You know me and swordfights. There are plenty of them in NORTHLANDERS, BOOK ONE: SVEN THE RETURNED, a trade paperback collection of the first eight issues of the comic book series NORTHLANDERS. There's nothing swashbuckling about this swordplay, however. It's grim and bloody, like the lives of the Vikings living in the conquered
Orkney Islands in the year 980.
One of them, Sven, has just returned from several years of roaming the known world as a mercenary, pirate, and soldier of fortune. He's come back to his homeland because he's gotten word that his father is dead and his villainous uncle Gorm has seized power. Naturally Gorm doesn't want to relinquish Sven's proper birthright, and he's got the warriors on his side, so Sven has to go into hiding and launch a guerrilla war against his uncle.
Gorm may be the bad guy in this story, but Sven isn't exactly what you'd call heroic, either. He kills quickly and sometimes unnecessarily, he uses people for his own ends, often to their disadvantage, and he can't really be trusted, at least starting out. He does change some in the course of events, but he's still not a very sympathetic protagonist.
The deliberately anachronistic language in Brian Wood's script bothered me at first, but I stuck with it and was glad I did, because I got caught up in the story. (And it helps that the anachronisms diminish considerably as things go along.) I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere along the way somebody pitched this series as "DEADWOOD with Vikings", because that's the sort of feeling it conjures up, and ultimately it's almost as involving as DEADWOOD. The art by Davide Gianfelice is okay, not always to my taste but not bad, and some of the sweeping landscape scenes are really good.
I have the second NORTHLANDERS trade paperback and plan to read it soon. I don't know how many there are after that, but there's a good chance I'll pick them up, too. This is good, gritty historical adventure, and if you have a taste for that, you should give this series a try.