Aydis is the finest hunter and warrior in her tribe. This is something of a problem as her people believe that the role of women is to marry early and start having children. (Preferably boy children, of course.) Her father was allowed to indulge her, however, up until she kissed another girl in the village. Aydis spared him the pain of marrying her off or killing her, however, declaring herself outlaw and leaving all she ever knew behind.

Now, Aydis is on a quest to build a better world, for she knows that the edicts that prohibit women from being warriors or loving other women were delivered from on high by the All-Father Odin. Thus she will free herself and other women like her, starting with the Valkyrie Brynhild, who defied Odin’s whim and was cursed to wait for a mortal to claim her as their bride.

Heathen offers a new view of Norse mythology, which, it must be admitted, is predominantly conveyed through masculine voices. This is largely due to what few stories of the Norse gods have survived to be passed down into the modern era. While the Vikings had a pantheon as rich as that of the Ancient Greeks, we know very little about deities like Eir the goddess of medicine and Saga, who is presumed to be the goddess of poetry because of her name. This is ironic given how relatively progressive their culture was regarding the rights of women.

In this, Heathen is not a historically accurate work. It does, however, take ample inspiration from the Völsunga saga, bringing in Brynhild and her would-be husband Sigurd as members of the ensemble, alongside the Norse gods. The script by Natasha Alterici puts a decidedly feminist spin on these sagas and characters.

Heathen’s portrayal of Freya is a fine example of this. In most of the surviving myths involving Freya, the Viking goddess of love and war is either reduced to the role of a bargaining chip in the games between the male gods and various giants who want her as their wife in exchange for some service or as a greedy harlot willing to prostitute herself for the sake of some fine dwarven jewelry. The Freya of Heathen is lusty and bisexual, as one might expect from a love goddess, but she is also a warrior who offers Aydis her support, even after Aydis rejects the offer of a place by her side.

The artwork by Alterici and, in the final four chapters, by Ashley Woods perfect suits the mood of the story. Rendered in muted earth tones with simple line work, the reader is reminded of the woodcuts that accompanied many classic manuscripts. In this, Heathen perfectly emulates the feeling of the old Norse sagas, presenting itself as some lost tale only recently unearthed. Fans of dark fantasy are sure to find it enthralling.

Heathen is rated 16+ and I consider that rating to be a fair one. There is a fair bit of nudity and sexual content, particularly when Freya’s realm is revealed, and the story does not shy away from depicting the violence of Viking culture. The story also involves some frank discussion of religion that make it more suitable for older audiences that can fully appreciate the nuances of Aydis’ quest.

Heathen: The Complete Series Omnibus Edition
By Natasha Alterici
Art by Natasha Alterici, Ashley Woods
Vault, 2022
ISBN: 9781638490906

Publisher Age Rating: 16+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Queer
Character Representation: Lesbian

  • Matt

    | He/Him Librarian

    Reviewer

    A librarian with over 10 years experience in public and academic settings, Matthew Morrison has been blogging about comic books for nearly as long as they’ve had a word for it.  Over the past two decades, he has written regular columns, commentary, parodies and reviews for such websites and blogs as Fanzing, 411 Mania, Screen Rant and Comics Nexus.  He has served as an Expert in Residence for a seminar on Graphic Novels and Comics for Youth and Adults at the University of North Texas and has given several lectures on the history of comics, manga and cosplay culture at libraries and comic conventions around the country. In addition to his work for No Flying No Tights, he is the Contributing Editor of Kabooooom.com and maintains a personal blog at MyGeekyGeekyWays.com.

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