Hi, I’m Saika, and I’m obsessed with queer comics.
(Chorus of readers: Hi, Saika.)
I didn’t intend to write this post about yet another queer comic. I didn’t even intentionally buy one, not that I’m complaining—the guy at the comics shop just described Heathen to me as a re-imagining of Norse mythology similar to ODY-C. Since ODY-C is a trippy and beautiful comic re-imagining the entire Odyssey with a cast of only women, you can see why I might be interested. Of course, given its almost entirely female cast, ODY-C is also preeeetty gay, so the comparison probably should have tipped me off.
Heathen starts with a bit of lore-building: the Valkyrie Brynhild, formerly leader of Odin’s immortal warrior women, was cursed by the Allfather after refusing to follow his orders. She must live her endless days in exile and must marry a mortal. Brynhild, however, was able to parley that she would at least be able to choose said mortal. (This exchange entirely lacks gendered language, heyo foreshadowing.) Odin agreed, and sent her off to await her erstwhile suitors.
Enter our heroine (and prepare for spoilers.)
In our comic’s present, a young woman named Aydis has just faked her death. She was caught kissing another girl from her village, and the penalty for such devious behavior was marriage to a man or death. Aydis opted to improvise. Rather than settle for marrying a man who she knew she could never love, she figured she’d go big, since she couldn’t exactly go home. But even just deciding to seek and woo the elusive Valkyrie Brynhild has consequences: the gods are watching, and they are as eager to see a new twist on the story they’ve seen play out into failure many times before as I am to read more of it.
The first issue ends really only as Aydis’s quest begins: we learn a bit of her backstory, we meet the other girl (who opted for marriage—lacking Aydis’s modern sensibilities about her same-sex attraction, Liv hopes getting married will “fix” her), and we watch Aydis encounter and deftly subdue her first god. Ruadan is only a minor trickster, and only the first in a long line of challenges she’ll have to overcome to even reach Brynhild, but it’s awesome to see her kick ass either way.
Heathen is written and drawn by Natasha Alterici, with an all-female support team of letterers and cover artists as well, which is definitely cool to see. The cover art gives us a badass woman in a leather bikini and deer-horned helmet, but her powerful stance and stare suggest that she is no one’s object. However, the interior art by Alterici has a totally different feel, with a scratchy and messy but totally engaging and evocative art style. The interiors suggest a rather younger, less put-together Aydis than the imposing woman on the cover, and the muted greys, browns, and blues that the pages are colored with suggest a minimalist winter landscape. It’s an interesting stylistic clash between the cover and what’s inside, and I suspect that over time we will see Aydis really grow into the poise of her cover-art self.
At this point I should note: one thing comic shop guy got wrong is that this is no Norse ODY-C. For one thing, this isn’t set in an exclusively female universe. But also, while I love ODY-C deeply, Heathen is downright Disney compared to the other in terms of luxuriously depicted sex and violence. However, that’s kind of what I immediately loved about it. There’s something about Aydis’s scrappy nature, stick-to-it-iveness, honest motivations, and relatable, emotive facial expressions that just yells out for an animated feature with musical numbers (I’m talking a proper “I want” song, a skills-building montage song with some kind of magical mentor, some big ensemble numbers, and of course a love song). I mean, dammit, the girl already has a talking horse. This movie would, of course, require a love-conquers-all happy Viking wedding at the end, and some kind of fix for the whole ‘mortal/immortal marriage tragedy’ trope. And hey, maybe the series will get darker from here and my dreams of animated lesbian Vikings will stay dreams—the grim-sounding description on the back cover of the first issue certainly suggests so—but a girl can hope.
My only real complaint about it is that it seemed too short. I actually went back and counted the pages just to make sure I was getting my twenty-two pages’ worth, and they’re all there—but it was over way too soon. I’m really looking forward to seeing the next issue, and finding out where the story takes us. I did learn that Heathen was originally published as a complete volume via Kickstarter, but since that isn’t available to those of us who have only recently come onto it, I’m in this for the long haul. Obviously Aydis will have to overcome a number of trials to reach Brynhild, but as the introduction’s myth points out, the most important aspect of any quest to reach and wed the Valkyrie is Brynhild’s consent. We don’t get much out of Brynhild’s characterization in the intro, so it’s a mystery what she will do when confronted with her first female suitor. Will we get an adorable Viking ladies falling in love story arc to cap off the “cute Viking lesbian seeks immortal soulmate” quest the comic kicked off with? (I damn well hope so!)
If all of that didn’t convince you, I don’t know what will, but if you haven’t stopped reading and headed for your local comic shop yet, I highly encourage you to do so. I had never heard of Heathen before Wednesday, and I’m suddenly its biggest fan. Go check out the start of Aydis’s adventure, and I suspect you’ll be hooked too.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!