Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Colorist: Frank Martin
Lettering: Steve Wands
Release Date: 4th September 2019
The second issue of Dark Horse’s Berserker Unbound sees our temporally displaced Barbarian meeting Joe Cobb, a homeless man living in the woods on the outskirts of a bustling city. Our hero, if we can call him that, is clearly still understandably bewildered by his new surroundings, but has a plan to put things right, if only he can overcome the language barrier between he and his new companion.
There’s a fascinating dynamic between the “Mongrel King” and Joe, with their initial frustrations and faintly amusing misunderstandings of what the other one is saying gradually settling down into a sort of grudging civility over the course of the issue. Lemire handles their interactions gently, never degenerating into farce but playing on the miscommunication to add an extra layer of intrigue and, dare I say, humour to each man’s situation.
Joe ends up being quite a tragic figure in a lot of ways. On the surface he’s a fairly resilient, slightly cranky homeless man, but after spending a little time with him it becomes apparently just how lonely he is, and how grateful he is for some company – even if he isn’t ready to come right out and say it just yet.
The Berserker is clearly still struggling with the guilt of his cowardly actions in the first issue, and probably rightfully so. He has bold plans of bloody vengeance and a noble suicide, but the likelihood of this ever happening seems to be diminishing by the day. That said, there’s something about his naiveté that makes him a fairly sympathetic figure, and while he’s essentially just a bloodthirsty barbarian, there’s already an investment on the part of this particular reader that he will eventually get the chance to put things right.
It’s perhaps unusual to say this about a book written by Jeff Lemire, but the artwork is doing a huge amount of the heavy lifting here. Mike Deodato Jr.’s striking, detailed visual style brings a real sense of energy to the page, even during scenes which just feature the two characters eating and talking. The layouts are scintillating, with impressive double-page spreads with intricate panel work giving the whole issue a dynamic feel which belies its somewhat measured pace.
The juxtaposition is what really sells this premise though, and Deodato Jr.’s authentic, grounded approach works wonders in bringing the modern day world to life around the hulking, Robert E. Howard-esque Barbarian. Playing just as vital a role is colourist Frank Martin, who adopts a pleasingly washed-out and grimy palette, along with a wonderful use of lighting to convey the hulking, musclebound Berserker as he tries (and fails) to blend in with the rest of the city’s inhabitants.
It’s going to be interesting to see where the story goes next, but I’m truly grateful that Lemire has opted for intriguing character drama rather than fish-out-of-water comedy, and Deodato Jr. and Martin’s artwork alone is more than worth the cover price every month. Highly recommended.