Barbaric #1 from Vault Comics, writer Michael Moreci and Nathan Gooden is a great new comic that parodies the sword and sorcery genre as savagely as Conan cracks skulls and a great first issue. A new twist on a well-worn genre, but done with affection and a knowing wink to the readership.
The fantasy, sword and sorcery genre has long been a target for parody. Indeed, I remember as a wee boy reading National Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings long before tackling Lord of the Rings, and the latest creators to take a swipe at this genre, with loving affection, is Michael Moreci and Nathan Gooden with Barbaric #1 from Vault Comics.
The debut issue introduces us to Owen the Barbarian, bound by a curse to do the right thing. Something he’s none too pleased with given he’s, y’know, a barbarian. And about to face down a trio of foes in a gladiatorial show down worthy of ancient Rome itself.
Luckily, he’s not working alone. No, his trusty talking axe helps him decide who of the three will die depending on their crime. That’s right, a talking axe. The Smurfs had a magic flute and Bilbo Baggins had Stinger, and so Owen has a talking sword. But, to take your cue from a sword? I’ve not heard that one before. And it works very, very well. Especially as the axe loves a drink as much as the next man, troll or dwarf.
It all makes for a great read as full of grown-up gags as blood and guts. This is certainly not a comic for the prudish. And while Owen is purposefully cut from the same cloth as Conan, Knull and other archetypal barbarian badasses, his axe keeps him on the straight and narrow. Whether he likes it or not. Hell, he was more than happy fighting and… er, copulating, wherever he went, with his only worry being his unremarkable name that doesn’t rhyme with much, meaning he lacks legendary songs sung about him! All of which we lean in a flashback sequence that catches readers up with his current partnership with the socially-conscious axe.
Moreci delivers another well observed, humorous script which is brought to life through the wonderful sharp artwork of Gooden, who’s style reminded me immensely of Brian Stelfreeze, so you can imagine how great this looks on the page. The choice of uneven speech bubbles by letterer Jim Campbell really suits the style and tone of the story and the colour art of Addison Duke most definitely helps define the various vistas we visit in this oversized first issue and set an appropriate sense of climate and temperature too. Lovely stuff all round.
It’s a jam-packed first issue that manages to cover a lot of ground as well pack in a great deal of action and a good deal of traditional fantasy characters too, often with a twist. And some new takes too, infusing the plot with a contemporary air that suits it well. By the end of this freshman outing Owen and his taking axe have already stumbled upon their next outrageous adventure, which could prove rather problematic even for a magical axe to overcome.
It’s real feast for the eyes and a promising opener to a series I have no doubt will do well when it drops this June, delivering the right balance of set-up, backstory, parody and visceral violence. In this issue alone we travel across a great deal of land, and sea, in the quest of establishing the plot, the main cast and the motivation for our Owen. He may not like it, but I have no doubt his axe makes him a better man. Jiminy Cricket to Owen’s Pinocchio. But R+ rated.
Barbaric #1 is out June 2021 from Vault Comics. Or, get your own copy now.