Berserker Unbound – Jeff Lemire, Mike Deodato Jr., Frank Martin & Steve Wands (Dark Horse Comics)

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It would be so easy to begin this review with a pithy Conan quote or a line borrowed from the adventures of one of Two Gun Bob’s other pulp heroes, but that would do Jeff Lemire and Mike Deodato Jr’s book a huge disservice. Even though Berserker Unbound draws heavily, and takes inspiration, from the works of Robert E. Howard, it does so merely to create a recognizable world for its barbarian protagonist, one that the reader immediately feels comfortable in, and with. This allows Lemire to do away with needless exposition and dive straight into the heart of his tale of abandonment, loss and vengeance that uses the tried and trusted tropes of fantasy fiction and Sword and Sorcery to explore the very real, and devastating, impact that feeling redundant and losing any sense of purpose can have on the male psyche

Having found his village burned and his family slain by his long standing nemesis, the Wizard King, and following a brutal and bloody battle, the eponymous hero of the book finds himself catapulted, thanks to arcane magic, to a new and terrifying world.  Alone in this alien land, he’s soon taken under the wing of a local who befriends him and begins to show him how to adapt to and survive in this harsh environment.

Wounded, the Berserker acquiesces to fate, but his peace is soon shattered when the Wizard and his forces, having followed him, attack the warrior and his ally and in doing so, set the scene for a final, gruesome showdown which opens a portal to a universe of possibilities and futures for the unlikeliest pair of heroes.

Much as I love Sword and Sorcery, a genre that has thrived on and was built around the concept of alpha dominance, it has a tendency to embrace machismo and more often than not objectifies women in the crudest manner, so to see it being used as a medium to tell a story of two broken souls bonding over their shared loss and finding friendship and camaraderie in a world that they’ve been abandoned by, and are misplaced and adrift in, is a lightning in a bottle moment.

It instantly elevates this gorgeously illustrated story to a more profound level, makes the protagonists seem far more human and while it luxuriates in wonderfully gory violence and mind blowing blade on bone action – brought to stunningy realistic life by the gorgeous art of Mike Deodato Jr, it never loses its sense of direction, pace or soul. Berserker Unbound proves that even the oldest of stereotypical genres can be taught new tricks and lifted far beyond the confining limitations of a dusty, aging rulebook that’s increasingly at odds with the endless march of history. Crom approves…   Tim Cundle

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