Barbarella

Barbarella cover

Humanoids has brought the infamous sexy sci-fi French comic Barbarella back into print in two options: a high-priced print edition or a much more reasonable digital version. The print book is described as the Deluxe Coffee Table format, limited to 1,200 numbered copies, and priced at $80, while the same story digitally is $6.

In January, the publisher plans to release a combined volume with both book one and book two called The Wrath of the Minute-Eater. I suggest, if you’re curious about the erotic adventurer made famous on-screen by Jane Fonda, you wait for that one, although it will be black and white, while this edition is duotone, with a lovely slate blue picking out details. Book two in the combined volume will be in English in the first time.

Barbarella cover

So, enough about the package, what about the contents?

Barbarella originally began serialization in 1962, written and drawn by Jean-Claude Forrest. The title character was an early heroine of sexual liberation, since her adventures across the universe often involved her getting naked or making out with the people she meets or both. This edition is given a new adaptation by Kelly Sue DeConnick, which ensures it feels fresh and modern.

This volume, book one, is only 68 or so story pages, which is about right. Barbarella’s encounters are very episodic, and too many of them at once would be a drag, as well as overly repetitive. Surprisingly, it’s not as naughty as you might think, given its reputation.

Barbarella by Jean-Claude Forrest

The book opens with Barbarella crash-landing into a greenhouse with roses that attack her, tearing her spacesuit off. She’s rescued by a scientist who explains that they’re in the middle of a cultural civil war. She volunteers to serve as a messenger, but when she voyages out to meet the other tribe, they undress her before throwing rocks at her. She’s rescued, flying away telepathically under the control of a leader who calls her “a cauldron of fire and lust”. It’s that kind of book, but it’s hard to get mad at it, because it’s more playful than prurient.

The time lapse between its original publication and now helps as well, making it quaint instead of troublesome. For a similar reason, the storytelling is wordy, explaining everyone’s motivations and cultures. Barbarella narrates what’s happening to her, as do other characters. The panel flow can be jumpy, with events moving quickly from place to place so Forrest gets more chances to draw his heroine. Changes between chapters aren’t indicated; suddenly, there’s just another place and challenge, whether it’s a giant jellyfish with people living inside or killer dolls sent by evil twin princesses or a prison labyrinth with a blind angel inside.

I can’t say I loved the comic, but it was awfully neat to get to see such a time capsule piece for myself. To find out more about Barbarella, read Paul Gravett’s lengthy piece putting her into the cultural context of the times. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)



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