Look, try not to judge me, but I’m not a fan of “barbarian comics.” I never got into Kull or Conan or Red Sonja, and for whatever reason, I just find most stories set within those frameworks to be samey and pretty boring. They’re always filled with lots of sinewy flesh and boobage (respectively), barely-there loin cloths, roughly-built weaponry and a frankly shocking amount of sabertooth tigers. While I’m down with all that stuff individually, combining them into a unique story hasn’t been done interestingly or adequately, in my opinion, since before I was born. And yet, here I am, openly volunteering to read Valiant’s newest reintroduction of their blossoming renaissance, Eternal Warrior #1, the cover of which looks so “Conan,” it hurts. Admittedly, my decision was more based on the publisher and creative team attached, specifically Greg Pak. So, like the berserker participant of a sprawling and bloody barbarian war, I came at this thing weapons drawn and poised to take it down ... but it turns out I may have instead forged some strange unholy barbarian alliance.
Eternal Warrior #1 starts out all-too-familiar enough: charging shirtless beefcakes with overgrown meat tenderizers mowing down champions of a soon-dead kingdom. Standard stuff, really. Tempers flare, swords clash, skulls explode, etc. etc., and while the gore and violence are quite pretty in Hairsine’s scratchy, scraggily electric artwork, I was afraid this was just going to be more of the same. However, at just about 10 pages in, this thing won me over. Sure, that’s when a pride (gaggle? flock? pod?) of elephants came in to gore the shit out of some folks, but the conflict that really got me interested was one of family.
At the center of this book is an immortal named Gilad Anni-Padda, which is apparently not based on a delightful Indian side dish. Gilad is “the Fist and the Bronze of Earth,” aka “Leopard of the Plains,” aka “the dude with the big axe and stylish hoodie-cloak.” As the last line of defenders of his great land, it’s up to Gilad, his son Mitu, his daughter Xaran and the accumulated military might of their people to defend it against black magic and skull-faced juicers, but all is not well within the ranks of the warrior family and they suffer some very surprising turns.
Of course, much of the blame does rest on the shoulders of Gilad who, for all of his rabble-rousing, battle strategizing and axe-play, clearly didn’t learn any lessons from Disney’s Mulan. Guys, if women want to fight ... LET THEM FUCKING FIGHT! Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned for beating ass.
Thanks to this freshly unexpected spin and rich but unfettered art, this issue moved along very swiftly indeed, right up until the end, where it naturally starts to drag after the story is trolled through millennia. Eternal Warrior #1 does indeed enjoy a fast-paced style that thrusts you right into the action, but unlike other barbarian books I’ve encountered, this one is given more breathing room and greater character gravitas than I’m used to seeing in like-plotted books. Sure, it was mostly based around a violent ruckus and a crucial last-minute heel turn, but I’m definitely interested in seeing how this series of events affects our immortal man and his surprising guest, who visits with terrible tidings at the book’s end.
Again, Hairsine’s stuff shines in the early-going here, but it seems like his attention is lost about three-quarters into the book, after we have drawn away from the killing fields. He’s clearly more than capable of rendering impacting battle scenes using some very clever tricks, like jittery line work, but those tricks become traps in the overly-shadowy aftermath of the story. I’m hoping this is just a dip into the dark, however, rather than a permanent stay.
I have to say, that while I was never a fan of the original Valiant title back in the 90s, I really enjoyed Eternal Warrior #1, and for the first time ever, am quite happy to cross swords with a barbarian book on the regular.
Writer: Greg Pak Artist: Trevor Hairsine Publisher: Valiant Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 9/11/13