by Brian Wood (writer), Danijel Zezelj (art), Dave McCaig (colors), and Travis Lanham (letters)

The Story: Three women fight for their lives, making a final stand at an abandoned keep.

What’s Good: I loved this issue just as I’ve loved this arc overall, so it’s hard not to repeat what I said in my review of #18.   It’s a gripping tale of feminine solidarity in an age of raping and pillaging; a one of a kind story that hits the brain and the heart. Viking tales are almost always exclusively male in focus, an unfortunate continuance of that masculine-centric time that seems to have been furthered in hindsight rather than questioned.

Indeed, the fact that these three women are at the centre of a Viking tale is perhaps why they are under threat. They take centre stage, while the typical barbarians are left as faceless adversaries. Wood has given us a tale that focuses on female characters fighting for their place and their independence and that those arrayed against them are a horde of indistinguishable males that are out to take what is theirs.

Wood also assails Christianity  this month. I always like it when writers or commentators quote obscure, and socially horrific, passages of the Bible. It’s so utterly jarring to hear a book so central to our culture be so retrogressive and opposed to that very culture.

However, Wood’s greatest achievement this month, more than last, is his effective blend of myth and reality. No, this isn’t a Gaiman-esque tale of Odin showing up in disguise to save the day. Rather, Wood shows how reality, or “real life,” reflects myth and that the two sustain and mirror one another. The last page is genius for this reason, as is the depiction of one of our characters’ escape from the fortress. In that escape, Wood flirts with magical realism, blending myth and super-naturalism with reality so closely, that until the end of the comic, even I wasn’t sure if the character in question wasn’t more than human.

Also, Danijel Zezelj’s art is nothing short of fantastic.  Dark, shadowy, and horrendously bleak, it suits the mood of the book to a tee.  Indeed, Zezelj’s style strikes one as a vision rather than the movie or cartoon look that a lot of comics go for.  I also found it much easier to tell the characters apart, which was a bit of an issue last month.  McCaig does simply awesome work on colors as well, adding even greater emotion to Zezelj’s art by working heavily in monochromatics. The main color of every scene perfectly reflects the action, and more importantly the state of mind, being represented.  The battle scene in particular is set in a glorious array of reds and oranges.

What’s Not So Good: There are a couple lines where the religious commentary feels a little ham-fisted, as though Wood feels he has to spell out his points for the dullards who need to be fed, and it ends up losing some of the subtlety.  Also, what the heck is with the continual use of “pigfucker?”  Why that one profanity?

Conclusion: Very minor quibbles aside, this book is simply awesome.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans