While I've read my fair share of self-published novels and novellas over the last year or two, Birdwatching from Mars marks the first time that I can recall reading a self-published comic book. Given the precarious nature of finding quality work in the morass of self-published books for sale, I usually start reading such works with both naive optimism and well-earned wariness. Fortunately, I'm already familiar with Barry's ability as a storyteller, so I was put at ease from the get-go.
Birdwatching is a high concept piece of work that deals with an end of the world scenario that's quite familiar, yet offers its own fingerprint on the genre. We see the ravaged world through the eyes of three characters, years after an asteroid on a collision course prompted the evacuation of Earth to a settlement on Mars. Dante, a battle-tested survivor with a makeshift machete; Frank, a starved wanderer on his way to Utah; and Colonel Stone, an overwhelmed protector of a select batch of survivors in the underground Utah bunker that is attracting Frank, Dante, and others; they each try to make sense of a world long collapsed, haunted by ruins, cannibals, and it would seem a new predatory creature at the top of the food chain.
In about twenty-two pages or so, Barry and Luis offer the introductory glimpse of this world and basically set the stage for whatever they have cooked up in the succeeding issues of this comic series. There's very little dialogue from which to get a sense of these characters, aside from a couple of private conversations between Colonel Stone and the lone senator inside the compound. Instead it is the visuals, along with a fair amount of exposition, that the reader must use to grasp how dire humanity's situation really is. For those in the safety of the bunker, resources are perilously low and risk a riot if the truth is revealed, while the few survivors above ground who haven't abandoned their civility forage for what little is left as they are drawn to the Utah installation out of some remnant of hope.
All while a new civilization on Mars is presumably being built--and watching Earth's dying days play out.
It's not an earth-shattering, jaw-dropping debut, but a more forlorn unveiling. You basically read through and watch Barry and Luis set the chess pieces on the table, left to wait as future issues set those pieces in motion. I'm conditioned the graphic novel, which compiles several issues into one compilation and gives a fuller reading experience, so for me I feel like I've gotten only a taste of this story. Still, I am interested enough to see where this story goes in future issues.