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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 8

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we look at the first volume of Brian Wood’s Northlanders, “Sven the Returned”…


First off, Massimo Carnevale’s cover for the trade is amazing. Just getting that out of the way.

This book collects the initial Northlanders story arc of eight issues (all for the insanely cheap introductory price of $9.99!), and Brian Wood really takes advantage of the extra-long first storyline, as he tells an absolutely epic tale.

The gist of the story is that a young man named Sven, who is living in Constantinople, learns that his father has died back in Scotland, so he returns home to gain his inheritance from his uncle, only to learn that his uncle has no intention on giving him anything, which leads to a long-out confrontation that takes many twists and turns.

The concept of Northlanders is that each story arc will feature a different story of different vikings, from all sorts of different perspectives. Such a system gives Wood what is one of the most powerful weapons in serial storytelling, and that is finality. Knowing that your story ends when it is finished gives you all sorts of freedom you just don’t have when you need to stretch your characters to an ongoing series, and Wood uses all of that freedom beautifully to gives us a story with a true ending, and a striking ending at that (although, do note that Wood DOES end up returning to the setting of this story later on in the series, but you don’t need to know that to appreciate this story).

The style of storytelling Wood uses will be quite familiar to anyone who follows either the Sopranos or Mad Men, as both shows spotlight characters while interspersing a healthy amount of flashbacks for the main characters to inform their current actions. With eight issues to work with, Wood is able to fit in an extensive flashback to Sven’s time in Constantinople.

Davide Gianfelice’s artwork is strong, and he captures the starkness of the time period impressively. I also love the way he depicts violence – he makes sure it is visceral, and it is not cartoon violence at all, you really feel it throughout. This is never more evident than in an unexpected battle scene towards the end of the book.

The main character, Sven, is a fun guy to follow – I especially love how Wood handles his thoughts. He makes Sven a horribly unreliable narrator, so when he says stuff like, “I knew then that ___ would happen,” we know that that is just Sven trying to convince himself, and not that he has any keen insight into what will ACTUALLY happen.

One thing to note about Northlanders is that Wood uses the approach of “have the characters talk modern even though the book is set over a thousand years ago.” It’s an acceptable approach for historical fiction, but I know some folks get put off by that sort of thing, so I felt it is worth noting.

This is a comic that can truly be termed “grim and gritty,” but only because that is the times that it is depicting.

It’s a strong read, and even if you’re not totally sold, it’s eight issues worth of comics for ten bucks – hard to beat a deal like that!


I basically gave this same review when the trade first came out – BC.


This review here is a pretty good, straight-forward means of describing the series, but it seems to lack in terms of providing any kind of example for WHY this series is so good. I mentioned it before, and I won’t again after this, as I don’t want to harp on the same point over and over, but it really stands out to me because I’ve actually read the series, and it seems like focusing on a key “moment” or an example of why the series should be read… seems to sell it short. Then again, if the intent isn’t wholly to sell people on reading it, then it functions as a solid, non-spoiled, non-detail oriented review.

and I won’t again after this,


This is easily one of my favourite comics to read each month when my pile arrives in the mail.

I know my stupidity is showing with this one (SPOILERS AHEAD) but could anyone tell me in the sequel to this story; “Sven the Immortal,” are we meant to infer that Sven dies at the end. I wasn’t very clear about whether or not he survives after reading the story.

I actually love the fact that the characters talk in modern English. It seems right to me.
I guess having the characters talking in an archaic manner or with a Shakespearan slant would work too, but it’s like in that Incredible Hercules issue where he says that Shakespeare lived centuries after the Greek Gods. “It doesn’t make any sense!” :-)

Also, Brian, I don’t think you mentioned it, but it’s worth noting that the majority of the story arcs in Northlanders are quite small. This arc (and the current one,The Plague Widows) are the exception.

@Chris McAree: My memory is hazy so I might be wrong, but I think he survived.

Tom Fitzpatrick

January 9, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Finally, a cool book that I HAVE read!

A cool book, indeed, though it IS cold where they live in the north. ;-)

For people who like Northlanders, I suggest trying the manga Vinland Saga as well:


Not licensed in the US yet but you can find many very good fan translations of it on sites like mangafox.com. Although some events in it require a lot of suspension of disbelief it provides a lot of suprisingly accurate historical details. And a riveting read.

Better than DMZ. Rivals Scalped and Fables as best Vertigo comic currently being published.


Modern English is the only sensible choice of language. The English of the time (halfway between Beowulf and Chaucer) would have been pretty much incomprehensible, and Old Norse isn’t particularly accessible either. Unless you’re Icelandic.

Matthew Johnson

January 11, 2010 at 7:52 am

For people who like Northlanders, I recommend the Icelandic Sagas. They’re much more accessible than a lot of ancient/medieval lit — many of them have quite a “modern” feel to the storytelling. I like the Penguin editions, which are widely available, but not doubt there are plenty of other translations out there (some are probably PD and thus available through Project Gutenberg, for those of you who prefer reading from small screens.)

Finally some love for Brian Wood:) I really appreciate the columns and I thank you sincerely, but it hurt a little to see 365 days go by without a single cool moment from Northlanders or DMZ.

I’m glad to see that this year Northlanders (or at least Sven) gets a recommendation. I’d also recommed the single issue story “The Viking Art of Single Combat.”

Now I’ll get back to work so you can get back to your write-up of DMZ.

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