A Very Graphic Viking Story
Vikings have been a very popular subject in popular culture as of late, peaking right now with the popularity of the Vikings television show, now in its fifth season. Before this show debuted in 2013, the graphic novel series Northlanders began in 2010, and more titles featuring Vikings have been published since.
Barbarian Lord by Matt Smith
This graphic tale is as epic as the Icelandic sagas that have influenced its story. The illustration of the weapons, horns, mead halls, ships and one-eyed gods is beautifully Viking. The title character, Barbarian Lord, is a warrior poet whose god is Hrokk, to whom he must prove himself worthy of his breath and bones. Upon his death, he must go to Hrokk on his mountain and bring forth from his word-hoard a saga of his life. If his courage and the quality of his words is worthy, Barbarian Lord will join Hrokk’s mighty host. As Barbarian Lord goes from battle to battle, he composes poetry of his experience, both beautiful and brutal.
Black Road by Brian Wood
Magnus Black, his wife murdered, his village burned, shunned by his people, is a warrior betrayed. Now making a brutal living working for the Catholics that are slowly purging the pagan out of the land, Magnus finds himself escorting a Vatican official on the Black Road, where treachery and death follows. This tale, as brutal and unforgiving as any war between battle-hardened Vikings, features a complex hero trying to bridge two worlds between his pagan roots and the rise of Christianity.
Cowboy Ninja Viking by A.J. Lieberman
Duncan has dissociative identity disorder and three distinct personalities: a cowboy, a ninja, and a viking. After the government trains Duncan and others with the same condition to be counterintelligence agents and assassins, known as Triplets, the program is cancelled when Duncan is the only successful result. With his three distinct personalities, and a sword, axe, and gun, each identity’s skills take over when the fighting starts. This title is intriguing as it explores Duncan's relationship to his Triplets, which includes Duncan and Viking having a heart-to-heart conversation taking place in the Norse village construct inside Duncan’s mind. The art style is easy to follow, changing Duncan’s appearance and language as each personality takes over.
Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura
This fictionalized tale of history has as many characters and power struggles and as much drama and violence as the television series Vikings. This manga features the historical adventurers Leif Erikson and Thorfinn Karlsefni, lord and warrior Thorkell the Tall, and Canute, King of England, Denmark, and Norway, set on a large canvas of Europe. The main story centers on Thorfinn’s struggle to honor his father, following him on his journey to eventually become an explorer and settler of Vinland (America) in the 11th Century, as well as King Canute’s rise to power. As of 2018, this epic series has ten marvelous volumes chock full of art that depicts intense action and drama with beauty and skill. I look forward to it’s adaptation to anime in 2019, by the same group that have given us the Attack on Titan anime.
Northlanders by Brian Wood
Unlike Wood’s Black Road, Northlanders is a series of multiple stories ranging from the 10th to 13th centuries, wherein we experience the lives of a wide variety of characters within Viking society. In the first book we meet three Shield Maidens defending themselves from invaders who outnumber them; Sven, a man returned from Middle East to claim his Viking inheritance, helped by a woman hunter living alone in the wilderness; and a retelling of the sacking of the monastery of Lindisfarne, which heralded the beginning of the Viking Age. In book two we are introduced to the Hauksson family in Iceland, and we follow their rise and fall throughout generations. This series is intense not only in its battle scenes, but also deeply moving in the motivations of the characters, no matter how briefly we know them, as they struggle for glory in battle and for survival against impossible odds.