3 out of 5
On the one hand, Viking is a mess. On the other hand, it’s the nature of the mess that makes the read unique and stumblingly compelling.
The plot in Viking – such as it is is – doesn’t exactly evolve so much as get sideloaded into the reading experience, like it occurs while we’re waiting for the proper plot to begin. The characters, similarly, aren’t introduced to us, they just fall into place and move forward, completely unaware of the readers’ eyes now following them. This is different from writers who don’t take the time to develop setting or character, relying – inadvertently or purposefully – on tropes or stereotypes to fill in the blanks, as Brandon most certainly knows the mood he’s trying to evoke – artist Nic Klein certainly on board for this, and assisting via the unique, touched-by-surreal art style – and scripts the characters like humans, who don’t speak with “here’s some careful exposition that clues you in to my past” dialogue. But: it’s a different way to write comics, and stories, than we’re perhaps used to. And it’s not exactly a bad thing: In Drifter – which is the book by the same creative team that brought me to check out Viking – it enhances the vibe, as our lead there is a stranger in a strange land and the style of the book helps us feel the same. …It just seems that this might be how Ivan normally writes, and The Long Cold Fire is most certainly not the amnesiac mystery of Drifter, so the approach doesn’t necessarily sync up in the same way.
Thus we’re not quite sure what to make of brothers Finn and Egil, slaughtering their way into the opening scene, nor Egil’s seemingly random and unplanned plan to get rich that seems to spring up as inspiration from a tragedy in the brothers’ lives, nor Orm, the scarred giant the troupe picks up on their way… except that the story seems to spring from within itself, meaning that none of what we’re reading occurs without Egil’s force of will. This type of drama – I used the word ‘force’ and I often call it forced drama – which at its worst comes across as conflict for the sake of conflict, is called out late in the collection, when a warrior King who seems very unlike the unwarrior troupe he leads points out this very same thing to Egil, and it casts a little light on why Viking never seems poorly written or conceived: it’s naturalistic. Some of it’s cheesy or heavy-handed, but paired with Klein’s woozy art, which fades in and out of anarchic panel layout with drunken colors and fine-lined, painted moments, as well as Krysten Ferretti’s etched-from-stone lettering (a finely envisioned way to work with Klein’s unique style) and Tom Muller’s impeccable design scheme, it pulls you along not by traditional comic / book / movie cliffhanger or problem / resolution structures, but by putting you in the middle of a shoving match, and asking you to catch up.
It’s bold, and not immediately successful – again, I had to wait until the last chapter for the pacing to click – and maybe not even be the best way to tell this particular story, which the back cover advertises as “a crime book” but can’t truly by genre-fied as such. But, like Kurtis J. Wiebe – whose writing I did fall out of favor with but I still respect his non-story structure – the writing is notable for having its own voice and finding a unique lens upon what could have very easily been a straight-forward revenge tale. I’m not sure if I’ll end up holding on to Viking, but I’m definitely intrigued enough to check out the second volume.