Dynamite has sent us a writer’s commentary for the new issue of Barbarella #2 that hits stands today. Writer Mike Carey goes through a page-by-page breakdown of the new issue that has art by Kenan Yarar and covers by Marcos Martin and Paul Pope.
The title of the issue, “Fall From Grace,” was really prompted by this initial situation in which Barbarella and Jury Quire are falling from a mile or so up towards Parosia’s capital city. I’m not sure at what point we decided that individual issues as well as arcs should have their own titles, but I think it was a good decision. Barbarella is picaresque. There is a narrative through-line, but there’s also a lot of room for digressions and each episode is very much its own thing. In this issue, as we’ll see, the digressions turn out to be the point.
I think we missed a trick in not having the stained glass window illustrate some scene from Parosia’s baffling religion. I do love the karyatid on the right, though. “My hair is…? Oh my god, you’re right!” Barbarella’s little trick here, repurposing the weapon that was intended to kill her, strikes one of the keynotes of her character. She’s great at improvising, and at putting what’s around her to good use. If you’re smart enough, there’s no such thing as unarmed.
I’ve never understood the idea that God (or the gods, if you’re a polytheist) approves of us being in pain. I’m not a believer in any case, so my opinions on this point don’t matter a whole lot, but it seems to me that sometimes people hurt themselves because they want to do so and then offer up the resulting sensations to God in the belief that it somehow elevates them to another level. It doesn’t. I guess mortifying your flesh can have an intrinsic value if it changes your perspective. It’s hard for me to imagine a god who would approve of anyone deliberately damaging the exquisite kit they were born with. Then again, both my sons are circumcised, so who am I to talk?
Barbarella’s lessons begin. She’s already seen one side of Parosia, and now she’s seeing another. This is what I meant when I said the digressions were part of the point. By the way, I’m not saying here that you can’t be both a scientist and a person of faith. It depends entirely who or what you’re choosing to worship. What scientists very seldom are, in my experience, is dogmatic. They know that science progresses by revising or abandoning old ideas when they turn out to be unfit for purpose. Some religious people do this too, and I’d say it’s a sane and healthy thing to do. There are some, though, for whom “this is how it’s always been” counts as an argument in itself. If you meet one of these people, my advice is to walk away.
The triple-decker bus was Kenan’s idea. I love it and I want to take a ride on one. Double deckers are the norm in my birth city (Liverpool) and the one where I live right now (London). There was a huge thrill for me as a kid in climbing up the stairs and sitting at the very front of the upper deck. You could pretend you were the driver. The conductor here has a quite authentic-looking ticket machine that makes me feel very nostalgic. In Liverpool there were five different values of ticket on five different spools.
We wanted to keep ringing the changes as far as the cityscape is concerned. The first time we saw it was from the shuttle that brought Barbarella down from high orbit, and the second time was during the dogfight. After those two aerial views we took her down into the streets, and now we’re showing that there’s another level in between those two – a sort of upper tier that used to be grand and majestic and now is falling apart like the rest of Parosia. Kenan kept adding in the farm animals to remind us that the planet has gone back to a more or less agrarian economy. The dragons, on the other hand, are just for the hell of it.
I wanted Barbarella to have a companion for the scenes in which she would otherwise be alone, not so much in this arc as in future ones. Vix was a compromise between an actual sidekick and a pet. The fact that she can talk, and often has relevant things to say, prevents us from taking her “Not sentient” disclaimer at face value. And she looks every bit as ridiculous as I was hoping she would. I didn’t specify the gigantic ears or the chicken claws, but I am very much in favor of them.
Remember the conceptual rifle in #1? The one that gave Barbarella a lecture after she was shot in the head? That’s what the deacon is using here to flash up Barbarella’s wanted poster.
Colm McCarthy told me once that it can be a really powerful storytelling device to introduce a villain or unsympathetic character by showing them doing something brave or kind or admirable. The effect of that first encounter will linger in the audience’s mind and make them uneasy when they start to see the character’s darker side, which makes for a more interesting and nuanced response. Suffice it to say that we’ll never see Ix Pendrum of Cell 49 to better advantage than we do in this scene.
I described Pendrum’s wagon pretty sparsely as “a strange vehicle like a gipsy wagon with two robot horses yoked to it”. The two horses became one as I was writing #3, when the horse (whose name is Pegasus) became a character. But the design here is pure Kenan. You can definitely see that it has a gipsy wagon somewhere in its DNA. But like the bus it’s built on a heroic scale – and seemingly designed for battlefield use.
Everything in the wagon has a double purpose. The framed pictures on the walls are viewscreens, the pot-bellied stove is a cannon, and so on. We’re playing the James Bond card, essentially (given that Pendrum is an embedded secret agent of Earth), but in a slightly irreverent way. The original script had the cluster bombs bouncing before they attached to the pursuing gunship. I think this aggressive heat-seeking behavior (Kenan’s idea) works better.
Barbarella is in an unusually preachy mode here. More usually her morality shows in her actions, as in the orgy scene in #1. She’s not one for giving speeches. I just felt that the insanity of what Pendrum has just done needed to be underscored. When James Bond rips apart a major city, which is at least twice per movie, it’s all good fun and only bad people get hurt. Real life doesn’t work like that, hence the annoying prevalence of innocent people in drone strike fatalities (see, for example, this).
We’re still playing with the different levels of the city. This was the only place where what was in my mind differed a lot from what Kenan drew. I wanted Pendrum’s base to be in a maze of narrow streets similar to the area in which Barbarella and Jury find themselves after they leave the house of penitence at the start of the issue. I can’t deny this is beautiful, though, and I love the way the base cloaks itself.
Kettlesmith didn’t really have an origin when I first put him in the story. He was just a robot who became a spy. But that felt like a sufficiently unusual thing that I started to wonder about how he got there. And it seemed reasonable that Barbarella would wonder too. This one-page origin story was a late addition, and I compressed another scene to make room for it. I like that Kettlesmith’s motivations are mostly personal – the thrill he gets from espionage and his affection, which is more like hero-worship, for Pendrum. He’s easily the most sentimental out of the four of them. I imagine that when robots start feeling emotions they don’t have any more control over them than flesh-and-blood people do.
And then we get to the twist, which we’ve been building to for the whole issue. Yes, there is a weapon of mass destruction, but it’s not the bad guys who are planning to use it. In other words, we’re one layer further down in the moral relativity. In #3 Barbarella will have to take on both sides at once if she’s going to salvage anything from this situation. Oh, and come back from the dead, of course. But fortunately all the tools she needs for that are ready to hand …