Written by Brian Wood, Art by Marian Churchland, Simone Gane and Matthew Woodson
DC/Vertigo, 128 pp
Rating: Mature Readers
Northlanders, Vol. 6: Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories is the latest volume in Brian Wood’s historical fiction series, Northlanders, and consists of three short stories. It opens with the three part “The Siege of Paris”, focusing on a siege gone horribly wrong from the point of view of a professional soldier for hire. The second story, “The Hunt”, follows a solitary hunter who’s lost everything, his children, his wife, his family as he refuses to lose his current prey regardless of the cost. And rounding out the volume is the titular “Thor’s Daughter” which gives us a glimpse of a young girl named Birna forced into adulthood following the death of her father at the hands of rivals.
The three stories, like nearly every other story in the Northlanders series, are stand alone tales and require no previous knowledge of the world, the characters or anything else. This means that despite being volume six in the series, the stories are just as accessible and new reader friendly as the first volume was. All three of the stories were very entertaining but at the same time I was surprised by their length. “The Hunt”, for me, is the stand out. Wood does a fantastic job at getting across the desperation of the hunter. His need to succeed and prove that he’s still capable of providing for himself was palpable. “Thor’s Daughter”, oddly enough, was probably my least favorite. The idea and the concept are sound and left me wanting to see more of Birna and how her story played out and it almost felt like the first chapter in a longer tale. I was definitely left wanting more from it. “The Siege of Paris” was an interesting tale and I enjoyed how the lead character had an almost man out of time feel to him. His desires clashed with those in power who were willing to settle wars through political discourse and money, something that was almost a personal affront to his raiding and pillaging sensibility. The fact that Wood was able to make a character who was looking to slaughter and loot a city sympathetic and enjoyable is a bit of a testament to his skills as a writer.
The artwork for the volume is a little hit and miss in places. While Marian Churchland does an absolutely fantastic job with “Thor’s Daughter” and Matthew Woodson’s work on “The Hunt” is equally lovely, something about Simone Gane’s work in “The Siege of Paris” just didn’t click for me. It was rough and ugly, certainly fitting for a story about a three month long siege from the grunt’s point of view, but at the same time there was an awkwardness and cartoonishness to it that undercut some of the epic moments and some of the emotional impact of certain scenes.
Northlanders, Vol. 6: Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories probably wasn’t my favorite of the Northlanders series, but it was still an enjoyable and entertaining read. The short story nature of the volume means you get a good cross section of the kind of tales that Brian Wood is trying to tell with the series; massive historical war epics, more intimate tales of humanity and loss, and stories about people finding themselves and struggling with situations not of their making. It might not be the greatest introduction to the series, but it’s still far better than much of what’s coming out of the American comic book industry at the minute and is worth a look.
Northlanders, Vol. 6: Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories is available now from Vertigo Comics.
by Mayumi Azuma
DMP, 184 pp
Rating: Teen (13+)
The second volume of Mayumi Azuma’s Erementar Gerade picks right up where the last one left off. Cou, Ren and the three members of an Edel Raid protection group, Cisqua, Kuea and Rowen, clash with a warlord who’s taken over a small town and traffics in women and Edel Raids. Afterwards the unlikely band finds themselves against.. another guy who kidnaps and traffics in Edel Raids.
I’m starting to notice a theme here. The first two volumes have both featured Cou and company facing off against a male antagonist who kidnaps Edel Raids and sells them to another buyer. Ten to one the buyer for Wolx, the second Edel Raid hunter in this volume, and the buyer mentioned by the first Eden Raid hunter are the same person. While it does seem to hint at a big bad for the early part of the series, I’m just not sure rehashing the exact same story we just read is the best way to go about it. Beyond the basic story the series continues its weird pseudo-commentary on gender relations and the treatment of women by society. It’s hard to not look at these stories about men kidnapping Edel Raids, which are always women so far, and then selling them and abusing them and not think of human trafficking problems. The abusive relationships between the antagonists and their Edel Raids, complete with them calling them objects, is hard to miss and at times I think it’s a rather clever and subtle commentary on the way society views and treats women. But then the series turns around and gives us weird fan servicey bits, like a scene with Cou which echoes his abortive attempt at molesting Ren when they first met, only this time he’s peeping on Ren and the other female cast members, Cisqua and Kuea, as they’re bathing at a hot baths spa.
Maymumi Azuma’s artwork continues to be a bit hit or miss with me. The character designs are serviceable but none of them jump out as being amazingly memorable or fantastic. The action scenes in this volume are also a bit clearer then those in the first. The scenes with Rowen and Kuea battling the second Edel Raid hunter are much more coherent and flow far better then any of the other action scenes that have turned up so far. Unfortunately the over the top comedic reactions still abound and that’s something that almost never works for me and Erementar Gerade is no exception.
