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Words by Barry Windsor-Smith - Art by Barry Windsor-Smith - Published by Fantagraphics - First published 2005 - Originally published in Storyteller
If you picked up and enjoyed Young Gods and Friends, you'll be first in the queue for this book. Like its predecessor, The Freebooters collects together stories from Barry Windsor-Smith's Storyteller, a monthly comic that unfortunately came to an end after just nine issues or so. Because its demise was sudden, The Freebooters is an unfinished work, but unlike Young Gods and Friends and possbily by sheer fluke of where Windsor-Smith was with his story at the time, it doesn't feel quite so abandoned.
The Freebooters is set squarely in a fantasy genre, but unlike the Young Gods' more ethereal setting, this is about down to earth, beer-swilling barbarians. Axus the Great was once a great barbarian warrior. Now he lives on his reputation, having sunk his savings into a tavern where he can hold court and boast about the old days. You can never truly take the barbarian out of someone like Axus though, and he occasionally gathers the old gang together to relieve some passing rich trader of his excess cash. But when a young man called Aran Ana-Kashan wanders into town to tell Axus of a great danger he's foreseen, the boy's prophecies don't remain in the future for very long and Axus is called back into action.
Although there's no final closure, a good section of story is dealt with, leaving the reader more satisfied than was possible with Young Gods. The story is charming and humorous, respectful of its fantasy roots but willing to poke a bit of fun at it. Windsor-Smith's painted artwork doesn't fight too hard to get away from its genre status and is riddled with fantasy stereotypes, but what else would you expect from the man who helped bring Conan to comics?
Like the vast majority of genre parodies, readers realistically need a passing appreciation of the genre being laughed along with, and it's certainly the case with this part-parody, part full-on fantasy adventure story. It's a fun, well-written piece, but it's sad that, even in this collected edition, it still isn't complete.
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