Konungar War of Crowns #1 - Review: Git Yer Fresh, Hot Vikings Here!
Konungar: War of Crowns #1
Writer: Sylvain Runberg
Translation by: Ivanka Hahnenberger
You get a lot of pages with Titan’s latest fantasy romp. A lot of pages. 52 to be exact. You can’t say you didn’t get your money’s worth in terms of page count. You also can’t say that about the quality. As is very much the case for a lot of the comics industry, Titan does not indicate whether this is a limited run or a new ongoing. Based solely on the exquisite detail in the art, I must believe that this is a very limited series. Four issues max. And I thoroughly believe that it was completed a year ago at least. In fact…yeah…I’m seeing it now by digging a little deeper into the credits and publishing comments. Looks like this was a French comic published originally back in 2011. Titan is translating it and re-publishing it here in the good ole US of A for our ocular sensors to consume. And let me say, it is a treat.
Konungar is a Nordic mythology tale, set in a neo-fantasy realm where the men are burly, and are opposed by Centaurs and demons of all sorts. But before they can come together to defeat these common enemies of the realm, they must stop fighting each other. Sigvald was the oldest brother and the heir to the throne of Alstavik. But in defending his brother from an Auroch (a very large bull with longer than normal horns and spikes on its back) when they were young boys, Sildvig is seriously injured, and therefore unable to participate in a major war against the Centaurs. His brother, Rildrig, rises to fame in his absence, and in return for his prowess shown during the war, their ailing father names the younger brother heir. When Sildvig recovers, he challenges his brother to a duel for the throne. The bond between the brothers, such as it was (Rildrig is really a little jerk), is eternally broken, and civil war rages between the crown and Sildvig, whom many see as the true heir to the throne.
So with that setup, I am sure that you can hear the overtones of Game of Thrones in there. But in not so heavy-handed a way that it feels like I’ve read it before. This is an epic tale, full of big moments and the entire first issue is some serious world-building by Runberg. From the opening sequence, you get the sense that the world this takes place in is large, wide, and detailed. It is not so entirely unwieldy like the first Game of Thrones book is, requiring you to flip back to the index of characters and terms every five minutes. I still had to refer to bits and pieces sections of the book and the front flap where the characters were listed to maintain my situational awareness in the tale, but that was just my own OCD. My only knocks against the story are in the place where the writing and the art converge. No offense meant to anyone, but because this is a Nordic tale told in ancient times in a fantasy setting, everyone is white and mostly blond or with white hair. It’s like a bunch of Geralt’s, from the Witcher. Characters can get a bit non-descript, and some of the panel sequences only show you a piece of a scene without sufficient exposition in the narrative to keep you grounded in the story flow. This is particularly the case in a scene where characters are talking back in the throne room in Alstavik’s capital, while the camera flashes to royal soldiers sacking a town. It’s unclear if that town is where Sildvig’s rebel army is hiding out, which is what I initially thought, because that would have just made sense with where the story was. Turns out, it’s just a random town being taken advantage of for human experiments. My bad.
The art is just a tournament of craft. It’s seriously like going to an art gallery of Vallejo paintings and viewing 100 of them. It’s enough to make you gasp. It’s a crying shame that we do not get more books like this from overseas creative teams. And it’s really a shame that there is not a North American or crossover outlet where we could see more work from Juzhen. And finally, I must add this, it’s a crying shame that there is not a larger demand for high-fantasy books like this and Conan and Red Sonja and we only get them in drips and drabs. Good on you, Titan, for finding ways to put this kind of content in circulation. I don’t know how you do it but bless your heart for finding a way. Anyway, back on art, it’s just amazing. Incredibly detailed, wonderfully emotive in the facial articulation, a color palette to die for. Although that latter piece might be an acquired taste. It is a very brown and gray book, which suits its motif perfectly, but I can get why everyone wouldn't be into it. And those maudlin colors make the bright colors pop when they do show up. This really needs to be a movie and if it does go that way, the story boards are essentially done. When you flip through it, it’s going to look like there are some proportionality problems and perspective skews in some of the character models in certain panels, but that is deliberate, done so to convey the sense of fantastical shock one should encounter when one of these monsters is seen.
SCORE: 8.0 / 10
OK, so there’s a thing that I do where I immediately score a book when I finish it, because I think that what people feel about a book is most often experienced in that five minutes after you put it down. After having written the review, I kind of feel like this book is a bit more an 8.5 or maybe even a 9.0, but the review score stands. When I finished the book, I was a bit exhausted. It was long, and that had a lot to do with it. But it was also complicated at times. And, like I mentioned earlier, there were some points where I followed a thread to the wrong conclusion and had to go back and flip through some pages for it to make sense. Still, this was an awesome, atypical experience in what I usually get in my weekly pull-list. I’m not sure I would want 12 issues of this; I just wouldn’t be able to accommodate it in an ongoing monthly. But in a short run or as a trade (I hope Titan is going put this in an English language trade), it would be perfect. I’m going to onboard this to my recurring monthly pulls and continue reading it through the summer. Hopefully by August we’ll understand and know what the outlook is for this and how long the run is going to be. Or, ya know, Titan, you could just tell us. Regardless of my consumption limits, this is still an incredible work of craft, and I thank Titan for making it available to me and the masses!