Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Trade Waiting - Northlanders Vol 1 and DMZ Vol 1

Brian Wood is a skilled writer who is mostly known for his indy work, like Demo and Local, although he has done some small amount of work for both Marvel and DC. Wood's strength lies in characterization and story telling. Some of Wood's more recent work is currently available from Vertigo, which reprinted Demo last year, as well as his two current ongoings, Northlanders and DMZ, which I will be taking a look at today. Hit the jump to find out more.

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Davide Gianfelice
Collects Northlanders #1-8

I have been interested in Northlanders since it was originally announced. Vikings aside, Wood said he was aiming for "historical accuracy" and being a history major in college this was a big, big plus for me. I actually bought the series up through issue #4 in singles, but dropped the title because I wasn't liking it at the time. I kept hearing great things about the series and the trade cost me less than what it would have cost to buy issues #5-8, so I went ahead and bought it.

Instead of telling a continuing story, Northlanders is a series of stories set across the whole Viking Age and the first volume deals with Sven, a Viking mercenary from Constantinople. He learns that his uncle, Gorm, has claimed/stolen his inheritance and he goes back to the north to reclaim it. Once Sven returns, things go from bad to worse and the story deals with Sven's trials following this. Wood does a good job with the story's pace, although it kind of drags around in issues #3 and #4, which was the reason why I dropped the title in the first place. Thankfully, Wood picks the pace back up again with with issue #5.

The characters are solid as well. Although Sven is a generally unpleasant character, he is still a good protagonist unlike, say, Wesley Gibson from Wanted, because there is a good person buried under it all in which the reader can associate with. He's also a more interesting character than Wesley because he has some depth and nuance and is not a collection of "cool" ideas plastered together.

Most of this is seen, oddly enough, through Sven's love interests in the story. His character development is also handled well but seems a little rushed at times since the story meanders a little here and there and the extra time isn't spent on Sven as a character. He ends up in a completely different place, as a character, than he was a the beginning of the story and Wood does a good job of getting him there. Overall, it works, despite some bumps in the road along the way.

Wood does a good job of fleshing out the minor characters to a degree, which helps with the overall quality of the book. Some of them get more attention that others, but each of the main supporting characters gets enough attention to function as an individual. However, none of them really stand out from the group either.

The story beats flow nicely and Wood throws in a couple of surprises that work pretty well. As said earlier, the story does falter a little in the middle, but the beginning and ending parts of the story, in particular, are solid and engaging. There is only one problem I had with the story and that was Sven's lack of motivation. Wood never really gets into the "whys" of Sven's journey and, oddly enough, Wood has Sven acknowledge that to a degree in the story. I don't think its fatal to the story but it is an odd misstep.

Finally, Northlanders is a Viking comic and, as such, has a lot violence in it. Gianfelice renders its fantastically. It's bloody and vicious without ever being overly gory. Wood and Gianfelice create excellent fight scenes and the violence serves the story instead of detracting from it. Gianfelice also does a good job with the character designs and they all look they belong from their time period. The various locals all look distinctive and help with the mood and tone of the story.

Verdict - Must Read. Northlanders is a great piece of historical fiction that mixes action and story creating an unique period book.

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli
Collects DMZ #1-5

DMZ takes a largely simple idea - life in a demilitarized war zone (DMZ) - and puts a great spin on it by setting it in a war torn American city. DMZ is set in a bombed out New York City, which was the result of a war between the separatists army, known as the Free States, and the USA. Smartly, Wood avoids the subject of how things got they way they are since that's not what the book is about.

The main character in DMZ is Matty Roth, a photography intern for the Liberty News Network. He is sent into the Manhattan DMZ with a star journalist, but is the only person to survive an ambush. Eventually, Matty makes it his mission to chronicle the lives of the people living in the DMZ.

One of the things that makes DMZ such an effective comic is that it happens "here" instead of "over there". It makes the story a lot more relevant and relatable to the reader. Normally, I don't buy into the whole "relatable" argument when it comes to comics, especially superhero comics or most fiction for that matter, but it works for DMZ because it deals with a subject that people usually disconnect from by making it more personal with a hometown setting. Most people know about Times Square and Central Park, so seeing them in ruins adds an extra impact over a foreign city. Wood doesn't hold back either. In fact, one of the first places Matty visits is a make shift children's hospital, which helps add to the visceral impact of the story.

Despite the setting, the story is actually very basic. It's basically just Matty going around Manhattan and seeing the sites, as it were. He runs into some interesting places and characters along the way. Matty is the only character to get any real face time outside of an individual issue, but many of the people Matty encounters are well rounded and interesting.

Wood does a good job of creating the world of DMZ and, the devil being in the details, he does a fantastic job with all of the little things that make up the lives of people living in the Manhattan DMZ. The art is also equally fantastic and really captures the mood of Wood's story. The designs for the DMZ are great and add that extra layer of realism and detail to the story. Although DMZ could be seen a political book, with good reason, it doesn't actually play into the story itself and it never becomes a political soapbox for Wood either.

Verdict - Must Read. DMZ is a compelling book that puts real world styled events into a fascinating new light.

Like these reviews? Interested in these books? Purchase Northlanders Volu 1, Sven the Returned or DMZ Vol 1, On The Ground from Amazon.com and help support The Weekly Crisis.

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Bill said...

DMZ just kinda gets better and better for the next 20 issues or so. It's still good but I don't like the recent direction as much as the first few story arcs.

And I'm liking Northlanders too, though there being no connection other than Wood and Vikings from story to story, I could easily lose interest.

Kyle said...

I also think DMZ gets better and better. The Vol 4 trade 'Friendly Fire' is a high-water mark in my view. get them all.

Matt Ampersand said...

Northlanders is awesome. I need to check DMZ.

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