Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Characters I Love: Big Barda!

She’s big. She’s Barda. Put them together and what have you got? Big Barda, the warrior woman of Apokolips. Born and bred for war, Big Barda discovers her humanity thanks to the tutelage of the sensitive Scott Free and from the tragedy of Auralie, the beautiful dancer. Apokolips was not meant for delicate things such as they, so Barda helps Scott escape. Otherwise a dutiful soldier, Barda remains behind and rises in the ranks to become an officer in Darkseid’s fearsome Female Fury force, second only to the gruesome Granny Goodness.

Alliteration rules!

What does comics master Jack “King” Kirby say about her? This:

And Jack should know; after all, he invented her. Yes, she is tough. And oh my brothers and sisters, she is strong. But how strong is strong in Barda’s case? Take Jack’s advice and see her. See how she exercises. Look at her as she windmills during her morning calisthenics. She’s tall and muscular and completely unashamed of her body.

So after seeing her doing her warm-ups on the damp grass of an early morning in spring, you’re thinking Barda must be athletically strong like one of those volleyball players, Olympic swimmers or track and field stars she somewhat resembles. A jock. A healthy young woman, maybe works out on the Weider machines down at Bally Health and Fitness, loves early morning runs when the dew shimmers on the spiderwebs lacing the azalea bushes.

Pssshh! What the hell's wrong with you? We're talking about Big Barda here. You’re thinking small! Check this out:

There. Now you’re catching on. That’s how strong Barda is. Not only can she lift a Civil War-era cannon, there’s a chance she might actually damage it. Our human weapons need to be protected from Big Barda.

But how did Big Barda enter our world? Let’s go back a couple of months:

Mr. Miracle #4. Scott Free allows himself to get caught in one of Darkseid’s deadly traps. Wait… that’s redundant. All of Darkseid’s traps are deadly. No matter. One of Darkseid’s minions- with the somewhat on the nose name Bedlam- has poisoned an entire building worth of nobodies and driven them insane. Paranoia strikes deep, as a group of filthy, degenerate singing hippies once warbled. Indeed it does, you hairy pinko creeps. Deep enough that Mr. Miracle finds himself in serious trouble.

And into the situation comes Barda. Bold and beautiful, fearless and prejudiced against little people:

Her language is as blunt and hurtful as that futuristic mace with which she smashes the kitchen table. Hmm… her choice of weapon is interestingly phallic, especially considering the gender-role reversal Jack Kirby later plays at in her relationship with Scott Free. Big Barda swings a giant penis substitute, a visual symbol of the traditionally masculine power she freely wields, an authority usually reserved for males. She and Scott are both soldiers. Not that Scott is by any means a wuss, but he couldn’t hack it and Barda is the one who became an officer. So she gets the big metal schlong to wave around and smack fools with.

Barda is also something of an amateur psychologist, but her diagnostic methodology is extreme even by Dr. Phil’s inexact standards. No, she’s not exactly sympathetic to the mentally ill. She also prescribes a non-traditional therapy:

That's kind of like the time I was visiting my therapist and she told me, "Look, jackass, my diagnosis of you is you're batshit crazy! Prescription: high risk behavior!" It worked! Someone might try to prosecute Barda for practicing psychology without a license. And to that person, I say, "Good luck, brother! You'll need it!" Probably going to end up with a cracked skull.

Despite her military background, Barda is not one to ignore the arts. In this she resembles that ideal warrior, the samurai, who frequently mastered more delicate forms such as calligraphy, painting and the serene perfection of the tea ceremony along with swordplay and tactics. In this capacity, Barda’s also a drama critic:

Sure she’s a little harsh, not really up on her Shakespeare (probably because she was so busy training her body to be a living weapon... she can kill you with her baby toe), but at least she bothered to review their performance. There are local theatricals that never draw press attention, so these amateur thespians should feel honored. A negative notice from Barda is still a notice.

Finally she reunites with Scott. At this point they’re still in “just friends” mode, but Kirby hints at their personal histories. Scott makes a disparaging remark, then immediately checks himself because he’s generally an insightful kind of guy:

One theme running throughout the Fourth World stories is that of one’s intrinsic nature. Orion is seen as the protector of New Genesis, but his true nature as a son of Apokolips comes through. Likewise, despite having been subjected to the rigors of Apokoliptian military training from earliest childhood, Scott Free never fully relinquishes his inner pacifist. As for Barda, let’s let those who know her best, her colleagues as it were, give us their opinions. Bedlam?

As is often the case with new characters, Barda’s first appearance lets us appreciate her at her purest. In just a few action-packed panels, Jack Kirby gives us the essence of the character. Ruthless. Rough around the edges. Barda is not a diplomat, Barda is not a negotiator. Barda is action personified. She is violence on two legs. Fortunately, there’s also something innately good about her, something her friendship with Scott caused to blossom and flourish.

Do you really think some sleazy porno guy could mindwash this Big Barda into appearing in his pervy videos? Do you think some cosmic killer could pull this Big Barda's heart out? I laugh to scorn such notions. As does Big Barda.

She still really has a problem with little people, though:

Here's some deathless Jolly Jack copy summing up the Big Barda phenomenon:

Oops! Sorry, that was actually a note from Professor Vundabar and his Murder Machine. Nice guy, that Vundabar. Not so sure about his Murder Machine, though. So... what's next for our warrior woman?

Pancakes! Let's eat!

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