( Editor’s note: Mike Carey gives his Writer’s Commentary on Barbarella #10 on sale now from Dynamite. He writes:)
So here we are, at the mid-point of the arc. At the end of last issue, Barbarella plummeted from the Rua factory platform into the depths of Firu Fenzu – and landed on something solid. She also injured an alien child on the way down. So now we get to meet the OTHER race that lives in this sun, the Esseverine, and to get their side of the story. Read on…
So here’s the thing, right? The physics of this is pretty shaky when you look at it closely. Barbarella is deep inside a sun, and she’s standing on solid ground. If you’re raising an eyebrow at this, you won’t be the only one. What she’s standing on is neutronium, or neutron-degenerate matter, a super-dense substance that can sometimes be found in the inner layers of stars. In fact some stars end up converting entirely to neutronium at a late stage in their life cycle.
But (and it’s a big but) there’s no evidence at all that neutronium would be present as a solid. It’s much more likely to be a fluid. I’m pinning my representation here to one thing, which is that fluids don’t always flow visibly or quickly. Some, like the ice in glaciers, flow so slowly that to a human observer they seem to be standing still.
Well, that’s the kind of neutronium we’ve got in Firu Fenzu. Sorted.
For the design of the Esseverine, I pointed Kenan at the creature feature stories of Jack Kirby, from Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, et al. I wanted them to resemble Kirby’s rougly anthropoid behemoths, which were scary and beautiful at the same time.
Where the Rua were filament-based life forms, drinking in energy along the nearly infinite length of a single molecule, the Esseverine are plasma beings. They’re also, as we see here, peaceful herders, with a very bucolic lifestyle and an uncomplicated approach to life. There’s no problem in identifying the good guys here.
I very much wanted to have the extreme shifts of scale – the Esseverine towering over Barbarella, and their solar cattle towering over them. This issue is about spectacle. And later, ethics.
A cut-away to the Earth starship orbiting Firu Fenzu. This scene is set in Captain Uhlan’s ready room, although that’s not easy to tell. Kenan was dead set on having the background be some sort of holographic projection, and in the end I let him have his way.
Uhlan’s behaviour here is extremely suspicious. This is where we start to suspect that the fix is in.
Across the whole run, I think I only introduced a single Earthgov agent (Jury Quire) who was a decent human being. The rest are a pretty scummy lot. Maybe if we get out into space we’ll have gotten over this habit we have as a species of putting our worst foot forward when meeting strangers, but I doubt it. We’re usually represented in our public dealings by people from whom, if we met them in day-to-day life, we would hesitate to buy a used car. I’m thinking about my own government here, but also looking at yours.
I enjoyed writing Ochirivi. She’s a sweet kid who loves dumb animals and is instinctively kind and gentle. I was playing with scale again here, and also setting up an effect for later in the issue. Erebenebere is the Chekhov’s gun of this issue.
Back to Uhlan, and now the other shoe finally drops. He’s not exactly in the pay of the Rua, he’s just oiling the wheels of commerce. Earth needs neutronium, and the Rua provide it. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, and the benefits are significant enough to make the occasional genocide a price worth paying. Cynical? Me? How dare you.
I liked using Vix as a living recording device.
And I’m trying to maintain the mystery of what this secret weapon might be. But I know for a fact that some readers have figured it out already. Smart-asses.
Okay, it’s true. The Rua lack nuance. “I want to kill her myself, bwahaha!” I guess there’s no room for compassion inside a filament.
The crack team of Jury and Vix goes smoothly into action. In #9, I made Galvanic Matrix Green be a single consciousness in dozens of identical robot bodies. It was a snap decision, but it kept on giving. No robots were hurt in this scene of mass slaughter…
…because here on the bridge there’s another bunch of Matrix Greens reacting to the violent deactivation of the ones down in the science lab. The long wavy fingers, courtesy of Kenan, are very expressive. This is not a robot who’s able to maintain a Data-like level of cold impassivity.
We get another glimpse here of how Esseverine society works. The all-mothers are tribal elders who handle the tough decisions – but they do it slowly and thoughtfully, which isn’t always the best way to handle an imminent invasion.
Barbarella and Jury get back on the same page here, and Barbarella starts to address that big question again. She’s definitely not carrying medicine. But if she’s carrying a weapon, where is it? Nothing up her sleeve…
You’ll meet the oracle in #11, unsurprisingly. I hope she’ll come as a surprise.
What doesn’t come as a surprise is Barbarella weaponizing Erebenebere. Waste not, want not. But we’re not done with the “kiss the sky” manoeuvre yet. It gets one last outing in the next issue, and I promise you, it’s more spectacular than this one. The spread here is one of my favorite things that Kenan has drawn.
There’s a certain symmetry to this issue. We began with Barbarella falling onto the neutronium plains. We end with her diving into the core. As 10CC put it, many years ago: “Delapsus resurgam, as I fall I shall rise.”
(if you want to check that reference. Go on, check it).