Exploring the Predatory Economics of Violence in “Barrier #1” (Review)

Barr29Barrier #1
Panel Syndicate

Written by: Brian K. Vaughn
Art by: Marcos Martin

I was more than a little excited when I got on twitter the other day and found out the Panel Syndicate crew of Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin had dropped a new comic on us in the form of BARRIER. I’ve been dying to get something new from the Private Eye creative team (even though, admittedly, I still haven’t read the second volume despite downloading it forever ago) and all someone had to do was type the words “migration and sci-fi” and they had my interest, curiosity and money.

So what is Barrier #1 about?Barr20

It’s the story of a rancher in Texas named Liddy and a migrant in Honduras named Oscar. Liddy, who the story opens on, finds one of her horses mutilated and fears that cartel traffickers have now marked her land as part of their smuggling route. Oscar, on the other hand, we meet making a deal with coyotes to smuggle him from Guatemala to the United States. We don’t get much information about either of these characters: we know that Liddy is resisting pressure to sell her land because “It’s all I have left him,” a common narrative shorthand for someone who’s going to be wildly important to her actions as the story runs its course. Oscar pays for his journey to the U.S. with a stack of American dollars covered in blood, something that only hints at a potential set of skills he might possess – something somewhat confirmed when we later see him flee Mexican border patrol by diving into a river during a storm and easily dispatching a would be assailant and forcing him to row him closer towards the Mexico/Texas border. Is going towards the U.S. for a better life, or is he running away from something?

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The way narrative runs parallel between these two characters is fascinating. Oscar can’t get to the border without the help of violent and untrustworthy coyotes, who he meets right as they’re getting ready to turn on a transgender migrant. And when Liddy can’t get help from the police or the federal government to protect her land, she turns to ex-military mercenaries. Talking with their leader, Liddy quickly realized they’re just as violent and scary as the drug smugglers she fears have tagged her land. Vaugh didn’t really have to get preachy to get me to start thinking about the way in which broken politics both here and in South America have created predatory economies of violence. Marcos Martin represents the parallels between our protagonists artistically as well, with at least ten pages dedicated to showing to showing Liddy and Oscar slowly being drawn closer and closer together. It’s represented beautifully as every flip of the page lessens the space between the panels that houses them.

Barr38Somewhere there’s an undergrad in a graphic fiction reading this issue and while going through their copy of Understanding Comics and scrambling together a final paper on the panel work.

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This is very much a wide-screen comic and paired with Muntsa Vincete’s color work, every page commands your eyes. What I love about Martin’s art is that there are no tricks to it – no wasted or hidden details – what’s there on the page is what he wants you to see. From grisly details like the mutilated horsehead the story opens with or hardcore porn on a laptop screen, there are no wasted lines in this book. Working for a digital format also allows Martin to do a lot with space. And beyond its narrative use, it just feels like we’re getting a lot of bang for our buck here. This comic almost feels twice as long as the 50 or so pages of story we get. It’s just always fantastic to read a comic that designed to be read digitally.

And, because I’ve got to address el elphante en el cuarto: Yes, part of this story is in Spanish. Honduran Spanish. Maybe even a little Honduran colloquial Spanish. That semester you took back in high school really might not cut it but don’t let that deter you. Bust out google translate or making dinner for your Spanish speaking significant other, cuddle up on the couch and read this comic along together!

Head on over to Panel Syndicate and pay what you’d like for this comic. And get all your friends to do it too.

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