Review: Helheim Volume 1 – The Witch War / Author: Cullen Bunn / Artist: Joëlle Jones, Nick Filardi / Publisher: Oni Press / Release Date: March 14th
These days, if you want a barren wasteland for your fantasy adventure story, you make the entire setting vaguely Norse. Make no mistake; despite the name, Helheim is only faintly Viking-inspired at best. The name is well chosen though. “Helheim” means “place of punishment” and this graphic novel does feel like a penance of sorts.
The slender plot revolves around a bold young hero called Rikard who is the champion of his village and protector of a strange red-haired lady. After an assault on his village by an army of undead fiends, Rikard dies. Unfortunately for him, the strange girl is in fact an evil witch who stitches him back together, adds some over-sized muscles, then raises him from the dead, planning to use him as some sort of engine of revenge. As grief-handling strategies go it’s a pretty dramatic one and things get sillier from that point onwards.
Rikard goes on to kill demons, monsters and people as well as seeking out those responsible for his tortured state. He also picks up a spooky companion who’s sole point seems to be to spew exposition and be a bit creepy. This is a rock album cover of a story and it certainly looks the part. A Viking-like berserker with horns and over-sized body parts running around frost-covered lands butchering monsters with a huge axe has a certain sort of appeal and artistic team Joëlle Jones and Nick Filardi handle their duties admirably. It definitely looks pretty enough in a gore-covered, blood-drenched sort of way. The entire thing feels so rock and roll that you can almost hear Iron Maiden playing in the background.
Ultimately, however, the coolness of the art and concept doesn’t carry the badly planned story far enough, making what is intended to be an epic tale of blood, magic and revenge simply a rather silly pile of mismatched ideas and cringe-worthy dialogue. If you crank the heavy metal soundtrack up to 11 and leave your brain in the fridge then you might get a kick out of this, otherwise it’s entirely forgettable.