Written by Chris Warner
Pencils by Patrick Olliffe
Inks by Tom Nguyen
Colors by Gabe Eltaeb
Letters by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Nostalgia has been finding itself in the comics community lately as more and more companies are rebooting properties from the 80s and 90s to introduce to a more modern reader. Sometimes, this is successful, like with IDW Publishing’s fantastic Jem and the Holograms comic. Other times, it is giving a much forgotten and mocked property a facelift, like Kate Leth and Eman Casallos’ upcoming Vampirella comic. To make these reboots work though, it has to carry the story forward and find an interesting angle to introduce the property to a new audience. Nostalgia cannot be the only factor involved.
Unfortunately for Dark Horse’s attempt to relaunch Barb Wire, nostalgia might be the only thing going for it.
Barb Wire is a Dark Horse property from the 90s, created by the team behind the Comics Greatest World imprint. While Ghost has managed to survive beyond the imprint to be a cult character, Barb Wire has become something of a joke after the 1996 film based on the comic starring Pamela Anderson was a critical and financial bomb. It’s easy to hope that maybe a rebooted comic would find a new audience mixed with original readers now that the film is 20 years old and mostly forgotten about.
The problem with that? The comic seems to forget trying to grab a new audience entirely.
The first volume Steel Harbor Blues focuses on Barb Wire being the focus of a reality show about bounty hunting while still trying to keep her club The Hammerhead alive and trying to catch some drunk LARPer reject named Wyvern Stormblüd who keeps evading police custody. He might be a metahuman? The comic is unclear on that.
In fact, the comic is unclear about a lot of things. Pages are turned and read, but barely anything about the world Barb Wire lives in is explained. A cursory glance at Wikipedia barely answers any questions either. Are there superhumans? Is this a new universe outside of Comics Greatest World or the same one? Just who are these two giant jerks who keep harassing Barb while she works at the club? It leaves the feeling that you’re missing something by not being one of the people who read the original book back in 1995. The cherry on top is that Warner seems to make assumptions on how millennials talk and completely misses the mark in the process.
The art doesn’t fare too much better either. Sometimes it is passable, but then there are times where the anatomy on Barb gets so twisty and ridiculous that it drags out of the story. At least Gabe Eltaeb’s colors are consistently vibrant and fun. It’s actually one of the best things the book has going for it.
Sometimes, the book has its moments. Mostly when Barb is alone in her office, struggling internally with her vices as she tries to figure out how she’s going to make ends meet, or standing up to gang leader Mace Blitzkrieg with sarcasm and a steely glare. It’s in these moments that Barb is downright relatable and comes across as more than just a “Strong Female Character” who is a conventionally attractive blonde who fights well. If the book could find balance with those moments, it would actually be a pretty decent story. Instead, those become the threads trying to keep an incomprehensible story tied up.
Even with good solo character moments and a beautifully gritty color palette, Barb Wire seems to rely too much on presumed reader nostalgia to carry it as a story. Instead of re-presenting or re-crafting her world, it functions on half formed ideas and doesn’t try to explain any of them. Maybe if you’re a fan of hers from the 90s, the book will make a ton of sense, but for the rest of us, it’s not worth the trip to Steel Harbor.