Review by Jamie McNeil
Vikings opens on mass murder and pillaging, Harald Jaekelsson leading his Vikings on a raid against an ungrateful village. Jaekelsson has set his sights on ruling the land beyond Greenland, and this final barbaric act against his own people shows his disdain for their weakness. As they set sail, the village’s wise man curses them all using rune magic before he is himself murdered. “I curse you Viking! You and the filth that crews yon dragon boat! Naught but agony awaits you out there on the deep! By the power of my blood—by the power of the runestone that it feeds—let the gods themselves hear my spell of damnation! Though you sail for a thousand years, O Norsemen—You shall not reach the land you seek!” A thousand years pass and a Viking Dragon Boat lands on the island of Manhattan. Excitement builds as it docks, people believing it a film. It turns to panic and terror when Jaekelsson and his crew, fuelled by bloodlust and magic, wreak havoc. Even Thor, Norse god of Thunder and Avenger, is no match for Jaekelsson’s wrath and spite. Enraged and embarrassed, Thor turns to Doctor Strange. There might be a way to break the curse but is it be enough to turn the tide?
In recent years Marvel has had a bang-for-buck approach to their titles’ artwork. Glenn Fabry’s pages appear dated by comparison, but don’t be fooled, there’s a subtle complexity, visible only when you look closer. Figures stoically facing a grisly fate resemble the medieval iconography. A throne built from macabre materials. A gruesome barricade closing the road between two skyscrapers. One thing is for sure, Lee’s and Kirby’s Thor this is not. Vikings is arguably if not definitely the most violent outing of the Thunder God ever. Having worked on Slaine for 2000AD, the gruesome violent style suits Fabry. If the story events were possible it would be terrifying, so that’s the way it’s illustrated. It’s gory and violent, with violence against women and children. Fabry never steps over a line, instead leaving enough for the imagination to fill in the rest. You still wish he hadn’t. It’s masterfully done and always improves.
As far as writers go, Garth Ennis is a great fit for this harder edged Thor tale. For the first two chapters the plot seems too simplistic, raising many questions. These are all gradually answered, revealed as the story develops. He plays around with folkloric elements, presenting the answers with disdain and vitriol for those who would be gods and kings, who behave as such and for those who believe in them. Written post-9/11 it still carries outrage at the perpetrators, at their lack of humanity. Is this Ennis’s guttural cry for justice? How Vikings resolves suggests that, and perhaps this is his catharsis played out on the page. By the time we hit the fourth chapter, we are clamouring ourselves for Thor to deliver justice via First Class Mjolnir mail.
Vikings is not for the faint of heart, yet schlocky and weirdly fun. It has a cracking plot, good dialogue and is often darkly funny in Ennis’ trademark style. Marvel’s French arm reissued Vikings in 2013, but elsewhere it’s out of print and difficult/expensive to track down. If you prefer your Marvel heroes a little harder edged, this is worth the effort.