There were more options to vote on this week, but fewer people voting. Still, one book managed to eke out a victory, meaning that there are spoilers ahead for…
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Kenan Yarar
Cover: Marcos Martin
Beyond being dimly aware that it had been a French comic strip, my only real familiarity with Barbarella is limited to the 1968 movie starring Jane Fonda.
Apart from its opening Zero-G striptease sequence, I don’t have any particular fondness for the movie, so I might have otherwise passed on this comic if it weren’t for the fact that I do have a particular fondness for the work of Mike Carey.
Carey has, after all, written two of my favorite comics from the past decade – The Unwritten and Suicide Risk – in addition to having done excellent work on other comics such as Lucifer (upon which the TV series is, in part, loosely-based; the comic itself is built on ideas established in The Sandman).
I’m not certain whether a greater familiarity with earlier Barbarella stories would be useful here; the story starts very firmly in the midst of things, but it’s unclear if anything that came before actually has any bearing on where we find ourselves.
Certainly, there seems to be a deliberate air of mystery about Barbarella herself, and the circumstances in which she finds herself seem to be just as unfamiliar to her as they are to us.
To recap: After finding herself in the aftermath of a brief skirmish that saw the destruction of a fleet of ships from Earth, Barbarella is captured and brought to the surface of the planet Parosia, a theocratic society that eschews the very concept of desire. As they have found a non-sexual way to procreate, they’ve resolved the problem of desire by removing the organs associated with it. For carrying “bio-contraband” on her person, Barbarella is sent to the “body looms” to have the offending parts removed, then sentenced to prison.
While in prison, she informs her cellmates that there’s more to pleasure than simply stampeding to the -now non-existent – clitoris, and those assembled take the lesson to heart. One of her cellmates, a woman named Jury, reveals herself to be an undercover operative from Earth who has been sent to Parosia to find a rumored doomsday device. With the gadgets kept in Jury’s artificial leg, the two women escape, and make their way to a ship, only to be attacked and sent hurtling to their presumed deaths by a flock of drones called “razor-doves.”
This issue opens with the two of them falling, but Barbarella saves them by grabbing hold of one of the razor-doves, and slowing their descent enough to keep them in one piece. Unfortunately, the path of their descent brings them back into the city.
Jury notes that, given her durability – the razor-doves run very hot – there is clearly more to Barbarella than meets the eye.
They sneak out of the city by disguising themselves as nuns, and Jury gets a message to her local contact, a man calling himself Ix Pendrum. Pendrum doesn’t approve of Barbarella’s presence.
“So your proof of good faith is that you’re a criminal. I’m struggling with the logic a little, but fine. Just stay out of my way and speak when you’re spoken to.”
Barbarella doesn’t approve of him, either, particularly after he destroys a significant amount of farmland to cover their escape.
Parosia, it seems, is a world of contrasts; they have extremely advanced technology, but most of the people live as simple peasants. The technology, Jury tells her, is the legacy of a more glorious past, and there is no longer any innovation on Parosia. The focus now is simply on their religion, maintaining the existing technology as best they can, surviving, and making war, not love.
While Jury and Pendrum are focused completing their mission, Barbarella is willing to help, but her primary interest is getting her kajigger back.
However, it seems that the mission isn’t quite what Jury thought; rather than trying to find the doomsday device before Parosia can use it, she was unknowingly smuggling, inside of her body, the final component for the device, which Pendrum already has in his possession, and apparently intends to use against Parosia.
Barbarella objects, and Pendrum responds by shooting her.
In keeping with its origins, Barbarella has a distinctly European look and feel, seeming very much like some imported story you might find serialized in Heavy Metal, but without some of the idiosyncrasies that often result from being translated into English, given that it’s written by Carey, who is English.
It’s more a matter of look, than feel, I suppose, in no small part due to the rectangular word balloons, which are less common in American comics. That adds to the Heavy Metal-ness as well, given that the balloons would often need to be redone to accommodate the new text, and in some cases to cover over some of the more explicit components of the art that were deemed to risqué for American audiences.
Speaking of the art, I’m not familiar with Yarar, but his work here adds to the European look of the comic. While his approach to anatomy is uniquely his own, his linework is reminiscent of Milo Manara, with more than a hint of Michael Wm. Kaluta, and I want to say some traces of John Severin. His rendering in places reminds me of the work of Gary Frank (whose work is more decidedly in the American mold).
