COMIC REVIEW: Vikings: Godhead

 

Title: Vikings: Godhead

Author: Cavan Scott and Staz Johnson

Publisher: Titan Comics

Published: 07 February 2017

RRP: $14.99 USD

Once a simple farmer, but now a legendary Viking raider and king, Ragnar Lothbrok faces new challenges in Vikings: Godhead. Working in an uneasy alliance with King Ecbert of Wessex, Ragnar faces mistrust and dissension from even his own raiders. When he accepts a commission from King Ecbert to take on one of his own kind, Ragnar must decide whose side he is really on and deal with the forces working against him …

“Thor smiles upon us, Lagertha. Mark my words.” So proclaims the feared Viking raider and king, Ragnar Lothbrok, while wading ashore at Brydian into ambush and a rain of arrows delivered by forces loyal to the seditious Lord Ethelwold, seeking to undermine King Ecbert of Wessex. Within moments it’s a blur of volley fire and shield walls and battle snarls as steel and wood and fighters collide: arrowheads bite flesh, shield rims crunch cartilage, axe heads impact upon shoulders, and bone splinters as pointed metal rends hearts and lungs and livers and all becomes as red. The fallen face their allotted afterlife, while the survivors walk from the blood and mud of the field to raid and trade and fight and father and toast and torture another day. If all this sounds familiar, it should, as the four-issue arc of comics collected within Vikings: Godhead are set within the sphere of the popular Vikings television show, somewhen between the second and third seasons.

The primary tale told in Vikings: Godhead is straightforward enough: with aspects of their leaderships undermined, and beset by dissenting voices from within their own ranks, the artfully cunning King Ecbert and the keenly pragmatic King Ragnar collaborate with the purpose of putting a stop to three months of raids upon the English coast unleashed by unknown northmen; raids “led by a giant of a man called Felman Losnedahl.” Although himself quite partial to Felman’s preferred pastime of slaughtering English Christians and liberating gold, silver and slaves from ransacked monasteries, King Ragnar – never venturing far from his farming origins – has his mind firmly set on establishing legal claim to a permanent settlement on arable land under the patronage of King Ecbert. To cement the alliance, the Wessex king offers to pay Ragnar and his forces for their military services. While Ragnar’s ex-wife Lagertha sees that she can enhance her reputation as Earl Ingstad through victorious battle, and his brother Rollo – “burning with jealousy and rage” – is content to bide his time and enjoy the riches on offer from King Ecbert, the mystically-inclined shipwright Floki – who sees killing Christians as the ultimate method of honouring the gods – is relegated to the periphery of Ragnar’s trusted coterie, reduced to watching with revulsion as his beloved friend and king drifts closer to the ‘Kvitekrist’ (or ‘White Christ’) via the counsel of former monk Athelstan.

Meanwhile, in Kattegat, the secondary tale unfolds. With the raiders gone a-viking, Queen Aslaug rules in Ragnar’s absence. She soon discovers that ruling Kattegat is a comprehensively thankless task, being blamed by many residents not only for the failed harvest and the resultant discontent, but also for giving birth to a cursed child – specifically the infant cripple, Ivar the Boneless. Aslaug’s somewhat reluctant servant Siggy bears the whispers of ill-boding to her queen: “There are rumours that the harvest is Ivar’s fault, that he is cursed. That we all are.” Despite initial reluctance to address the hearsay, Aslaug finds herself with little choice but to act decisively when Jaska – an ‘outsider’ Sami woman and latent noaidi (shaman), previously accused of theft, adultery and witchcraft and source of much grievance within the community – urges deposition and infanticide, and takes unanticipated steps toward their realisation.

This collection delivers everything that the television series has come to embody: from revelry and storms at sea to leaping forth from longships into ambush, blood and blades; from splintered monastery doors and sundered Christian monks to mushroom-induced visions of Odin and his black conspiracy of ravens – ripe with traps, fates, schemes, and ploys, and loyalties fragile and fleeting, Vikings: Godhead is elemental, visceral and wildly entertaining.

Saga aside, Vikings: Godhead contains plenty of extra material, starting with ‘The Pantheon of Characters’ – photos of Vikings cast members Travis Fimmel (King Ragnar), Katheryn Winnick (Lagertha / Earl Ingstad), Clive Standen (Rollo), Gustaf Skarsgård (Floki), George Blagden (Athelstan), Alyssa Sutherland (Queen Aslaug), and Jessalyn Gilsig (Siggy) – and a four-page gallery of cover artwork form the separate issues of Vikings collected within Godhead. Writer Cavan Scott then talks to Vikings creator and screenwriter Michael Hirst in a three part interview spanning the origins of the Vikings television series and integral characters like Ragnar and Floki, the enduringly popular Lagertha and the oddly unhateable Rollo, and the rise of Athelstan – the ‘character device’ who took on a life of his own. Scott also contributes an additional article on the historical figure of the legendary warrior and womaniser Ragnar Lothbrok (‘hairy breeches’). The interviews and article are interspersed with even more photos of the television series cast.

Although arguably best enjoyed with a mead-filled horn in hand and the music of Wardruna playing in the background (‘Fehu’ from their second album, Runaljod – Yggdrasil, a highly recommended accompaniment!), Vikings: Godhead stands as a splendidly mighty volume which not only honours the gods but also shows that Vikings offers significantly more than a “show full of men and women solving problems by cleaving skulls.”

Rating: 3.5/5

Reviewer: Paul Hardacre

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