‘Barbalien: Red Planet #1’ - Advance Comic Book Review

Black Hammer’s epic, multi-year storyline started with an incredibly strong premise: What if Golden-Age superheroes were trapped on a Twilight Zone-like farm where they couldn’t leave? Then, it became about this family unit; the intoxicating characters were the most important aspect of the narrative, as the storyline sort of diminished and became secondary. Then, it became about stories. What do stories mean, why do they matter, where do they come from? And in its immensity, while the main series had a conclusion in that they overcame an adversary, it never quite felt final, because they didn’t all overcome their own problems, and thematic elements were just too big to tangle with.

Even during the series, creator Jeff Lemire worked on side stories, joining the structure with meaty cartilage. Now, with the main series complete and questions left unanswered, we’re given two stories focusing on individual team members.  Last week, it was Colonel Weird, and now it’s Barbalien - a gay alien from the planet Mars. Something tells me that there is a greater reason for these side stories to exist, a return to the main storyline, otherwise: why? We’ll see…

Barbalien: Red Planet seems to be a sort of “coming out” story for our red-skin-shifting hero. Half of the story takes place on Mars after he’s been found out to be gay, and the other is on 1980s Earth as the gay community at large is dealing with the AIDS epidemic. In a very specific way, this differs from other side stories in the Black Hammer universe which often feel forlorn and despondent; this feels full of hope, vigor, and discovery. It’s ready for a fight, and I completely dig that.

Lemire has welcomed a few other writers to tackle this world, and in this case he hands over scripting duty to Tate Brombal, a writer who does a remarkable job of bringing us into Barbalien’s multilayered world: an alien on Earth, closeted amidst an especially tumultuous time period for gay men, and facing persecution on his home planet.

The look and feel of the book is also quite wonderful. Spiral City is earthy and muted, aside from the red of the protestors' words and the nightlife that Barbalien stumbles into. It’s beautifully well thought out, and anyone looking for a comic about the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community's past or a John Carter of Mars element, this is it. Like with all of the Black Hammer series, I’m here for it!

Creative Team: Tate Brombal (script), Jeff Lemire and Tate Brombal (story), Gabriel Hernández Walta (art), Jordie Bellaire (color art), Aditya Bidikar (letters), Daniel Chabon (editor), Chuck Howitt (assistant editor), Ethan Kimberlin (designer), Josie Christensen (digital art technician)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
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