I just put down the first issue of Andrew Maclean’s Head Lopper and all I can think is “Damn, that was a lot of fun.” It’s not a huge philosophical piece, and it’s not a dumb action-adventure comic, but it lives somewhere in the middle, presenting a rich world, understated characters dressed up as overblown vikings, and, obviously, fucking amazing fights. The story begins with Norgal, the titular Head Lopper, fighting off the leviathan that has been terrorizing the bay of the Island of Barra. As payment for the island’s protection, he takes an ornate necklace from a cleric, who swears vengeance. Meanwhile, the shady steward of the kingdom goes to a clearly haunted bog to make a deal with a dark force for the head of the Blue Witch that Norgal carries around. The steward convinces Norgal to help their island once more, and the main story ends. The third part (of three in this issue) is a shorter story, focused on Norgal’s adventures elsewhere, giving more insight into his character and the world of Head Lopper than anything else.
Maclean is someone whose work I wasn’t very familiar with until ApocalyptiGirl came out earlier this year. He’s got an eye for action, an extremely dry wit, and his linework is expressive without being too mired down in detail. His framing alone is extremely interesting, especially for an action comic. During the fight with the leviathan at the beginning, the camera sometimes cuts away from the action to build the world around for a minute, or to build tension. It’s a masterful sense of pacing that Maclean has built in here, and it works. A lot of ink has already been spilled comparing him to Mike Mignola (certainly aided in some respects by the fact that Mike Mignola did a promo pin-up for the series), and they’re not wrong--if Mignola didn’t live in such spot-black territory, and had a little bit more fun with his series instead of ending the world all the time, it would look something like Head Lopper, with its disembodied, sarcastic witch heads, and bog spirits. Head Lopper is supremely colorful, and Michael Spicer’s work in the main story is a gorgeous, flat style that really works. Maclean himself colors the final part of the story, and his palette is much paler, but also has a vibrancy to it that I really responded to.
Basically, Head Lopper is what I want from a Conan book. I don’t want antiquated language and continual references to Crom, and byzantine political structures for Conan to unravel for some reason--I want Conan to get eaten by a sea serpent and cut his way out, and to hang out with one of his bros and drink ale. Head Lopper is billed as a quarterly adventure comic, and with it’s pulpier paper style, 64 pages, and amazing, extended fight scenes, it fits that bill with everything I could have wanted. It seems a little pricey at first blush, but it’s $6 for over 60 pages, and it’s basically three months’ worth of comics all at once, so I’m more than happy to fork over what would shake out to $2/issue for this hell of a good time.
I can’t find anything not to like about this issue. My highest recommendation, for sure. Can’t wait for the next one in December.