You know what I love about libraries? Okay, I love a lot of things about libraries. But easily in the top three is just walking down the aisles and browsing. I love discovering interesting-looking books I’ve never heard of in genres I thought I’d mostly picked clean. Sure you might not like everything you find, but sometimes you find something that just blows you away. This is the case with ‘Barbarian Lord,’ a graphic novel by Matt Smith (no, not the Dr. Who one). It was published in 2014 but I only discovered it a few weeks ago while browsing at my local library. It immediately carved itself a place in my heart and has become one of my all-time favorites. Imagine a cross between Conan the Barbarian and Beowulf with some J.R.R. Tolkien thrown in, told in the style of a Nordic saga. Interested yet?
The eponymous Barbarian Lord (yes, that’s actually his name and not a title) is a harsh man who lives in a harsh land and worships a harsh god. He is also a powerful warrior and a brilliant poet. He is not in the habit of suffering taunts and is hard to get along with. And so his treacherous, skull-headed neighbor uses the grievances of Barbarian Lord’s many enemies and the assistance of a witch to have him exiled so he can take possession of his lands. Even a warrior as mighty as Barbarian Lord isn’t strong enough to take on an army alone, so he leaves to find favor with a neighboring king in the hope the king will assist him in reclaiming his lands and property and taking revenge on the skull man who stole them. Along the way, he must fight monsters, berserkers, trolls, the undead, and a bad poet’s jealousy.
The artwork is great, though as with all artwork, its enjoyment is subjective. It’s rather reminiscent of Penny Arcade circa 2010, which may or may not be to everyone’s liking. It’s not really my favorite art style, but it works for the story and it is very well done.
The writing and dialog may take some getting used to if you’re expecting something more conventional. Barbarian Lord isn’t written like most comic books, which normally have an emphasis on at least trying to sound like natural conversation. Barbarian Lord is more in the style of a dramatic saga as you might imagine a poet or storyteller from 1,000 years ago would tell. There’s also a lot of poetry in the book, but not the modern poetry you would immediately expect. It’s older, Nordic poetry, often Skaldic, with an emphasis on imagery and the heavy use of kennings instead of rhyme and verse. And to be honest, I’ll take Barbarian Lord’s poetry over 99% of modern poets any day. Seriously, Barbarian Lord himself is quite the clever poet whose burns are so sick you best keep a bucket on hand to douse the flames.
Bottom Line: Barbarian Lord is excellent in every way I can think to describe it. If you enjoy comics or graphic novels at all, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s a modern classic that so far has been criminally unrecognized to the degree it deserves.