NORTHLANDERS 20: Sven the Immortal
Written by Brian Wood
Illustrated by Davide Gianfelice
Colors by Dan McCaig
Cover by Massimo Carnevale
Published by Vertigo
Twelve issues, quite a few years, and two children later, Sven has returned. This is a single issue story which is a very rare thing in comics these days. On top of that you’re not required to have read the first eight issues of the series. It’s all here. But if you have read those issues, all of which consist of the first trade paperback, it only adds to the foundation of this story.
This is the first issue I’ve read of the series since “Sven the Returned.” I’m not a regular reader. I love the premise of this comic but these are the days of too little money and waiting for the collections. Having read the first storyline and this a single issue story, I picked it up.
The story doesn’t miss a beat. It might not take place right after the last page of issue eight, but even with his gray hair it’s still the same old Sven. He’s now an exile in Norway and he just wants to be left alone in the quiet of the desolate countryside with his family. But he can’t do that. A Viking can never do that.
His legend precedes him. Epic poems are sung in halls across the Northlands. A young group of men plot to find Sven and kill him for nothing more than notoriety and fame. Which would lead to other things like riches and women.
With the boat arriving to slay him all he can do is fix his thatched roof so that the first winter’s snow doesn’t leak on his family’s head. His wife stands guard at the cliffs, an expert with her bow, but she doesn’t take them out, trusting Sven’s word to do what is right.
Like any good Viking comic, blood is spilled. Lots of blood.
But Sven’s wife is kidnapped. He can’t run after them. He has children to look after.
There are truths in legends. Sven the Returned is no longer. He becomes Sven the Immortal now.
The latter half of the book is filled with more sword fighting and much more blood shed. So much so that Sven is bathed in it making him truly a monster to be reckoned with.
I won’t give away the comic’s ending but I will quote its captions.
Heir to nothing, known for nothing, seeking nothing but peace and quiet, fair summers and mild winters. And a sturdy roof that won’t drip on our heads.
One of my main problems with the first eight issues of the series was it’s all-too-modern script. The visuals are spot on and, as far as I know, accurate for the period. But the script was too modern. In some cases it can’t be helped and then there’s translation for a land where English isn’t the main language. But still it was something that bothered me. It seems between then and now Wood has found the voice of the comic and it’s a better read for it.
Illustrated by Gianfelice this comic looks beautiful and Dave McCaig’s colors only add more beauty to the pages. I know Brian Wood is a big name in comics but he wasn’t the draw for me. It was Gianfelice. He illustrated the first eight issues and they brought him back for this tale as they should have. His art has grown in leaps and bounds since the early work. He’s one of those artists that puts only as much line down as needed, never overendering or embellishing.
The cover alone, lavishly illustrated by Massimo Carnevale, is worth the money of this comic if you’re not convinced from all the rest. He, too, gets better with every cover he illustrates. You may have seen some of his work on Y The Last Man. Carnevale has a talent for color, using hues you wouldn’t think of to bring elements forward.
Northlanders isn’t a comic for everyone. It has its softer side but the life of a Viking is anything but easy. Filled with sullen moments of quiet and fierce bloody battles they’d rather die on their sword then from old age.
Just don’t tell that to Sven.