Dark Horse Review: BARBALIEN: RED PLANET #5
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writers: Jeff Lemire, Tate Brombal
Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Colours: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
Barbalien: Red Planet #5: In this blood-chilling finale, the Martian hero Barbalien faces age-old hatred from Mars and Earth as he clashes with the bounty hunter after his head–and tensions finally boil over between his two lives as a police officer and hero, leaving the young man he’s come to love in the dangerous crossfire of an inevitable riot.
With Barbalien: Red Planet #8, Jeff Lemire and Tate Bombral end their Black Hammer series on a powerful note. Mark Markz life is essentially falling apart. He’s been outed as gay to his fellow police officers. And he’s been captured by a bounty hunter and taken to his home planet to face the Martian authorities.
Mark Markz is a man with several secrets: he’s an alien, he’s a superhero, and he’s gay. Any one of these could bring the new life that he’s created for himself on Earth crashing down. And once his life has fallen apart, he must now face the task of piecing it back together.
While things have improved somewhat since the 80s, when this series is set, coming out can still be a terrifying experience for anyone who’s LGBTQ. And the fear of being outed involuntarily before you’re ready to take that step yourself is even worse.
This series has dealt with that that whole process. We have seen Mark face the fear of being outed. Last issue, we saw his secrets revealed and the disastrous immediate aftermath. And now, in the final chapter, we see Barbalien starting the long process of accepting his new reality.
In the series so far, Mark has been somewhat passive. He has reacted more to the events playing out around him. However, now that he’s unburdened by his secrets, he finds the strength to take a more active role in his life. First, by fighting back against the bounty hunter Boa Boaz, then by getting his life in order. And finally, by heading out to finally face down the authorities on his homeworld.
In a particularly powerful statement, he narrates, “I used to hate who I was”, while appearing as his Martian self. Then, “So I tried to be someone who I wasn’t,” as he takes on the form of police officer Mark Markz. And then, “And then I tried to be someone I loved”, as Luke, his openly gay human guise. But finally, he reverts back to his true Martian form as he concludes, “But in the end… who I was didn’t matter as much… It’s about what I do“.
While we have gotten peeks at Barbalien’s past on Mars before, this issue marks the first time we’ve seen his childhood. I quite liked this insight into his formative years. I feel that this adds a deeper complexity to the character than was evident before.
It also served to illuminate the lifelong antagonistic presence that Boa Boaz has been in his life. It’s rather ironic that the bully who tormented him for being a weakling is revealed as being weak, both in character and physically.
I also have to commend Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s artwork. His unique style seems particularly suited to the story. And Jordie Bellaire’s colours beautifully complement the art, bringing out the mood of each scene.
This issue is the perfect conclusion for an amazing story. I can’t really poke any holes in the story. However, I do feel bad for Barbalien’s cat Sigourney. We see her watching her owner flying off for God knows how long. At least Barbalien asks Dr. Day to check in on her. Hopefully, she isn’t left waiting too long before he returns to her.
Barbalien: Red Planet #5 is a powerful conclusion to Lemire and Brombal’s brilliant story. While all of Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer books have been great, this series stands out as something special. This series served as a great introduction to Tate Brombal’s writing. I will definitely have to check out his other projects.