For many people, when they think of Barbarella they picture Jane Fonda in a skimpy, '60s-style outfit holding a ray gun. But when the character was first created for comics in 1962 by Jean-Claude Forest, it caused quite a scandal as it was one of the first adult, pornographic comics in Europe. The character quickly became an icon of the sexual revolution, and her popularity grew. She would continue on in the comics until the early '80s. Now Dynamite has brought the character back in a new series from writer Mike Carey and artist Kenan Yarar.
My feelings on this book are a bit mixed. I love the various covers, with the Kenneth Rocafort, Joe Jusko, and Joseph Michael Linsner ones really standing out. But that also works against the interior work, which is at times great and other times looks rushed.
The book has a European comic feel to it, which I think was planned. Had I not seen the Dynamite name on it, I would've assumed it was from a European publisher. Fans of the previous books should like that it continues that feel. And while the world looks good, the tech looks good, and the storytelling is strong, there are just some panels where the faces just look off — especially the noses. There are times that Barbarella, who should always be beautiful, doesn't quite look human.
Putting that aside, the story is one of those that will make you keep thinking — even when you've put it down and moved on to something else. The basics setup is that you have an overly religious race who controls their people by removing their ability to feel pleasure. Barbarella happens into the area and gets taken in and accused of bringing contraband to their planet… the contraband being a fully functional vagina. She is then operated on in the same way they do to their children and then sent to jail, where she meets a human spy.
And after a back-breaking day of work in the yard, she and the spy have sex in front of all the other women in the prison to show them what having pleasure is like, and most of them follow suit. The next morning, Barbarella and the spy escape the prison, but are shot down as they are flying away — and that's the first issue.
There are things about the story that I don't understand, like what they actually did to to Barbarella if she could still receive pleasure from the spy and had the desire to do that — it's a little confusing. And if you stopped right there, you'd think I didn't like the book. But that's the thing: it doesn't stop there.
The story is very similar to the types of stories Barbarella touched on in the past. And then when you did a little deeper, you see so much more. The majority of people in power were men (and some women), and all were religious to the point where they were unquestioning to prevent doubt. They clung to their religion like a life vest. And following that religion, they want to dictate to others what they can do with their bodies. Who they can be with. Why a person should even be having sex. The Parosians are a metaphor for the religious right and how they want to use government to force their beliefs on everyone. Even though we are almost 50 years since the height of the sexual revolution, the battle is still being fought. A character like Barbarella that spoke to the problems of the times in the '60s and '70s is back to speak to the problems of today.
So I may dock the book for some inconsistent art and the story being a little confusing, but the fact that it tries so hard to feel like the previous books and is still taking on the social and gender issues of the day makes me like this book quite a bit. It is keeping up the tradition of good science-fiction: telling a fun story while also sharing a message that applies to the world today.