Barf is not typically a topic I like to discuss, but recent events force me to bring it up.
Barf is a slang term for vomit, a verb that refers to the forcible ejection of the contents of the stomach through the mouth. It also refers to the material that has been ejected from the stomach, usually composed of partially digested food and bodily fluids such as acid, bile, or even blood. The proper medical term for vomiting is emesis.
It is not a tasteful subject. I find it especially disturbing personally because I once spent a period of several months in and out of hospitals vomiting continuously. The memories are not pleasant, to understate the situation. (On the bright side, I lost over 75 lbs. during this period. I cannot say that I recommend this particular method of weight loss.)
I am not here to discuss the biological process, though. I am here to discuss the character, Marvel's new Inhuman known as Barf.
Honestly, I'm surprised they don't call him Chuck.
Barf did it.
Spoiler warning: in order to discuss Barf, I need to discuss his role in the Secret Empire storyline, Marvel's big event. See, Barf isn't so much a character as he is a plot device. In Captain America #25 (2017), a team of Avengers including Captain America (Falcon) and Iron Man (Hologram head) attempt to rescue a group of inhumans that are being held prisoner only to find that they have already busted out. When asked how they escaped their cell, the response is, "Barf did it!"
Enter Barf, aka Brian McAllister. Brian, has the ability to regurgitate any object he can visualize, such as jail keys or lunch boxes. Gross? A bit. Handy? Hell yes! The heroes are desperate and on the ropes, so they try something absolutely insane and show Brian a hologram of a shard of a Cosmic Cube. Brian immediately spews forth a fully functional shard of a Cosmic Cube. Read that last sentence again. It won't get easier to digest, though.
I promise you, Tony, every reader on the planet thought the same thing.
Even for a comic book, this is insane.
"Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!" On the surface, Brian (I'm not calling him Barf if I can help it) has a very useful and versatile ability. He has the power to summon forth whatever item is needed at any given moment. Like a magician, Brian is a conjurer, and that puts him in excellent company. Other famous conjurers include Green Arrow (The Antler Arrow is perfect for this situation!), Hawkeye (Good thing I brought the Ultron Immunity Gas Arrow!), and Batman (I can use this Bat Shark Repellent!). When seen from that angle, his power is not so out of place.
However, it must be noted that conjuring is rarely to be taken seriously. The Antler Arrow was from a time when writers were trying to come up with the most absurd stuff they could get away with. The Ultron Immunity Gas Arrow is eye-rollingly bad. And Batman's Shark Repellent was supposed to be completely over the top and campy. Conjuring is used all the time in humorous cartoons. We can go all the way back to Felix the Cat's Bag of Tricks as an example. One of my favorites, though, is Gizmo Man from the Super Globetrotters cartoon. He had an enormous afro which he could reach into for pretty much anything. Remember the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon? Presto, the wizard, had a magical hat that could summon anything (and it might even be useful). The Penguins of Madagascar has Rico who can regurgitate entire arsenals of explosives upon command.
The power can be used seriously, though. The entire Green Lantern Corps is composed of conjurers. Conjuring is so potentially powerful that limits must be imposed if it is going to be used dramatically. Green Lantern had/has a host of seemingly arbitrary limitations. From an inability to affect yellow to a 24 hour charge to impermanent creations, these weaknesses take an otherwise omnipotent character and make them someone that can be used on the page. Doctor Strange, a more traditional conjurer, reasons away many of his abilities as too dangerous or too risky to exploit true omnipotence. Ghost Rider could construct anything from solid Hellfire, but he had to know exactly how it worked which is why he conjured up flaming motorcycles. Limitations were placed upon Batman and the other gadget using conjurers later. Utility belts trick arrow quivers, and bundles of gadgets were carefully detailed so the reader knew what could reasonably be expected to be conjured instead of just whatever was needed.
Naturally, Brian has limitations. First, he can only use the power altruistically. Seriously, it has to be "nice." Therefore, he cannot conjure weapons or dangerous objects. (This is really the only difference between Brian the Inhuman and Rico the penguin at this point.) Could he conjure a hammer to finish building a chair and then turn around and crush a person's skull with it? No idea. We don't know much, and this arbitrary limitation makes the weakness to yellow look reasonable by comparison. Second, it has to be something he could eject from his mouth, so there appears to be a size limit. This makes sense, but since he created a lunchbox for someone as a gift once, it's hard to know just what that actual size limit is. Finally, he has to be able to visualize it. Again, this seems reasonable, but what that really means is a bit open ended. He conjured a piece of a Cosmic Cube by looking at a hologram of it. He conjured a fully functioning piece of a reality bending artifact by basically looking at a picture of it! The very idea raises so many questions that it is hard to know where to begin. It should be noted, too, that this was done in a very serious, dramatic storyline filled with death, betrayal, and the future of the world at stake. The readers aren't supposed to laugh or roll their eyes. It was not a joke. It was not a gag. The device the good guys needed was supplied by a regurgitating penguin.
Really, Tony? You couldn't just show him a whole cube?
Emesis Ex Machina
The literal translation deus ex machina from the Latin is "god in the machine" which is itself a translation from the Greek theos ek mēkhanēs, "god from the machinery." Greek playwright Euripides was famous for ending his tragedies by lowering a god (usually Zeus) from a crane onto the stage. The god was there to resolve everything when the situation became too complicated or went beyond the means of the protagonists to conclude successfully. In other words, when the writer got the characters into such a bad situation that he could no longer end it reasonably, he brought forth an almighty being to fix things. Today, writers avoid using such plot devices. It is viewed as weak, contrived, and unsophisticated writing. It leaves readers feeling unsatisfied at best, hostile at worst. Antiphanes, a contemporary of Euripides, believed that the use of the device was a sign that the playwright was unable to properly manage the complications of his plot. A deus ex machina is never an acceptable resolution to a story.
This brings us back to Brian. The full story of the Secret Empire has yet to be completed, but at this point we no longer expect any kind of reasonable resolution. The introduction of Barf means that all bets are off; absolutely anything can happen, but not in a good way. Barf, a character that was almost completely unknown, appeared from nowhere and handed the heroes a piece of a Cosmic Cube. This means he harnessed incalculable power within his gut and bent it to his will to shape it. That sounds a lot like something only a god could do. Then the crane of lifted him back off the stage. Euripides would be proud.
I want to like Brian, I really do. I like conjurers. I like Green Arrow, Hawkeye, and Batman, though I admit that I like them a lot better in their more reasonable incarnations. I like the Green Lanterns and the sorcerers. I like Gizmo and Presto and Rico and Felix and all the other silly conjuring characters. Hell, I even play a conjurer in D&D!
Brian McAllister was introduced and used so badly, though, I don't think there's much hope for him. I wonder if the writers even realize the implications of such a character. God help us if he ever sees a picture of a full Cosmic Cube in a magazine! Oh, don't worry, he can only be nice. I'm sure that'll keep him in check. I'm sure being called Barf will never lead to bitterness and resentment on his part.
I can see it now. "You've called me Barf for the last time! Now the world will pay for treating me like a joke for so long. Tremble, world, tremble before the power of Chunder!" At this point I'm praying he becomes a supervillain. Just imagine, he vomits up a doomsday weapon he saw in an old black and white serial... except it works! The possibilities are as endless and horrifying as a Las Vegas buffet.