Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Last of the Viking Heroes #5

The Last of the Viking Heroes #5, June 1988, Genesis West Comics
by Michael Thibodeaux with Mike Royer, Trisha French, Linda Yamasaki, Joe Sinnot, and Palle Jensen

Blogger’s note: Entry for Saturday, April 5, 2008.

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been playing catch-up this week. Last weekend, I became surprisingly and pleasantly distracted by the unexpected reunion of my favorite punk band Face to Face, and I attended their first show in four years last Thursday night. (Feel free to check out my comic strip leading up to the concert here.) I’d never been to Pomona, California’s Glass House before, and before the show I wandered its surrounding Antique District a bit, and since the shops were already closed for the night I was determined to return and search for fanboy treasure. Sure enough, I dragged my girlfriend back there this very weekend and found a few old comics worth buying and reviewing. The Last of the Viking Heroes #5 is foremost among them.

Honestly, I purchased The Last of the Viking Heroes #5 for its cover alone. Its interior could’ve stunk to high heaven (it didn’t, but we’ll get to that in a minute) and I still would’ve been completely satisfied sinking a measly dollar into this issue, namely because of its cover’s collaborative effort. Five words: Jack Kirby and Dave Stevens. ‘Nuff said, right? It looks like Stevens inks Kirby’s pencils for this issue’s dramatic cover, starring some Vikings (duh) mourning the death of their warrior prince, and, man, is it classic comic book goodness. The traditional Kirby characteristics are present and accounted for, from the square-jawed faces to the round, bubbly muscles to that squiggly-line fore-shading, but Stevens’ inks help it all pop more than usual, with a reverence for both the style and genre they represent. Greg Theakston’s colors bring the piece home with a royal brilliance, heavy on the blues and purples. The more I look at this thing, the more I’m glad it’s a part of my collection.

Fortunately, Michael Thibodeaux’s story lives up to its cover’s hype, which is probably why esteemed artists like Kirby and Stevens decided to contribute in the first place. (An ad later in this issue reveals that Arthur Adams crafts an alternate cover to #7. Great company!) Basically, this issue tragically continues the tale of Prince Sven’s attempt to save his beloved Embla from the demonic Marik, and despite his orders to the contrary his three loyal friends follow close behind to help. When Sven finds Marik, he’s tricked into gruesomely severing his left hand so that one of Marik’s men could mystically inhabit his body, and though Sven’s friends arrive and vanquish their foes, they’re sadly too late to save their prince. Thibodeaux’s storytelling style is truly merciless, yet he balances the violent subtexts of this issue’s events with humorously campy divergences, perhaps in an attempt to explore the duality of Vikings’ harshness and hubris.

In one particular sequence, Tomgar, the brute of the bunch, forbids Jon the Magician from using his “powers” to fight their enemies, despite the fact that Jon is really getting his butt kicked. “You’re going to learn to fight if it kills you!” he commands. Such dialogue reminded me of the candor in Iron Jaw, a delicious exercise in unadulterated old world masculinity. Here, when Tomgar finally secedes, the sage’s skills ironically amount to smashing a smoke bomb and hitting his attacker in the head from behind. This comedic scene precedes the horrible revelation of Sven’s death and adds a moment of well-deserved levity in the midst of battle. Thibodeaux widely builds the reader up only to let him down, making the tragedy of these warriors’ loss all the more palpable.

His art is a bit less consistent, though at its best is certainly a joy to behold. The inking might have something to do with it, as Thibodeaux shares credit with Mike Royer and Joe Sinnott, and who does what is really kind of vague here. Still, The Last of the Viking Heroes #5 is a well paced issue with fluid, brutal, action-packed adventure and suspense, and every panel seems to offer something by way of mood or character to contribute to the greatness of the whole. I was afraid this issue would suffer from some Prince Valiant-style blandness, but I was sorely and gratefully mistaken.

I don’t think The Last of the Viking Heroes #5 will be the last I see of this series. Kirby, Stevens, Ditko (according to his letter on the letters page!) and a slew of other artists seemed to dig it, so I guess I’ll have to dig for it, like the buried treasure it seems to be. Like a favorite band’s reunion, or the patient search for back issues, some things are worth the wait . . . and therefore really never end.

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