Publisher: Vault
Writer: Michael Moreci
Artist: Nathan Gooden
Colorist: Addison Duke
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Barbaric created by Moreci & Gooden

Previously in Barbaric… Owen ended up in hell, Soren ended up with Axe and the curse and Steel ended up a raging vampire. In this new volume we find out what happened next. Will Owen escape hell? Will Soren get rid of the curse? How much blood will Axe drink? We will get answers to some of these questions as we head on another wild and gory ride through the world of Barbaric. Soren and Steel with Axe find themselves helping a mercenary because curse whilst we only see how Owen is getting on in hell late in the issue.

This may be Hell to Pay #1 but really to get the most out of it you will have needed to have read all of Barbaric to this point, including standalone The Harvest Blades. Toward the latter half of the issue the Harvest Blades is directly evoked with plot and returning characters. I don’t want to spoil what those returning plots or characters are but I will say it affects both Soren, Axe and Steel in the living world and Owen down in hell. I was very pleased to see their return. Delighted in fact and I love we’re getting a pay off to that standalone issue here. It’s rewarding readers in the best way.

Aside from that there’s also some strong character work and rather deep conversations between Soren and Steel as the latter muses on being a monster. It’s the kind of discussion that couldn’t really happen with Owen but Soren and Steel have a different dynamic. Soren grew up being called an evil witch whereas Steel found himself turned into a vampire. They don’t have the same shared history Owen and Steel had nor the forged in adversity introduction Owen and Soren had. It’s interesting to have Soren have to be supportive to Steel in a way Owen couldn’t be to either of them. Their exchange was one of the highlights of the issue for me.

Not to say that there isn’t humour. Axe is still here and the source of it. Axe has a different relationship with Soren too. Soren is far more likely to shove Axe into the nearest bit of wood to shut him than Owen ever was. Even though they bickered Owen and Axe had more a buddy odd couple vibe. Soren has more of an exasperated caretaker vibe with Axe. Not to say that Axe stops giving the witty asides because he absolutely does and that does lift the issue providing some of the needed levity.

Does Axe get blood? Absolutely and the art of monster blood is the usual gory excellence. The art is solid all around from Steel’s transformation to full on vampire to the aftermath. The contrast of Steel’s forms is well designed and reflects the way he’s wrestling with his monstrous side. The character work in the art is always excellent from Soren’s flashbacks to childhood to Axe with a face full of wood. The designs of the Orcs and creatures also stand out with even monsters retaining individuality.

What I also like about the art is that you can feel the hole Owen has left behind in the visuals as much as the dialogue. It’s really hard to articulate but you get that sense through the art. The colouring gives a great sense of location and place as we go from caves to landscapes to jails to hell. Each location is reflected in the colouring choices. It’s a really nice mix. Plus monster blood is a pretty cool colour.

I’m so glad to be back in the world of Barbaric. All these volumes run into each other building up an epic story that doesn’t skimp on the characters at the heart of it. There’s some interesting developments of older plot threads and to have such strong continuity is a bonus as the world feels so fleshed out. I am excited to see what happens next in this arc.

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