Barrier #1 and #2
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Marcos Martin
Cover Artist: Muntsa Vicente
Review by Michael Farris, Jr.
What do you typically think of when you come across the word “alien”? Does your mind soar to space and the great unknown beings that might exist, or do you gravitate to the complicated mess that is the immigration system? In the series Barrier from Vaughan, Martin, and Vicente, we experience both.
In the first issue, we are introduced to Oscar and Liddy, two people who are relatively close in proximity but occupy two completely different worlds. Liddy is doing her best to keep her deceased husband’s ranch and is facing what she believes are threats from drug cartels on the other side of the border. Meanwhile, Oscar is one of many Mexican immigrants trying to sneak into the U.S. to escape their dire straits. Oscar, however, appears to have extra motivation in that he is very attached to a red notebook he has on his person and is intent on bringing with him to America.
Oscar and Liddy’s paths cross, and then things get weird.
Almost immediately after Liddy finds Oscar on her property, they are both beamed up into a behemoth of an alien spaceship. The second issue focuses on their time figuring out exactly where they are, but more importantly, figuring out how to get over the language barrier that divides them in order to escape.
First off, I’d like to get one thing out of the way: if you, like me, are a complete ignoramus, then this might be your first read of Barrier, which has been around for a while on Vaughan and Martin’s PanelSyndicate.com. What makes this unique is that they decided the web series was good enough to put into print, and so Image went all out in releasing weekly issues that focus on the beautiful art of this series (really…it’s beautiful. Who knew the Texas desert could look so good?).
As for the story itself, reading these two issues created for me an experience that I haven’t felt from a comic in a very long time. Reading through the first issue, I dutifully Google translated all the Spanish portions of the book (yes, the book is bilingual thanks to Martin’s translation skills, and yes, my Spanish skills are lackluster at best. I’m going to blame my horribly shoddy short-term memory due to my Lyme Disease).
When I got to the afterword of the first issue, I saw how the creative team intentionally did this to let the artwork do the bulk of the storytelling if you struggle with understanding one language or the other, but more importantly, I think, the language barrier makes you end up feeling like a part of the story as well. After I read the afterword, I went into the second issue with Google translate closed and did my best to understand the Spanish portions. The interactions between Liddy and Oscar, then, felt extremely relatable. Heck, there was even a scene where some military types are speaking English but using acronyms and military jargon that felt like a language barrier in itself.
And the struggle to understand one another on a level beyond language differences is, I think, the deeper part of this story. I mean, you kind of have to learn how to work together despite language differences if you’ve been abducted by aliens. But those of us reading don’t have that luxury. And this is where we get into the complications of the immigration debate.
The storytellers don’t beat around the bush in showing the ugly nature of immigrating into the United States. There are those who profit on the fear and desperation of Latin Americans trying to escape their personal hell. There’s the immediate choice between being grappled by border patrol or willingly giving yourself up. And while border patrol officers are (hopefully) capable of feeling empathy, Mother Nature is not, and that’s an arguably deadlier hurdle. All of this in the face of a messy system that is incapable of seeing your individual circumstances and needs.
I haven’t finished Barrier as I am willing to buy the weekly issues (even though I picked up the floppy version of #1 on Free Comic Book Day) and have the story slowly revealed to me, but I sense the direction we’re going in is that, no matter where you fall in the immigration debate, more empathy and more understanding are critical to making progress. And honestly, seeing this in the context of an extreme and unlikely scenario of an alien abduction forces you to think through these weighty issues.
As I mentioned earlier, Vaughan and Martin wanted a lot of the art to do the storytelling, and do they ever accomplish that task. It was honestly very hard for me to focus on the story and the characters because of the breathtaking backgrounds that Martin created. The aliens are so bizarrely designed and detailed that I probably stared at them for a few minutes trying to take it all in. There is a heavy emphasis on the artistic aspects of this book, and it shows. The covers, which will be in cardstock when these issues hit the shelves, are worthy of display on your coffee table.
Verdict: Buy it.
This is the other unique part of the experience that is Barrier. The creators have made clear that buying the individual issues is the only way you will have a hard copy of this series. There will be no collected trades. Therefore, you must go down to your local comic book store and support these terrific people. So, you know, even if you are stubbornly set in your ways on immigration, go buy this anyway to support your comic book store.