When we left Liddy and Oscar in issue four, they had lassoed an alien. Issue five sees their hostage negotiations underway. Plenty more aliens attend, as artist Marcos Martin, is set loose designing them. The splash page where they enter the room feels like the Colosseum in Rome before a gladiator match. There are turbo cockroaches, and aliens that look like cannolis. Thanks to colorist Muntsa Vincente, the aliens that look like glass candle holders glow, like there’s a light inside them. You’d want to decorate your home with them if they weren’t abducting our main characters and keeping them from going home.
To counteract the aliens’ color-based language (which causes human ears to bleed and lose their sense of hearing), Oscar comes up with a chewed-up coffee bean trick that sounds dubious, but I’ll take his word that it’s soundproof.
Language continues to be an important aspect of the series. Writer Brian K. Vaughan has a knack for capturing the different ways people try to communicate, and making those ways character-based. Liddy, who’s used to being around English, gets more stuck on not being able to understand every word and tries to slip the occasional Spanish term into her speech. Oscar’s approach is to talk until he’s made himself clear. Sometimes that means acting before he’s fully understood, and letting Liddy catch on. Their relationship’s one of extenuating circumstances but it’s because they need to trust each other so quickly that we’re able to see them significantly develop their communication skills over five issues.
Then there’s how they try to communicate with the aliens. Liddy speaks in complete sentences while Oscar makes shorter demands – “La tierra, ¿entienden?,” which translates to, “The Earth, understand?” He uses a picture of Earth on a recycling bag to illustrate his meaning. Like Vaughan and Martin with this series, Oscar understands that art can translate better than words and you can tell he’s had more experience overcoming language barriers than Liddy.
Through it all, Martin’s lettering avoids the back and forth conversation, where one person talks and the other person listens. When you have coffee beans in your ears, you’re going to interrupt somebody and listening that patiently when you don’t know what being said is unrealistic, too. Speech bubbles overlap and take prominence at different moments. You can hear the stress in their voices.
At one point things go haywire and the languages scramble. After a moment of hair-shocking color by Vincente, it’s not immediately clear what’s going on, but Liddy’s speaking color. When an alien speaks color it’s cool, but you accept that their language is different. With Liddy, we may not understand what’s being said but she’s speaking the same as before. The difference language makes gets overblown. Vaughan and Martin have been pushing this message all along, but create finale moments from illustrating it, with Martin’s art taking its time to reach full scope and silhouettes being used for a reason.
Vaughan and Martin end the series without closing off the possibility of continuing Barrier someday. Given how important the topic of immigration is (and how suited they’ve shown immigration to being addressed through comics), I hope they take themselves up on it.
Barrier isn’t an easy series, but there wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy making my way through it.
Barrier #5 goes on sale May 30th from Image Comics.