Titan Comics: VIKINGS #1 Review

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Tony goes berserk.

For a self-professed geek, there are some appalling gaps in my knowledge of recent TV and movie phenomena. Vikings is one such gap – it’s a show I’ve always meant to check out, but haven’t as yet got there.

Well, hello, Titan Comics.

I feel it’s important to put it out there before we carry on that I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones either, and that all the heavy, hyper-serious fantasy that’s currently in vogue has a tendency to leave me rather cold.

That said, I’m not constitutionally opposed to clever, layered drama and power struggles by people with swords and beliefs and destinies. After all, I’m at least some kind of geek.

Vikings, issue #1, written by longstanding Who and comic fabulousness-wrangler Cavan Scott, and drawn by Staz Johnson and Richard Elson, is the kind of comic-book that could persuade me to part with money not only for the comic-book itself, but for a series or two of the source material to boot.

Whether you like the idea of a ‘Dramatis Personae’ before you dive into a storyline or not is a personal decision, but there is one here, so you know who you’re dealing with before the adventure begins, and you also get a primer on their backstories and interconnections.

That means that on the one hand, you’re well prepared to read the story that follows, which sees Ragnar Lothbrok and his band of Vikings making peace, war, love and enemies in the court of the King Ecbert of Wessex. There are tensions on every side of Ragnar, with Floki, one of his closest advisors and ‘brothers’ disturbed by the way Ragnar is building bridges with the ‘Christ brood’ Britons. You can get Messianic here if you like, Floki cast as a kind of Judas of discontent in the midst of a band of brothers and sisters on what is technically a united mission to strengthen ties with Ecbert and his court. But it’s only one of three main strands of storytelling that Scott weaves into this first issue. The Vikings’ reputation as ravishers at least, if not out-and-out rapists of the local women comes into play here too, as Rollo, Ragnar’s actual blood brother draws the eye and the assent of the daughter of one of Ecbert’s nobles, leading to conflict between the Wessexmen and the Vikings. If Floki’s discontent feels Biblical, Rollo’s adventures have a Shakespearean tinge, reminding readers of the beginning of Othello, where accusations of witchcraft and rape are heaped on Othello’s head in his absence, but when he speaks, the consent of the lady is confirmed, and the fire of the accusers is quelled by those in power.

Meanwhile, away from the British action and back home in Kattegat, the natives are restless as harvests fail, and the villagers look for dark age scapegoats – Viking justice is shown in action in this issue, dispensed by Ragnar’s queen, Aslaug. And Siggy, servant of Aslaug but also lover of Rollo with an agenda of her own, seeks advice from a seer on how the mood of the people will develop, hearing dark and mysterious tidings that as yet she can’t interpret.

Scott is highly accomplished in intertwining his threads and delivering the pace and plot-points of an episodic TV show in two dimensions, so there’s no point within this first issue at which you get to rest, or at which he allows you the cardinal sin of boredom. There’s learning to do, there’s politics to attune to, there’s a whole world in which to become immersed, and Scott does the intelligent thing – he makes it as easy as possible for you to sink into that world, its rhythms and tensions and interplay. Opening up with Floki’s memories of happy plunder-parties of days gone by and ‘fading’ into the contrast with the complexities of diplomacy lets you get your Viking head on from the word ‘Go,’ and the shift to the Kattegat scenes is merely a change of strand and scene, rather than a change of tone or gear, so there’s nothing difficult you have to do – the story’s written with precision, to make it easily digestible without ever being over-simplistic.

Artwise, there’s an attractive mix at play here – the accompanying artwork for the Dramatis Personae stamps an authority of blood and steel and ocean on the piece that primes you for the spirit of the raiding life. The actual in-story art by Johnson and Elson has a distinctly retro, hand-drawn sensibility that both suits the rough-around-the-edges harshness of the time period, and with the right, suitably soft watercolour palette, allows for a pastoral paradise or an emotional moment to be rendered with a necessary tenderness, even in the Viking world, as is shown in the scenes of Rollo’s entanglement with the local lady that lands him in such hot water in the King of Wessex’s court. All credit then to Rodrigo Fernandes on colourwork for allowing the emotional tone of moments, be they dreamlike, seductive, judicial or misanthropic to speak through the art by choosing the tones and lighting options that allow each moment its due within the overall tone and pace of the issue.

Bottom line, Vikings #1 shows several sides both of the Viking temperament in general and of its characters particularly, bringing life to a mytho-history that still, if told well and with the right tools, has the potential to inspire, enthral and transport us. Cavan Scott, Johnson, Elson and Fernandes between them have an impressive toolbox, and they bring them to bear on the long inheritor of the Viking sagasongs here. Grab a copy today, and prepare to strap in for your next must-read comic series.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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