-This article was possible due to the gift of a review copy, QWERTY, and rolling natural 20s.
Guest Writer: Stonie Williams
Writer & Artist – Natasha Alterici
Letters – Rachel Deering
The first issue of Heathen follows Aydis, a young woman exiled from her village. Her crime? “Unnatural” relations with another young woman. The punishment is death or marriage. Aydis’ father couldn’t bring himself to force her into marriage and couldn’t kill his daughter. They faked her death and Aydis is on her own.
Aydis talks to her horse, Saga, recounting the tale of Brynhild. A Valkyrie who dared to defy Odin. Odin decreed a favored king should be victorious. Brynhild let him die anyway. For defying Odin, Brynhild was cursed and forced to marry a mortal. Alterici’s version of the tale differs little from the classical version. In Heathen, Brynhild is allowed to choose who she married through a test of her own design. The location she chooses and the test are similar to the Volsung Saga the myth originates from. Alterici keeps the spirit of the tale intact while adding a few nice embellishments. Aydis declares her intent to find and free Brynhild from her wreath of flames at the top of Mt. Hinderfall.
Alterici’s art is nothing short of gorgeous. It’s a sketchy style that, along with the subtle coloring, provides a unique feel to the story. The details are there where they need to be and it ticks all the boxes for me. Expressive characters that tell a story regardless of the words on the page. Everyone has a unique voice and attitude. The potential antagonists that are set up are interesting and mysterious. I’m anxious to read more about them as much as I am about Aydis. Deering’s lettering is spot on, fitting the style of the book and gives a neat accompaniment to the story.
Alterici’s first issue of Heathen is exciting for me. I love interpretations of knowns stories and myths. I love seeing them from different points of view, exploring the lessons myths are there to teach us. Alterici does this with grace. The story is close enough to the source material to show that Altrici has down her homework. She knows this story and she’s adept enough at storytelling herself to know how to twist it just right. She can tell her story, give the message she has to tell, while respecting the heart and soul of the myth.
I’m interested to see where this goes and how much more she brings in from the original myth. How she weaves Aydis in as the myth progresses. The crux of this comes with the introduction of a god named Ruadan. Not only is he a potential antagonist, but Aydis deduces he’s working for a larger force. I’m a bit ashamed to admit I wasn’t familiar with Ruadan. After a bit of research of my own, there’s not much to tell. A Celtic god of mystery, spying, and espionage. Ruadan’s death has roots in the origin of the tradition of keening at Irish Wakes. There’s little more information on Ruadan. But Heathen’s use of him is important. During their interaction, Ruadan explains that the gods live ‘cyclical lives’. They’re living out the same stories over and over again. Ruadan implies that Aydis’ quest to free Brynhild has disrupted the usual flow of their stories.
This is a subtle and brilliant move on Alterici’s part. It gives her license to make Heathen an alternate reality version of the stories she’s borrowing from. It keeps her from tying herself down to any one detail of the source material. She can twist and change or even flat out break any rules she wants. The introduction of her character changes things. This also keeps it open for her to use any of these things she can equally ignore at her leisure.
Here’s where my review gets a little personal. In order for the myths, legends, and culture that Heathen is borrowing from to thrive, we need stories like this. We need movies like Marvel’s Thor. TV shows like the History Channel’s Vikings. Stories like Heathen. We need to show that these stories can and do encompass a broad range of lessons and points of view to explore. The more they’re in the public eye the more the history garners interest and popularity. Yes, some things will get lost in translation. Some bits won’t make the cut for sake of drama and entertainment. But I argue that the interest they generate will bring people to the history, to the source material. It will lead people to a greater understanding of the traditions and culture it all comes from. Heathen can only strengthen what it’s borrowing from. We need stories like Heathen, not only to preserve and strengthen what came before, but so that the traditions and myths themselves can grow with us as a people. Aydis is a character we need. Her story is a tale that needs told. These myths and traditions are strong enough to accept Heathen as a part of its history and be better for it.
With mild nudity and adult themes, I’d recommend this book for anyone teen ages and up. As well as any fans of Nordic-themed stories. Until next time, happy reading!