REVIEW: Barbaric #1 – What Rhymes with Owen?

A vicious looking barbarian yells, brandishing a wicked looking axe with a face and a blood filled mouth

Owen was a good barbarian. Good, as in, being good at fighting, drinking, and fucking. There’s no indication of whether or not he did these things with ill intent. He just seemed to enjoy doing barbarian-y things, as barbarians do. But a trio of witches has deemed his actions and his role in some greater purpose worthy of a curse that compels him to serve all those in need — to be “good” … whatever that means… A good barbarian… named Owen.

Barbaric #1

Jim Campbell (letterer), Tim Daniel (designer), Addison Duke (colorist), Nathan Gooden (artist), Michael Moreci (writer)
Vault Comics
June 30, 2021

A vicious looking barbarian yells, brandishing a wicked looking axe with a face and a blood filled mouth

Since Owen doesn’t quite know what being good means, it’s helpful that his curse seems to have come with a conscience whom Owen can consult for clarification and execution. Think of Jiminy Cricket, if the cute little bug in a top hat and tales is actually a brutal-looking axe that takes great pleasure in feasting on the blood of the guilty. But to add to Owen’s woes, no one can hear the axe speak except him, so people just think he’s a lunatic, leaving him without much to do but grumble in the corner of a pub when he’s not fighting evil.

The two make a wonderful pair, enhanced by a creative team that clearly loves the dynamic of snarky weapon and grumpy wielder. Writer Michael Moreci’s topical humor is as slick as the blood that artist Nathan Gooden and colorist Addison Duke splash and smear all over the pages. Jim Campbell’s lettering and creative balloon choices round out the visuals, with sound effects punching through panels.

The creative dynamics are on constant display with little downtime in the first issue. When we start the story Owen is center stage in an arena, having been purchased by a slave master for the purpose of the performance art of wholesale slaughter. We get to see Owen and Axe at work, tearing a bloody mess through literal splash pages, before switching over to some backstory for Owen. Images pop with dirty browns and swampy greens, contrasting against the vibrant splashes of blood that spatter across panels. Given how much the series relies on blood and guts and the eerie green glow of magic, it’s surprising that Vault would opt for a recently announced black and white version of the story, but that just adds a whole new dimension to the violence and the action. Limbs and tentacles and various other body parts intrude into juxtaposed panels or seep out into the gutters, giving each page a constant feeling of movement, compelling the need to keep on turning to find out what comes next.

Barbaric #1 boasts a dazzling array of variant covers, including images of a woman who motivates that “what comes next” feeling. Covered in tattoos of swords that she is able to then pull from her flesh, the cover images tantalize — especially Tim Seeley’s Vault Undressed cover — but we don’t get to meet this woman until the end of the first issue, leaving a reader bloodthirsty for more.

The witches hint that there is far more to Owen’s story that is yet to be seen, but Barbaric successfully fills out its first issue with loads of action, some interesting characters, all wrapped up in witty dialogue, and fantastic art.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.