Story: Tate Brombal, Jeff Lemire
Art: Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
What They Say:
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.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Having missed the third issue, getting into the fourth issue of Barbalien wasn’t hard as Lemire and Brombal’s setup in the first two issues were solid and there’s enough exposed here without it being in the dialogue or flashback that you can smooth it out easily. This installment moves Mark’s story forward further as he trie to confront a lot of different things but it’s just as much Miguel’s journey as it plays out. Walta again puts in a really strong issue in its design as the nature of the city, the anger, and the fear of the people, it all comes out well with their designs and just how it all flows together. Though Walta may not be a good fit on some types of books, ones like this allows his artwork to really shine.
The two-track approach works well here with a big focus on what Miguel is going through, showing more of his past and the losses along the way as the AIDS epidemic unfolds. It’s brutal and remembering living through that time is hard because there were so many unknowns, so many fears, so much fearmongering, that all I remember is being scared. For Miguel, it’s all about the fight for him with city hall and trying to make change happen in order to honor those fighting and those who have lost. At the same time, Mark as Luke is getting closer and closer to him and wants to support him and feels the need to reveal his true self in a way that Miguel has to him. But Miguel is so singularly focused – and not in a good way – that he pushes back hard when Mark tries to do so. At least until the actual transformation reveal that sends Miguel into a tailspin.
While all of that is going on, we get to see how Boaz is doing as he’s taken on the role of the cop O’Toole. He’s definitely found it enjoyable by aping what Mark has done but he takes it further as one late night moment with Spence has them happening upon a bunch of guys loading a truck or something. While Spence goes to find out what’s happening – and the guys just want to explain – Boaz ends up just shooting them all, causing Spence to think he’s gone nuts. Boaz just enjoys the hunt and we’re seeing it very plainly here. But it works well because he ends up in his own way fitting into the department well enough, especially in this moment, and having his time in there collide as he’d hoped with Mark coming back into the fold once again just turned it into a waiting for a moment where the prey just lays itself out in front of you.
Barbalien continues to be a really enjoyable book in terms of solid social commentary and bringing some of the past back to life that you don’t see in comics often, especially ones like this or superhero books in general. I hope Lemire lets these kinds of explorations continue within the spinoffs – though not dominate them – because it allows for some really great writers to work material they may not be able to anywhere else. Migeul’s story is heartbreaking to watch unfold and seeing all the things associated with it hits hard. The story doesn’t hold back in a lot of ways and Walta’s artwork brings that hard and rough aspect of it all to life in the way it needs to. It’s a great book with really engaging material that’s about to explode even more for its upcoming finale.
Age Rating: 15+
Released By: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: December 16th, 2020