Black Road vol. 1: The Holy North



Brian Wood wrote seven volumes about vikings, Norsemen, and other denizens of Northern Europe in “Northlanders” with only one real dud among them.  (That would be the misguided supernatural fantasy of “Metal.”)  Even if it’s not an official continuation, fans of that series can essentially think of this series as vol. 8.  All of the hallmarks of that series are here:  A gruff lone wolf protagonist forced to interact with a society he doesn’t understand/trust, an increasing Christian presence as they convert these pagan lands, and literal gut-wrenching violence.  The protagonist this time out is one Magnus the Black.  He’s a veteran warrior who lost his wife in an attack on his village years ago and now makes his way from town to town acting as a guide, sword for hire, or both for whoever has the coin.  This time around, it’s the Vatican who want him to escort a cardinal up the title road.  The journey starts off easy enough, but Magnus soon finds out that a very powerful man wants this cardinal dead.  It also turns out that the man of the cloth is also harboring a secret himself:  a guardian angel who is willing to go to the ends of the Earth to see his will carried out.

This volume, and I assume the rest of the series, carries the subtitle “A Magnus the Black” mystery.  I don’t know if it was Wood, artist Garry Brown, or someone at Image who came up with it, but I’d suggest any potential reader just disregard that.  It sets up some expectations that the title doesn’t really live up to.  While there is a mystery involving just what an exiled bishop is up to in these parts, Magnus isn’t really much of a detective.  He’s an interesting protagonist in how he tempers his brutality with street smarts, though not much of a detective.  Particularly in the way that he finds himself at least one step behind everyone else in this story.  Still, even if the mystery part of this story isn’t all that solid, Wood still manages to deliver an engaging story of people carving their own way though the harsh and unforgiving climate of the north.  Brown does a lot of the heavy lifting there as his rough and jagged art really helps to sell the struggle of these characters.  The story is incomplete with this volume, but in addition to fans of “Northlanders” I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a good viking story in comics, or fans of “Vinland Saga” to keep them occupied while waiting for vol. 8 in December.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com


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