A Writer’s Commentary: Mike Carey on Barbarella #12, on sale now from Dynamite.
It’s hard to believe that this will be the last time I do this. I’ve had such a great time working on this book, and the time went by way too fast. So obviously I set up this final issue as a kind of medley, touching on every story we told over the year and saying goodbye to all the characters. If we missed anyone out, it wasn’t for want of trying.
Before we go anywhere else, let me just say three of the sweetest words in the English language. YUKO SHIMIZU COVER!!! I love this image so much. We’ve had a wealth of great cover artists on the book, but there’s something very special (for me) about having Yuko do our final cover. It’s not just that I love her work, although I do. It’s also that she did every single cover on The Unwritten, and was a huge part of the identity of that book, and also every cover for the U.S. editions of The Highest House. She puts her mark on a book in a way that’s hard to describe, and I feel lucky to have collaborated with her on so many projects. This gorgeous image is very much how I see Barbarella – exuberant, triumphant, unstoppable, alive to the tip of very nerve ending. Her sexuality is one small aspect of that massive energy.
And we began at the beginning, which seemed only right and proper. Barbarella finds herself inexplicably back on Parosia, reliving the cliffhanger at the close of our very first issue. I love two things about this page. One is the huge sense of movement and excitement that Kenan has given it. The other is that very sudden segue at the bottom into Jorge’s section. It tells you right away that sequence and structure in this story are going to be odd – not business as usual. It’s a lovely open, I think. I’m not talking about the writing, I just mean the art. It pulls you right in.
So now we’re revisiting #4, our first fill-in issue. Jorge Fornes agreed to come back and reprise the story for us, which I think is very cool. The sudden shift in art styles reinforces the sense that Barbarella is being bounced uncontrollably from world to world. The direct echoes of the original dialogue were meant to do the same thing. They suggest that Barbarella is caught in a time loop – although, as we’ll see, the real explanation is something very different.
Our third and last flashback, to #6. Barbarella wakes up in the primeval swamp that lay just inside the giant R.U.S.T. egg. Kenan repeats the motif of folded, overlapping pages, subtly suggesting that Barbarella is in a story-book version of her life rather than in the real world. She gets that too, which is why she turns her blaster on herself. This isn’t a suicide attempt, it’s a direct attack on whatever illusory architecture she’s currently trapped in. And it works.
So NOW we’re in the real world, although the set-up here looks more fantastic and implausible than any of the memories Barbarella has been reliving. So what should be in a Barbarella theme park? I asked myself. Some of the answers are here in this lovely semi-splash panel. Kenan’s brief was to layer in the visual detail as richly and thickly as possible. Someone has gone to immense lengths to make this crazy thing, and we went to pretty serious lengths to reproduce it. Probably my favourite detail here is “Parosian ice cream, one godly flavour” – although I suspect that on Parosia you’re only allowed to eat frozen yogurt. See season 1 of The Good Place for details.
Note the Rua horn in the ring-toss booth to the right of panel 1, not to mention the unconscionable animal cruelty on the left. The guy in the fortune-telling machine is Captain Uhlan, from #9-11, and those were the last words we heard him say – although not to Barbarella. Someone didn’t get their facts straight. Someone in the story, I mean. We knew what we were doing.
Baron Keruskendi (from #8) looks even sillier with a jet-pack on. Barbarella already killed him once, but some guys just won’t take a hint.
I love Kenan’s design for the “What the Butler Saw” machines. Obviously there would be Barbarella porn, because of rule 34. Equally obviously, it would pale beside her actual exploits. Barbarella and the Beanstalk refers to an incident in #8, and Robot Romps to Barbarella’s meeting with Diktor in Jean-Claude Forrest’s original series. The rest, who knows? Her legend keeps growing.
That last panel is my favourite image from this issue. Barbarella picking up robo-Keruskendi’s weapon and posing with unconscious grace as she explicitly takes on the task of turning this ambush around on its designer. There’s a lovely bit of dialogue from one of the David Tennant Doctor Who episodes. “There’s one thing you never put in a trap.” “What’s that?” “Me.” Same thing applies here, although Barbarella isn’t so bombastic about it.
