This book begins when nomadic fighter Magnus agrees to take a Christian cardinal to the North, via the Black Road, so named for its vile and violent past. It’s not long into the pair’s travels that the priest is cut down in an ambush and Magnus is left for dead. He awakes to realization that he has been saved by the cardinal’s adopted daughter, Julia, who had been traveling with them in secret. It’s here that the mystery of the Black Road begins.
This is a tapestry of a master story-teller. Wood weaves in and out of the present and the past like a NASCAR driver, always moving the action and story forward at a satisfying pace. He never leaves a character behind, a small cast, simple action, almost as sparse as the Nordic wastes he writes about. But therein lays the secret. We are forced to focus on our pair of main characters, as they bond on this treacherous journey we are educated on their lives and dreams, their connection that strengthens over time is a reflection of the reader’s familiarity.
Topics of war and religion, family and loss are all touched on. There is plenty of heart to be had in this tale. From Magnus’ time in the service of his Lord to the loss of his village, we are plunged headlong into the past of a righteous man who has always done what he thought was right, up until the point that things went so wrong. Now a wondering warrior for hire, he trades his skill with his sword not because of need, but simply because he can. He knows no other life.
Julia is an enigma. Her history is one of a rough upbringing. She was sold into slavery, raised as a house maid, favored by a priest and then fashioned into an assassin. She willfully kills the man who is responsible for the death of her adopted father and has no issue shooting an arrow (or two) into Magnus when he tests her fighting skills. Her reasons for heading North are ultimately unclear and if the climax of the first trade is any indication she has more than simple revenge on her mind.
There is more here than a simple road story happening here. The motivations of the characters are enough to keep a reader’s attention, and the action is brutal enough to make you wince. The art and the story are a perfect marriage. Brown’s visuals are strong and dirty. He makes you feel the cold, taste the mud, you are there on the Black Road right alongside Magnus and Julia. While Brown has been on my artists’ radar for a moment, this work will solidify him among the best in the business.
Final Thoughts: Layers upon layers of storytelling make this a fantastic read. For those that crave some substance to their comics I would strongly recommend The Black Road. It’s a trip you have to make.
Final Grade: 5 stars
Black Road Vol. 1 “The Holy North”
Collects Issues: 1-5
Story: Brian Wood
Art: Garry Brown
Colors: Dave McCaig
Letters: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics