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Barbie, Part 1, complete with free gift (bulimia?) – Barbie #1

March 21, 2014

barbie1

Barbie is such a merchandise force of nature, so synonymous with little girlhood, it’s hard to believe that she spent the bulk of her 20th century stomping grounds without a comic book title. Yes, comics are stereotypically male, with young girls relegated to the defunct romance sub-genre and other occasional scraps from the four color table. But hell, the Kool-Aid Man had a comic. The smelly, incredibly unfunny Alf had an ongoing. Mr. T had an eponymous title. Yet the impossibly-dimensioned, multi-million (billion?) dollar industry Barbie, apart from a brief Silver Age stint alongside her ungenitaled non-better half, Ken, had no newsprint adventures to her name.

This is what’s known in publishing as a void. And voids need to be filled, especially when a doll becomes so synonymous with girlie play — “playing Barbies,” as it were — it’s a rite in American consumer culture. Forget the unattainable height-waist-bust ratio of the blonde bombshell, and all the subconscious traumas this may or may not inflict on those who love her. If we’re worried about complexes coming from comics, she’ll fit right in. (Speaking from personal experience, every pushup I do and egg white I down dates back to the comic idols of my youth and their hypertrophied musculature. Looking right at you, He-Man.) So come on in, Barbie, the water’s fine. Complex away.

Enter Marvel — big time.

Back in January 1991 the House of Ideas unleashed not one, but two Barbie comic books on the reading public, a bid to make up for lost time that perhaps glutted things a tad. We’re going to look at the sense-shattering first issues of both, starting today with the flagship book, entitled — you guessed it — Barbie.

And guess what — the first issues weren’t just your standard newsstand fodder. This is the early 1990s we’re talking about here, the age of die-cut foil-enhanced chromium hologram variant covers. Both Barbie premieres were polybagged with free gifts inside (as if covers by no lesser figure than Jazzy John Romita weren’t enough). As the title of this post alludes, my first non-serious thought when I saw the free gift promise emblazoned on the polybag — I kid you not — was that said gift was an eating disorder. Bulimia? Anorexia? Alas, no. This one was bagged with a Barbie “Pink Card” — a valueless fake credit card that’s gold and pink and shiny and is pretty much what you’d expect a Barbie credit card to look like. Here it is, front and back, in case you want to forge your own and go on a wild fake spending spree (apologies for the gold on the front not scanning with the appropriate luster):

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Not bad, though one wonders which would be more of a turn-off for a woman: finding said card in her man’s wallet, or peeling off his clothes to find the Pi Peer Shoulder Brace? (Also, since I own this card, I’m technically a member of the Barbie Comics Readers Club? Do I have any say in this? Is there a ripcord I can pull to eject from this rocketship to hell?)

The Barbie comic proper, at least in the first issue, isn’t focused on one book-long feature. Instead it’s a smorgasbord of the Barbie universe, with, natch, a heavy dose of clothes and relationships — as seen in this table of contents:

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All three of the longer than one page stories you see on the top row are brought to us by scripter Lisa Trusiani, penciller Mary Wilshire, and inker John Lucas, a creative roster heavy on the X chromosomes, appropriately enough. The first short has Barbie and her stable of girlfriends throwing a charity fashion show, one that’s sabotaged by an evil, cigar-chomping plutocrat, who wants to build a shopping mall or something, which will somehow be foiled by a benefit for a park. Whatevs. Hey, it all works out in the end! What a surprise! Also, check out the soul-searing pun that closes things!:

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What do all frumpy little girls want to know? Why they want to know how they too can look like Barbie, of course. So the folks here have been kind enough to include a page of exercise tips in which a ridiculously outfitted Barbster teaches you how to walk. Seriously:

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Yes, Barbie, we’ll all have fun walking. Thanks for opening your vault of wisdom for we mere mortals.

Lest you think the runway show at the comic’s outset is the only time clothes design comes into play, there’s another feature where Barbie goes to visit her favorite fashionista:

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Why does the designer have two different skirts with the same bodice? Read to book to learn the pulse-pounding answer!

It should be noted that this comic is technically a part of Marvel’s youth-oriented Star imprint, which wasn’t so much at the forefront by this time as it was in the mid-1980s — when there was actually, you know, an imprint on the front covers of Star books. But the below Star Signals column makes it clear the publishing category Barbie fits into. Two things about this column: one, you have to love how Marvel completely ignores the old Barbie title, and two, I’m pretty sure I’d rather read any issue of Count Duckula than any Barbie comic:

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Though this is a first issue and there aren’t any reader missives to fill out a letters column, there’s still a questionnaire placeholder to gauge reader demographics — under the heinously unimaginative “Letters to Barbie” moniker:

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Any responses Marvel got probably had a good deal of value, what with Barbie being a bit off the male pre-adolescent path that the company usually travelled. Barbie was definitely the pinkest of any title under their umbrella.

So there you have it: the woman, the action figure, the legend — and the comic book character. Though there’s nothing patently offensive about this comic — in fact, it goes out of its way to be as neutrally positive as possible — it falls into that bland, inoffensive rut of forgettable comic book forays that marked the early 1990s boom. The art is fine (rather nice, actually) and the plots were never going to be Crime and Punishment, but in general the stuff here is bland and vapid — which is about as Barbie as you can get, now that I think of it. But the joke’s on me, as Barbie lasted 62 more issues, until March of 1996. So it touched some sort of chord in its target readership (of which, Pink Cards notwithstanding, I am not a member), at least for a while (or it was at least bought up by the people who collect all things Barbie).

I hope to get with the Barbie sister title, Barbie Fashion, in the next week or so. But bear with me — I need some time to decompress, as I feel like I’m now viewing the world through a very pink, very blonde filter.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 21, 2014 4:15 pm

    In spite of any number of attempts, Barbie has more or less resisted any effort at putting a definitive personality on her, thus allowing little girls to define her for themselves. Score one for the little blonde.

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