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Brian K. Vaughn (SAGA, Y: THE LAST MAN and EX MACHINA to name a few..) – easily one of the biggest names in modern independent comics, along with Marcos Martin (DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH) launched an online publisher of DRM-free, pay what you want web comics in early 2013 – panelsyndicate.com.

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This was BKV’s medium of choice for the release of his critically acclaimed web comic series THE PRIVATE EYE (Story -Brian K. Vaughan, Art -Marcos Martin, Colours – Muntsa Vicente). The website has since seen releases of 3 more pay what you want web comics including; a one-shot set in continuity with The Walking Dead – THE WALKING DEAD: THE ALIEN (Story – Brian K. Vaughn, Art – Marcos Martin), a collection of connected sci-fi stories in the ongoing series – UNIVERSE (Story/Art – Albert Monteys) and BKV and Martin’s current ongoing web comic that I’ll be reviewing later – BARRIER (Colours – Muntsa Vicente).

If the fact that you can pay literally nothing for comics produced by creators of Vaughn and Martin’s caliber doesn’t get you excited about panelsyndicate.com, knowing that all issues are available in multiple languages should get you there – Although, I do highly recommend that you do contribute as 100% of the proceeds go directly to the creators.

BARRIER is the newest series to be released out of panelsyndicate.com with the first issue of the five-part ongoing miniseries surfacing in December 2015, with the most recent issue – #3 released late last year.

This series provides an excellent social commentary on current attitudes towards immigration in the US (and the world for that matter), combining themes of violence and language disparity with Vaughn’s ability to instantly seduce you into the world he has created.

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The story begins introducing Liddy, a young woman living on a property along the US – Mexican border and Oscar, a young man from Honduras attempting to cross the border to the US. Liddy wakes one day to find one of her horses decapitated and consults the local authorities, who insist that the death of her horse is a result of Mexican cartels crossing the border using her property as a trafficking route. Meanwhile, Oscar leaves his old life behind and makes his way to the border utilizing any means possible.

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Martin’s art throughout the series just has a beautiful, simplistic way of bringing out the vulnerability in the characters. A benefit of the web comic medium is that there is no need for a centerfold so Martin is able to create these lovely wide-screen, detailed landscapes that really opens up the pages and showcases his talent as an artist.

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Colour work by Vicente is solid throughout the series, from the darker gloomier beginning of the first issue to the more bright and vivid second and third issues.

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All other comics on panelsyndicate.com are available in multiple languages, whereas BARRIER is only available as a bi-lingual Spanish – English download.

It is a brave move by Vaughn to have parts of the book entirely in Spanish. Unable to read Spanish myself I was a bit frustrated at first as you are essentially missing the backstory for one of the characters – Oscar, nor can you entirely understand what he is saying throughout the series. However, I came to the realization that this just enhances what Vaughn is trying to portray with this story – you can literally feel the language barrier between characters, where artwork by the talented Martin complements the story in ways that don’t require you to understand Spanish.

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But this book isn’t just about a language barrier, I feel it’s more than that – throughout the series you can feel the characters facing barriers of their own, whether they are emotional, social or physical. This concept is reinforced by the final quarter of the first issue where Liddy and Oscar’s stories are physically divided by a large, gradually diminishing centre panel of the sky until their separate paths coalesce in to one.

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With some very powerful storytelling, beautiful artwork and a story constructed in a way that makes you feel the weight behind the message Vaughn is trying to communicate BARRIER truly provides a great reason for you to check out panelsyndicate.com.

It is hard to imagine that readers will not jump on board for more great independent pay what you want web comics like BARRIER to emerge from the website – with enough support I can see this being an attractive medium for other creators to present their work.

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