Barbaric: The Harvest Blades #1: Survival of (Fantasy's) Fittest

One of the most joyful discoveries in 2021 direct market comics was writer Michael Moreci and artist Nathan Gooden's new series' Barbaric – charting the course of Owen the Barbarian, a violent sword & sorcery-style adventurer compelled to kill only "evil people" by his sentient axe, Axe. The first miniseries was an absolute joy to read and the second outing from Moreci and Gooden, Axe to Grind, is set to arrive next month. The story is expanding beyond its core plot, though, in a collection of one-shots featuring guest artists beginning with Robert Wilson IV in Barbaric: The Harvest Blades this week, featuring one of Owen's past adventures, introducing new characters, and expanding the lore of this quirky, comedic, and incredibly violent fantasy romp.

(Photo: Vault Comics)

The Harvest Blades introduces two settings from Owen's past on an uncertain timeline, including an encounter before he was cursed with Axe and an earlier adventure compelled by Axe's presence. Both scenarios possess a Dungeons & Dragons-vibe featuring diverse adventuring party's questing after simple goals. The only details that matter are the necessary ones as character comes before all else. In this case, Owen is reluctantly driven to leave a "peaceful" village in order to help another community repel invaders alongside a trio of other adventurers.

Along the journey, there is plenty of the humor and violence fans of Barbaric have come to expect. Smartass remarks and big personalities dominate the issue; the odd couple dynamic between Owen and Axe proves to be remarkably resilient. This is, in part, driven by an unclear understanding of the exact nature of the curse by both beings. The plot is introduced plainly, but complexity quickly emerges creating confusion for a drunken Axe. Whether it's found in snarky asides or the mayhem of combat, Barbaric remains relentless in its prodding of moral bromides for fun.

The shift in Owen's disposition and allegiances provides the most dramatic element of the issue as it's used to question exactly who qualifies as "good," even under seemingly peaceful conditions. It introduces or reminds readers of the tricky premise Barbaric winks at as it slowly unravels the exact nature of this curse. This also provides the framework for a new character bound to return in future issues, the thief La'Kandra who possesses the titular daggers.

La'Kandra is also the element in The Harvest Blades most worth revisiting. An excellent design paired with plenty of impressive moments and a disposition bound to make her a notable "frenemy" for Owen leaves readers already prepared to see her reappear. Robert Wilson IV provides her with both outstanding moments in combat (her bloody finesse pairs well with Owen's bloody bluntness) and facial expressions that inform her personality and backstory as much as any exposition.

Wilson's work has shown him to be an astute observer of aesthetics and he capably evokes a wide array of fantasy elements in these pages, including over-sized monsters, creepy cults, and horrific final moments. Clarity is never a concern with settings, characters, and emotions that define themselves immediately upon introduction. Only continuity proves to be a problem with the visual storytelling as the issue's primary antagonist appears to be removed from combat twice before his final confrontation arrives with no reversal of those earlier panels.

Ultimately, whether or not readers picked up Barbaric in 2021, The Harvest Blades provides an excellent introduction to one of the best new series in the direct market today. The premise is clear and immediately enticing; the comic delivers plenty of jokes and action at an irresistible page; and the proceedings are far too compelling to look away. It promises more from the future and expands on the past, without requiring readers seek out anything else to appreciate what's at hand. Barbaric appears ready to continue for many miniseries and one-shots to come, and that's something to be excited about.

Published by Vault Comics

On July 13, 2022

Written by Michael Moreci

Art by Robert Wilson IV

Colors by Addison Duke with Andrew Misisco

Letters by Jim Campbell

Cover by Nathan Gooden and Addison Duke