Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Story: Brian Wood
Artwork: Mack Chater
Colours: Jose Villarrubia
Letters: Nate Piekos
Release Date: 6th June 2018
I’m a sucker for a good sprawling epic. My groaning, sagging shelves filled with Walking Dead, Hellboy/ B.P.R.D., Saga, Hellblazer etc. etc. will attest to that, so realising that Wood and Chater are bringing out a new Viking saga comic has me very excited!
This isn’t Brian Wood’s first foray into Norse/ Viking stories, having previously written Northlanders for DC and Image’s Black Road, but honestly I think this latest offering will cement his position at the top of this genre.
The first issue covers a lot of ground in a very few pages, but it does so admirably. This is patently a Viking saga, but it’s also screaming Kurosawa and Ronin/Samurai influences at the top of its lungs, and I hope this aspect of the story will be developed more as it progresses.
It’s very difficult to stay out of spoiler territory when you’re trying to hook someone on a new series, so apologies if the following tells you more than you want to know before reading the comic. That said, if it gets you as excited about the series as I am, then you’re welcome.
What we learn in the first few pages is that a marauding band of Vikings, The Forty Swords, have descended upon a village slaughtering all but two of its inhabitants. The survivors are a swordsman named Dag, who is so grief-stricken that he lapses into a catatonic state, and Elsbeth his two-year old daughter, left to fend for herself and care for her unmoving, unresponsive father. Ten years later, Dag wakes eager to set out on a quest for revenge, facing the insurmountable odds of not only taking the lives of every member of the Forty Swords, but also in becoming a father to a now almost feral and mute Elsbeth.
As the title suggests however, this is really Elsbeth’s story and most of the important dialogue and panels in this issue are hers. The brief glimpses of what her life has been like for the last ten years are heartbreaking but, at the same time, show a child with a strength and purpose of mind beyond her years. My impression of Dag’s quest for revenge is that it’s one borne purely of duty whereas Elsbeth’s is a controlled and calculated hate and, to paraphrase Tarantino, she will have her bloody revenge.
Elsbeth’s dialogue is sparse and clipped and because of that every word has weight and every expression or glance captured by Mack Chater has that much more impact. I’m a huge fan of the work Wood and Chater have done on Briggs Land and the artwork on Sword Daughter is another step up for Chater, being harsher and less polished-looking. The characters that we’re introduced to in this issue are flawed, scarred and damaged and remind me very much of Tony Moore’s early work on The Walking Dead.
Jose Villarrubia colours this first issue, and whilst I think we overuse the phrase “washed out” in comics these days, the palette he uses really sets off the barren landscape and make the flashes of colour, particularly the blood, seem much more startling.
This may be set in Viking era Scandinavia, but it isn’t going to be a jolly sword and sandals romp, it’s going to be dark and brutal and gritty and I can’t wait for the next issue.
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott