Dark Horse issued five hardcover landscape volumes to tell the complete story of Mike Norton’s Battleplug, so he must be doing something right.

He is. Anyone used to Norton as a superhero artist, or even knowing his more realistic Revival, will surely be blown away by the excellence of his cartooning. There’s a spirit of joy to his ridiculous stories of the Kinmundian barbarian warrior and the giant pug puppy that follows him around, and Norton’s joy is infectious. It’ll take a strong heart to resist Battlepug’s big staring eyes. Colourist Allen Passalaqua using bright, flat shades also helps the cheery mood.

The art takes this opening volume of barbarian parody a fair way, but it can’t entirely disguise Norton winging the plot. He’s thrown a lot of stock sword and sorcery elements together, but they don’t stick very well. There’s a curiosity about the warrior’s adventures being a story within a story related by the alluring Moll to her two speaking puppies (standard size), and Norton presents a series of suitably ridiculous giant animal enemies, but some elements are just plain irritating. A scruffy old hobo prone to starting and finishing each sentence with the words “scribbly” and “scrabbly” has worn out his welcome by the second page, and all too often there are stock fantasy scenes. The throwaway subversion of Santa Claus is a nice idea, mind, and who isn’t going to rejoice at the sight of giant rampaging animals?

So far the jury’s out. This introduction has a charm and novelty, it looks wonderful, but This Savage Bone will need to add some substance. Alternatively the entire series was collected in one volume as Battlepug: The Compugdium.