No one expects a savior to appear in red hot spandex and gold high heels. But, in Mike Carey’s new Barbarella: Red Hot Gospel, the space-faring vixen is reborn as an unlikely and unconventional hero—fierce, independent, still unapologetically sexy, and unshakable in her own moral code and sense of self.
The planet Parosia is a strict theocracy; a repentant and merciless society in which desire and pleasure have been outlawed and bodies are modified to remove those body parts that are seen as the centers and originators of those unholy thoughts and feelings. A malfunctioning ship lands Barbarella in the hands of the Parosian authorities, where she is immediately jailed for being a sexually intact female, and, as part of her sentence, she is forced to undergo the body modifications the Parosians impose on their own citizens. Pulled into the middle of a war that is not her own, Barbarella joins forces with Jury, an Earth spy infiltrating Parosia to try to prevent the planet from developing a genocidal weapon. All is not what it seems, and allies and enemies can be hard to determine as Barbarella fights to preserve life, including her own, and escape from Parosia to return to her adventures in the stars.
Red Hot Gospel, like all the best stories, works on many levels. On its surface, it is a fast-paced and fun adventure; with a beautiful protagonist, plenty of sexy encounters, and a maybe or maybe not a sentient fox as the hero’s sidekick. And if that was all Carey offered, it would be worth a read. But it isn’t. Carey’s Barbarella is an enigmatic and perhaps reluctant hero, one about whom the reader has almost as many questions as answers. She’s an unwilling combatant, yet a skillful strategist who can plan the fight to win. She resists any loss of life, arguing unflinchingly, ‘No Deaths. There is always a better way.’ And, it’s not unreasonable to see her as a feminist symbol, a woman who embraces her self and her sexuality, refusing to be owned by anyone other than herself and resistant to any attempts to force her into a mold of conformity. The story subtly explores complex themes about sexuality, authority, religion, power, and the lines that must (or should) be drawn in matters of war and survival, allowing the reader to choose how much to engage with the depths of this space adventure.
Yarar and Fornes’ art fabulously complements Carey’s story. Barbarella is a brilliant red and curvaceous figure in the midst of the bland colors and veiled figures of Parosia, a visual vamp whose individuality cannot be quenched by the forces against her. The style of the illustrations captures the essence of classic sci-fi comics without any sense of being dated or derivative.
Dynamite rates Red Hot Gospel for mature readers, and it certainly is best suited for adult collections, though some teen readers may also be tempted to pick it up. In addition to the political and religious themes raised by Parosia and Barbarella’s rejection of them, the story features female nudity, a variety of sexual encounters, genocide, genetic manipulation, non-consensual body modification, as well as mainstream comics-level violence. Fans of the Jane Fonda Barbarella movie or the original comics are likely to enjoy this new exploration of the character, and new fans are likely to be made as readers pick up this volume of Barbarella’s adventures.
Barbarella, vol 1: Red Hot Gospel
By Mike Carey
Art by Kenan Yarar, Jorge Fornes
Publisher Age Rating: Mature
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Bisexual