In the wake of the popularity of zombies, ninjas, penguins, and monkeys, it would seem that vikings are the newest two-syllable pop-culture touchstone to excite the imagination of both storytellers and fans. Brian Wood’s Northlanders recently wrapped up a five-year run at Vertigo, Image has released both Viking and Cowboy Ninja Viking, and this past weekend saw the debut of Vikings, a new series on The History Channel. Oni Press threw their proverbial horned helmet into the ring this week with Helheim, a new ongoing series written by Cullen Bunn (Wolverine, Venom) and illustrated by Joelle Jones (You Have Killed Me, 12 Reasons Why I Love Her). Helheim adds a cool twist to what could have been a calculated cash grab, though, by melding horror elements with violent Nordic adventure. Much as he does with his other ongoing Oni series, the supernatural western The Sixth Gun, Bunn cleverly fuses the two genres together in a way that should please fans of both, in a story that’s brought to vivid life by Jones.
In 580 AD, in an area of the world loosely described as “The North”, a group of desperate warriors flees a pursuing phalanx of supernaturally-endowed marauders. A pitched battle ensues at the gates of the heroes’ settlement, where the heroic Rikard and his equally formidable father Kirk prove their mettle. Seemingly victorious, the warriors enter their camp, leaving the bodies of their enemies outside the open gate to rot. However, their pursuers aren’t done with them yet, and following another brutal showdown, a shocking twist leads into a Frankensteinian last-page reveal, courtesy of Rikard’s love, the red-headed witch Bera (who is potentially the attackers’ real target).
It’s tempting to describe Helheim as a cross between the current viking craze and The Walking Dead (the smash hit comic or the even more smash hit TV series, take your pick), but the new series owes more of a debt to yet another buzzy cable show. If you feel that the White Walkers subplot on HBO’s Game Of Thrones isn’t moving quickly enough, then Helheim is probably the comic for you. Throw in some Army Of Darkness-style fighting skeletons, and the aforementioned Mary Shelley-inspired last page, and Helheim becomes a mashup of multiple pop franchises. Bunn packs the first issue with plenty of tantalizing teases (Who is the so-far unseen evil witch Groa that commands the “night creatures”? What is her connection to Bera?), and a fulfilling mixture of action and exposition. Joelle Jones’ designs for the villains’ various incarnations are suitably creepy, and she does manage to give each of the cast members their own distinguishing characteristics–no small feat, given that most of them are dudes with long hair and beards. Nonetheless, there is a confusing moment or two; for instance, after a big, important moment in the second battle, Bunn and Jones jump ahead to after the fight’s end without showing us how the desperate skirmish finished up. But otherwise, Helheim’s promising debut issue roars along at a quick pace and promises escalating supernatural mayhem.