Vikings get plenty of buzz these days, as I’ve blabbered about previously, and their associated history, lore, and customs have inspired many releases in the realms of art and entertainment. Comics are no exception to this, and may, in fact, even be considered a major contributor to the trend if one traces the Thor-Loki element of the omnipresent Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe behemoth back to its humble beginnings as an unassuming 1960s comic book series created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Larry Lieber. Superhero Thor is certainly not the only Norse-influenced comic character to be born in the 20th century, though. Who can forget Dik Browne’s Hägar the Horrible? Or perhaps, if you’re European, Peter Madsen’s Valhalla? (It’s not available in English, sadly.)
The 21st century has seen the rise of even more Norse-inspired comics, some clearly intended to capitalize on the popularity of works like the History Channel’s Vikings TV series and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology—both of which have been adapted into comic format. Others draw upon different forms of media, such as the forthcoming adaptation of Amon Amarth’s The Great Heathen Army concept album into a graphic novel. Other original comics that have met with success in the last couple decades include Vinland Saga, the Japanese manga that became a popular animated TV series, and Vault Comics’ Heathen, which is rumored to be in the early stages of being adapted into a film.
As with retellings of Norse mythology, no list can be fully comprehensive, but it’s possible to highlight a few titles in the world of comics that provide their own fun and interesting twists on the theme. This article focuses solely on readily available, standalone graphic novels and comic omnibuses (as opposed to individual comic strips or issues that haven’t been gathered into a larger compendium volume) released since 2000. The following are some worthwhile examples that readers are less likely to come across on their own than those titles mentioned above.
Helheim by Cullen Bunn with Joëlle Jones and Nick Filardi
A fun and ultra-violent mash-up of Vikings, witches, and the undead, Helheim is total monster-horror/fantasy in visual format. Helheim was created and written by Bunn, who has worked on a number of X-Men and Deadpool editions as well as his own series of The Sixth Gun; it’s illustrated by Jones and colored by Filardi. The premise is fairly simple—two witches are at war back in the dark and dreary days of grim and frostbitten fantasy Vikings, and they’re using every evil incantation in the book to raise the dead to serve as their soldiers. Rikard, the protagonist, becomes a draugr (Norse undead) via witchy Frankenstein-like methods, and then goes out and kills everything. Originally released as six stand-alone issues, Helheim was collected into an omnibus entitled Helheim Volume 1: The Witch War, followed by a second omnibus, Helheim Volume 2: Brides of Helheim.
Beowulf by Gareth Hinds
As a visual adaptation of the Old English poem, Garth Hinds’ Beowulf is the only entry on this list that doesn’t feature an original storyline (and it’s also not “Viking,” for anyone who wants to get technical). Hinds has made a name for himself by adapting literary classics of all veins, ranging from The Odyssey to Macbeth, into graphic novels, and Beowulf was his first effort. Sparse on text (there are no dialogue bubbles), the graphic novel’s rich illustrative style is very well-suited to its ancient Scandinavian monster-slaying subject matter.
Ragnarök by Walt Simonson with Laura Martin and John Workman
Walt Simonson is best known for his work as a writer and illustrator for Marvel’s Thor in the mid-1980s, and with Ragnarök he returns to semi-familiar territory. “Semi-familiar” because Ragnarök—the final, cataclysmic battle of Norse mythology—has happened in this series and only Thor among the gods has survived, albeit in a long and dark slumber. He awakens and does what Thor does best, minus his lower jaw.
There’s more to it than that (elvish assassins, anyone?) but suffice it to say that Ragnarök is a very entertaining blending of quasi-futuristic fantasy elements with Norse mythology, all rolled into a lavishly illustrated package. Colored by Laura Martin and lettered by John Workman, the first six issues are collected in the omnibus, Ragnarök Volume 1: Last God Standing, which is followed by two additional omnibuses: Ragnarök Volume 2: The Lord of the Dead and Ragnarök Volume 3: The Breaking of Helheim.
Barbarian Lord by Matt Smith
An original, standalone graphic novel, Barbarian Lord straddles the line between ’80s era swords-and-sorcery cartoons and the Icelandic sagas. Created by Matt Smith, who also drew the recent Norse-mythology inspired Hellboy: The Bones of Giants comic series and associated omnibus, Barbarian Lord features a lighter tone than the other entries on this list. The storyline follows the adventures of the eponymous hero character, beginning with his unjust sentence of outlawry through his ultimate quest for revenge against his nemesis, Skullmaster. Full of talking birds, frozen landscapes, mead-trolls, one-eyed wolves, sea monsters, witty understatements, berserkers, and numerous heavy metal references, Barbarian Lord offers readers a solid dose of dry humor and a ton of fun.
Northlanders by Brian Wood and various artists
Northlanders is the bulkiest of the entries on this list because it was originally comprised of fifty individual comic issues that have since been collected into three different omnibuses. It is also the only entry on this list that is grounded in known history. Created by Brian Wood, who is also behind the more recent Sword Daughter, and featuring the work of various artists across its lifespan (too many to list), Northlanders covers wide geographical territory ranging from Constantinople to Iceland and a large cast of characters spread among multiple independent storylines. Atmospheric and violent, Northlanders takes readers back to the Viking Age in a way few other artistic efforts are able to do. The most recent Northlanders omnibuses are arranged around themes, beginning with Northlanders Book 1: The Anglo-Saxon Saga and continuing with Northlanders Book 2: The Icelandic Saga and Northlanders Book 3: The European Saga.
Rowdy Geirsson is the author of The Scandinavian Aggressors and translator of The Impudent Edda—now available for pre-order, publishing on November 22, 2023. His writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Metal Sucks, Scandinavian Review, the Sons of Norway’s Viking Magazine, and is forthcoming in Medieval World: Culture and Conflict. He can be found skulking in the abyss at Twitter (@RGeirsson), Instagram (@rowdygeirsson), and Bluesky (@rgeirsson).