Now we start to see behind the façade, both literally and figuratively. Barbarella remembers… something. Her immediate past, before she fetched up here. She’s pushing against the edges of the construct, looking for answers. “I thought you were meant to be a pacifist” is the first clue to who she’s up against. When she last met this guy, her refusal to get on board with massive civilian casualties was a bone of contention between them.
The giant is Ochirivi, from #10 and #11. She never did manage to get Barbarella’s name right, but she was way too smart to get herself squished by a roller coaster car. Robots! What are they like? A pertinent question, as we’ll see.
Now we get to see the moment when Barbarella was abducted. The coyote she mentions is of course Wile E Coyote, from the Roadrunner cartoon. Vix has a hopeless crush, and who can blame her? He’s a dashing type.
I apologise unreservedly for that terrible joke.
Mysterious voice tries very hard to stop Barbarella from tracking him to his source, then pretends this was what he wanted all along. Kind of like President Trump saying the midterms were a triumph for him. It’s always a sad thing to see a bad bluff.
So the bad guy is… Ix Pendrum (from #2 and #3)! Except it isn’t, and Barbarella isn’t fooled for a moment. Dead is dead, after all. Mysterious voice tries again with that whole “did you see the body?” thing, but he’s reaching. I generally hate the trope of bringing a character back from the dead, notwithstanding the reveal that’s just about to happen. It’s fine to fake a death, disastrous to reverse one. In series 2 of Heroes the good guys use Hayden Panettiere’s blood to bring Noah Bennet back to life. Death didn’t mean a thing in the Heroes universe after that. Plus, Panettiere has never had a moment’s peace. People keep asking for a pint or two to tide them over…
There are a couple of deliberate homages coming up. This isn’t one of them, but I wish it was. Something about the colours on this page, the spaceship design or a combination of the two reminds me very strongly of the Alien OGN that Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson did back in the day. It definitely adds to the mood.
And this *was* a homage, but not one I really expected anyone to get. Way back in 1963, when the original Doom Patrol debuted in My Greatest Adventure, they had a few run-ins with an evil alien overlord named Garguax. He had a weakness for bellowing at people out of multiple viewscreens. See the cover of My Greatest Adventure#91 for a perfect example. http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Doom_Patrol/Covers?file=Doom_Patrol_Vol_1_91.jpg
So you *could* see this as a character coming back from the dead, arguably. But Kettlesmith just had some high-voltage electricity shot through him, and he was seen to be moving at the close of #3. I think we played fair.
This is where it all comes together. We know the ship is teleport-enabled, and that Barbarella is familiar with its spec. We also know she disappeared from the crew lounge of the Thief of Fire under mysterious circumstances, so it’s logical that Thief – and Vix – should be searching for her. This is the first time we’ve seen Vix flying Thief, although she operated the console in #8. At any rate, her claims not to be sentient were blown out of the water long since.
The biter bit. Kettlesmith gets exactly the fate he intended for Barbarella. P21 is another great page, I think. Kenan balances the big action climax and the cosy emotional beat really effectively.
In the words of the Barenaked Ladies, This Is Where it Ends.
This is also the other homage I mentioned earlier. The last page of the original run of Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta’s Starstruck had Galatia 9 and Brucilla the Muscle in a very similar situation, including the picnic towel laid out on top of a downed spaceship. I didn’t specify this in the script in any way at all, so it’s Kenan’s homage, not mine, but I think that’s what it is.
And that’s me out – for now, at least. Thanks to Kenan, Jorge and Donny for twelve amazing issues, to Mohan and Celeste for brilliant but nuanced colors, to Crank for organic and spectacular lettering, to Matt and Kevin for wrangling us all, to Byron for the commentaries and Q&As and general signal-boosting, and to all of you for reading our stories. I had a brilliant time. I hope you did, too. And if you haven’t already done it, check out Jean-Claude Forrest’s original Barbarella books and see what she was like first time around (spoiler: she was amazing).