Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Helheim, Volume 1: The Witch War Review (Cullen Bunn, Joelle Jones)

Helheim is vikings, witches, monsters, magic, and a barbarian zombie all thrown together into a big melting pot, and, based on that premise alone, this book should be awesome - but it’s not. Instead it’s a rather shallow bloody fantasy horror comic with no hero and little entertainment value. 

Rikard is the greatest Viking warrior in his settlement. His girlfriend Bera is a witch who is at war with another witch, Groa, who have been fighting one another with hordes of zombies, monsters, and other terrors. During battle, Rikard is cut down, however Bera resurrects him with her magic and turns him into a draugr, an undead killing machine. Lots and lots of fighting later and the book ends in a humdrum bloodbath. 

Helheim has the magic, action and history that made Cullen Bunn’s other Oni series, The Sixth Gun, such a hit, but it just doesn’t work in Helheim because the characters are so two-dimensional and uninteresting. They’re a charmless, dreary bunch who want to kill each other because that’s what the script says. Helheim’s simplistic story and characters would work for a younger readers book but it’s incredibly gory battle scenes firmly makes its audience adult only, so it’s a bit of a muddled book. 

I was really impressed with Joelle Jones’ artwork here which is terrific. Imagine Rob Guillory by way of Mike Mignola and you’ve got an idea of her work on this book. I don’t know why but several years ago I was reading a romance comic/novel by Jamie S. Rich called 12 Reasons Why I Love Her which she illustrated, so I’ve always associated her with girly comics, but she proves she’s as metal as any guy with Helheim, bringing the blood and gore by the bucketload. 

Bunn on the other hand has written far better comics elsewhere – The Sixth Gun remains his masterwork, but he’s also done fine stuff at Marvel on various characters from Deadpool to Wolverine to Fearless Defenders. Helheim is one of the weakest efforts in his career so far with no particular scenes standing out, the plot has little invention to it, and the characters’ dialogue is bland and one-note at best. 

I’d love to say that Helheim is Northlanders with more magic and horror thrown in, but it’s not nearly as good as Brian Wood’s Viking epic, and the magic and horror here is as generic as any you’d find in a random fantasy comic. Helheim is a disappointing miss from what you’d reasonably expect to be a great book from the creative team and setup.

Helheim Volume 1: The Witch War

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