who are these people, anyway?
Charol is an adventurer, a warrior, an ex-mercenary. On one assignment she discovers Memree, locked in a deep and dank dungeon---a victim of some magical experiments by the she-warlock Atzmon. Memree can remember nothing of her old life before Charol rescued her, though it seems that she'd been a lackwitted scullery-girl before Atzmon magically boosted her intelligence ... in a spell which killed its other victim, Marius Restormel, whom Charol had been hired to find. Not wanting to return to her old life, Memree persuades Charol to take her with her on her travels.
In BARBARIENNE #5, they end the activities of a gang of slavers, freeing their captives & killing or enslaving the slavers themselves. The head of the gang, Griffin, had her own servant imbonded to her, a mute woman called Cleve; Griffin's enslavement frees her of her imbondment, and Cleve makes it clear that she wants to go with Charol and Memree, at least for a while.
Atzmon, meanwhile, has possessed a new body, and, eager for revenge, has conjured the spirit of a famous female warrior out of the past: Verdandi, who was also known as "CUIRASS" because of the magical breastplate she wore. This swordswoman has been convinced that Atzmon is a kindly healer, and Charol has been hired to kill her.
Verdandi wins the first swordfight, injuring Charol in the shoulder - but Charol's bravery, and Memree's pleas for mercy, convince her to leave without killing Charol.
Cleve has led Charol and Memree to the ruined Castle Grishelm, promising that it holds treasure they can share. But she believes that there are powers in the tunnels beneath Grishelm that can give her back her voice. There are powers there, indeed - the friendly, young-seeming Sprite, who is able to restore Cleve's voice temporarily and inside Grishelm only... and the stormgod Sunil, who could make the cure a permanent one.
Although Memree & Cleve left Charol asleep in the castle's ruined hall, a miraculously-healed Charol joins them in the tunnels, just after Sprite had left them. The three figures together confront Sunil -- but the god vanishes when Cuirass appears, now more deeply under Atzmon's control. The fight is long and hard; this time, Verdandi is intent on killing Charol, despite all Memree and Cleve's best efforts. As Atzmon watches in her magic mirror, gloating, the figure of Charol is run through, and falls back into the surf, dying...
James H. Owen
I saw in an editorial in BARBARIENNE #5 that there was to be a temporary revision of content to a "General Audience" format, and I thought the following comments would be appropriate.
I already consider BARBARIENNE to be "General Audience" material; any reference to any adult themes are no stronger than typical language that a child is likely to hear in public. Historical accounts contain much stronger material, and I have wondered why such things do not occur in this comic, given the state of social development in the society portrayed.
For example, in BARBARIENNE #5 a gang of slavers was broken up and captured. They were themselves sold into slavery, and the purchaser of the leader of the gang had her serve dinner wearing cheap clothing and chains.
Other societies, some in more advanced states of social development, would have handled this differently.
In England before 1750, the prisoners would have been publicly hanged. Before the invention of the trap-door platform gallows, this consisted of the executioner tying their hands, pulling them up a ladder by a rope around their necks, tying the rope to a crosspiece, and then dumping the prisoners off the ladder. It could take up to 12 hours for the victim to strangle, but that didn't matter, as the bodies often were left hanging until they rotted and fell down on their own.
In ancient times, the crime would have been enslaving free people, stealing a man's property, or (since the slavers were from a different city) an act of war. The Romans would have crucified the criminals, who would have been lucky to have been given loincloths. The Persians would have impaled them naked, suffocated them, or placed them, naked, in wooden boxes in the sun, to rot alive in their own excrement. Other areas lacking criminal codes would have killed the miscreants in some creative fashion such as disembowelling, then made war on wherever they were from. Punishments could have included putting the entire families of the offenders to death. The Trojan War can be illustrative, since it was touched off when Paris of Troy abducted King Menelaus of Sparta's wife, Helen. It ended with Troy trashed and every Trojan that didn't run fast enough dead.
