Oni Press calls Scott Chantler's Northwest Passage a "two-fisted pulse-pounding bare-knuckled series." What does that mean? I assume they're trying to market it to the action-loving crowd. Forget the connotations of a history lesson implied in the title, this is for beer swilling guys who play hockey and scratch.
Well okay, those guys might like this book, but others might as well. In fact, I think Northwest Passage is best when Chantler slows down the pace and actually tries to develop character. As for the history angle, yes, I enjoyed that as well. It's fictional, but there's certainly a lot of real Canadian history tied into it. And the artwork is stellar.
Northwest Passage is hard to summarize. It's mostly the story of Charles Lord, an almost legendary Hudson Bay man who decides to go in search of the Northwest Passage and recapture the adventure of his exploration days after a successful but ultimately unrewarding desk job managing a trading post. Before he has the chance, however, the evil rogue French trader Guerin Montglave captures the post and all hell breaks loose. Add to this the emotional drama between Lord and his son, the capture of Lord's nephew who has been sent to replace him, and a bunch of other stuff and it becomes quite a compelling book.
A favourite scene in the book comes when Lord is trying to justify having whipped one of his traders, a trader who he'd had a great relationship with up to that point. "How could I ever have kept order without punishing you?" he asks. Shortly thereafter the scene turns to the villainous Montglave who has just ordered an execution. "Without discipline, mes amis..." he says, "How can we have order?" It was a wonderful contrast and a great way to remind us that even legendary men are more than black and white.
I wasn't crazy about the ending. There are too many pieces that fall into place too perfectly, but otherwise I enjoyed Northwest Passage very much and I look forward to future installments.
Also, check out Chantler's notes at the end to fully appreciate the amount of work that goes into a project like this!