Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Kenan Yarar
Review by Frank Lanza
Before I start this review, I’m going to caveat things with two statements:
- First, I am a child of the 80’s. I’ve seen the Barbarella film, but it never interested me (despite Jane Fonda’s wardrobe choices.) Growing up, Flash Gordon was my crazy sci-fi film of choice as a kid.
- Second, Mike Carey can do no wrong. I’ve been reading his work for so long now, picking up one of his issues is like putting on your favorite pair of jeans. Comics, novels, Twitter posts, I don’t care what it is, I’ll read it when he releases it.
So, with those things out of the way, let’s get to this totally unbiased review of Barbarella #1 shall we?
For those who are unaware, Barbarella #1 is based on the absolutely trippy 1968 film starring Jane Fonda, which was in turn based on the trippy 1962 French comic by Jean-Claude Forest. As an origin story, Barbarella is a 41st-century representative of Earth sent on a mission to find the missing Dr. Durand Durand, inventor of the Positronic Ray, a weapon that could destroy Earth. Hijinks ensue, and if you can fully understand the conclusion of this movie then you win a No-Prize.
Carey’s tale does not appear to be based on the movie but rather on a spiritual successor to Forest’s original comics that were last seen in the pages of Heavy Metal. This book begins with Barbarella’s spaceship stumbling into a war between what appears to be the Tau Cetans and the Terrans. During the fray Barbarella’s ship is captured by the overly zealous Tau Cetans, and she is immediately scanned and imprisoned for unwittingly smuggling banned bio-contraband (read the issue to find out what this really means). Forced to submit to anatomical modification and then sentenced to fifty years detention in an all-women’s prison camp, Barbarella quickly learns what this society thinks about women and human desire. The women are subjected to hard labor and pointless tasks to aid in their suffering and contemplation for their sins. In this society where all desire and sexuality is forbidden, Barbarella’s presence can only lead to one thing: stuff blowing up.
To return to my introduction, I’ll restate that Mike Carey can do no wrong. If you’re looking for a book with a rapid pace that doesn’t hold your hand and stays true to the source material, Carey is firing on all cylinders here. I will say that some of the transitions from scene to scene feel abrupt, but that is most likely due to my inexperience with the source material. Carey has a way of adapting his style to every book he works on with such subtlety and grace, you’d never know this is his first foray on Barbarella. I discovered this on his runs with X-Men Legacy and Red Sonja, he just asserts himself into the story so effortlessly.
In the art department, this is my first experience with Yarar’s work. He has a very loose, whimsical flow to his work, and in the first few pages I wasn’t quite convinced. To my mind, this was a space odyssey and his style didn’t mesh with my expectations initially. But, as the book progressed, Yarar really impressed me with the action and fluidity that he gives the story. By the end of this issue, I was thoroughly convinced he was the right guy for the job. The color work is firmly grounded and psychedelic when it needs to be; it accents the artwork perfectly.
There is a lot more I could say about this book, but in all honesty, I’m not qualified to go there. This book is rich with the same themes as the movie and original comic: sexual freedom, men subjugating women, feminist empowerment and much more. Admittedly I’m a white male and I can only say that I think Carey, with his long history of honoring women with powerful female protagonists, will do the same here and make this book an important one in today’s social climate.
Buy it! Fantastic covers, fantastic story, fantastic interior art. Barbarella is as relevant today as she was in the 60’s. If you love sci-fi, kick ass women in leading roles, or a little bit of irony with your action, this is the book for you.