Writer: Michael Moreci
Artist: Nathan C. Gooden
Publisher: Vault Comics
WHAT IS IT?
This is a fantasy-action buddy comedy with its own sense of morality, but plenty of killing.
It’s Conan the Barbarian meets Tango & Cash.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Owen the Barbarian had been enjoying his life drinking, fighting, and, well, you know...until he was cursed by 3 witches and forced to do good. Owen is aided in his quest by a sarcastic, talking axe, Axe, who becomes drunk on the blood of those deemed worthy of punishment.
Owen wants to break the curse, but until then, he’s forced to help people in need, like a local woman who’s about to be burned as a witch (who just might be a witch) but also might be trying to save the town from being overrun by monsters.
Will Owen ever break the curse and get back to living that sweet Barbarian life? Can the supposed witch that can pull swords from her tattoos be trusted? Regardless, I hope Axe is thirsty.
There’s much to be excited about with Barbaric, especially the antagonistic relationship between Owen and Axe, which has great comedic potential that Moreci smartly mines for all its worth. Barbaric is a rare comic that is genuinely funny. Moreci uses Axe to inform the reader about the terms of the curse upon Owen and throughout defines what it means to be “good” in a biting, humorous way.
Gooden’s work is absolutely stunning, from the introduction of Owen and Axe to the grisly fight scenes, the reader instantly gets a sense that Owen is tough, imposing, and surly in the former, and blood, limbs, and heads fly off the page with the latter.
Duke has opted for a muted color palette that shows a dusty, grimy world where there’s plenty of evil men and creatures for Owen and Axe to slay, but Duke excels in the fight scenes as each panel takes on a deeper pink hue as the pages fill with blood.
Campbell places the opening narration to Barbaric within a box approximating a short scroll or parchment and sets the tone for a fantasy setting, but then the priest’s dialogue introducing Owen explodes out of the speech balloon to add to Owen’s dynamic appearance.
Moreci has set up a fascinating juxtaposition with Owen being forced to do "good" and a bloodthirsty axe as the clear voice of right and wrong. This allows Moreci the freedom to explore right and wrong in Owen’s world in any way he sees fit examining religious charlatans, the wealthy’s treatment of the poor, and the treatment of women.
The panel layouts for Owen and Axe’s first fight are chaotic and perfectly convey Owen’s strength and fighting prowess while also showcasing the horror and agony of his opponents in the battle.
In several instances, Gooden has Owen (mostly, but other characters as well) extend beyond the panel borders for a constant sensation of being in the middle of the action, which makes for an immersive experience for the reader.
The story of the curse upon Owen is told in flashback after Owen’s first fight and it drives home Owen’s misery at being forced to do good. The dreamy flashback panels of Owen’s idyllic, barbarian lifestyle before the curse turn to the ghostly green of the witches and deep reds of the depths of Hell. It’s all beautiful and horrible.
Axe is terrifying enough in Owen’s hand when he’s standing around, but even more so with the glow in Axe’s eyes before battle and how Axe transcends panel borders to an almost incomparable size. It’s an exceptional character design.
Campbell’s choices with the SFX during the fight scenes are bold and show how well-placed SFX aid in showcasing movement on the page. His choice of font for Axe, along with the irregular shape of the speech balloon, is in opposition to a weapon drunk on blood, but this is a comic replete with juxtaposition.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
CW: This is not for children. There’s nudity, coarse language, blood and gore, sex between a barbarian and a giant, more nudity, more blood & gore. It’s wonderful.
When Axe becomes drunk on blood, it hiccups as shown by “hic” in the dialogue, this is a minor quibble but it slows the flow of Axe’s dialogue and one "hic" was enough to convey drunkenness.
There’s a modern sensibility to the language and humor in Barbaric that is fun and exciting, but a reader expecting a more traditional approach may be left wanting.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Barbaric is a cathartic reading experience.
The story of an amoral, perhaps immoral barbarian, forced to do “good,” whatever that means, as Owen laments in the comic, provided a strange comfort. Regardless of how right and wrong are defined in Barbaric, they are defined; there’s no gray area, no moral ambiguity.
On a surface level, Barbaric satisfies as a visually stunning, incredibly funny, action-packed bloody tale, but it works on a deeper level as an allegory against moral relativism. Of course, the arbiter of what is moral are three witches or possibly a magical, talking Axe, but the sense that there is an absolute right and wrong and someone knows what that means is refreshing.
The combined powers of the creative team are on full display in Barbaric and, regardless of any satisfaction found by seeing the unjust punished, Moreci has imbued the dialogue with 1980s comedy in a way that never feels stale or hacky, but fresh and exciting. Gooden and Duke breathe life into every panel with such movement and grace in every threat and lopped-off limb. Campbell has managed to strike a perfect balance between a traditional fantasy setting and modern sensibility.
In a way, Barbaric feels like a natural progression for Moreci after Wasted Space, but by stripping down the plot and focusing on the characters, it’s allowed him to let loose and have fun. The same is true for Gooden's artwork, Duke's colors, and Campbell's letters.
Ultimately, that’s what Barbaric feels like. It feels like everyone involved in making it is having fun, and it’s hard not to read each page and linger on every panel without a smile on your face.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
If you like the art:
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Michael Moreci (@MichaelMoreci) – Writer
Prolific: Moreci has written or co-written several critically acclaimed series including The Plot, Wasted Space, Burning Fields, Roche Limit, Star Wars Adventures, Curse, and The Lost Carnival.
Recently announced that he wrote a movie with fellow comic book writer Tim Seeley called Revealer. The film is directed by Luke Boyce and is currently in post-production.
Multitalented: Has published several novels including Black Star Renegades and We Are Mayhem.
Nathan C. Gooden – Artist
An award winning illustrator and sequential artist who worked in film production, before co-founding Vault Comics.
Acts as Art Director at Vault.
Studied animation at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Addison Duke (@AddisonDuke) – Colorist
Multitalented: Also does illustration work and works in both digital and traditional media.
Began his professional career as a Production Artist at Image Comics.
His previous coloring work includes Curse Words, Barbarella/Dejah Thoris, The Mall, and work for Heavy Metal Magazine.
Jim Campbell (@CampbellLetters) – Letterer
Outlander: Hails from the United Kingdom.
Multitalented: Also enjoys the art side of the creative world.
Prolific: Has done lettering for a large number of hit titles.
Tim Daniel (@TimDanielComics)– Designer
Multitalented: Has written or co-written several comics including Enormous and Fissure.
Has Second Rocket Comics, which handles design and production for comics along with "Logos for the independently minded creator".
Dream Team: Co-wrote Curse and Burning Fields with Michael Moreci.
Adrian F. Wassel – Editor
Name Recognition: Is the CCO & Editor-In-Chief of Vault Comics, and plays the role of editor on most, if not all, of Vault's titles
Also runs Vault with his brother and father
Has personally helped other comics creators in their endeavors, even for non-Vault comics work
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Barbaric was published by Vault Comics. Michael Moreci and Nathan C. Gooden are creators of this work. All characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright of the above or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.