Dark Horse Review: BARBALIEN: RED PLANET #4
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Jeff Lemire, Tate Brombal
Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Colours: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
Barbalien: Red Planet #4: Shapeshifting hero Barbalien has found happiness in the company of a young gay activist, but discrimination, his own split identity as a cop and vigilante, and the continued rampage of the Martian bounty hunter Boa Boaz all threaten to unravel his life.
One thing that can prove traumatic for a gay individual is being outed. Although it’s not always a traumatic experience, it often can be. The fear of how your family, friends, and co-workers will react to you coming out can be terrifying, as you can’t be completely certain how they’ll react. And that was even more true in the 80s, in which this series is set.
And Barbalien is being outed in all aspects of his life. He faces being outed as gay in both his civilian identities. Similarly, his secret identity is also imperiled by the actions of the bounty hunter Boa Boaz. And Mark reveals his heroic identity to his lover, who reacts to the news by fleeing.
The life Barbalien has built for himself on Earth is crashing around him, with all his secrets imperiled. And the issue ends with Martian bounty hunter Boaz having caught up to and apparently defeating him. When Boaz returns to Mars with Barbalien, that will effectively end his life on Earth, and will literally cost him his life, as he faces the threat of execution on his homeworld.
The era in which this story is set is important to Lemire and Brombal’s story too. Tesolerance for LGBTQ sexualities was much worse in the 80s. Plus, there was the AIDS epidemic. Gay communities were not only the group most affected, and frequently received the blame for it. While Martian society was even worse for a gay person, Earth wasn’t much better. Barbalien found a bit more freedom to explore his sexuality. But he also found that Earth held a number of potential dangers, especially if you’re gay.
Now, I’m straight, so I can’t say from experience whether the story rings true to the experiences of LGBTQ individuals. But I think one of the important features of a story like this is that it gives those of us on the outside a window into that world. And perhaps, knowing some of their struggles and pain, we can be more empathetic to our fellow humans.
And it’s done within the context of an exciting science fiction story with aliens and superheroes, which is always a plus in my estimation. Now, with Barbalien’s life facing ruin, Lemire and Brombal stand ready to take us into the climactic finale next issue.
I’m quite familiar with Jeff Lemire’s writing and I’ve been devoutly following his Black Hammer titles. But I was not familiar with Tate Brombal’s work before this title. So, there was some worry that a co-writer might hamper Lemire’s proven ability at storytelling. Fortunately, that is not the case. Barbalien: Red Planet is every bit as engaging and exciting as any other Black Hammer title. In fact, it’s a bit more intense and suspenseful, if anything. Brombal is definitely holding up his end of the co-writing chores.
Barbalien: Red Planet #4 is another great issue in this stellar series. All the Black Hammer titles have been great so far, but this one is something special. I look forward to seeing how Lemire and Brombal conclude the story in the final issue next month.