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Barbarian Lord

Review

Barbarian Lord

Combining elements from 80s television with classic pulp stories like “Conan”, BARBARIAN LORD weaves an original story in a world that seems strangely familiar. Though taking place in a non-Earth setting, the story borrows heavily from Norse mythology and Nordic traditions, but does so in a refreshing and complex manner, making the character of Barbarian Lord not just a brute, but a principled and even poetic warrior borne from a culture that values honesty and heroism.
 
The story itself is neatly framed using talking birds to fill the reader in when the less ponderous Barbarian Lord doesn't bother to summarize. It is an interesting bit of world building, and a fresh device to keep the story moving along without getting too bogged down by long stretches of travel or battle. The pace of the narrative is fast --- it’s a tale of revenge, where Barbarian Lord is set up by a jealous neighbor and stripped of his property. There may be a certain inevitability to the story, but there is a lyric quality to the writing --- a sense that this is a saga, a story to be sung and not simply told. It might not reinvent the wheel, but its use of magic and the way it sets up ghosts, monsters, allies and obstacles is at the very least fun and striking.
There is a lyric quality to the writing --- a sense that this is a saga, a story to be sung and not simply told.
The artwork seems simplistic, favoring fairly straightforward and realistic depictions of characters with a bit of a cartoonish touch, evoking things like He-Man, especially with the skull-heading villains. The relative simplicity of the lines for the characters, though, is underscored by the detailed and varied landscapes that dominate BARBARIAN LORD. The lack of color is handled well, and its absence never seemed detrimental as the story unfolded. A sweeping tale, the artwork is appropriate to the story and to the character of Barbarian Lord himself, who is simple in his dealings but capable of great depth of thought and sudden violence.
 
Where BARBARIAN LORD seemed to falter slightly was in its lack of diversity. The story is made up almost entirely of large, white men, which is likely an attempt to capture the stereotypical image of the Viking and to point back to characters like He-Man and Conan. While there might not be quite the Nordic literary tradition of emphasizing diversity, that doesn't work as an excuse for anything produced today. For a work that creates its own setting, the graphic novel stays rather slavishly to the perceived history of northern Europe, with its lack of prominent women or non-whites, and that was a little disappointing to see.
 
Overall, though, BARBARIAN LORD is a rather charming story, one that mixes humor and action well. Barbarian Lord himself proves that he can think as well as fight, as he shows during the hilarious poetry fight that plays like a modern day rap battle. The bits of magic and mysticism are interesting and keep the world mysterious, and the quest is compelling enough to follow. Although it would have been nice to see the male dominance complicated, in the end it's a novel retelling of the standard barbarian story, and succeeds at being fun and funny. For what it is, I would recommend it for fans of the genre or anyone feeling nostalgic for a good barbarian tale.

Reviewed by Charles Payseur on July 7, 2014

Barbarian Lord
by Matt Smith

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2014
  • Genres: Graphic Novel, Youth Fiction
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • ISBN-10: 0547859066
  • ISBN-13: 9780547859064