When we first reviewed “Barbaric” #1 in late 2021, we knew we were on to something. For the uninitiated, “Barbaric” follows the adventures of Owen, the quintessential barbarian bad-boy who travels the countryside slaying and getting his freak on. He’s also cursed by a talking axe that thirsts for blood, among other things. The story has really blown up, and now has its own spin-offs, one-shots, and other titles and ephemera. The world of “Barbaric” is expanding, and now is a good time as ever to dive right into the carnage. If some fantasy stories delicately world build, placing their set pieces on pedestals like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, then “Barbaric” does the opposite — this story is quite content to throw it’s pretty things in the air and shoot them down like skeet. “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 follows this grand tradition, is pretty much just as big, bad, irreverent, as its preceding arcs.
Written by Michael Moreci
Illustrated by Nathan Gooden
Colored by Addison Duke
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Reviewed by Kobi Bordoley
Barbaric is back and headed straight to hell in an all-new arc so big and bloody, it’s getting an extra issue!
While Owen tames a dragon with an old friend, Soren and Steel cross paths with someone else from our cursed barbarian’s past…who isn’t looking nearly as friendly. Hell hath no fury like a woman stabbed through the heart by an ugly f***ing orc.
Oh, wait! Who’s carrying Axe?
So, what is there to say about “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 that’s not just some platitudes about it resting on the laurels of the story’s earlier installments. We’ve been fans of “Barbaric” for a while now, but at this point in the journey, maybe we can check in on what makes this tale so worthwhile, and what “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 expands on that maybe earlier arcs lacked. As to the first point, “Barbaric” has always been its best when it serves that delectable elixir of humor and action. “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 doesn’t let up in this department, and gives us some of the classic “Barbaric” tropes we love — weirdo villains monologuing while summoning ghoulies and monstrosities, only to be called out by our heroes for being blowhards and dumbasses. This is the shtick, the audience insert, and the magic that makes “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 sing. Sometime the song and dance feels a little tired, but the writing in “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 is so superb that even if one joke is stale, the next ten hit. “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 hits the sweet spot of not taking itself too seriously, but also not being so condescending to the genres it plays homage to that it feels demeaning to fans. “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 is like that one horny murder-hobo D&D campaign you and your friends played years ago that still comes up in inside jokes (except to be honest, “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 is probably less problematic than your antics). This story is grand spectacle, anchored by great writing.
And on that note, what “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 does well is shift the story from the main character from the first two arcs to side characters, fleshing out the world and giving more dimensions to the story. It’s pretty risky to partially sideline your protagonist in such a successful story, but the team behind “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 does well to counteract that. Everyone gets emotional beats, everyone gets a beast to slay. If there’s one thing to critique in “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 it’s that the dialogue gets a little dense at times. Even so, as with the humor, there are only a few moments of that density.
Moving on, the last piece of “Barbaric: Hell to Pay: #1” that really ties it together is the art. Gooden and Dick go all out, and never phone it in. “Barbaric: Hell to Pay: #1” has a diverse cast of monsters — we have fish demon deities (and its spawn), classic orcs, Rancor-esque dungeon beasts, and a wide variety of other creatures. That’s a lot to pack into twenty-some pages, but no creature feels stale or undercooked. Even with small screen time, the monsters in “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 make their mark. Really, there’s no wasted space in this story. What’s more, the lettering, writing, and art all work in tandem to make these little monster vignettes shine. In just a few pages, we get a look into the Orc society, culture, and beliefs. Even if those things are totally silly, it still offers depth to the story, and makes the world of “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 more meaningful than it has any right to be.
At the end of the day, “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 is a victory lap of the series’ success, and still manages to add some new layers to the narrative. This story has a diverse cast, dynamic action, beautiful art, and solid writing. Take “Barbaric: Hell to Pay” #1 for a spin if you’re a veteran reader, and if you’re eager to jump into the world of “Barbaric,” now is the perfect time.
Final Verdict: 8.8. Brutal, bloody, boisterous, and all that bad bad good we love from this story.