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Dark Horse's new Black Hammer spinoff reveals Barbalien's backstory

By Jeff Spry
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Spawned from Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston's Eisner Award-winning Black Hammer "Hammerverse," a provocative take on classic old-school superheroes that has blossomed into an expanding web of spinoffs, prequels, and crossovers, a new Dark Horse miniseries spotlighting the crimson-colored Martian warlord known as Barbalien lands in comic shops this week — and SYFY WIRE has an exclusive look at the premiere issue. 

Barbalien: Red Planet #1 arrives on Nov. 18 with a five-part Barbie origin story that turns back the clock to the middle of the AIDS crisis in America and hones in on the subjects of pride, prejudice, honor, discrimination, and the nature of one's individual identity.

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Co-written by close Lemire collaborator Tate Brombal (The World of Black Hammer Encyclopedia) and infused with intense artwork from penciller Gabriel Hernandez Walta (New Mutants, X-Men) and acclaimed colorist Jordie Bellaire (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), this exploration of the gay Martian shapeshifter named Mark Markz finds him struggling with his sexuality in a charged environment as a mysterious virus wreaks havoc on society.

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The timely storyline unfolds as Markz has discovered his place on Earth as both a decorated police officer and as the admired Spiral City superhero called Barbalien. However, as the AIDS epidemic hits full stride, hate and fear from all corners makes balancing these two identities nearly impossible, especially when a dangerous Martian enemy from the past hunts him down to return him to his homeworld, dead or alive.

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"When thinking about a cover layout I always try to let myself go and brainstorm as much as possible to get the book concept without preconceived ideas," Walta tells SYFY WIRE. "With the Barbalien issue #1 cover I played around the notion of the main character struggling to discover who he really wants to be and, as he starts the series shackled and waiting to be judged, the chains seemed a great metaphor for all the stuff he has to deal with."

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"As I started doing more refined layouts I realized that it'd be cool to use pure white as a background to give more contrast to all those chains," he adds. "Later, I even decided to leave some white parts in the remaining four covers to give them all an overall similar look.”

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Now step into our exclusive preview of Dark Horse Comics' Barbalien: Red Planet #1, complete with a main cover sketch and interior page process art in the full gallery below.