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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/21/2004 Archived Entry: "Berserker: The Wild Hunt #1 (of 4)"

Berserker: The Wild Hunt #1 (of 4)
Story by Jens H. Altmann
Art by Harris O'Malley
Published by Studio Underhill
You can preview this comic online

Reviewed by Kathy LaFollett

According to the originator of the Berserker character the history of this character and storyline goes as follows:

In the mid-1980s, a young man and his girlfriend went on vacation in Haiti, to see if they could salvage their relationship. They were entrapped by an evil Voodoo priest. The young man escaped, but his girlfriend was killed and turned into a zombie. Guided by Merlin (who used an alias), the young man found the Norse war-god's sword Tyrfing at an antiquities store. He got the sword, was afflicted with the curse of the Berserker, and went on to massivley trounce the evil Voodoo priest.

The opening salvo for the character and storyline is questionable at its inception. We have a couple with a goal to regain their relationship...in Haiti. That would be a first. The poorest nation in its hemisphere will not provide such an environment. A practicing Voodoo priest in Haiti. That's believable considering "Vodou" is considered their religion. A French derivative of Creole perspective, Haitians practice VooDoo (or HooDoo) derived from the supernatural, and proceed from the influence of the sun. Tribes that contributed to the VooDoo pantheon were the Nago, the Ibo, Congo, Dahomean, Senegalese, Haoussars, Capalaou, Mandinga, Mondongue, Angolese, Fons, Lybian, Ethiopian and the Malagache.

That being said, the introduction of Norse war gods and Merlin (most notabley recognized as a wizard) using an alias just plain pushes the envelope.

Mr Altmann continues:
In the mid- late 1980s, horror audio dramatizations were very popular in Germany, I wrote the above story as a full-cast dramatization in the hopes of starting a franchise to cash in on this trend. Didn't work out; I couldn't find anyone willing to produce it. The Berserker went back into the files.

Well there ya go, the idea is so jaded that it won't work for a "horror audio dramatization".

Mr. Altmann goes on:

From there, I ressurrected him in the early 1990s. I was creating a superhero comic book series, HEROES, INC and needed characters to fill the roster. Since I still had Berserker lying around, I mentally continued his back story and put him on the team. I still have the script around here somewhere. Unfortunelty, my timing sucked, and I started submitting the pitch just as the comics market imploded at the tail end of the speculator craze.

Enter the Warren Ellis Forum. I had long abondoned the idea of writing for comics, focusing on prose writing instead. But posting on that message board brought back the old passion. I sat down and fleshed out several ideas.

Among them was Berserker, which I dusted off and updated. It was not exactly a surprise when I ended up discarding everything except the character and the sword. Instead of crossing cultures, I decided to stick to just the Berserker's own culture; the Norse/Celtic culture circle.

I can appreciate any artisan refining and reworking their art. As an artist myself I too sometimes reapproach what I thought was a good core idea. Obviously, Berserker could never be a superhero. He doesn't fit the genre in the least. As we read through the history of this character it is evident he is an orphan with no home and a niche idea with no playing field. Getting rid of the cross culture meld as a good idea.

Mr. Altmann finishes his history lesson:

A rough outline in hand, I posted my need for artists on the Warren Ellis Forum. Harris O'Malley was one of the people who replied. I showed him the outline, he liked it, and he was on board. The following weeks were quite interesting, as Harris and I bounced ideas off of each other. The synergy between us was great, and in the final tally, the story improved immensely from him input. So we worked out a pitch, and pitched. Unfortunetly, nobody wanted it. The project tapered off and we both went on with our respective lives and other problems. Until, by a major stroke of luck, the question of how to pay for self-publishing Berserker: The Wild Hunt was solved. We got our act together, and here we are.

As a personal aside, I really hope that Berserker will prove successful enough to warrant a sequel. Because I'm still itching to do the "Berserker vs. Zombies" story...

