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Mack Chater

Sword Daughter

Sword Daughter is yet another Viking era tale told by Brian Wood of Northlanders fame, this time told by a young girl living in the Scandinavian region who survives a massacre on her village when she is a toddler.

The story picks up ten years later in 991 AD, and we discover that Elsbeth has improbably taken care of her father, who was catatonic with grief, and was the only other survivor besides her. First off- what? Although there is mention of Elsbeth trading with nearby seaside villagers, how did a toddler survive the harsh winters and stay clothed and fed during that decade before her father awakens from his fugue state? It defies logic. Getting past this was impossible, and colored my feelings towards the rest of the story.

Once Dag awakens he vows revenge against the Forty Swords, the group who attacked his village and killed most of his family. This group is made up of a bunch of young radicals who have no fixed ideology, they slaughter simply for the pleasure of it. And off Dag and Elsbeth go in the name of vengeance. And that’s the rest of the story – this father and daughter journeying together to find the Forty Swords and challenge them. Dag tries to connect with his mostly non-verbal daughter due to guilt, with a bit of a Lone Wolf and Cub vibe, but I wasn’t feeling it. Stuff happens and then there is a flash forward with a mystery of what happened in the years between Dag awakening and Elsbeth becoming a young woman that leaves some story line threads for the future.

The art by Mack Chater is sketchy with an earth toned color palette, and it is very reminiscent of his earlier Briggs Land collaboration with Wood.  The only additional color is red, when there is blood spilled, plus the evocative red drenched panels during the attack on the village. There are some interesting choices in his panel placement, with a good flow to the narrative; however, some of the art lacks definition with the landscapes simply drawn.

Considering how much I typically love Wood’s work, this story is a real disappointment. While his Viking saga Northlanders is a real treat and his other Viking story Black Road said something fresh about faith and conversion, this story was lacking. What I really want Wood to do is to revisit Briggs Land with Chater and to also continue Rebels, his American Revolution series. So while this particular story didn’t work for me, I still look forward to future work by Wood and Chater.

-Nancy

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Briggs Land: Lone Wolves

“Secure the perimeter. Protect the land. Preserve the family.”

When I first read Briggs Land (V1) I said it was an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering. So, would the second volume deliver following such a strong start? I’m glad to report- yes!

In this second volume an unsuspecting couple wander too far while hiking and inadvertently wander onto Briggs land from the southern border of Canada. They run into Grace’s youngest  son, Issac, a former soldier who panics that the couple will tell authorities that he is hiding out. While he doesn’t harm them, he locks them in a cabin and then consults with his mother and brothers Caleb and Noah on what to do.

Image result for briggs land lone wolves
My husband and I hike a lot, so I couldn’t help but imagine us accidentally trespassing on someone’s land!

When the local media start to  piece together the missing hikers with the Briggs family, law enforcement jump at the chance to surround the compound and lay siege to the armed community. As we learned in the first volume, don’t underestimate Grace. She has an effective plan for dealing with the law and the locked up hikers.

In the midst of all this jailed patriarch Jim Briggs, furious that he has been supplanted by his wife as leader, plots revenge. He still has strong ties and allegiances within the village, and plans a way to hurt Grace and regain power. But we are given a poignant flashback as to how Jim had callously used his son Noah as a cover when he attempted to assassinate the president twenty years ago, and we see why Grace’s sons and many in the community have sided with her. We also get some additional plot threads about Grace’s daughters-in-law. We learn some of the reasons they joined the family and discover their mettle in dealing with authorities and outsiders.

Several illustrators are credited with the art, and as such, sometimes the style can change significantly from one chapter to another. This is somewhat distracting,  but the earth toned color palette throughout gives it enough consistency. I loved the guest artists that did the variant art and enjoyed their interpretations of the characters. I’ve read enough graphic novels by now, that often at first glance I can recognize an artist’s style and know who drew it before I even see their credit.

This series is a perfect read in our current polarized world, with all the outcry about guns and the NRA. While I am a strong proponent of gun control, I can still enjoy this nuanced view of a militaristic family and the morally grey area in which they lead their lives.

-Nancy

Briggs Land: State of Grace

Briggs Land is an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering.

Patriarch Jim Briggs, who is currently serving a life sentence for attempting to assassinate the president, has been leading the sect and still making orders with the assistance of his wife Grace, who visits him weekly in jail. Dismayed by his corruption, Grace decides to make a power play for leadership in the community, despite her three adult sons being valid potential leaders themselves.  Eldest son Caleb is a businessman and white extremist who feels he is being passed over, Noah is the muscle of the family with a reckless intensity and Isaac is the recently returned soldier who may prove to be a wild card.

Grace proves to be a worthy adversary in this patriarchal society, and literally survives a power coup by those that resent a woman taking the lead of Briggs Land. She has a steely resolve, but shows a love for her family and compassion for those in need. However, although she seems to want to rehabilitate the compound and honor the original intent of this secessionist group, she is also willing to manipulate others, including the FBI agents that are investigating the family. Don’t assume anything about Grace.

The artwork by Mack Chater is spot on for the gritty story and establishes the atmosphere of a trashy military compound. Sketchy with an earth toned color palette, the layout reminds me of storyboards, which is apropos as the series is being developed for TV on the AMC network. The Briggs family and the village as a whole are drawn realistically, with varied looks for these armed right wingers.  The only misstep is an oddly colored front cover to the graphic novel in which Grace is colored in blue with other family members in red. Lately I’ve seen the cover for the first issue used more often (picture with this post) which is more appropriate for the mood and frankly, just more attractive.

The world building in this story is superb, with this thinly fictionalized narrative being quite plausible in our current polarized world. There was also a short one-shot story in the back of the Avatar issue from Free Comic Book Day which adds another real world issue of meth dealership to the compound. Both stories make me anxious to find out what Grace and her complex family’s next moves will be in this fascinating crime saga.  Highly recommended!

-Nancy

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