First of all, that cover— a haunting image of the blood-red ocean and sunset with the suggestion of a skull. It’s not wholly an original concept, but it captures so well the feel of the series. It’s intense, painterly, with tones of mystery and, well, weirdness. And Arkon, as a tiny figure at the bottom, stands defiant but overwhelmed, struggling forward but dominated by his surroundings. It’s pretty and poetic.
Inside, there’s more of the fantasy epic we’ve come to expect, starting with the war against the Magma Men and ending with a more personal struggle against a new antagonist, Skull the Slayer. The latter’s appearance continues to draw upon Marvel Comics’ history of high-fantasy barbarian comics, and the last-page cliffhanger (somewhat literally) also features an intriguing tease for next issue’s appearance of another familiar character. Both Skull the Slayer and the Man-Thing make perfect sense for what Weirdworld has become. There’s further mention how the floating island is constantly shifting, allowing for an almost stream-of-consciousness use of various settings and characters.
In other words, while one adventure resolves itself, our hero Arkon simply rolls right into another. It makes for a narrative momentum more like an adventure serial of old, but there’s a downside that we don’t get too much pay-off of the last before we’re thrust into the next. The team-up with Warbow is basically inconsequential, as the map Arkon receives as an award is useless and Warbow leaves almost flippantly. We may already have seen the denouement of Skull’s encounter as Arkon is entangled with another.
All of it does play into the theme of insanity that seems to be popping up— the lands themselves are “schizophrenic” and lack coherence, as are basically every character who crosses Arkon’s path. I’m tempted to go even more more step into metacommentary; after all, if Battleworld is a patchwork of different lands, are we readers being rolled from one inconsequential encounter to another? What about *our* sanity!
Arkon himself continues to prove a very fatalistic barbarian. He plows forward in his quest, but seems almost resigned that it’s impossible. There’s still a sense of giving up despite his moving forward, perhaps even suicidally so, as we saw in the first issue. Could his quest really be a kind of suicide-by-adventure, and he hopes that at one point, someone really will get the better of him? That’s some pretty dark stuff for a world full of whimsical weirdness.
I appreciate the whimsical weirdness of the art, too. There’s a “swinging salloon” that’s suspended on vines for no real reason other than weirdness, and Morgan feeding her dragon while dialoguing is some fun, but disturbing, background action. The colors are always bright but used in dismal or darkening scenes, meaning we get some intriguing combinations of things like magentas and greens, and some textured reds and yellow glows. The scenes really pop as the colors shift with the locations, all of which feature to illustrate the world itself as a character, not just Arkon and his enemies.
Did you know that there was a time when I really hated Arkon? I never even read a comic with him in it, but I just hated the character. Well, if Young Me had the chance to go through Weirdworld, I would have a totally different opinion. The comic is tinged with darkness and fatalism while remaining, simply, weird. Also, Arkon here visually fits the world in a way he never could in a “normal” superhero setting, with almost prototypical high-fantasy art that’s both evocative and expressive.