One surefire thing about Brian Wood’s comics is you know they’ll be well researched. From his excellent Northlanders to his post disaster environmental comic The Massive and of course, his fantastic run on Star Wars — well thought out stories have been the norm.
We recently interviewed him to ask about Black Road, so now we ask the question: is it good?
Black Road #1 (Image Comics)
So what’s Black Road about? Per Image Comics’ solicit:
Meet Magnus the Black, neither clean nor sober, neither Christian nor Pagan, but a man true to his word. When a ranking official under his care is brutally murdered, he’s prepared to hunt the killers to the frozen tip of Norway, religious war be damned.
Why does this book matter?
Brian Wood has been writing comics for quite a while and his track record has been impressive — from excellent dialogue to fine dramatic pacing the man has proven himself again and again. The fact that he’s exploring a time and place he’s written so many excellent stories about should get folks interested, but the premise is strong too. Take the Christians and see what happens when they enter a Viking land and you have yourself a powder keg similar to the current events in the Middle East.
Love those captions.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Right out of the gate the story feels weathered, intensely dramatic, and ready for a cruel but realistic look at a world long past. The issue starts with prose that establishes the splintered world as Christianity takes hold. A year isn’t given, but the mood is quite vivid. The story carries forward with, what else, a dead body and from there feelings of heartache, torment and anger are obvious in the protagonist Magnus the Black. Wood does a great job establishing the somewhat forward nature of Christian conversion on the land, which further makes Magnus feel distant and at odds with the people around him.
It’s obvious Magnus is a man with a dark past who values his Viking upbringing and by thrusting him into a story with a Christian monk Wood explores their quiet dialogue around the campfire. There are a lot of interesting elements at play in this union and really anyone interested in history should enjoy this regardless if it is fiction. The story moves on from there to an intense fight sequence and it’s a well choreographed scene.
Garry Brown makes this rain soaked sequence feel slow, lumbering and incredibly dangerous just like a real fight would go down; the rain increases the tension of this sequence, and it’s interesting to see how these men come to blows. Brown effectively makes this book feel grim — filled with shadows and sideways glances. When light does enter the comic it’s when a young girl seeking Magnus’ help appears and it helps solidify the brightness their teaming up will bring.
It can’t be perfect can it?
I’m at a loss as far as how Magnus makes it out of this issue alive. I won’t spoil it, but it simply makes no sense. Unless there’s some kind of dream sequence or metaphysical thing going on it seems like a major plot hole when you consider the world Magnus lived in was hard as hell to stay alive in.
Ultimately the balance of this issue feels a bit off. The character is introduced well enough – albeit we don’t know much about it, though that’s on purpose – then goes into a fight sequence and ends with a new beginning of sorts. Though it’s mostly due to the shortness of comics (and comics being written for the collected editions) this issue feels like it needs issue #2 to make it feel whole.
Christian values are just peachy.
Is It Good?
This is a solid introductory issue that establishes the Viking and Christian elements well while setting our hero on his journey. Enter its conflicted and dangerous world expecting an interesting blend of cultures.