Written by Robin Jones, with art by Gareth Sleightholme, The King’s Leap is a one-shot from Madius Comics that wraps you in Norse mythology like you’re one of the children listening raptly to Amma’s stories. At the time of the Afterward writer and artist had not met in person. The comic’s existence is a show of the power of the internet to foster great art that may have never existed otherwise.
Assuming the opening shot on page two—a jotun [giant] holding hero, Ake, in his grasp—is the one Jones is referring to in the Afterword, that led him to reach out to Sleightholme, it’s easy to see why. Every hardened expressions is lined, every sword hilt etched and fur collar textured. Square panels are rarely resorted to in this comic. Instead, by following the narration bubbles, the image of Ake and the jotun is paused and repeated from different angles so you can travel around them, the act of following making the turn feel fluid and immersive.
Better not to get attached to this story. Framed like The Princess Bride, with an old women standing in for Peter Falk as storyteller, the children soon interrupt Ake’s plight to tell Amma they’ve heard this one before. A young king in the audience requests that she tell them a new story, something in the way of horror.
To achieve this, instead of a brave leader and his faceless army, we meet a band of six men who have names and relationships. It’s rare not to recognize monsters anymore and the originality and unfamiliarity with draugrs allows for surprises. First seen hanging upside down from the ceiling, like vampires, their tumble roll down makes for one H-E-double hockey sticks of an entrance into battle. Annotated sketch pages at the end discuss some of the research and decisions that went into their design but the origins of my favorite move, involving a wound transforming into a gaping, sharp-toothed mouth, gets to stay a mystery.
Jones and Sleightholme’s commitment to making their world distinctly Norse shows. I’ve never picked up a dictionary less grudgingly, but do wonder what the reasoning was for some words being translated and others not. A full glossary at the end could’ve come in handy.
Since watching The Almighty Johnsons and Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom the mere mention of a shield wall or Odin gets my attention but it’s the recipe of raised deeds and language that makes The King’s Leap a work of spoils, complete with closing twist and clash of arms, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Gandalf battled the Balrog.