Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Exile, Graphic Novel

Vikings were known to drink out of skulls, so they were not very progressive, but they still lived by a code. Consequently, Western genre conventions transfer pretty easily to a Norse setting. Hallstein Thordsson made some terrible mistakes, but the prodigal Viking has returned to reclaim his father’s legacy in Erik Kriek’s graphic novel, The Exile, which releases today.

Thordsson’s stepmother Solveig Kjetilsdottir is sort of the Norse Susan McSween, but for timber rather than cattle. Unfortunately, her own brothers have been collaborating with her unwelcome suitor, Einar Ragnarsson, to plunder her timber. Thordsson has returned just in time—and he brought his comrade-in-arms, Bjarki “Baldpate” Leifsson, who will be eager to help Solveig—really, really eager.

It is all quite a complicated situation, because Ragnarsson has long nursed a grudge against Thordsson, with fair cause. After Ragnarsson’s father refused Thordsson his daughter’s hand in marriage, the future exile forced himself on the fair Vigdis and killed Ragnarsson’s older brother when he came looking for payback. Admittedly, that is all pretty bad. In fact, it has weighed on Thordsson’s conscience, while he was off pillaging England and Ireland.

Thordsson is a difficult character to embrace, but Kriek successfully invites sympathy for Team Hallstein, particularly Solveig and Leifsson. Team Einar’s underhanded duplicity also contributes to the counter-intuitive alignment of rooting interests. It is all a fraught tangle of family melodrama that frequently culminates in hack-and-slash hand-to-hand combat.

This is a dark, archetypal tale that is well served by Kriek’s art, which often looks like it could be Hal Foster illustrations for a first edition of
The Long Ships. His grays are quite apt for the wild Icelandic setting, while his periodic use of deep crimsons definitely pop off the page.

The Exile
will probably never be adapted for film or series, because no major studio or streamer can handle its “toxic masculinity.” These are Vikings, not social workers, whom Kriek never waters down. It is also a high tragedy in the classical tradition. The vibe and period details are scrupulously accurate, even if Kreik fudges a few historical references that won’t mean anything to 99.6% of readers. Recommended for fans of Norse lore, The Exile is now on-sale where books and comics are sold.