Friday, August 25, 2017


Writer & Artist: Jean-Claude Forest
English Language Adaptation: Kelly Sue Deconnick | U.S. Edition Editor: Alex Donoghue

I'm not sure what I just read.

I mean, I understand in general, but...

Okay, let's see. I had known of BARBARELLA for years as some kind of campy sci-fi movie from the sixties starring Jane Fonda in a fur bikini. I think I later learned it was based on the work of a French cartoonist. I never saw the movie, but I always thought the comic might be fun to check out someday. Eventually, last year around the time I began to get into digital comics with that big IDW sale I mentioned a while back, I saw a bargain-priced digital edition of BARBARELLA and picked it up. I just read it over the past couple days, and like I said...

I'm not sure what I just read.

BARBARELLA is indeed a sci-fi story, about young woman who keeps getting into all sorts of random predicaments. We begin the story en media res as her spaceship crashes on a planet called Lythion. Barbarella gets involved in a war between the locals and eventually brings about peace between the two warring factions.

Soon after, she hitches a ride on a cargo ship with a captain named (seriously) Dildano and encounters the legendary Medusa under the sea on another planet. This segues into a new adventure as Barbarella and Dildano continue to explore their strange new world. Barbarella finds herself once more drawn into a conflict between two local powers. She infiltrates the home of a sinister hunter named Strickno, dons her famous fur bikini, and gets him killed by one of his own animals.

Next, Barbarella journeys beneath the planet's surface, where she finds her way into a weird world which looks like Earth's nineteenth century, specifically the Victorian era, and gets involved with a pair of murderous twin girls. Barbarella outsmarts the twins and escapes into her final adventure in another part of this bizarre world, where an old man and a blind angel help her overthrow a despotic one-eyed queen. The saga ends abruptly as the queen's airship falls from the sky, her castle crumbles apart, and the angel, Pygar, flies Barbarella to safety. I can't help feeling this wasn't meant to be the conclusion to Barbarella's story, but there's apparently nothing more beyond this point.

Now, to elaborate on my initial statement -- the story is easy to follow, so that's not exactly my complaint. It's more that, even as the narrative is clear, nothing seems to make any sense. Barbarella jumps from adventure to adventure, as one would expect a serialized heroine to do, much as Flash Gordon just spent several weeks doing on this very site. But her stories are just so increasingly surreal that it's hard to wrap my head around them. Maybe I just take things too literally sometimes, but a lot of this stuff feels more like a hallucination than something meant to have actually happened. It's just... weird.

But I suppose that could be a sign of the time and place in which it was produced. The original stories were created in the early-mid-sixties in France, and I know nothing about the French culture of the day. Perhaps this all made a lot more sense to the originally intended audience.

That said, there are things I like about this series. Jean-Claude Forest is a terrific cartoonist. His characters are light and fun to look at, and he draws the exotic landscapes of Barbarella's travels very nicely as well. I'm not a huge fan of his colors -- everything is just shades of blue and I probably would've preferred straight black-and-white over that -- but this doesn't detract from the artwork.

And Barbarella herself is a fun character. She's what you might call a "free spirit", not above stripping down to distract her enemies as she guns them down, or using her wiles to seduce friend and foe alike. She doesn't necessarily have a ton of sex in these stories -- though she does hook up with a few men and a robot (!) -- but she's always ready to hop in the sack when she meets someone she likes. This, at least, make sense to me with regards to the era in which the story was originally crafted. The sixties were, after all, the decade of the "sexual revolution".

But overall, as much as I like Barbarella herself, it's hard to enjoy her ofttimes nonsensical adventures. I think this is one I can file away with the satisfaction of being able to say I read it, but knowing I will likely not ever read it again.


  1. Fur bikini? Are you might be confusing Jane Fonda for Raquel Welch's iconic wardrobe in ONE MILLION YEARS BC? Having watched BARBARELLA, I don't recall Jane ever wearing a bikini. The closest to fur she wears is a one-piece with a tail.
    So does the comic have the razor-teeth dolls, the orgasmatron, and Juran-Juran? Is there a depiction of the one-eyed queen crucifying Pygar? I write this one because the film's depiction of it- I presume- may have given Paul Smith ideas for his portrait of Callisto and Angel in UXM#169.

    1. Wow, you're totally right. I transposed Jane Fonda and Raquel Welch in my head. I was even picturing Fonda in Welch's pose from the ONE MILLION YEARS BC poster!

      The Barbarella comic does have pretty much everything you mentioned, though I would need to go flip back through it to verify some of the bits. But I'm pretty sure the dolls are there, as is the machine, which is called something other than an "orgasmatron" in the original work. There's no Juran Juran/Durand Durand, though. I Googled him and in the comic, Barabrella has no mission; she's just wandering around. So she's not trying to rescue anybody at all.