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.
Written by John Rozum, Art by Jesus Saiz
Rating: Not Rated
Set in the fictional town of Midnight, Massachuesetts, Midnight, Mass is a eight issue series depicting the exploits of Adam and Julia Kadmon, a married couple who also happen to be the greatest paranormal investigators in the world. From John Rozum, the mind behind Xombi, comes this forgotten gem from 2002.
Midnight, Mass is something of an oddity. It was originally solicited and hyped as an ongoing series, only to be cut down to an eight issue mini-series between the time of the initial announcement and it’s actual publication. Rumor has it that creator John Rozum apparently found this out rather late into the game and as a result the eight issues don’t tell a single story arc. Instead it’s comprised of a single issue tale, a two parter, a three issue arc and another two parter which attempts to give the mini-series some sense of closure. Despite this the series is still a very enjoyable ride showcasing much of what made Xombi such a delight while allowing Rozum to portray something that’s rarely seen in American comics.. a happily married couple who enjoy their work. It’s such a refreshing change of pace, particularly in this day and age when American comics seem hellbent on breaking up every long term couple and peppering their supernatural characters with a heavy load of angst and grimness. While Adam and Julia do fight and argue, it’s not done out of bitterness or anger at their lot in life. It’s done out of worry and concern for each other and a certain fear of letting each other down in a life and death situation, but at no point is there a sense that either has to shoulder these problems or troubles alone. If a healthy couple isn’t enough, there’s also a slight inversion of conventional tropes for this genre. Adam’s the mage with an encyclopedic brain but no combat skills and Julia provides the brawn and weapon skills.
This was my first exposure to the artwork of Jesus Saiz and he’s not bad, but I don’t think he was the best fit for this series. Personally I thought one of his weakest points was his depiction Adam and Julia. The couple is described as glamorous and we’re told they’ve made Peoples 50 Most Beautiful People list several times in a row, but Julia doesn’t look that more beautiful then any other woman in the series and Adam doesn’t come off as terribly handsome either. Part of this seems to be his handling of their clothing. In the first issue Adam’s modern jacket is ruined and he changes into an older jacket that’s referred to as looking out of fashion, moth eaten and shabby but it really didn’t look that different from the first jacket he was wearing. Still, his work is clean, clear and easy to follow. Also some of his creature designs are fairly memorable, particularly the assassin in the first issue. For the most part though, he seems to lack a certain sense of mood and ambiance that the series called for. It’s serviceable if an odd and unspectacular fit.
Despite the lack of an overarching story due to behind the scenes weirdness and the average artwork, I still really enjoyed Midnight, Mass and would gladly pay to read more of the Kadmon’s exploits. Any fans of the recent Xombi series looking for similar work from Rozum would do well to give this series a loo as it shares many traits with that series. Unfortunately it might be a bit hard to come by as it’s never been collected, despite doing well enough to warrant a second mini-series Midnight, Mass: Here There Be Monsters. Still, those who can track down the single issues should find Midnight, Mass to be an enjoyable and fun read.
Midnight, Mass was published by Vertigo.