May Contain Spoilers
I picked up Wolfsmund because I am having so much fun reading Vinland Saga and I thought I’d try another historical graphic novel series. This one is set during the Middle Ages, at St. Gotthard Pass, which is located in the Swiss Alps. Baliff Wolfram brutally exposes and executes those desperate enough to try to sneak into Italy through his barrier station. He’s a sick SOB, too, taking pleasure in taunting his victims while savagely punishing them for their transgressions. A rebellion is afoot, and the Austrians are ruthlessly responding to the unrest by killing entire clans if a rebel is discovered in their midst. Ugh.
The first chapter left me rather off-kilter because the characters I thought would be the protagonists for the series meet a gruesome end. As do the ones in the next chapter. For 125 pages, there is no one to cheer for, no one to empathize with, because they are all quickly, and mercilessly, killed. I started to wonder if Wolfsmund would be about Wolfram and his sadistic methods of rooting out rebels. It would be like devoting an entire graphic novel series to King Joffrey from A Game of Thrones. Not really something that I want to read, and I would have given up on Wolfsmund if there hadn’t been a character who survived to the last page. Now I’m gun-shy that Walter Tell will meet an unpleasant end, so it’s hard to get attached to him. I learned my lesson from GRRM – no one is safe, and there are no guarantees that anyone will live to the end of the series.
Wolfsmund is violent, with several depictions of torture and death. There are many beheadings, hangings, and no one, regardless of age, is spared from the brutality of death. Then, as a lesson to others, their battered, mangled remains are thrown outside for all to gawk at, in the final indignity handed to them by the forces oppressing them. Those living in the Canton of Uri aren’t allowed to leave it’s boundaries, and attempts to flee into Italy without proper authorization is a complete no-no – as in the last mistake they will ever make. The senseless violence bothered me, especially when it seemed like there would be no survivors of the oppression, and that the nasty, evil killers would never pay for their rotten behavior. Now that there is one guy that made it through the mountains, I am invested enough to at least read volume two.
The artwork is rendered in a realistic style, with some kick-butt fighting scenes. These are slightly diminished when you realize that the person you want to win is going to lose, and then most assuredly die in the most awful way possible. Background details set the scene, and then become rather obscure, keeping the focus on the characters. I do love the cover of the first volume – nothing gets my heart pounding like the image of a charging horse, knight urging it on, crouched over its withers with spear and shield held at the ready.
While the beginning of Wolfsmund wasn’t really my cup of tea, I am interested enough to read volume two. Fans of Berserk might find something to like here, but if you are at all squeamish, you might want to avoid the series all together.
Grade: C- for the first 125 pages, C+ for the rest
Review copy provided by publisher
The tale of William Tell has never been rendered this beautifully as in Mitsuhisa Kuji’s stunning debut work Wolfsmund, where a fortified barrier-station torments the Swiss Alliance murdering all who stand against it, until William and his son attempt to defy it.
A fascinating reimagining of a European legend, Wolfsmund is a retelling of the William Tell legend with a focus on an actual landmark in the Uri district of Switzerland, the Devil’s Bridge at St. Gotthard Pass. Filled with action, politics and drama it has all the makings of The Game of Thrones, including its share of bloodbaths, but told through a historical fiction perspective.