Dynamite has sent us a writer's commentary from Mike Carey where he talks about Barbarella #4. The issue had covers by Stephane Roux and Vincent Aseo with interiors by Jorge Fornes.
We wanted to alternate longer story arcs with done-in-one issues, which we felt would allow us to expand the scope of Barbarella's universe. It would also give Kenan the chance to get a head-start on the next arc. So for this self-contained story, Joege Fornés took over the art duties.
There's one small plot device that connects this story to the previous one – and to the next. When Barbarella dropped out of hyperspace into the middle of a space battle, it was because her null-D regulator failed. Naturally she doesn't want to have that happen again, so she's taking the ship into dock to be repaired. That involves hitching a lift on the Hand of ∞.
Introducing our dramatis personae. Pillbeck's name probably owes something to the hapless Sergeant Pinback in Dark Star – or at least, the man who is forced to wear Sergeant Pinback's uniform. I wasn't consciously thinking of Pinbacker in Danny Boyle's Sunshine, who is a much nastier kettle of fish.
I like the way Jorge kind of gave Barbarella her own entrance music in the form of the heart and the logo. I also like the way he incorporates sound effects into the art, here and elsewhere.
As mentioned above, scale was a big issue in this story. A spaceship towing planets, predatory megafauna, these things need room to breathe. When I saw Jorge's page rough for this splash I was really happy. I knew he could do a great job with these BDOs.
The place of Earth in Barbarella's backstory continues to be vague. We know she's "from Earth" in the sense that her journey – or one of her journeys, at least – started there. We don't know for sure that she's Terran herself, still less whether or not she considers Earth as home. Her "Once upon a time" here is intentionally evasive. She's not interested in telling Kei her personal history – and I think that reticence is part of her character.
The lounge is the ship's main social hub, and despite Pillbeck's refusal to allow his crew members to enjoy sexual intimacies with the passengers, we definitely see them hanging out together. The line that's being drawn is a fairly rough and ready one.
Vix will continue to plead that she's just an animal whenever it's convenient to do so. Sooner or later, she and Barbarella will have to have this out. In the meantime, just look at how tactful she is during the lovemaking. And Jorge too, for that matter. We're taking our cue from Jean-Claude Forrest here: there was little or no explicit sexual content in the original Barbarella. Sex is an ever-present theme, but it's delicately inferred rather than being blazoned across the page.
Note that Allegro's interest isn't just in Kei but in Barbarella too. I'm assuming that very few of Earth's strictures on sexual behavior will make it out into interstellar space. When you're mixing with races that have more than two sexes, or none at all, and who come at the whole question of gender identity from radically different positions than ours, it would seem parochial and silly to make a fuss about what (and who) you do within your own species.
On the other hand, Muldoon's "girly" shows us that sexism isn't something you can wipe out in a single millennium.
That THOOOOOOMM!! is another great sound effect, by the way. I wonder who was drinking the martini.
I think this might be the first time in the series we've seen Barbarella do something that's overtly aggressive. Significantly, it's in defense of someone else. I don't see her as someone who uses violence as a first or even second resort. When she does use it, she does it in a measured and decisive way.
Casting a glance ahead towards the climax, we get a hint here that the effect of Kei's empathic manipulation is weaker on Barbarella than on the people around her. She doesn't get swept up in the wave of hate and paranoia that's being directed towards Muldoon. We find out why at the end.
How cool is that second panel? I love how the rest of the world fades away while Barbarella and Vix have this out. The question of what to do with Vix during the journey down had me puzzled for a while. Then I hit on the idea of using a spare helmet as a pet carrier. How does Vix get oxygen when they're out in space? I think she must be connected to Barbarella's supply by an auxiliary hose, but I didn't ask and they didn't say.
We had a very small script SNAFU here. There were two versions of the final script, because I did that thing where I kept on having second thoughts and sending very slightly altered documents to Matt, for him to pass on to Jorge. In the original version, Pillbeck did the repairs. In the final version, Muldoon (the self-proclaimed gravity engineer) did them. Really that expertise was the only reason why they would have allowed him to come down onto the planet. But Jorge was working from the version of the script where Muldoon did the work, and I had to dismantle and rework the dialogue to put Muldoon back in the mix.
The first of many monsters. I really like this splash. The low angle POV and the full-on view of the creature's gaping mouth both work really well.
And the second monster, which looks like a forest but is actually something more like a giant sea anemone that lives on land. Again, we're playing with scale here. The thing that's chasing Barbarella and the others is gigantic compared to them, but to this other camouflaged beast it's just a morsel.
We're getting a sense now that something is badly wrong with this world, but we don't yet have an explanation. Actually, we never do get to hear how a planet becomes "infested with megafauna". In my head, it happens because they use some kind of time-dilator to embed the biosphere on a manufactured world. In other words, they dump in a shot-load of organic compounds, stir well and then accelerate time so that billions of years pass. Every so often they stop and check, and eliminate any nasties. Only this time someone was asleep at the switch…
I very much like this device of holding the focus while something changes progressively across several panels. We never get to see what this monster is. Does it live in the cave, or is the cave a part of its body? Jorge knows how to use a silhouette when it's cooler to hint at something than to show it outright.
It's easy to underestimate Barbarella, but it's not something people generally get to do more than once. She has a devastating amount of understated intelligence and competence, and a knack for focusing on the few facts or factors on which a situation pivots. That's how she always saved the day in the classic series: identify what needs to be done, eliminate all the obstacles, and do it. I try to write her in keeping with that overall vision. Her simplicity is NOT naivety or docility. She just finds the shortest and most direct way through any problem.
Oh dear. Barbarella has made a new enemy. Should we be more sorry for her or for the Fertile Acres Corporate Entity? Only time will tell – but this is a situation we intend to revisit.