Head Lopper and The Island, or A Plague of Beasts

headlopperThe Short Version: The famed hero Head Lopper (“Norgal is fine”) arrives on the island of XXXX, with the head of Agatha the Blue Witch in tow. After vanquishing a terrible sea serpent in the harbor, he is tasked to slay the sorcerer who has cast such a pall on this land – but the sorcerer has his own plan for Norgal…

The Review: I found this one by accident, as often the best discoveries occur. I’ve been reading more comics of late and when I saw this one in Image’s catalog, I was on board from just the image. Apparently Andrew MacLean convinced the powers that be to let him release this as a “quarterly adventure comic” – all the better to tell the story at its proper, grander pace – and I love the idea that this collected volume is only four issues. It’s a tiny sort of mold-breaking but a really cool one.

You know what else is cool? This freakin’ comic. We are introduced to the Viking hero known as Head Lopper (“Norgal is fine,” as he often says with perhaps not a little irritation) in an impressive display of daring, derring-do, and delight as his ship is attacked by a sea serpent upon entering a harbor. He slays the serpent (with, you guessed it, a decapitation) and it’s the sort of whiz-bang introduction that you almost want to stand up and clap for. We don’t know anything about this guy other than that he is a total badass, but already we are on his side and on-board for the adventure.

The adventure is perhaps the strongest aspect of this volume: there are strange creatures, death-defying escapes, hints at a larger world of magic and strangeness that steer clear of becoming distratctions, and a villain whose story feels clear and coherent. Everything you could want or that gets conjured up when you hear the words “quarterly adventure comic.” There’s even some great comic relief provided by Agatha (the head he carries with him) and her relationship to both Norgal and generally the world around her. A post-credits scene of sorts, in particular, is one of the most laugh-out-loud things I’ve read in a long time – and it was the kind of laughter that has felt hard to come by in the last few weeks, if you know what I mean. Actually, in general, Norgal and Agatha have the kind of buddy-comedy relationship that you maybe don’t initially expect but that hits all the right marks. Also, Gnym is one of the cutest creations in any story ever (regardless of its ultimate good-or-bad-ness) and I want a stuffed Gnym ASAP.

I was particularly impressed by the amount of storytelling that snuck into this volume. It is likely due to the grander structure of the comic, but this had as much story in it as you might find in a pocket paperback fantasy novel – and that’s rarely the case for a single volume of a comic (unless we’re talking an omnibus like Big Hard Sex Criminals or the Saga Books). Lulach is predictably a bad guy but he’s the kind of bad guy who you understand, both in context and in behavior. Plus, there’s a bit of the ol’ “even the good guys can be bad” in Lulach’s backstory that, well, complicates things a bit. There’s a distinct pleasure in that kind of storytelling, even as you know roughly the way in which things will go. It’s why we, as readers, keep coming back to the genre and find it pleasurable even in its occasional predictability.

MacLean and Spicer’s graphic style is not always my favorite – I like things a bit more defined and there are times when the style was a little unclear for my taste – but it too fits the classical-adventure sense of the work, evoking at times the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth. It is certainly still easy to follow and a vibrantly colored delight, with the occasional panel that stops you in your reading tracks just to look at it for another few seconds.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. Delightful, full of adventure and fun – exactly what you’d want from a “quarterly adventure comic.” There is a wit and joie de vivre behind this comic that delivers the perfect amount of nostalgic excitement, for a time when Saturday morning cartoons were all you waited for and when the latest massive fantasy paperback was how you killed time in the waiting. I had such a blast and can’t wait to see what happens in the next installment(s) – of HEAD LOPPER! (“Norgal is fine.”)

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