The story continues to be a weird mix of interesting ideas and concepts and fairly bland shonen tropes. Ren gets threatened, Cou spouts dialogue about how he’ll protect her, fights ensue, etc. Right now the underlying ideas of the series interest me more than anything the characters are actually doing or anything happening within the plot.
by Mayumi Azuma
DMP, 182 pp
Rating: Teen (13+)
After taking a hiatus due to the closing of Tokyopop, Mayumi Azuma’s Erementar Gerade returns thanks to the fine folks at DMP! The series begins again as the first volume introduces us to the young sky pirate Cou and his adventures after encountering a mysterious young girl named Rev, who just happens to be an incredibly powerful weapon known as an Edsel Raid.
I read this years ago when Tokyopop first released it and wasn’t terribly blown away with it then. Sadly, the years haven’t really softened my opinion of the first volume at all. Cou is introduced to us as a bit of a lecherous pervert. We meet him seconds before he attempts to cop a feel on the sleeping Rev. It doesn’t exactly get him off to a good start with me even if it was meant to be some sort of light, comedic introduction. That said it does help set the tone for what’s to come, namely the idea of some young women being Edsel Raids, powerful weapons that are desired and lusted after by various people. With that in mind I suppose Cou attempting to molest some random unconscious young girl is just in keeping with what appears to be an underlying theme of women as objects. One can only hope the series rises above it’s shonen-y roots and actually articulates and says something interesting about the idea of women and their place in society but I’m not holding my breath.
Mayumi Azuma’s artwork runs the gamut from impressive to just ok. There’s a reliance on the over reactions for comedic effect, something that rarely clicks with me, and the action sequences are a bit muddled and confusing at times as well. Still, there’s something oddly stylish to some of the settings and characters designs even if they do feel just a tad too generic in places. That may sound like a contradiction but it’s not. Cou’s jacket and clothing are very cool, they just also happen to be fairly forgettable and almost stereotypical of a young male protagonist in an anime or manga.
I’m not still not in love with this series and I’m actually a bit surprised that DMP would be interested in bringing it back, I wasn’t aware that it was that big of a hit the first time around to really warrant a rescue when compared to some of the other highly regarded titles that are floating around in limbo at the moment. I’m sure someone will really enjoy it though, but sadly at this point in time that person isn’t me. I do have some hope for it though, the underlying idea of women being treated as objects has a lot of mileage to it and when the issue is discussed through a shonen series there’s some possibility for it to become a surprisingly subversive and socially relevant title.
by Kohta Hirano
Dark Horse, 216 pp
Rating: Teen (13+)
Drifters is the newest series from Kohta Hirano, creator of Hellsing, and it gets off to a rather interesting start as a samurai warrior on the brink of death finds himself dropped into a fantasy world full of dragons, elves and more.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Hellsing, gave it a try but it just failed to hook me or pull me in at all. Drifters fares a little better in this regard mainly due to how straight forward it is. The plot revolves around two warring powers plucking figures from Earth’s history and pitting them against each other for some unknown reason. The whole thing seems to boil down to a child like “my guys can beat your guys” action figure battle. Sure, the mechanics and motivations for the powers doing this are unknown but does it really matter when you’ve got Joan of Arc facing off against Billy the Kid and the Carthaginian general Hannibal? For the most part the book focuses on a new comer to the world, Toyohisa, a warrior from the Battle of Sekigahara, as he arrives and.. well, throws himself into the battle without batting an eye. The exact role that Toyohisa or the other two Japanese warriors he stumbles across will play in the larger scheme of things is still unknown at this point and it looks to be a key factor in the series in general.
Hirano’s artwork is pretty unique looking. He eschews much of the stereotypical traits associated with manga artwork and gives us something that’s a bit rougher but still stylish and interesting. His characters swagger across the page with long lanky limbs, exploding into brief moments of blood soaked carnage. There aren’t any decompressed one on one duels in this volume and most of the action is resolved in a matter of pages, if not panels. He does a fantastic job at conveying a certain sense of madness in several of the characters. The only disappointing bits of the artwork for me came with the gag bits where he fell back on something that was reminiscent of chibi-ized characters for humorous reactions and the like. It’s hard to make that click with me, especially in a book that’s as action packed and butch as this one. Instead it simply takes me out of the story and the moment completely. It’s also not funny or cute at all, but hey.
Drifters seems like it could have quite a bit of potential and fun about it as long as it doesn’t start to take itself too seriously. If Hirano can keep it at a level of tons of historical figures beating the crap out of each other for some vague and nebulous reason then I think this is a winner. At any rate I’ll definitely be attacking around for volume two. Mindless violence and big dumb action scene’s have their place in my entertainment menu after all.
Drifters, Vol. 1 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.