North World Vol 1 (Oni Press – Brown)
North World really isn’t that different from our own… the biggest difference is the presence of mythical monsters, talking bears, arcane arts, and, of course, the heroes who stand ready to defend the innocent and helpless from these extraordinary threats! Conrad is one such hero and he’s about to experience something scarier than any of the mighty beasts he’s faced down — his ex-girlfriend’s wedding!
Lars Brown does a great job of walking the line between the overly familiar and the surprisingly unique. North World, as a setting, is an amalgamation of subtle fantasy and Midwest Americana. Conrad is a 20-something who currently is working as a sword-for-hire with a local guild, but is really trying to find what he wants out of life. Adventure? Love? Fame? Family? Stability? Conrad gets his big break when he gets to hunt down a demon summoner, the only issue is that he has to go back to his hometown and deal with all of his life’s loose ends that he abruptly left several years ago. Anyone who has ever been involved with fantasy role-playing games will find some great easter eggs and “inside” humor as we watch Conrad’s journey. But the familiarity isn’t just felt by the D&D fanboys, I would say that fans of Friends or Scrubs would also find a comforting cadence with the wit of the dialogue and interactions between characters. And the over-all plot, a warrior returns to his hometown that he left behind him to take care of “business” (i.e., take some one out) and during his attempt he finds out he isn’t who he thought he was, just screams “Grosse Pointe Blank”. The secondary characters of the book are somewhat known and predictable (i.e., the over-bearing father who Conrad can’t please, the young punk with a chip on his shoulder or the very cute but geeky ex-girlfriend who runs the book store). But you know what, Lars Brown takes all of the semi-obvious plot devices and stereotypical character arch-types of North World and make them seem more comfortable rather than predictable. It is like listening to a song you like, even though you already know all the words and heard it a hundred times – you are still tapping your foot and enjoying yourself. Half the time I was rooting for Conrad to get the next piece of the puzzle and the other half I wanted him to get smacked so he can learn a lesson… but in either case, I look forward to more of his adventures and spending more time in North World.