Review: Barb Wire #5

I'll be honest, before reading this issue the first and only experience I had with the character of Barb Wire was Pamela Anderson, Udo Kier, and Jango Fett acting out a Z-movie remake of 'Casablanca' with exploitative nudity and a tragically tight corset. It's not a 90's icon I felt a great deal of need to see resurrected in the modern comic industry, regardless of how good an argument Adam Hughes's covers made. While the original title probably has passionate fans that would disagree, the book just seemed like a relic that didn't survive for a reason: storytelling moved on. Now, with my first real foray into Barb Wire in good ole 2015, I still can't tell you why this character needed to be brought back. However, I can tell you it doesn't matter, because this book is fine regardless of its legacy. I can't explain my positive experience with this title much more than attributing it to the 'Dark Horse Polish'. While I don't read many of their titles or follow many of their properties, Dark Horse is the current standard of consistent publishing quality in the comic big leagues. It is the antithesis of all of the traits that make publishers like Zenescope the uncleaned asshole of an unstable art form; treating their properties with a bare minimum of respect and hiring artistic teams that will at least make a go at whatever they are working on. They aren't perfect (I flipped through the current 'Tomb Raider' book and it seemed like a shoddy ship) but they are trustworthy, and that is worth something. Let's hope their recent editorial shake-up doesn't dismantle that strong hand that has served them, and us, so well.

But enough about companies, let's talk about people. Chris Warner crafts a simple snappy story, nothing new but with a practiced confidence that surprisingly held my interest over the whole length, even while characters talked about other characters I didn't know or understand the relationship between. This Barb is tough, smart, and believable as a badass-of-all-trades. Nothing is played too broadly, the books tone is surprisingly conservative. Snip a superpower here and there and you have a book that could easily be set in 2015, just a female Dog the Bounty Hunter whooping ass and trying to remain cash solvent.

Barb Wire #5Ultimately, this actually raises more questions with me as a non-fan of the series. Last I remember, Barb Wire was wearing head to toe latex, posing her way through a neon punk rock hellhole, all tits and hairspray. This new Barb barely reveals any cleavage in her comfortably fitted blue tank top, something we don't even see until halfway through the book. Is it awkward boiling a book about a badass female bounty hunter down to an inventory of her body parts and wardrobe? Absolutely, but I do it because before this series I get the impression that that is largely what made up this character to begin with. I really dig this direction, and the dignity they treat the character with, I'm just not sure why the book is called Barb Wire to begin with. Why does this book like it's set in modern Detroit? What happened to the weird dystopia? None of these questions are criticisms, it was just disorienting to read a book that seems to have nothing but names carried over from the preexisting source material.

Art wise, this book looks swell. Patrick Olliffe and Tom Nguyen's lines are solid, clean, and loaded with punchy energy. The opening fight of the book had me sold right away, a fresh, professional action sequence with a great charisma. Wes Dzioba's colors are bright and energetic, never distracting from the lines and giving the proceedings a great zip. It's a good looking book, certainly better looking than I expected. Also, a special commendation to how Barb herself is depicted. Never once did I feel that the artists felt the need to objectify the character. No low angle back shots, or awkward posing, or compromising fighting positions. She's designed very traditionally, blonde, idealized supermodel body, comic book features, but without the leering perspective that tends to come packaged with it. She isn't dressed down, she's comic book glamorous, but with the spirit to take a face full of mace if it means taking down a perp. It isn't to say that I disapprove of books that approach this subject in the old fashioned cheesecake manner, only that this book never seems to try to play 'Danger Girl', despite the preceding history that would suggest that take as natural.

I enjoyed this issue. I'm not in love with the story, I'm not hungrily awaiting the next issue to see where this story goes next, but I was engaged from beginning to end, which is surprising for a title I had zero interest or faith in previously. Do you know how nice that is? It seems so rare to have a book not rock my world, but at least make a solid damn attempt to entertain me in a simple manner. I don't know why Barb is back, but I can at least tell you that now, I don't mind that she is.

Score: 3/5

Barb Wire #5 Writer: Chris Warner Penciler: Patrick Olliffe Inker: Tom Nguyen Colorist: Wes Dzioba Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 11/4/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital