“The vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered still far outstrip our collective comprehension.”
John F. Kennedy
Back in the days of dim antiquity, a comics fan, and aspiring comic writer, named Sean Fahey, gathered (virtually) a group of like-minded fans to begin a comics review column; in keeping with his enthusiasm for Vikings, Sean chose the name Thor’s Comic Review Column, and through various ups and downs, and an assortment of home websites, the tradition continues these days at Bleeding Cool.
It’s been a few years since Sean moved on from the column he started; he’s now an established writer and editor, mostly through Black Jack Press, whose Tall Tales From the Badlands we’ve covered in the past. Now, Sean returns to his first love, as it’s Vikings galore in the new anthology Sagas of the Northmen.
And, yes, Sean’s a (virtual) friend: but he was already a comic writer before I knew him, and I’m comfortable taking the book on its own terms (though, full disclosure, I did get a free pdf download to Thor’s Comic Book Review Column).
We’re accustomed to Viking stories being large-scale epics of violence and pillage. Though Sagas of the Northmen isn’t wholly without those elements, as much as anything else, most of the stories here seem to have their focus instead on culture clash, and an effort to capture the sense of people just becoming aware of the existence of real-world mysteries beyond their own experience: at a time when much of the world’s population was rooted in their ancestral homes, Norsemen were venturing across the seas, opening their eyes to the peoples and cultures that they would one day help forge into what we think of as Western civilization.
The seven stories here feature a mixture of writers (including former CHUD mainstay Mark Wheaton aka Smilin’ Jack Ruby), and the various artists, working in black and white, bring a level of polish that’s a notch or two above what we often see in small-press comics, with a blend of styles that feel distinct from each other, but never jarringly at odds.
Satan’s Hordes, from Wheaton and artist Jok, begins with a victim’s-eye perspective on the initial Viking incursions, taking its narrations from an actual letter to the monks at Lindisfarne abbey, in the wake of their first exposure to the pillaging Norsemen.
No King But the Law, written by Fahey, with art from Borch, moves the setting to Iceland, with a quietly effective tale of fate and duty.
Because It Is There—Fahey and artist Marcelo Basile compare the Vikings’ quest into the unknown with our own era, a thoughtful piece that takes its text from a startlingly a propos speech by John F. Kennedy.