Barbaric introduces us to Owen, a warrior who is down on his luck and on the wrong end of a curse. Joining him is his trusty talking axe (appropriately named Axe), who gets drunk off of blood and the thrill of battle.
As a massive fan of sword and sorcery types like Conan the Barbarian and Solomon Kane, this first issue was already off to a strong start. Michael Moreci’s script for Barbaric #1 begins where many stories of its ilk would reach their climax, dropping readers and Owen right in the middle of a gladiatorial battle in progress. In the space of just a few pages, we get a great feel for the tone of the book and the personalities of our lead characters. Owen seems completely disillusioned with the life of a conquering adventurer, while Axe seems to just be getting started.
Nathan C. Gooden’s artwork steals the show right out of the gate. The character designs are fanciful, expressive, and occasionally grotesque, feeling like they’d be right at home in Conan’s Hyborian Age, but also like they wouldn’t be out of place in an irreverent Genndy Tartokovsky animated series. The vibrant colors from Addison Duke make every magic spell and decapitation truly pop, adding to the overall wacky cartoon vibe of the issue. Barbaric already feels like it could fit right at home in the Adult Swim lineup, and I mean that as an absolute compliment. The first issue’s varying tones meld together beautifully, creating a book that is simultaneously gut-bustingly funny and infectiously exciting.
The action sequences are brief, to the point, and bloody as hell. Owen is a man of few words, which is just fine, because Axe has plenty to say, even as the blood of his enemies pours from its jaws. And Axe itself is something to behold. It’s surprisingly expressive for a tool of destruction, with subtle changes in its eyes and the level of blood dripping from its mouth often acting as a handy and amusing indicator for where its, um, head is at.
The lettering by Jim Campbell is also pitch perfect, vacillating between heady “old-timey” script and jagged, gnarly-looking sound effects. Each of the characters have a flavor to their dialogue that is distinctly their own, which becomes altered in fun ways when they’re in various stages of pain or intoxication.
Yes, Barbaric hit a sweet spot for me as a reader, but this first issue also exceeded my expectations in just about every way. A huge component of this is how it bucks the kinds of tropes we’ve come to expect from these types of stories. Sure, there’s a mythic quest, horrible magic, and an insatiable warrior at the center of it all, but the dialogue and incredible artwork happily take the piss out of these archetypes at just about every turn. Of course, some readers may not respond quite as well to the over-the-top violence and coarse language found on each and every page, but this first issue worked its magic on me in pretty much every way.
That’s not to say it’s all jokes and fights, however. The book feels like it’s saying something about the loneliness that comes from being an unconquerable badass like Owen. The character is so utterly unsatisfied with his lot in life, even though he has killed and mated with everyone and everything he’s desired. When does a guy like this get to rest? If the events of this first issue have any indication, the answer to that question might just be “never.”
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