Whether or not the victim would be naked at the time of punishment I deliberately included. Above, it makes rather dry reading, but imagine it in an illustrated format. Just think what the complaints would have been like if the story had been set in Vlad Tepes' Transylvania -- and the heroines were invited to a victory feast, where the main attraction was the impalement of the surviving slavers. The woman would have been led out, naked, with her arms tied behind her back. The executioners would lift her up to the point of the impalement stake, & she would get to make a choice about exactly how she wanted to be seated on it, there being two options.
Chinese tortures, native American executions, Japanese punishments, and so forth were, if anything, harsher. Back in those days, such spectacles were thought "General Audience" sights, and children of any age were able to spend their free time watching bound, nude people die in agony. Indeed, the burnings in the Germanic states were considered tourist attractions; this was one of the only legal ways to see bare female flesh in those days.
Today we have adult magazines, and it is of further interest to note that the only people who put up complaints about content are the ones who would have been having teenage girls burned as witches if this was still the Middle Ages. Look at what type of person pickets U.S. madical facilities where abortions are performed, thereby increasing the rate of post-operative complications fourfold.
The problem for an author writing from the first person or disinterested observer viewpoint becomes obvious: a modern European, seeing a naked, 14-year-old girl dying slowly on a cross would be horrified, while a Roman citizen would ask a soldier guarding the victim, "What did she do?" He'd be told something like "She follows some foreign religion that doesn't believe in sex, and she wouldn't marry a nobleman - or anyone else." The Roman citizen would have left, thinking "What a subversive fool." Incidents like this do not make the modern audience identify with the hero.
Harrier is handling adult themes in almost precisely the way in which society at large does, which by definition is correct for "General Audience" material. It may be helpful to list a rating on the cover, but also remember that those who complain are a small minority led by a tiny minority, and they have led their lives ignorant of human behaviour throughout history. Ratings like G, PG etc breed conformity, the equivalent of mediocrity, and an explicit statement like "General Audience" or "Warning - some of the material inside may be found offensive by the squeamish" would perhaps be better.
Thanks for your long and interesting letter, James; my apologies for editing it down somewhat. It quite cheered me up after reading, in a "review" of VIGNETTE COMICS by one of the more witless Alan Moors imitators, of Harrier's "badly drawn bondage (supplied) to spotty adolescents who spend too much time in the toilet"; "tedious handy shandy fodder" - whatever that means!
The world of BARBARIENNE is a bit more "laid back" than your average Dark Ages European country; in many parts, there's very little centralised government or law. Charol killed a couple of slavers and had the others enslaved - and that ends the story. The slavers weren't from that town, so there was nobody else to speak, or suffer, for them. Slavery for slavers - poetic justice, yes?
One way to avoid "recommended for all readers who don't move their lips while they read" labels is to move to a more expensive format, and that's what we are now planning to do. "The Choice", our next Charol & Memree tale, will be one of four features in the 100-plus pages of FORTUNE'S WORLD #1. It will also star the continuing CUIRASS saga, while the first issue also has a complete tale by Bill W. Ryan & Andrew Currie introducing a young adventurer called Vella.. . and in #2, we have a BARBARIENNE spin-off tale with finished art by Dave Roberts.
We had a new series to complete the line-up: "Stormwatcher", as advertised on page 30 last time. Somehow, though, its writers have calmly walked off and sold it to Acme Press instead, despite previously assuring us that such a move, at least on the first four-part serial, would be "totally unprofessional". I can agree with that diagnosis - but it leaves a gap in the FORTUNE'S WORLD schedules, one that will take a few months to fill properly, so you won't see the first issue until well into 1989, I fear.
Talking of delays, this final issue of BARBARIENNE is horrendously late; we do apologise. First John Marshall was ill, and then Britain had a postal strike --and the weeks rolled past inexorably. As this issue must "gang-print" with the final issue of
DEADFACE, that has also been delayed, but is out now - when you read this, that is! SINISTER ROMANCE #3 is also out by now, I trust - and both the second printing of THE BOOK OF REDFOX and REDFOX BOOK TWO's first printing will be out within weeks.
Beyond that, watch for FORTUNE'S WORLD #1 ...where the adventure will continue!