2 out of 5
As I’ve commented before and elsewhere, it’s almost worse for something – a book, a movie, a comic – to be boring than for it to be bad. “Bad” might get a lower rating when assessed by whatever random non-metrics I use, but at least it merits a reaction, whereas something that’s boring is more of a stretch; it has some technical or superficial acknowledgeable elements – like the competent writing and art in Jos’ Barbara the Barbarian, from Amigo Comics – but is otherwise completely unremarkable.
Proving again that it’s the writer and not, inherently, the material that carries the spark that causes readerly enthusiasm, Amigo publisher El Torres passes off his Rogues sandbox to Jos to flesh out Barbara the Barbarian, a character who appeared in some Rogues issue(s?) a bit back. I suppose I say this with some hesitation for a few reasons: the first issue does have a tagline stating this mini-series springs from that other, but the interior credits don’t mention Torres’ contribution otherwise, and only in issue #2 do we get an editor’s note mentioning a sequence from a prior Rogues issue, although it unhelpfully names only the title of the story and not the actual book number, so it’s a little more difficult to place the reference. That’s fine if we’re saying that Jos was given free reign to pluck a background character and tell their story, essentially making the book completely their own and it just so happens to take place in the same universe as Rogues, but then the tone of Barbara is very odd – and offputting, which doesn’t help make Jos’ dry, wordy writing style any less boring – because we get a one page “let me tell you a story…” lead-in that is dropped for a narrative that wholly assumes we know the characters already, and understand their place in the world. Furthermore, when other I-guess-these-characters-appeared-before-in-Rogues-also? appear, they’re given that exact same treatment: you should know these people, and here are some inside jokes to prove it! …while also setting up the tale we’re reading as a completely standalone experience. Several Amigo comics of late have had this kind of problem, actually: writing a book that is a #1 issue that somehow seems to be the sequel to something no one has ever read. (…Which might be possible: at least one Amigo book was a sequel to a Spanish-only, or super rare, comic…)
Jos also swaps out El Torres’ mix of inventively bawdy humor for dad jokes that seem better primed for a different medium, like a prime time, laugh-track sitcom (there’s a repeated “gag” of a character mentioning how his wife wouldn’t approve of his actions that just doesn’t work with the timing of comic whatsoever), and manages to slow down a valid premise – Barbara and her apparent companions get stuck on opposite sides of a faux war game the town they’re hunkered down in uses as a method of electing their king – with endless asides and excess don’t-really-matter characters to the point where none of the action is very actiony, none of the drama that dramatic, and it’s entirely questionable which parts are meant to be funny. It all comes across as padding.
El Torres is at least editing the books now, which means the English is pretty good – although their are still some editorial flubs here and there in terms of dropped words – and Jos’ translated dialogue is absolutely competent, it’s just never very interesting. Or funny. Similarly, artist M. Díaz (colored by someone different in each issue, in the Amigo tradition of never maintaining a solid creative crew across an entire series) has a really good sense of character models – the entire, relatively broad cast is all immediately recognizable – but there’s no emotion at all, and no storytelling. Barbara flashes back to her past at various point, and the connection to the current day scenes is entirely superficial; there’s no sense of it having an actual effect on Babs, and framing is all just center stage stuff, with action and comedy beats just off enough to suck out the potential. I’d think one could just look at Diaz’s covers to each issue, which are all riffs on classics from Buscema and the like, and see how the tributes are just surface level tributes, otherwise lacking any energy of their own.
I give some points to the story’s conclusion for being an appreciated wrinkle, though, and the only bit that made me chuckle.
So, yes, Barbara the Barbarian isn’t bad – it’s technically well composed, and well arted – but it’s never a good sign when, literally three pages in, you’re already flipping ahead to see if anything is gonna goddamn happen or change, and your eyes start to glaze over even in that flipthrough.