Though comic books are a beautiful medium and they bring us many gifts, one overwhelmingly good thing about many recent superhero films and TV shows is the renewed focus on characters that seemed to have fallen by the wayside in the funny books far too often over the years. The news that Ava DuVernay will be directing an upcoming film based on the New Gods is great, not only because DuVernay is unquestionably the best person for the job and has stated her interest in the property, but because the New Gods are characters that are often neglected and badly written. Seldom do they writers recapture the initial spark of their creation. It's beyond exciting to see a fellow fan, one with a penchant for telling epic stories, take on the job of bringing one of Jack Kirby's most favored creations to the big screen.
The now-legendary New Gods series premiered in 1971. The premise is based around denizens of the twin planets Apokolips and New Genesis. New Genesis is a lush, green world, ruled by the beneficial Highfather, while Apokolips is its evil other half, ravaged and ruled over by the wicked Darkseid. The inhabitants of both planets are referred to as the New Gods. Mister Miracle, otherwise known as Scott Free, was the son of the Highfather, who ended up trapped on Apokolips, the adopted son of Darkseid. Similarly, the New God Orion was the child of Darkseid, adopted by the Highfather. On Apokolips, Darkseid has many terrifying minions, not the least of which is Granny Goodness, who lords over the Female Furies, an army of depraved women who live to commit acts of torture and murder in Darkseid's name. Once the leader of the Female Furies, Barda falls in love with Scott Free, and ultimately leaves Apokolips for Earth in hopes of finding him.
Originally intended as a limited series, Kirby intended to kill the New Gods in the finale, but due to positive sales he ended up being stuck in a series longer than he intended that could not seem to resolve the way he wanted it to. Later creators, including Kirby megafan Grant Morrison, fulfilled his wish in the nearly unreadable Death of the New Gods and the excellent Final Crisis before many of the characters were brought back in DC's most recent company-wide reset, Rebirth. Still, as always, editorial mandate prevented Kirby from telling the exact story he wanted to tell, while gifting fans with a series many of us look back on with absolute delight.
Barda's first on-panel moment is in Mister Miracle, Volume 1, Issue 4, written and drawn by the legendary Jack “The King” Kirby. In fact, the issue, and the character herself, is chock-full of Kirbyisms – her powered scepter Mega-Rod crackling with energy, the vibrant action scenes as she runs through Apokolips to rescue Mister Miracle, and some truly brilliant moments of dialogue. When a man stands in her way, Barda barks, “I'll put a barrelful of lumps on you – I've got no time for your neuroses!”
Of all the many beloved Jack Kirby creations, Barda is the one I'm the most thankful for. In the time of her creation, the comics stands did feature a few female-led DC comics, and those included a de-powered Wonder Woman, a particularly lukewarm take on Supergirl, and a Lois Lane ongoing series called Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane which was primarily about her trying to marry Superman. Big Barda's physicality represented her strength. She was both taller and stronger than her husband, features that were uncommon in comic books, protecting him from certain doom a number of times. Looking back at the other comics on the stands at that time, Barda, her humor, her intelligence, her strength, and her power, are a breath of fresh air. The book is called Mister Miracle, but she sustains the story. Without her dynamic presence, the story would have quickly fizzled.
Somewhat unfortunately, most of the stories that feature Big Barda are ensemble pieces, and they tend not to focus on her much. She's a character defined more by great moments than great stories. For instance, her fight with the Insect Queen in Grant Morrison's JLA: World War 3 story is epic, but a single fight scene couldn't sustain an entire film. Likewise, her appearances in Birds of Prey were well characterized and I remember them fondly as some of her best moments of the last several years, but it happens in small snippets, surrounded by several other, more prominent characters. Even in Mister Miracle Volumes 2 and 3, she was mostly relegated to background character save for a few interesting moments, such as when she starts her own wrestling league and becomes famous. Sadly, these moments of character development were often fleeting, and, unlike the Kirby series, where she came across just as prominently as Scott did, her storylines weren't emphasized as equally important. Regardless of years of mismanagement, the character is still one of the best for a reason, and here are a few of her shining moments that we'd love to see on the big screen.
Mister Miracle, Volume One, #4
Big Barda's first appearance is still one of her best. She appears standing directly behind a troubled Oberon, concerned about his friend, Scott Free. She smacks him with the Mega-Rod, yelling insults, while he slyly mocks her and reaches into the fridge to make her a sandwich. “Why are you all so mean?” he wonders, while Barda assures him she's not, really, only to panic once more when Oberon tells her that Scott has been kidnapped by Doctor Bedlam. “He'll kill him!” she cries and uses her Mega-Rod to teleport straight back into Apokolips, having only narrowly escaped. She and Scott are both stuck with their own fights, as he escapes certain death by the Iron Maiden and she finds herself in an all-out brawl, but they are eventually reunited. Scott delicately defers to her new authority as signified by her costume, and she admits that she should have left Apokolips with him years ago. This story is fun and action-filled while maintaining a soft, chewy center, and it establishes Barda and Scott as dimension-crossed lovers with an easy, heartfelt dynamic that would define the pairing for decades.
Mister Miracle, Volume One, #9
In a story of Scott Free's youth, we see his original days of torture at the hands of Granny Goodness and her Female Furies, and we are introduced to Himon, the man who trained Mister Miracle in the ways of escape artistry. Darkseid has been attempting to capture Himon, destroying multiple robotic decoys while the original eludes him. Himon mentors several young people in Apokolips, including an escaped woman named Auralie.
Barda helps to capture and imprison Himon and his crew. In an early example of her forced ruthlessness, she yells in Auralie's face and throws her to the guards, but is absolutely mortified when she discovers that Auralie, and the rest of Himon's crew with the except of Scott, has been slain. We watch Scott Free escape with Barda's help while Barda herself stays behind, destined to become leader of the Female Furies.
Mister Miracle, Volume 4
While this meticulously planned 12-issue limited series, written by Tom King and illustrated by Mitch Gerads, has yet to finish, it has already been heralded as one of the best things to come out of DC in recent years. Recapturing the strange mythology behind Jack Kirby's original vision, this new story has focused in on the darker, nearly hallucinogenic aspects of the New Gods, creating a brand-new nightmare for modern readers. While Scott Free appears more troubled, more confused, and less sure of himself than ever, Barda is much more difficult to sway. She continues to protect and defend him against threats while assuring him that everything is going to be okay. In Issue #4, she just straight-up slaps Lightray upside the head for annoying her. This is the Barda I love!
In #5, we start to see the heartache behind the character as she tries to spend her last day with Scott before he has to leave. They end up stuck in traffic on the highway. Scott optimistically says, “It'll be easier once we get to the 405.” Tears welling up in her eyes, Barda says, “No, it won't. This is the last glimpse you'll get of the world that loved you. Red lights. Endless. At least it's pretty. It's almost pretty.”
Humanizing these two larger-than-life characters is a task that many writers have struggled with over the years. King does it effortlessly. While this story places Barda once again in the secondary role and emphasizes Scott Free, there is something to be said about the ease with which King writes Barda's character, letting her tragedy shine as brightly as her strength. In Mister Miracle Volume 4, we finally see the residual trauma of the abuse Scott and Barda suffered together, and it's been one of the best takes on their characters since their original incarnations.