Northlanders #40 - 'The Hunt'.
Written by Brian Wood.
Art by Matthew Woodson.
Colours by Dave McCaig.
Publisher - Vertigo for DC Comics.
Northlanders is a book that I have been reading and enjoying from issue 1. It is almost always one of my favourite books every month but strangely not one that I go to straightaway to read from the pile. I seem to always leave it until I am in an ideal spot and in the right mood. Saying this, it is always great.
It has over the years had it's naysayers who seem to disagree with the use of modern vernacular by the players. I can see what they mean but to me it has never got to a point that it has ruined my enjoyment of the stories themselves. Let's face it, the people who are the ones that voice these opinions seem to have no problem with people flying around in capes or fighting dragons.
What draws me to the comic is not the setting (although it does add to the plot) but rather the approach to character. Compared to many of the contemporary set comics out there Northlanders always seems to triumph in the more personal moments (one of the best example of this is 'The Plague Widow' arc). I always has a sense of who these people are and what they are feeling which to me is always a priority.
To focus on this issue I should perhaps make clear that it is a 'one and done' story. It's premise is quite simple. It focuses on a lone hunter pursuing his prey through the snowy wilderness. It is narrated for the first three pages by a third party. This third party has an insight into the mind of the hunter and echoes his loneliness and desperation.
For me the great writing begins when the panels switch from the third party to the hunter himself. Panel narration can get a little wordy but this issue keeps it quite sparse. Two lines of narration hit like hammers Page 3 -'Past the point of sensible return' and Page 5 - 'I suspect I'll never see them again.' Palpable desperation makes the reader ask themselves 'why is he continuing on?' It also started me thinking early on that this was a nightmarish situation a feeling that later will lead to a feverish dream like story. The hunter follows the prey through snow and rain. He seems to feel no sense of self preservation and the deer is his only reason for being.
Much of the tone of the book is reflected in the face of the hunter. The art by Matthew Woodson has an almost photo realistic style and you can see that he is classically trained as an artist. He depicts the hunter as a human being full of faults and fears. You can almost see his fingers shake as he strings the bow and notches the arrow ready to fire. The cold blows out from the page and I smiled when I saw the redness of the hunter's nose as he stands wrapped in a raggedy cloak. His style reminds me a little of Strangehaven by Gary Spencer Millidge but Woodson has more of a storytelling flow than his English counterpart.
The deer itself is beautifully realised and you soon appreciate it's prescence in the story as much as you do the Hunter. They represent the two sides of the coin, equal parts in the story. The scenary towers over the story and the snowy mountains and the northern sky above the animal's antlers is a definite high point.
The story kept me guessing all the way to the end. My mind kept asking me what will happen. Would they end with a kill or would it end with the deer getting away and beating the hunter who would be left to die. There is an end and it is not a cop out. It's ending is bleak and beautiful in equal measure. As I finished the story it pleaded silently with me to read it again. Is it a dream? Is it the dream of the deer or of the hunter? (if at all).
I will stop before I ruin the end. If you are not picking this book up you should be! Mr Wood's pacing is a master class in comics writing. A small and personal story that is set up in a way that makes the reader feel the weight of the stakes at play. The art is a pleasant departure from the norm and looks amazing.
Don't wait for a trade on this one. Get out there and pick it up.