Publisher: Vault Comics
Writer: Michael Moreci
Artist: Robert Wilson IV
Colours: Addison Duke
Lettering: Jim Campbell
Release Date: 13th July 2022
Widely viewed by many (including myself) as one of the best comics of 2021, Vault’s BARBARIC is set to return next month with a brand new arc entitled ‘Axe to Grind.’ However, before we get to all that, series writer Michael Moreci has a treat for us in the form of ‘The Harvest Blades’, a standalone one-shot featuring artwork from Robert Wilson IV which sees violent barbarian Owen and his bloodthirsty moral compass Axe heading off on another quest, this time to protect a village about to be engulfed by a devilish horde of giant bats.
Story wise, Moreci weaves a solid enough swords and sorcery tale here, packed with twists, turns and, yes, giant bats. However, as expected, it’s the interplay between Owen and his Axe that really pushes this one-shot above the rest of the pack. See, Owen has been cursed to always act when he hears a cry for help, and his sentient Axe – while admittedly being a bit of a drunkard when it comes to the ol’ crimson – serves as his moral compass when it comes to deciding which folks are deserving of the chop.
We find ourselves going full D&D here, both in the main story and the brief flashback which starts the book, with both threads featuring parties of “adventurers” teaming up to carry out a quest. We have mages, assassins, warriors and mysterious nobles all thrown into the mix, and all manner of familiar tropes blended together in fresh new ways to create a fun, if ever-so-slightly predictable tale of violence, greed and betrayal.
Full disclosure, I absolutely love Robert Wilson IV’s artwork. Hearthrob is nothing short of fantastic, and I can proudly count a glorious Thanos commission of his amongst my collection. But for me, his art doesn’t quite fit this story as well as Nathan Gooden’s does with the main title. Sure, everything is smoothly laid out, the character designs are great and the action and comedy beats all land as intended, but it’s just all a little… clean. One of the main strengths of Wilson IV’s style is its smooth lines and clean layouts, and – for me, at least – it doesn’t quite fit for a story packed with violence, profanity and bawdy humour.
I will say that Addison Duke’s colours once again inject the proceedings with a wonderfully psychedelic energy, particularly during the frequent bouts of axe-play. Much like the main series, everything is suitably vibrant and almost intentionally excessive here, with lots of pinks, oranges and greens thrown together into a striking visual package.
A fun bout of irreverent swords and sorcery fun, and one which will likely serve as a gateway drug to the glorious main series for a lot of readers. I’m loving the idea of bringing new artists into the rapidly-expanding world of Owen and Axe with these one-shots, and while this isn’t quite an essential read in order to follow the Barbaric continuity, it’s still a bloody fun one. Well worth a look.