Barb Wire Omnibus Sort-of Review

By | Friday, September 01, 2023 Leave a Comment
My first exposure to Barb Wire was that absurdly bad, can-this-get-any-crappier movie "starring" Pamela Anderson. Good grief, that was a horrendous train wreck of a film! So I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to get a hold of the Barb Wire Omnibus from Dark Horse when it came out in 2008. But I was given a free copy and so I thought I should give it enough of a chance since it is a different thing than a filmed adaptation.

The basic story of Barb Wire is that she owns a bar in a town called Steel Harbor, which is where the nastiest of nasties live after the "riots of '93." But to make ends meet on her bar, she became a bounty hunter, tracking down low-life scum for profit. She happened to be a better bounty hunter than bar owner but liked the lifestyle of a bar owner more, so there was internal conflict there. And, not surprisingly, there were plenty of chances for more action-oriented scenes when Barb would go tracking a bad guy.

The Omnibus reprints all nine issues of the original 1994 series, plus the four issues of the 1996 Aces of Spades series, but does not, it should be noted, reprint any other Barb Wire stories that appeared in various Dark Horse books over the years. The two series reprinted here are markedly different in tone and style. The original series, written primarily by John Arcudi, focuses on Barb and the relationships she has with her friends and employees. There's plenty of action, certainly, but the thrust of the story follows Barb as she tries to juggle the decidedly different aspects of her life. The Aces of Spades story by Chris Warner, by contrast, is mostly about trying to tie in with the then-current movie, using similar costuming and set designs and the the thrust of the story being almost exclusively about Barb being caught in the middle of a gang war.

The whole series is very imbued with the sensibilities of the 1990s -- which is to say that there's lots of posturing and posing in leather, and everything is drawn in extremes. Barb Wire herself is a character that is almost archetypical of the 90's 'bad girl' phenomenon that swept through comics. (At least she was designed FOR that purpose, and wasn't a different character inexplicably retro-fitted with a 'bad girl' image.)

What I think is striking about the Omnibus here is that it encapsulates the tone of the 1990s very well. More interestingly, there are two distinct approaches inherent within the book that showcase two mindsets that were present throughout that period. First, we have someone who was trying to take popular superficial elements and utilize them to tell a story that, one assumes Arcudi hoped, would be popular as well. Second, we have someone who was trying to take popular superficial elements at face value that, one assumes Warner hoped, would be popular by themselves. Neither of the stories here are really at extreme ends of the spectrum, honestly, but that they're presented side-by-side makes for a stark contrast. Arcudi's story isn't the pinnacle of comic book storytelling by any means, but it is cogent, thought-out, and reasonably well-executed. Warner's tale isn't the worst piece of drek to be drawn up as a comic, but it does have a decided lack of characterization and a number of plot holes that aren't addressed.

I have trouble believing there's a large demand for a Barb Wire Omnibus but I think Dark Horse recognized that, at least at some level, since there aren't any extras in the book. Not even a forward. But for those who want to see what comics were like -- on average -- during the 1990s, this provides a fairly solid, stylistic overview. Despite being first published over a decade ago, Dark Horse seems to have kept it in print so it shouldn't be difficult to order through your local comic shop. The book retails for $24.95 US.
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