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Brian K Vaughan & Marcos Martin bring their unique brand of comics to a self contained Walking Dead one shot and while it’s far from their best work together, it’s easily on of the best Walking Dead comics I’ve ever read. Vaughan & Martin approach the series world by applying their own aesthetic with the flair of a classic black & white horror film for a unique take on a intellectual property that’s become omnipotent within popular culture.
Vaughan is one of the greatest comics writers of all time who continues to push the medium forward with his work on creator owned books like Saga, Papergirls or the digital pay what you want Panel Syndicate series The Private Eye & Barrier with illustrator & creative partner Marcos Martin. Martin has become perhaps Vaughan’s most consistent creative partner just based on the sheer number of different comics they’ve worked on together. His style is totally singular and unique in the sharpness of it’s shapes yet cartoonish expressionism. In Alien, that’s definitely still there in the non-zombie character design or his take on the books Barcelona setting but his design and illustrations of the stories zombie’s feels like nothing the artist has done on his past work. There’s a distinguished detail to the horror monsters that feels closer to realism then almost anything the artist has done in prior. It’s an interesting contrast, how the most unreal part of the story looks the most realistic, and it’s jarring distinction add’s an element of horror to it’s monsters. Vaughan & Martin both have the timing and style of horror down so well it’s surprising this is the first time the two have approached the genre together. Panel’s like the two showing the books protagonist approaching a corner in a dark sewer, the killing of a zombie at just the right moment or the thrilling extended underwater fight have this classic Hitchcokian feel to them. As a writer, Vaughan’s mastery of dialogue continues here with an especially touching moment at the issue’s conclusion.
For someone that hasn’t read an issue of The Walking Dead comic in years and quit on the show a couple seasons ago, I was still able to read this issue and understand what was happening. While it establishes a big connection to one of the series protagonist, knowledge of the comic or TV show is unnecessary as the quality of material in undeniable here. Vaughan & Martin continue to be one of comics most interesting pairings proving that they can create something unique even when the concept is completely ubiquitous within the medium and beyond. There style transcends any preconceived notions and shows it’s elasticity here, making for a great single issue comic that stands out for it’s vision and excellence.
Last week, Brian K Vaughan shocked the comics world with this tweet
And just like that, another new series from one of comics all time greatest writers had arrived unannounced and unforeseen.
Barrier see’s Vaughan teaming up with his Private Eye/Doctor Strange partners Marcos Martin & Munsta Vicente for a strange introduction to the comic series that ends up being not at all what it seems.
Most of Barrier is a parallel story of an American rancher on the Mexican border in fear of the drug cartels killing her livestock & a man from Honduras trying to get into the United States illegally. In that regard, Barrier is a realist look at the two opposing sides of the American immigration debate. It’s a stark contrast between the two protagonist that Vaughan and co fully commit to up to having the illegal immigrant section’s dialogue written completely in Spanish. It’s an interesting look at how the two separate cultures collide with Vaughan’s excellent character work and illustrator Martin’s signature box style of illustration. Colorist Munsta Vicente does an especially engaging job with these washed out and bright western color tones that give the comic a completely distinctive look from the trio’s past work together.
But then, as the two protagonist meet, Barrier becomes a science fiction comic instantaneously and almost completely devoid of context. There is a clever allegory here with the story choice and it’s certainly unexpected, but it also feels a little jarring. This is Vaughan’s thing, he creates real life allegory for current events with science fiction and ultimately, that’s exactly what Barrier is. But in some ways, it feels almost like a bait and switch. The comic we get for the majority of the issue is fascinating and one that felt especially timely in out current political climate. While I trust Vaughan, Martin & Vincente to come through on this series, part of me can’t help but wonder what could have been had the trio decided to play this one straight. While I understand that it’s never really been their thing and they are clearly doing exactly what they want here, it also feels like if the team was going to play it straight, this would be the subject for them to do it on and this would be the time for them to do it as they are at the height of their popularity. And maybe that isn’t fair but Vaughan, Martin & Vincente make it that way by having so much of this debut issue focused on a story that is kind of ancillary to the main plot point yet a major issue in the United States.
Ultimately, I’m sure Barrier is going to be a great comic and most of it’s debut is a good comic as well, but because of the abrupt shift at the issue’s end, that feel’s like two different things and while I respect the creative teams choices, the comic I thought I was reading felt a lot more exciting then what I ended up getting.
Available at Panel Syndicate