By Clyde Hall. Some barriers unite humanity, others separate us. Overcoming barriers of geographic distance, flight, space travel, and disease have temporarily focused mankind on common goals. Barriers of ethnicity, creed, nationality, gender, generation, and economics are longer lasting, and often perpetuated, strengthened, by our unwillingness to bridge them. As Walt Kelly and Earth Day posters once proclaimed, ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’. In the five-issue mini-series Barrier, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artists Marcos Martín & Muntsa Vicente bring human dividing barriers into sharp focus, then intertwine them with science fiction.
The manner they choose is in the best sci-fi tradition. They present a reality we recognize, and the world of Barrier is profoundly ours. Uncomfortably, sharply, ours. Which is then impacted by the fantastic, making the unlikely seem not so impossible and creating a way for us to learn, to view our world differently for having taken that flight of fantasy.
Issue #1 is an introduction to protagonists Oscar, a Honduran man determinedly making the perilous trek and illicit crossing into the United States, and Liddy, a Texas ranch owner living adjacent to the U.S./Mexico border resisting pressure from a drug cartel to relocate. Vaughan brings them together from across vast differences, reveals enough about each to whet reader appetites, and leaves sufficient questions regarding both unanswered. He also establishes their common driving core. While both are told they’re imperiled and that there are alternative courses, both remain resolute, decent, and uncompromising in the face of adversity and frustration. It makes for an intense confrontation when these two come together. Then, the fantastic arrives to shift their individual perspectives askew.
Liddy and Oscar are taken aboard a city block-long alien spacecraft in the midst of their own conflict. Slowly, in the glaring light of an unearthly intelligence and intent unknowable to the abductees, their own barriers diminish. Survival becomes their common goal, and the two must find ways to circumvent the human roadblocks between them if they have any hope of understanding their captor’s objectives and find a way back home. It’s an exercise in exasperation, dismay, risk, and eventually enlightenment as Oscar and Liddy come to better understand each other even as they circumvent the plans of their otherworldly hosts. The process continues and expands straight down to the final page, and it’s a conclusion that will not be forgotten. We have met a whole new form of enemy, but even so, he remains us.
Vaughan and Martín include the reader in the uncertainty and discomfort of their protagonists, erecting barriers of their own. The issues are in landscape format, and Martín expertly uses it to his advantage with panel variance and unconventional splashes. Oscar’s introduction as he’s seen making his way across South America, and in his subsequent speaking panels, are in Spanish only, no translations. Martín works at making that part of the narrative understandable despite a language barrier for those who don’t speak it. However, after I made the effort to translate Oscar’s portions, trust me that you’ll gain added insights to his character by doing the same.
Vaughan and Martín risk putting off potential readers by these decisions, but more importantly, they gently bring the reader empathically in line with Liddy’s and Oscar’s feelings: Challenged, off-balance, frustrated. Colorists don’t usually get the credit they deserve, but Muntsa Vicente’s work here is exceptional, the difference between night and day. Literally. I can’t imagine how the book would look without their contribution. It’s that powerful.
Much respect to Image Comics for bringing this mini-series to print, and for using a basic version first issue as a Free Comic Book Day giveaway. Until then it was only on the pay-what-you-want digital comics outlet Panel Syndicate, and it deserves the wider audience Image will provide. It’s also been nominated for a 2018 Eisner Award under the Best Digital Comic category. Vaughan, Martín and Vicente have defied convention to do something else only the best sci-fi can accomplish. Barrier strives to make a better future by widening our perspective. It works in pursuit of a better now.
Image Comics/$4.99 per issue
Written by Brian K. Vaughan.
Art and letters by Marcos Martín.
Colors by Muntsa Vicente.
9 out of 10
You can read ‘Barrier’ by either visiting Panel Syndicate, or hitting up your LCS. Issue #5 drops next week.