I recently came across Kelly Sue DeConnick’s 2014 translation of Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 comic, Barbarella. I was already familiar with DeConnick’s work on the Captain Marvel comic from around the time this translation was released. I mostly knew Barbarella from the 1968 Jane Fonda film which I first watched in college. The film sticks with me as something of a relic from its time and place. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Roger Vadim, it tells the story of an agent from Earth sent to Tau Ceti to prevent a super weapon from falling into the wrong hands. The film is also famous for Jane Fonda’s anti-gravity striptease and the scenes where she learns about the joys of primitive old-fashioned sex, as opposed to the safe sex practiced on Earth with the help of pills.
I decided to give the comic a try. In effect, the story reminds me of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon comics. Barbarella is an adventurer whose space ship breaks down on an alien world and she moves from adventure to adventure across land and sea to a remote island. From there, she goes to a snow-covered land where she’s menaced by a gang of youths with biting dolls. She escapes from them and acquires a mole machine and turns up at a labyrinth surrounding a castle-like city. Barbarella herself comes off like the female version of the Captain Kirk-stereotype. She’s willing to have sex with just about any good looking male she meets. Although it was billed as an erotic comic back when it was released, it seems rather tame by modern standards, in part because of the simple art style and in part because Barbarella only occasionally loses her clothes and it’s typically only for a panel or two before the next action/adventure scenes start. What I enjoyed most about the sexual part of the story is that it just presented sex as a natural, fun thing for consenting adults to enjoy without bothering to nod and wink. That’s not to say there aren’t innuendos and double entendres. Kelly Sue DeConnick gives us plenty of those, but it’s all presented in the spirit of good fun.
After we each read the comic, my wife and I decided to go back and watch the film again. What surprised me is how much of the film’s plot is pulled from the comic’s pages. We have the labyrinth and Pygar the angel. We have Barbarella menaced by biting dolls. Durand, the old man in the labyrinth becomes Marcel Marceau’s character, Professor Ping. Meanwhile Durand’s name is taken and doubled for the scientist with the secret weapon: Durand Durand. Of course, I was delighted that the venue is Tau Ceti, a real-life contender for being a habitable world. Clearly the movie and comic aren’t for all audiences, but both have fun moments and my wife and I enjoyed sharing them as part of our Valentine’s weekend.