Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Colorist: Frank Martin
Lettering: Steve Wands
Release Date: 7th August 2019
There are certain writers and artists where, as soon as I see their name on the cover of a comic, I’m pretty much guaranteed to give it a look. Now admittedly it’s a fairly short list, but Jeff Lemire’s name has always been right near the top. Which I suppose is a roundabout way of explaining how I ended up taking an early look at the first issue of Berserker Unbound, coming this August month from Dark Horse Comics, and how I ended up going in completely blind.
Set in an unnamed fantasy realm, the story swirls around “The Mongrel King”, a hulking warrior in the finest traditions of Robert E. Howard, and the tragedy that befalls him. This first issue provides an impressively measured start to the series, focusing firmly on establishing our leading man, and not only showing us just how capable he is with a blade, but also how utterly heart-breaking his life has become.
Our hero’s own narration fills in the blanks, telling the somewhat tragic story of a renowned warrior who has the only things that ever really mattered to him ripped away in a truly horrific manner. However, when his desperate scramble for survival leads him into a whole new realm – the details of which can probable be gleamed from the cover of this very issue – it seems that his story isn’t over just yet.
As strong as Lemire’s premise and narration is, it’s unquestionably Mike Deodato Jr. and Frank Martin’s artwork that does the bulk of the heavy lifting here. Their pages run the gamut from gently atmospheric to frantically violent, and the double-double page spread where the Berserker wreaks his bloody revenge is nothing short of spectacular.
The layouts are expressive and creative throughout, ebbing and flowing with the pace of the story; tightening in on the shocking moments before pulling out to soak in the scope of the tragedy. The scale of the aforementioned skirmish is truly eye-opening, and the way the pair work together to marry the kinetic sword movements and crimson mists makes for a genuine spectacle.
Watching Jeff Lemire sinking his teeth into a frantic slice of Conan-esque fantasy is a winning recipe on its own, but it’s during the final pages where he really shows off his flair for the creative, yanking the wheel and sending this story careening headlong into the unexpected (unless, of course, you’ve seen the cover of the issue).
In a world of relentless marketing, press releases and solicitation info, it’s a rarity that I go into a comic completely blind, but boy am I glad that I did on this occasion. And while it’s unlikely you’ll be afforded the same opportunity, I’d still highly recommend picking this new series up, and enjoy as it delivers a cracking blend of frantic fantasy violence and high-concept intrigue.