And herein lies the crux of the matter. Berserker is a personal project/hobby. Driven by love of the idea and the need to put it out there for the world. History has laid out the decision for Berserker. There's a reason why Jens Altmann is having trouble getting Berserker off the ground. The idea at its center is flawed and disjointed. The current artwork attached lends no help in uplifting the weakness of the writing and tale. As a commercial product it cannot stand the test of current market demands. Conversely, as a personal project for the "love of the game" I'm quite sure it stands strong as a testament to artist and writer alike. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment to take such a large undertaking to end result. But until our publishing duo takes the art and story up a few notches, Berserker will continue to be a simple personal publication.

Replies: 3 comments

That's a very interesting review of my little essay in the back of the comic.

I would be more interested, however, in what you think of the comic itself. All this review tells us are your thoughts about a text piece.

I would be more interested in what flaws you see in the comic itself, and why you think it fails as a commercial product. If only for practical reasons. ;)

Posted by Jens Altmann @ 10/01/2004 02:59 AM PST

It's a pleasure to meet you and see you here Mr. Altmann.

I apologize if my utilization of your bio and history of the comic wasn't explicit
enough towards the product itself.

Let's see if I can do a better job for you and your work.

Berserker: The Wild Hunt is presented in a linear manner. This in and of itself tends
to be boring and flat. There is no staggered character storylines or introductions.

Allow me to digress to another subject for explanation. In the 60s, the television
program "Batman and Robin" was written and filmed according to comicbook multiline
character storyline. For example, if you remember Batman and Robin would be running to the
Commissioner's office, and in progress the narrator would say, "Meanwhile back at
Catwoman's Lair...". There was a constant switch of storyline back and forth, thusly
offering the appearance and feel of alot of action and themes.

Taking this thought to your first comic, I would offer the suggestion of utilizing
such a timeframe swap between the goings on of The Hunter, The investigation, and
the character of Berserker himself. Intertwining the subject lines would lend more
depth to the visuals as well as the writing itself. It would also facilitate more
pages to introduce our new character Duncan Hart. As it currently stands he seems
to be some homeless man who pulls a sword out of a molten metal, then end.

Currently the comic stands as, here's a victim, here's the hunter, here's his nemisis,
here's the cops, here's the neighborhood, and here's Duncan. Very linear.

Using a miltilinear storyline and timetable the reader can literally watch as life
lines converge into each other.

As far as product marketability, I must admit that this is my opinion based only
on current comicbook sales, and the segmentation and differentiation of same.
The mainstream market is brutal, readers are unforgiving, and publishers even
more so...the story and character as it currently stands wouldn't make it through
first cut. There is no edge to the theme. The Hunter, death, satan or immortality
have been visited before. There is no human study. I read no Id, Ego, or Alter Ego
play between characters. There is no long term mystery. I read a future of Berserker
chasing and eliminating evil, while trying to kill The Hunter. Redundancy kills.

These are only my thoughts, of course.

There is a way to bypass, and improve the character and storyline though. If you
were to create a website specific to Berserker, with scheduled publishing dates
(downloadable .pdf's), and also create a forum for readers to join and offer suggestions,
you would gain direction, readers, and a foundation to work against while testing against
the very readers you are gunning for (for the mere cost of the URL and hosting).

Self-publishing directed by visitors who can share between themselves as well as with
you via the forum is the "warp zone" to the development cycle. I build websites, I know.

All is not lost, but trying to parse out the growth and direction of this idea via
paper publishing and a few forums (not owned by you specific to YOUR goals) will not
yield the results.

I hope you find something of value in this dissection. And I do want to state that
I have all the respect in the world for the years of time, thought, effort and money
you've put into the project. Tenacity, intelligence and creative juices are admirable.
And quite frankly, I'd love for you to serve me crow one day, and take this to great
success.

Posted by Kathy LaFollett @ 10/03/2004 07:53 AM PST

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Posted by Editor @ 01/13/2006 10:09 PM PST

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