In the early ’70s, like all of visual media, comics got looser and bolder with its depiction of women, and Kirby’s work was not immune. One of his most-loved and well-crafted characters from that period is Big Barda from the
cycle. A warrior woman from Darkseid’s evil army who switches sides and fights for right, Barda’s strong-willed and fiercely protective personality was based mostly on Roz Kirby, Jack’s wife. But visually, Barda was inspired directly by a series of photos of singer Lainie Kazan that Kirby had seen in
Kazan was a fit woman with a larger physique, and Kirby liked the notion of creating a female super-hero with that kind of build, or as Mark Evanier puts it
, “a super-heroine who looked like
she could do the feats of strength that Wonder Woman or Supergirl did with more dainty physiques.”
In Kirby’s drawings of Barda, you can see him taking pleasure in exploring the female form more explicitly than in his past works. I suspect one of the reasons he was able to do so without the discomfort of something like Galaxy Green
was because, to Kirby, Barda was as full and important as any of his characters — maybe even more so, given her close ties to Roz. To Kirby, Barda was a strong woman who was also sexy, as opposed to a sex object for which he had to devise some plausible characteristics or storyline.
Kirby’s art wasn’t known for its sex appeal, but it’s fascinating to look at the small elements of eroticism that show up in the work of the man who defined super-hero art, especially since the super-hero art of today is filled to the brim with sex. It’s additionally interesting to note that, while Kirby decked Barda out in a two-piece for lounging around, her outfit becomes all business as soon as she needs to throw down. One more lesson we might learn from the King.