Barbalien: Red Planet #1 Review: A Dynamite Debut Perfect for New Black Hammer Readers

But a matter of weeks after Colonel Weird: Cosmagog #1 hit the stands, the Black Hammer universe [...]

But a matter of weeks after Colonel Weird: Cosmagog #1 hit the stands, the Black Hammer universe expands even further in Barbalien: Red Planet, a five-issue miniseries diving into the history of Black Hammer's queer martian from Mars. It all starts today in Barbalien: Red Planet #1.

While this series is very much in the same continuity as the rest of the rapidly expanding Black Hammer line at Dark Horse Comics, it should be noted little else needs to be known about the overarching universe before readers jump into Red Planet. In fact, Black Hammer writer Jeff Lemire and newcomer Tate Brombal specifically craft this story to be kind to new readers of this particular comic book world, and that's apparent from the jump.

Red Planet is set in an alternate America in the mid-1980s at the height of the country's AIDS crisis, and the end result is a rage-fueled debut that manages to be both beautiful and poignant. Though a superhero story at heart, Brombal does an excellent—one may even say flawless—job of deconstructing the genre and reducing it to its core.

In a decision that makes this writer jump with glee, the script introduces stories in two timelines. One is in the present as the hero goes on trial for what martian Emperor Zoaz says is treason against Mars, and the second shows Barbalien—real name Mark Markz—navigating his sexuality in a foreign culture.

Brombal, a member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, tells an angry tale that fires on all cylinders from cover to cover, crafting a story that shoves this curious case of self-identification—both sexually and socially—under a microscope and breaks it down cell-by-cell. You see, the protagonist is not only a queer superhero in an age when the capes aren't entirely respected the way it is, but he's also a stranger in a strange land, some 52 million miles from home.

Then comes the dynamite art duo of Gabriel Walta and Jordie Bellaire. You've seen them work together before, most famously on the little-known comic Vision some five years ago. While the art in that Marvel-owned series was dynamite, things get turned up to 11 here, setting a tone that perfectly matches the script penned by Brombal. In fact, 20-some pages later and it's hard to think of another crew that could execute this story any better.

Barbalien: Red Planet #1 is an excellent read, and a perfect hopping-on point if you've ever thought of flirting with the Black Hammer universe. The story within is raw and powerful, something only amplified by an incredible art team. It's angry, sad, and hopeful all rolled into a single issue, and at the end of the day, the sheer existence of this story is a win for anyone in the world comic books.

Published by Dark Horse Comics

On November 18, 2020

Written by Tate Brombal and Jeff Lemire

Art by Gabriel Hernández Walta

Colors by Jordie Bellaire

Letters by Aditya Bidikar