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Rachel Deering

Heathen: Volumes Two and Three

Heathen is a three-volume series that gives readers a fresh take on Viking mythology with a welcome LGBTQ+ storyline. Aydis is a young Viking woman warrior who has recently been outcast by her tribe for she was caught kissing another woman and did not renounce her feelings like the other young woman did to save face.  Aydis wishes to take her destiny into her own hands, so she seeks Brynhild, a former Valkyrie banished by Godking Odin for disobeying him and gets mixed up in some additional adventures. I read the first volume a year ago, and have been looking forward to how the author and illustrator Natasha Alerici would wrap the trilogy up.

Volume Two:

This middle volume of the planned trilogy has young Viking Aydis trying to reach Heimdall, which is the magical entrance to the land of the Gods. She enlists a ship of female sailors to take her northward into unfamiliar waters along with a trio of man-eating mermaids. On parallel journeys, recently released Valkrie Brynhild is struggling with the price of her freedom and Freyja, the decedent Goddess of Love, is feuding with the God-King Odin. All three women are set to converge soon, and hopefully throw over the patriarchy together.

Alterici’s art has improved since volume one. Inked in black and white with a few sepia and blush overwashes and black gutters, it captured the iciness of the Northlands. Backgrounds remain minimal, but she captures a diverse cast well. I also liked how she introduced some complexity into Aydis’s story, in which she was very naive about a choice she made and when it backfired and someone else was hurt, she was called out on it.

Volume Three:

Aydis is now at the entrance to Heimdall, when she is attacked by two giant trolls. During her captivity with them, they reveal that their mother has been kidnapped by Odin and she agrees to go in and try to help her escape. While this is happening Brynhild happens upon the former village of Aydis and is there to help when an invading army attacks. This standoff also throws in Freyja, the female ship crew from the last book, Aydis’s father in addition to her former love. So long as we are including everyone, we get the mythical wolves Skull and Hati, plus Saga the horse in the narrative too. There is a final wrap-up up with Aydis, the goddesses and Odin in a feel-good bow. But the troll mother thread was completely forgotten with no resolution!

In real life, Alterici had some health issues with hand pain, so she employed Ashley Woods as the artist for this last volume, and it took some getting used to, although she tried to emulate the established style. She also utilized another letterer, for it had been Rachel Deering for the first two volumes but used Morgan Martinez in this last book. The muted color palette continued along with minimal to no background in the panels.

I have to admit, this last volume really let me down. In addition to the artist changing, the plot fell apart. I’m sure Alterici was fond of many of her background characters, but the way they were all shoved in for no purpose was off-putting. And the huge gap of not wrapping up the troll storyline showed a lack of editing and judgment. But as a whole, I still think very fondly of this series, for I liked the character of Aydis and the idea of fighting back against the patriarchy. I hope to read more from Alterici in the future as she offered a fresh voice and a needed diversity.

-Nancy

Heathen

Heathen was this month’s selection from the Goodreads group  I Read Comic Books as this month’s topic was own voices. At first, I wondered if the author, Natasha Alterici, was a half-naked woman Viking, but no, she is lesbian and we are given a fresh take on Viking mythology with a welcome LGBTQ+ storyline.

Aydis is a young Viking woman warrior who has recently been outcast by her tribe for she was caught kissing another woman and did not renounce her feelings like the other young woman did to save face. Her father was told to give her two choices- death or marriage, and her father knows she has the skills to survive on her own, so he lies and tells the villagers she is dead. Aydis wishes to take her destiny into her own hands, so she seeks Brynhild, a former Valkyrie banished by Godking Odin for disobeying him, and forced to marry any mortal who can free her from a magical mountain. Already the parallels are clear-  women are being punished by the patriarchy for going against their wishes of what they feel is proper.

A short interlude introduces us to Skull (aka as Sköll) and Hati who are two wolves from Norse mythology that are forever trying to eat the Sun and Moon. At first, their inclusion in the story seemed odd, but as the story progressed there was also Aydis’s talking horse Saga and the trickster God Ruadan who appeared as a bull. All of this contributed to the world-building of this fantasy-based Viking tale, in addition to Aydis’s journey to Odin’s decadent castle with the Goddess Freyja.

The art, also by Alterici,  really grew on me. Inked in black and white with a few sepia and blush overwashes and black gutters, it captured the iciness of the Northlands. The ladies were often very scantily clad lithe beauties, and I being a practical lass, wondered wouldn’t they be cold or more battle-worn? Then it dawned on me that guys aren’t the only ones that can admire the female form! While not a lot of background is drawn into the panels, it lent itself to a more character-driven story.

A fan of Brian Wood’s Viking series Northlanders, this similarily themed graphic novel was lighter with more of a mythology angle. I found it extremely appealing, and plan to read volume two that just came out of the planned three-volume series.

-Nancy

Alterici, Natasha & Rachel Deering. Heathen. 2017.

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