Miguel Cruz is a young, gay man who has moved from his home in Puerto Rico to the metropolis of Spiral City which is the nexus of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s various Black Hammer mini series. The year is 1986 when the first issue of Barbalien: Red Planet begins and the people of Spiral City, like in our world in 1986, are in the early years of the AIDS pandemic. The stigmas of being a gay man with AIDS are real and the situation is dire for the gay community. No one knows this better than Miguel whose AIDS diagnosis is complicated simply by being a person of color and considered less than by homophobic Spiral City cops who, in my opinion, symbolize the hateful and evil administration of Ronald Reagan and conservative members of his administration and Congress. Cruz does the only thing he knows – he stands up, speaks out, demands, resists, organizes, and is caring and empathetic to the people who make up his world. He is the face of this ACT UP style activist group. He lives this way because in large part he is honoring his mother, herself an activist as we’re shown her protesting against the draft while holding him in a panel of art in a flashback sequence in issue #4 which is repeated in the following issue,
Despite his energy, passion, and bravado Cruz has a vulnerable side which writer Tate Brombal and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta start to reveal after Miguel meets Luke at The Underground club after a serious accident happened during the demonstration. Miguel and Luke appear to be opposites. Miguel is Puerto Rican, has faced hardships and discrimination, left his home and discovered a new home and friends, experienced a romantic relationship, and is openly gay and living as best he can with AIDS. Luke is white and blond, is starting to come to terms with his homosexuality, and lives alone with a cat as his only friend. A fact of which Miguel is unaware for most of the story is that Luke is really Barbalien, a Martian who has been exiled to live on Earth by authorities for the crime of being gay. Barbalien continues to be Luke largely because he is beginning to feel love for Miguel and a connection to him and other people rather than an aching loneliness. Through listening to and talking with Miguel, Barbalien comes to understand that in his primary human identity as police officer Mark Markz he has assimilated into an oppressive power structure similar to the one which exiled him.
By the end of the mini series Miguel accomplishes a major goal he had set for himself. You’ll have to read the story to learn what the goal is!
Miguel Cruz created by Tate Brombal and Gabriel Hernandez Walta. Cruz’s first appearance is in Barbalien: Red Planet #1. Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire.
All rights reserved 171 Studios Inc and Dean Ormston