Long Walk to Valhalla
Created by Adam Smith & Matthew Fox
Written by Adam Smith
Illustrated & Lettered by Matthew Fox
With Color Assists by Fred Stresing
Designed by Kelsey Dieterich
Review by Joey Braccino
“We got ourselves a short walk.
Then I’m takin’ ya to Valhalla.
Rory of Arkansas, you’re gonna die today.
Adam Smith and Matthew Fox’s new graphic novel, Long Walk to Valhalla, is a strange little bit of wonderful from Archaia. For a long time, Archaia has focused on publishing creative, pioneering comic books that blend human drama with abstraction, science-fiction, and surrealism. Strange Attractors, one of my very favorite graphic novels from last year, came out of Archaia, as did fan-favorites like Rust, Hacktivist, and Cow Boy. Since merging with BOOM! Studios, Archaia has enjoyed an elevated profile, but the focus on originality and creativity remains.
Long Walk to Valhalla is another worthy addition to Archaia’s burgeoning library of titles. Reminiscent of powerful graphic narratives like Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Jeff Lemire’s Essex County, Smith and Fox’s work here evokes human sympathy while playing liberally with Norse and surreal imagery.
The protagonist is Rory, a disengaged, disillusioned man living in Arkansas. When his car breaks down on the way to a job interview, Rory is confronted by Sylvia, who claims to be the Valkyrie of Arkansas, destined to bring Rory to Valhalla and await the coming Ragnarok. Sylvia, a spunky girl sporting an cool hat, then takes Rory on a walk through the fields of Arkansas, which of course leads to a walk down memory lane as Rory recounts his life before he dies. The interspersed memories focus on his relationship with his older brother Joe, whose mental disability alienates him from their peers and puts both brothers at odds with their belligerent, drunken, abusive father. Rory is super supportive of his brother and helps him Joe cope with the strange visions that seem to accompany his disability (Of course, it is later revealed that these “visions” are much more than they appear!). The relationships between Rory and his family members (and Third Act revelations regarding his girlfriend Katie) drive the drama of Long Walk to Valhalla, and even without the fancy Norse play, I’d gladly read more of Smith’s canny slice-of-life humanity following these characters.
Fox’s other mainstream work, UFOlogy (also from BOOM!), follows a similar strategy of merging pathos and realism with surreal fantasy, and Long Walk to Valhalla is another success in this field. Unlike UFOlogy, however, Fox’s scratchy naturalism is left in shades of blue and grey rather than vibrantly colored. In this way, it parallels the aforementioned Blankets and Essex County visually as well. It’s a simple coloring choice, but an effective one in terms of reflecting mood and emotion throughout. The surreal elements are so fantastical that they clash (effectively) with the realism of the rest of the story. It’s a visual treat from cover to cover.
BUY! Long Walk to Valhalla is a wonderful piece of literature, blending an effective, focused bit of family drama with just enough surreal science-fiction. Adam Smith and Matthew Fox are two bold new talents in the industry, as they deliver a moving, visually engaging story with this original graphic novel. Check it!