Friday, May 9, 2014

Northlanders, Book Five: Metal and Other Stories

He's also crazy violent, so watch out!!!!

 NORTHLANDERS, BOOK FIVE: METAL AND OTHER STORIES collects NORTHLANDERS #'s 29-36, and while it's a decent read, it's probably the weakest collection the series has produced to date.

 Comprised of three separate stories, and weighing in at nearly 200 pages, you'll definitely be getting your money's worth. The first story, THE SEA ROAD is a brief one-issue tale that finds a bored sailor duping his crew into journeying into uncharted waters. I found parts of this story very hard to follow, partially due to writer Brian Wood's disjointed storytelling technique, but mainly because of the choppy art  by Fiona Staples. There are no surprises to be found in this story, and it ends exactly how you would expect it to.

 The bulk of the book is comprised of the five-issue epic that provides the collection's title, METAL. If THE SEA ROAD was too predictable, METAL is too fucking weird. The back cover describes METAL as "mixing themes from modern-day "Viking" black metal music with a timeless tale of star-crossed lovers"....I know literally nothing about "Viking" black metal music, so maybe that hindered my understanding of this story....It didn't hamper my enjoyment of it, but I frequently had no idea what was going on, and, indeed, if any of the events depicted were actually happening at all, outside of the simple mind of the main character (See picture above....). METAL revolves around a bloodthirsty Norse Blacksmith who decides to rid his land of the Christian invaders. He falls in with a pregnant, albino, teenaged Nun (!!!), falls in love with her, and the two go on a cross-country murder spree that finds them hunted by a bounty hunter looking to collect on the price the church has put upon his head. This is all very straightforward, and quite good, but then Wood does something that he has studiously avoided doing thus far: He introduces the supernatural, and does it in such a huge way that it defied any kind of belief. I still don't know if this was supposed to be taken at face value, or ascribed to a nationalistic delusion by the crazed blacksmith...either way, it was just too much, and it spoiled what was, otherwise, a fine tale.

 The book wraps up with THE GIRL IN THE ICE, a two-parter illustrated by Becky Cloonan, a nearly-silent story that finds an old hermit discovering the corpse of a young girl frozen in the ice of the river he is fishing on. He excavates the body, and takes it back to his home to "study"....There's not much to go on here, but the vibe I got from the old man was more "C.S.I.: Viking" than old hermit perv. Whatever he's up to, it's soon interrupted, and he finds himself on trial for the girl's murder. THE GIRL IN THE ICE is a short, inconsequential tale, and again, it ends just as you would expect.

 My main complaint with this series remains the same one I had when I read the first issue of NORTHLANDERS years ago: Brian Wood uses too much modern vernacular to make me fully buy into the story he's trying to tell. This volume features such dialogue as "We all lost the plot." to indicate a group of men temporarily going crazy. That took me right out of the story. NORTHLANDERS is pretty much the only thing that Brian Wood has written that I can even get through without quitting, but his penchant for anachronistic dialogue often makes for tough going.

 As I said, this is probably the weakest NORTHLANDERS volume to date, but it's still worth a read for fans of historical drama and/or sword & sorcery.