Heathen revolves around the Viking (though none of the Norse people in the book are actually Vikings, we will get to that) warrior Aydis. Outcast from her village for kissing another girl, Aydis decides to free the immortal Valkyrie Brynhild in a desperate gambit to Kill Odin, the God-king. I will be honest, when I saw Natasha Alterici’s Heathen sitting on the shelf at my local comic book shop, I was more than a bit skeptical. As an enthusiast of Norse mythology, a feminist and a person passionate about the representation of LGBTQ characters the book almost seemed tailor-made for me. Just the concept alone was too good to be true, but my skepticism ran deeper than that. It’s no secret that all three of these things have had a rather disappointing representation in media, let alone comics, so for there to be a great comic book that combines these elements in a very satisfying manner, makes me incredibly excited. Aside from a few moments of stilted dialogue/storytelling, Heathen is a comic book series that is a well researched, beautifully drawn, soulful comic book that deserves to be in everyone’s library.
I think it goes without saying that the art for this book is truly beautiful. Dark, yet expressive, pulpy, yet never exploitative. Alterici originally pitched the comic through the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to gain the funds to work on the project full time. As a result, the first few chapters suffer from a lack of quality, that would be expected of a small, self published comic book. Though, because of being able to assumedly work on this book full time really allowed Alterici to hone her art into something really special. Watching indie storytellers and artists grow is possibly my favorite thing to see in the comic book community. With Alterici developing her writing as well as her artistic storytelling, it is safe to say, she will be a force to be reckoned with in the comic book industry within the next few years.
On the surface, this premise lends itself to a whole plethora of violent pulpy fun. This pulpy vibe is reinforced by Alterici’s beautifully bleak imagery and character designs that echo iterations of past pulp heroes such as Conan, Red Sonja, and Deja Thoris. Though, I am glad to say that Heathen is much more than just a fun, violent quest for revenge. Rather, it uses many of the assumptions one may bring to a similar story to subvert, dissect and deconstruct the power-fantasy infused pulp heroes, Norse Mythology and the alpha male-dominated society of the dark ages. Without a fight scene in sight, Alterici instead finds her stakes within the beautifully fleshed out relationships that are under the constant threat of being destroyed by the all-powerful God-King Odin. This also allows her characters to engage with frightening and fantastical elements of Norse mythology.
Modes of storytelling, and characterization of certain Gods have been lifted from various aspects of Norse mythology. Fortunately, Alterici was creative enough to put an incredibly unique spin on the familiar characters. The wolves Skull and Hati are a highlight, both riding a fine line between darkly intriguing and incredibly adorable, which I did not think was possible. Unfortunately, while there was clearly research made deep into Norse mythology, it was disappointing that history seemed to be taken from very Anglo-Saxon sources. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it does feel inconsistent to try to tell the story of Norse culture only to refer to that culture as ‘Viking’ which was actually the name for raiders and sometimes pirates, not unlike those who attacked Britain in the 800s. It was essentially the British 800s equivalent of the n-word for the Norse people and considering the progressive, modern feminist angle this book takes, it feels like a bit of an oversite. Similarly, I felt that at times the modern politics of the book were not always handled with as much grace as I would have liked, but considering the massive undertaking this has been for Natasha Alterici to self-publish this book, it is a rather small gripe.
Overall, I believe that we are in an incredibly interesting social climate within the comic book industry. With LGBTQ and female voices finally being given the platforms that have been robbed of them for so many years, we are finally seeing the community defining their voice within the medium. With Heathen, Natasha Alterici has established herself as a voice not only to watch out for but to listen to if you have the chance. Please support this unique and talented artist get the love she deserves, Heathen is a great comic book, pick it up and get ready to love the crap out of it.
Gabriel Planas is a writer from Ottawa, Ontario Canada who is passionate about video games, movies, punk rock and fantasy fiction. With over 20 years of experience playing video games, he is dedicated to spreading the word on the fledgling medium’s endless narrative potential.