As Sword Daughter #1 is out today, two of the ComicBuzz team Kyle and Tee give their thoughts on the first issue from Brian Wood and Mack Chater.
Written By: Brian Wood
Artist: Mack Chater
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Lettering By: Nate Piekos
Cover by: Greg Smallwood
Published By: Dark Horse Comics
The first issue of Dark Horse Comics’ Sword Daughter, aptly titled She Burns Brightly, burns brightly. The series follows Elsbeth Dagsdottir, a young Norwegian teen navigating life in the 10th century.
The issue begins with Brian Wood employing an expositional internal monologue from Elsbeth. Exposition can be tiresome and is considered lazy story-telling by some, however Wood’s use of it here is important in tone, and stake, setting. It is also, thankfully, kept brief. Elsbeth explains how she lives a harsh life under ‘The Nuns’, copying scripture locked in her room. However, she shows a distinct bluntness in her reaction to her beatings which show the reader that this is the least of her problems. When she was a young toddler, her village was burnt down by a Viking cabal. This pushed her father into a ten-year slumber and we can assume that this is why she has been living with nuns for most of her life. The rest of the issue follows on from Elsbeth’s first real encounter with her father since this day, despite her following him. It is soon revealed that Elsbeth’s father wants revenge and ends with the two killing Black-Tooth, a known affiliate to the cabal.
Vengeance is obviously a major theme throughout this issue, with it being Elsbeth’s father’s primary motivation. It is a tried and tested motivation for any character in a narrative. It can be dramatic, compelling, and emotional. However, it can be predicable and thus can be boring. Wood’s decision to make Elsbeth the protagonist in Sword Daughter benefits the story arc of vengeance which appears to be coming in later issues. It provides the narrative a driving force, while not relying solely on it. Elsbeth’s hardships leave her as a mysterious protagonist, who’s understandable anger is not overstated or overbearing. She comes across as a survivor, oddly-relatable in this way given her actions, and someone you want to root for.
The artwork depicting Elsbeth’s village burning, a collaboration of Mack Chater and Jose Villarrubia, is visually stunning and works perfectly in juxtaposition to the stunning artwork in the rest of the issue. Throughout, Villarrubia uses earthy tones against a beige backdrop to further bring realism to Chater’s detailed artwork; it is beautiful and pulls you further into the periodic narrative. Charter’s unconventional panelling to frame, background, and accentuate his artwork is particularly captivating. However, it is Villarrubia’s colouring of Elsbeth’s village burning which I find impacted me the most. Being almost two pages in length the scene is painted vibrantly, utilizing shades of orange and red against dark backgrounds. It stands out and only serves to enhance Chater’s representation of panic and violence, bringing a stark gravity to the dangers which Elsbeth and her father might face in the future.
What makes Elsbeth a unique protagonist, despite the fact that she is a murderous twelve-year-old in 10th century Norway, is the contrast between the sophistication of Elsbeth’s internal monologue and her apparent muteness. While Elsbeth’s father speaks as one might expect in a comic book, Elsbeth is only shown to talk in symbols. While these aren’t sophisticated images, being easily understandable to both Elsbeth’s father and the audience, they offer something unique to the storytelling form. Elsbeth’s lack of dialogue forces Wood to become more reliant on Chater’s artwork in characterizing Elsbeth’s reactions to the events unfolding around her. This only benefits the issue further.
As a first issue Sword Daughter’s unique protagonist, alluring art style and distinctive setting make it an excitingly different narrative to follow.
Review by Kyle Wilson
How come I don’t know the name Mack Chater? Well, I won’t be forgetting it any time soon. His atmospheric artwork coupled with the purposeful colors caused me to linger through the pages of Sword Daughter, even as there wasn’t all that much to the story. I could admire the panels all day, but there is no need, as the art is truly haunting. If only the text held up, I would be smitten.
The tale of Sword Daughter is a straightforward story of revenge, at least so far. I would have been delighted to see some new take on the trope, and at times I almost thought it was about to happen, but alas.
The story was also rather disjointed, and while this strategy is used to great effect in some literature, it just felt confusing and somewhat rushed to me here. Elsbeth Dagsdottir could be an intriguing character, except she tells all of her background as if she’s talking to someone, and I would much rather have listened to her thoughts. I am also not exactly sure how her captions work together, or how they work with the words she doesn’t say. Elsbeth communicates, at least with her father, through images, which is interesting. But then I’m wondering why she expresses in full sentences her jigsaw story where the pieces don’t fit together. It seems out of character. She also doesn’t speak, yet the shipbuilders know her name. A lot of discrepancies made me shake my head and go looking for explanations that weren’t there. One last gripe, which is common for chronicles of history: the language didn’t seem to fit the era in many places.
The characters deserve to be written well and I will give a lot of credit for the creation of them. The Forty Swords I want to see more of, much more, and Elsbeth and her father both are relatable in very different ways. It could be a fascinating dynamic, especially in this historical setting, so I think I’ll be checking out the next issue of the series. Strike that, I will definitely be checking out the next issue, as I have found a talented new artist to follow. I have high hopes for the series to improve in its storytelling.