It’s a viking murder mystery. That’s it, that’s the hook.
Look, there were a few ways I thought to start this review. At first, I was going to discuss how the Detective as a character is the perfect audience surrogate; how their penchant for discovery and their traditional role as outsider allows for natural explanation of plot and setting. If the audience needs to know something, so does the Detective. In a good mystery, all the information is shared – only the Detective’s insights are kept from the audience. Then, I decided to invoke Umberto Eco’s seminal novel The Name of the Rose, perhaps the most famous example of nontraditional detective fiction. I don’t think that you get We Don’t Kill Spiders without Eco’s story of friar-turned-investigator and its popularization of the detective outside of the modern and Victorian trappings the genre traditionally traffics in. After all, there’s no reason a detective couldn’t exist in the Middle Ages, or Viking-era Scandinavia. Neither of those really sat right with me, though – because the truth is both simpler and infinitely more interesting.
We Don’t Kill Spiders #1 is a damn good-looking viking murder mystery, and sometimes that’s all you need.
Joseph Schmalke (whose work I previously adored on Count Draco Knuckleduster #1) handles both the writing and the entirety of the art duties on We Don’t Kill Spiders, while DC Hopkins letters. This gives the book a very singular feel, and despite some occasionally clunky dialogue, I appreciated the unified vision.
The colors in particular are simply extraordinary. The Scandinavian environment gives Schmalke the opportunity to play with tone and temperature in truly beautiful ways, blending the book’s naturalism and mysticism incredibly well. The pink colors used to denote the book’s magic feels truly otherworldly next to the traditionally warm orange and cold blue environments the characters dwell in.
Of course, none of this matters if the mystery is not interesting – in this case, however, it absolutely is. As We Don’t Kill Spiders begins, a serial killer is haunting a Viking community, slaughtering entire families, taking their heads, and covering their homes in runes. The local Jarl (the term for the chieftain of a territory in Viking history), Ulf, calls upon a well-known Viking detective of sorts named Bjorn to track down the killer and bring them to justice. Ulf has his own idea of who the murderer is – a witch named Revna, seeking revenge for her mother and grandmother’s deaths at the hands of the Jarl years prior, after their magic was blamed for the deaths of a number of livestock. Revna herself was a young girl, and banished from the community.
While Ulf insists she must be the killer, Bjorn decides to conduct a proper investigation. And when he meets Revna, it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems in this small community. Since this is only the first issue, there’s no way to truly tell if We Don’t Kill Spiders will stick the landing, but it does an excellent job at setting up a compelling mystery. While it may use the setup of a fairly standard detective story, the Viking setting and mysterious magic gives We Don’t Kill Spiders a great hook. I can’t recommend the book enough.