Review: Heathen #1 by Natasha Alterici

If you’ve followed this site for any length of time you know that I truly appreciate a good lady-led title. I’ll read the first issue of almost anything with a female protagonist… though unfortunately that doesn’t mean that everything I read is good. Thankfully, Heathen #1 by Natasha Alterici falls into the “good” category. Let’s be honest, it goes well beyond the “good” category.

The story follows a young Viking woman named Aydis, in her attempt to challenge Odin’s reigns by enlisting the support of the banished valkyrie Brynhild. With so many comics attempting to take on Viking source material, Valhalla Mad, Loki Ragnarok and Roll, and many others, it’s rare to see a title leaving behind characters like Loki and Thor in favor for their female counterparts. Even among those comics that try a new take on Norse mythology, Heathen #1 is something special. The first issue manages to dramatically tell the tale of the downfall of Brynhild and her cursed plight and deftly weave in why Aydis wants to break Brynhid’s curse. (Minor Spoilers below this picture of Saga and Aydis)

Aydis stands next to her horse, Saga, and says "I'd hardly call that a fight". Comic by Natasha Alterici
Aydis and Saga in Heathen #1 by Natasha Alterici

Aydis’s village judges her for the crime of kissing a girl. The punishment for this is either marriage or death, so no, her village isn’t the understanding type. Luckily for Aydis (because not all are so lucky), her father accepts her and helps her escape by pretending to kill her. While not ideal for Aydis narratively,  this revelation of her sexual orientation is handled in a straightforward, no-nonsense way. When Liv, the girl that kissed Aydis, says she’s sorry for the kiss, Aydis just smiles and says “I’m not”. Honestly, aside from Young Avengers it’s rare to see a queer character so sure of herself in such a no-nonsense way. Aydis knows who she is, and she knows what she wants to do and her drive fuels the pace of the first issue.

Aydis circles a wild bull.
Aydis circles a wild bull.

As mentioned earlier, the first issue covers a lot of ground. Towards the end, we see Aydis’s first challenge to her quest: a demi-god shaped ferocious beast. The art of the comics is superb, but the fight sequence stands out as the best in the comic. The panels can’t contain Alterici’s frenetic lines. The art flows viscerally from panel to panel in defiance, the lines are so dynamic that the page can barely contain them. There might be a handful of peaceful moments in the first issue, but even in those moments Alterici’s art pushes you forward. There is no peace for Aydis the exile, and the barren landscape reflects this beautifully. It ultimately reminds me of this variant cover by Fiona Staples for Red Sonja combined with the wonderful art Joelle Jones did for Helheim.

Unfortunately for you, currently this comic has only been released for Kickstarter backers, so if you want to read it you’ll have to wait for until Alterici announces a digitial/print edition for the masses. On the bright side, you can read Alterici’s short comic “Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs” for free to tide you over until then. Heathen #1 definitely snagged me, hook line and sinker, so I’ll just be sitting here, twiddling my thumbs frantically until the second issue comes out.

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