A village is burned and a man goes into a ten-year sleep. He awakens to a virtually different world, one where his wife is dead and his daughter has grown up without him. His code demands he take vengeance, but it also demands he not fail his family again. So, a father and daughter embark on a mission of revenge and maybe finding out what it means to be family in Sword Daughter #1 from Dark Horse Comics.
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Mack Chater, Jose Villarrubia
Cover Artist: Greg Smallwood
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Cover Price: $4.99
Previously in Sword Daughter: In her second year of life, Elsbeth Dagsdottir’s village was razed by a group of young thugs known as The Forty Swords. Her mother was killed and her father went into a mysterious sleep. Ten years later, in the year 991 A.D., he awakens to find a daughter he did not know and a cause he never wanted, vengeance.
Family and Vengeance, Viking Style
Elsbeth Dagsdottir was taken in by nuns after her village was burned, but she still found time to care for her father who had fallen into a mysterious sleep in the woods after the attack on their village. She takes care of him to the best of her ability, but when she finally decides to touch his sword, he wakens with violence, not gratitude. It is a sentiment she returns with relish.
Dag awakens to find a daughter he doesn’t know and tries his best to understand what has happened. After retrieving his swords, the people of a nearby shipyard tell him that they had been taking care of his daughter as they could, but she was distant. They also tell him she had been the one responsible for taking care of him for the past ten years.
He finds that a group known as The Forty Swords is responsible, decides that they all will have to feel his blade as they die for killing his wife. Now he must also take the responsibility of being a father, and so begins a tale of a girl and her father, reunited, and both knowing little of life outside of violence.
A DAUGHTER LOST, A DAUGHTER FOUND
Brian Wood (Northlanders, Conan the Barbarian, DMZ) is a master of storytelling with a list of comic credits that could choke a horse. He is no stranger to the brutal elements of the sword and does not shy away from the more brutal elements that style of story can bring. Aside from that, he has a grasp of the cinematic and pulls off a story that can flow effortlessly and still have you fully invested. In Sword Daughter, our narrator is the abandoned daughter and her outlook on the world and her father. She feels a connection to him, as seen by her caring for him for years, but at the same time hates him for letting her life go down the path it did. While the nattered panels give the impression of an older woman looking back on the events o that formed her, her interactions with other characters are accented, not by words, but by pictograms. This gives you a sense that she may not be educated or is a barely functioning member of society due to her abandonment. Her father seems more occupied with the idea of revenge than family, but you sense that he wants to have a daughter, but the obligations of blood must first be paid. Brian Wood conveys this and more as only he can.
Mack Chater (Briggs Land, Six) lends a raw feel to the story, with art that is not overly flashy but gives identity to the basic principles of the tale. The panel construction is cinematic, and we are greeted with imaginative panel layouts and open landscapes which draw you into the desolation of the setting. You can hear the fires crackle and the wind whispering over his backgrounds. The art here aids the story, adding a level of tension which would have been easy for other artists to have overpowered. The story is raw, but delicate, and Chater’s art relays that sensation. Additionally, the colors of Jose Villarrubia add a sense of destitution to the story which further engulfs you in its depths.
BOTTOM LINE: A SHARP, STINGING FIRST ISSUE
In this first issue, we are given all the information we need, and there is little need for more, at this time. You know it is a story of vengeance, of family, of neglect, of heartbreak. While the idea of a man asleep for ten years seems far-fetched, you don’t care, it is just a part of this story that makes you want to know more.
There are going to be inevitable comparisons to Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s masterpiece, Lone Wolf and Cub. To be honest, I also failed this book by doing the same. It is deeper. In much of that classic manga, Daigoro is a participant in vengeance only by proximity. Elsbeth seems determined to take a much more active hand with the bloodletting. As much as I love that classic tale, my thought are drawn more toward Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional. There, as is Elsbeth, Mathilda is the survivor of a murdered family and takes up violence under the guidance of an all too experience mentor.
Issues of bloodshed, abandonment, familial obligations and more run throughout Sword Daughter. With this first issue, Woods and Chater have taken steps toward the making of a modern classic.
Sword Daughter #1 from Dark Horse Comics should be added to your pull list now before it blows up the chart.