As I’ve previously established, I’m a real sucker for holiday specials. The schmaltzier, the better, I say! I’m also a pretty big fan of the bonkers universe inhabited by Barbarella, so the idea of this special very much intrigued me. Unfortunately, not much is done with the concept beyond the first few pages.
The opening of the issue had me excited for a darkly humorous take on the trappings of Christmas, with a Yuletide-obsessed dictator claiming a snow-covered planet for his very own in the hopes of creating a planet modeled after the North Pole. Unfortunately, it became a waypoint for illegal traders and mobsters of all stripes to seek refuge just outside of the law’s jurisdiction. When a murder is committed on the planet Christmas, Master Claus asks Barbarella to look into it.
No, like, he literally just turns to her and asks. It’s an impossibly bizarre panel, seeming like Barbarella just walked by a corpse and Claus was there and he immediately knows who she is and hires her. After all of the set-up with Claus, the book just kind of drops us (and our heroine) into the plot. We don’t know why she’s on the planet or if they’ve met previously and it’s never properly addressed. Handled correctly, this can be a compelling storytelling device for a mystery book. Here, it’s terribly jarring.
The odd decisions continue from there when Claus and Barbarella decide that she needs a partner to help her solve this case, so Claus fetches a stack of holographic recreations of famous detectives and settles on…Maxime Saint-Clair, the Guardian of the Republic. Saint-Clair is a character from French imprint Hexagon Comics and is presented here with little to no context. We get that he was a hero long ago, but that’s about it, and the rest of the issue sadly doesn’t lend him much of a personality beyond “stoic do-gooder.”
Barbarella comics aren’t typically known for their three-dimensional ancillary characters, but it’s still surprising how flat all of the characters in this special are, most of them given less than a page to develop. And there are a lot of side characters in this special, as the issue goes on to be a sort of loose adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, borrowing many of the tropes of that story and its ilk to show the reader multiple red herrings and suspects. Unfortunately, most of the characters’ motivations are so thin that none of the possible culprits are compelling to follow.
The occasional joke in this special works and the art is nice and colorful (sadly, not quite up to the standard of the recently-canceled Barbarella ongoing series), but for all of the goofy set-up, the majority of the issue oddly takes itself seriously. Speaking of which, it never quite lives up to the inherently funny premise of “intergalactic mob boss Santa Claus.” Claus barely figures into the plot of the special beyond showing up, barking orders, and dispatching his robot servants from time to time. He gets a few humorous lines, but the absurdity of the situation never allows itself to give way to true comedy, so the tone of the book remains muddled.
This issue was a big disappointment. Some of my problems with it stem from it not really doing much with the holiday setting, but the underdeveloped characters and uneven tone are the real bummer. I’m all on board for a wacky Barbarella Christmas…this just isn’t it.