BARB WIREMedium: Comic books
Published by: Dark Horse Comics
First appeared: 1993
Creators: Chris Warner (writer) and Paul Gulacy (artist)
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Covered (but not too covered) with form-fitting leather, toting an arsenal of heavy firepower, riding a huge motorcycle, working as a bounty hunter and sporting an "attitude", Barb Wire seems typical of the "bad girl" genre that's been prominent in American comic books since the 1980s — not as bad as Vampirella, perhaps, to say nothing of Lady Death, but easily badder than DC's Catwoman and perhaps even Marvel's Elektra. In fact, Barb's entire
character seems to have consisted of little more than a collection of "bad girl" tropes, plus the fact that she didn't want people to call her "Babe".
Barb Wire was part of an attempt by Dark Horse Comics (Hellboy, The Mask) to construct a "universe" of characters, of the sort that had accreted, over a period of decades, among the properties of some of the older publishers. "Comics' Greatest World" was both the name of the project, and the overall title of a set of limited series where many characters were introduced. Others from that set include, but aren't limited to, Ghost, by Adam Hughes (known generally for sexy female characters like her and Jennifer Mays); Titan, by Walt Simonson (Thor) and King Tiger, by Paul Chadwick (Concrete). Barb herself was introduced in the first issue of Comics' Greatest World: Steel Harbor, which concentrated on the denizens of a fictional city by that name, and which came out during the first week of August, 1993.
As the result of a company-wide push to get a well-defined new line going, Barb was created, in general outline at least, by a committee. But she was given flesh, in that first outing, by writer Chris Warner (Black Cross) and artist Paul Gulacy (Master of Kung Fu). Warner and Gulacy didn't stick with the character even long enough to write and draw the first issue of her own comic (April, 1994). But Barb and her Steel Harbor setting remained recognizable.
Steel Harbor was a tough town along the lines of Sin City, only less so, because it didn't have the unique talent of Frank Miller driving the sleaze. Since nobody could count on the police, there was plenty of work for freelance law enforcers like Barb Wire — enough to have sustained her title for nine issues, followed by a four-issue mini-series in 1996, in which Warner returned to write her. In fact, even enough to have gotten her into a Hollywood movie, which was released May 3, 1996.
The movie was set in the year 2017, with America in the midst of a genuine civil war between the "Congressional Directorate" (a fascist dictatorship that evolved from what we have now) and a typical bunch of ragtag freedom fighters. Steel Harbor was a rare bastion of freedom, in which Barb ran a bar called Hammerhead, and got involved in the fray only reluctantly. Critics who called it an attempted remake of Casablanca seem to have been on the mark.
Critics also found Barb's most-used catch-phrase ("Don't call me Babe" — possibly a reference to a contemporary character by John Byrne (Alpha Flight) who was called Babe, no relation) ironic, given who played the part. Pamela Anderson, formerly a Playboy Playmate, is known mostly for "babe" roles. Other "name" talent seems to have been lacking. The film didn't make much of an impression on the world, unless you count a video game that came out the same year.
Dark Horse's adaptation of the movie back into comic book form was the character's last gasp as a commercially viable property. The average "Comics' Greatest World" character didn't even do that well.