising nature, Matt Murdock’s life is falling to pieces. His wife is mentally unstable and he personally has become incredibly cold, violent and depressed even after his greatest triumph (dodging the public outing of his identity and imprisonment). In doing so, he is responsible for leaving his friends bewildered and picking up the pieces behind him.
While reading the book, I found that I was not only excited and worried due to the immediate threats from the villains but also from the lasting effect that these events are having on the hero’s psyche. He is beating the bad guys, sure, but the cost has been not only his own soul but the livelihoods of his friends and loved ones. It’s a terrible state to be in, but wonderfully compelling reading and characteristic of a Brubaker book. While any good writer can obviously invoke this feeling in the reader, it’s Brubaker’s methods that set him apart.
Structure-wise, Brubaker’s works move with a kind of determined, thoughtful pace, and you get the impression that, while it might seem laborious at first, every panel has a purpose within the story. Instead of being overly jovial or flippant, nothing is wasted. Compare his writing to the rampant childishness of Amazing Spider-man, and Brubaker’s style becomes very clear. It’s a style that is forged from a background of crime and thriller books, but has been made to work with superhero comics now to great effect.
The dialog, like the rest of the book, is succinct and neither overly dramatic nor simple. Its honest, realistic tone helps to bring the character down to earth, and this in turn helps us to sympathize and connect with him. Again, compare it to the dramatic and fun dialog a writer like Bendis produces, or the punchy, clever words we get from Brian K. Vaughan, and Brubaker stands out as somewhat sober but equally (if not moreso) effective.
In Daredevil, Brubaker is taking the hero down a tragic path, exposing not only his own flaws along the way but articulating them to us in the clearest and most compelling way. More can and needs to be said of this and his other work, but what is clear is that if he continues to bring his mature and realistic style of storytelling to superhero comics, there is plenty to be excited about in the future.
Superhero-wise, Brubaker is currently writing Daredevil, Captain America, Uncanny X-Men and Iron Fist. His creator-owned work, the crime book Criminal, is also outstanding. You should buy them all.
Here is a fantastic callout on “comics journalists” and their reviews by David Uzumeri from Funnybook Babylon. He points out a horrible trend in comic reviews and writes an entertaining appeal to fellow journalists to curb the clichés and easy jokes and actually create reviews with merit.
Comic books are cool again! Or perhaps just to Hollywood stars and musicians with the bizarre news that rapper Method Man is producing his own comic with Grand Central Publishing. Expect that in the distant future, along with comics from other members of the Wu-Tang Clan. I’m not even joking.
Good to see more news coverage of the gradual acceptance of comic books as a literary form.
“What’s Actually Good” top 5 picks for the next two weeks: Amazing Spider-Man No. 556 from Zeb Wells, Incredible Hercules No. 116 from Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, 100 Bullets No. 90 from Brian Azzarello (but for God’s sake, don’t jump in now; buy the trades and read up), Justice Society of America No. 14 from Geoff Johns and finally Fantastic Four No. 556 from Mark Millar.
In the next “What’s Actually Good”:
I uncover the shocking secret behind the unusual number of Brians there are writing within the comics industry. I also review the newest Supergirl and tell you why it’s brilliant. Finally, I give my opinion on the current incarnation of my childhood favourite superhero book: Amazing Spider-Man. See you in two weeks!