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Bonus Review: Heathen (graphic novel)

Saturday, July 16, 2016 - 16:25

It isn't often that I see a recommendation floating by on Twitter that makes me think, "Yes, I need to add an entirely new media platform to my devices so that I can have access to this thing." But someone mentioned the graphic series Heathen [and do you know how hard that is for me to type correctly the first time?], and one look at the art on the website splash page had me hitting the app store to buy Comixology.

The premise is a heroic young woman in a setting that blends the historic Viking era and the mythic world of the sagas and eddas. Having been cast out of her village for kissing girls (well, actually, they think her father has executed her for it--fortunately for the story he was too tender-hearted for that) she decides the obvious next step is to rescue the Valkyrie Brunhildr from her enchanted sleep in the ring of fires. And then the unexpected stuff starts happening.

I absolutely love the art in this series. This isn't your usual run-of-the-mill comics art, but a sophisticated, bold, impressionistic style that often overlays several artistic flavors in a single sequence. It's simultaneously spare and detailed, and the artist has a solid grasp of anatomy and action that bowled me over.

Taking a semi-mythic approach allows some latitude toward handling themes of queer sexuality, but the author hasn't gone down the path of setting up an unhistoric utopia. Neither the protagonist's heathen culture, nor the rising Christian culture it is coming in conflict with are accepting of her desire for women (or of the other queer characters who pass through), although the gods themselves are rather more open-minded, allowing for some delightfully sensual scenes. Aydis, the protagonist, is a brave, earnest, idealistic hero, who has the good fortune to be befriended by some immortal beings. I look forward to seeing her future adventures.

If I have only one complaint, it's one that attaches to the medium itself and not this specific story. I find graphic novels frustrating to consume due to the relatively small amount of story present in each volume. It's one of the reasons I drifted away from comics back in my college days, after being an enthusiastic fan of several series. (Well, that and the annoying prevalence of "let's find excuses to make people fight" in my favorite superhero comics.) This first volume of Heathen [see, I got it right the first time this time] is barely an appetizer of a story. And too often I lose track before the next installment comes, or I only stumble across a series too late to be able to track down the whole run. I guess Comixology will remind me when there's more to read.