Again, it looks very much like something you’d see in an issue of Heavy Metal, which, in another time, is exactly where you might expect to see new stories featuring our spacefaring heroine.
Two issues in, the comic hasn’t really paused to take a breath and allow me to really assess what I think of it, but it certainly has proven interesting – with quite a few little clever asides in the dialogue – and while it’s not as completely campy as Roger Vadim’s movie version, there certainly are elements of humor, although the humor tends more towards arch than camp.
If nothing else, I have faith in Carey’s storytelling, so that’s certainly enough to keep me reading for the foreseeable future.
THE UNWRITTEN: THE DELUXE EDITION BOOK ONE – Tom Taylor has spent his entire life as a hostage to his father’s literary legacy. Wilson Taylor’s wildly successful 13-volume series chronicling the adventures of a bespectacled boy wizard named Tommy Taylor made him the most popular author on Earth—and destroyed his son’s future. On the day that the 13th title was published, Wilson vanished, leaving young Tom alone beneath the shadow of his famous namesake.
SUICIDE RISK VOL. 1 – Heroes are dying, and cops are dying twofold. Humanity is underpowered in the face of their onslaught, and people are suffering untold casualties trying to stem the flow. After barely surviving a super-powered bank heist gone horribly wrong, beat cop Leo Winters vowed to try and find a way to stop them. Following a lead, he discovered two lowlifes who seemed to be able to grant a person powers…for the right price. Thing is: you don’t get to choose which power. It’s seemingly random, a crap-shoot, a risk. Will Leo decide to take that risk? And why is it that even the heroes in this world eventually break…bad?
LUCIFER BOOK ONE – Cast out of Heaven, thrown down to rule in Hell, Lucifer Morningstar has resigned his post and abandoned his kingdom for the mortal city of Los Angles. Emerging from the pages of writer Neil Gaiman’s award-winning series The Sandman, the former Lord of Hell is now enjoying a quiet retirement as the propretor of Lux, L.A.’s most elite piano bar.
The two Bonus books this week have one thing in common: providing a straightforward recap of the plot doesn’t quite do the comics themselves justice.
That is true in both cases, however, for wildly different reasons.
First up is Mister Miracle #6, in which Scott and Barda travel to New Genesis and fight their way, level-by-level, to the throne room so that Scott can confront Highfather (Orion). Of course, just saying that’s what happens doesn’t let you know that much of the action is presented in a style that is something of an homage to old-school, side-scrolling fighting games, and it doesn’t get into the fact that all along the way the couple discusses Barda’s plans for redoing their condo, or the discussion they have about the different ways their similar childhoods shaped them, or the automated warning systems that inform them that they’re not allowed to be where they are and how they’re going to be killed for being where they aren’t supposed to be, or the talk of cigar boxes with naked ladies on them, or the way that we, not being super escape artists like Scott, can’t escape the inescapable conclusion as to what’s behind Barda’s desire to redo the whole condo, or the moment, in the midst of a battle with Lightray, when she finally tells him outright that she’s pregnant, or the moment when Scott enters the throne room and finds Orion sprawled on the floor, beaten to unconsciousness or death, and sees the face of God and is reminded of an important truth:
Then there’s Deadman #3, in which we learn that there are two never-before-mentioned Brand siblings in addition to Boston and Cleveland – a brother named Aaron and a sister named…Zeea – and that years before when Mrs. Brand fell ill a representative from the League of Assassins approached the elder Mr. Brand with an offer. The man – who is never shown in the light, but has the distinctive silhouette of Ra’s al Ghul – offers to heal Mrs. Brand, using the Lazarus Pit, in exchange for them giving the League their firstborn son. The Brands take the offer, but renege on their part of the bargain, and it’s apparent that Boston’s murder was not a simple initiation rite, but rather the consequence of his parents not delivering what was required of them after they went on the run – by joining the circus – and the League tracked them down. Further, it’s revealed that Zeea had left a note before disappearing, indicating that she had tracked the also missing Aaron down in the fabled land of Nanda Parbat, the home of the goddess Rama Kushna, who had raised Boston up from being a dead man to make him into Deadman.
That recap doesn’t tell you about the way that Boston – in possession of Cleveland – got into a fistfight with his dad, or that The Spectre compressed Boston into a ball and threw him into his father’s head, or give you a real sense of what an octopus of a thing this book is.
And with that, we reach the end of yet another Spotlight Sunday. Be sure to come back for…well, you know, and if you don’t know, you probably aren’t reading this anyway…