GRAPHIC NOVEL and TRADE PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm

Vampirella Reviews


Vampirella: Blood Lust 2006 (SC TPB) 80 pages

Vampirella - cover by JuskoWritten James Robinson. Illustrated and painted by Joe Jusko.
Letters: Michael Conley. Editor: David Bogart.

Reprinting the two part Vampirella: Blood Lust (1997) plus a 7 page epilogue.

Additional notes: intro by Robinson; covers; sketches; Robinson's script for issue #2; a gallery of the trading card set.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Recommended for Mature Readers

Published by Harris Comics

Reviewed Mar. 2012

Blood Lust was part of Harris Comics acquiring and reviving of the then defunct Vampirella series from Warren Publishing -- Vampirella being a scantily clad heroic vampiress who was arguably among the most famous American Bronze Age comic book characters not published by Marvel or DC. In resurrecting the character, Harris both stuck to the basics...but also "reinvented" others. In the original comics, Vampirella was from the distant planet Drakulon...under Harris' auspices, this was apparently revealed as a false memory, and Drakulon is really a region of Hell. An awkward change given Vampi's nickname used to be "the girl from the stars" -- that's like taking Superman, popularly known as "the man of steel", and reinventing him without his invulnerability.

This two-part micro-series seems to be set in the middle of various events in Vampirella's life -- namely, apparently she had died! So the story begins with her waking up in Drakulon -- well, Hell -- and finding her erstwhile boyfriend, Adam Van Helsing (a holdover from the Warren years, though given a 1990s bad boy overhaul of rippling muscles, black leather, and swords -- essentially looking like a white version of the same overhaul given Blade around that time). Adam also had apparently died previously. But Drakulon isn't as Vampirella remembered it -- a peaceful, happy land sustained by a river of blood. The river has dried up, the world turned to a desolate wasteland that only Mad Max could love, and at the root of it is Vampirella's own mother -- vampire queen Lilith who had drained the river to sustain her own life. In order to restore Drakulon, Vampirella and Adam must restore the river...an act that will kill Lilith.

And that synopsis is almost longer than the story!

Blood Lust is a pretty simple quest story as Vampirella and Adam set out across the Drakulon desert, battling a few mutant hordes and braving a creepy deserted city or two, all the while Vampirella frets about the moral dilemma of her mother's life for her homeland. It runs only two regular sized issues...plus an epilogue that I'm guessing was done for the collected edition. Even the solution is rather anti-climactic -- and overly mystical. This almost seems like those Fundamentalist Christian religious comics they put out in the 1970s (including Archie versions!), putting great emphasis on heaven and hell and an interventionist god. That's ironic because, of course, Vampirella is hardly a pious comic -- with bloody battles...and a scantily clad heroine who, as writer James Robinson remarks in his introduction, you feel you should be tossing dollars at (uh, that's a stripping reference).

In the old black & white Warren days, Vampirella's adventures were sometimes just a half dozen pages long -- and there's a feeling this story could've easily been told in that number of pages! But that wouldn't allow for the big panels and splash pages here, and obviously a big point of Blood Lust is simply the fully painted art by Joe Jusko. Jusko I think had actually painted a few Vampirella covers from time to time, and here is unleashed on the inside pages too. And since a big part of Vampirella is the cheescecake sex appeal of an underclad heroine, having a realist painter bringing her to life in almost 3-D glory certainly has its appeal. And it is nice work -- both just as pictures, and as far as drawing a beautiful Vampirella. Though it's not as stunningly photo-realist as Jusko's work later on the one-shot comic, Tomb Raider: The Greatest Treasure of Them All, so perhaps he's still growing as an artist here. Though, like with that Tomb Raider special, one suspects the script was seen as incidental to Jusko's art.

James Robinson is a well regarded comics writer, and I think a few people saw his taking a Vampirella gig as him "slumming", or working for a pay check more than from inspiration. One thing I have noted about some of Robinson's other work -- including his critically acclaimed stuff -- is a rather tinny ear for dialogue, and that's certainly in evident here. Lines like "I can explain, though I'm fearful of doing so" can just leave you shaking your head -- it's not modern colloquial, yet neither is it quite erudite or archaic. It doesn't help that there are also some lettering problems -- misspellings ("it's" instead of "its", "martial" instead of "marshall") and, I suspect, a word missing here or there (though that only seems to be in the first half).

But I kept turning the pages, which is the main thing.

Robinson's intro harps on the sexual aspect of vampire legends and of Vampirella inparticular...yet, in a sense, that's not especially in evidence here. I mean, of course they're selling the sexiness of Vampirella in a skimpy, buttocks emphasizing suit -- but there's no actual nudity (unlike the old Warren days -- though even back then, it was only occasional, and Vampirella herself was rarely depicted nude) not even the ol' pronounced nipples beneath fabric. Nor does the plot itself have any particular romantic/erotic/sensual subtext. Obviously the sexiness is a part of it -- but nothing beyond a pretty girl in a skimpy suit. (Though I'd half wonder if Robinson and Jusko were thinking of their story as a PG version of Druuna -- an extremely hardcore European porn comic likewise apparently given to rather nonsensical stories where the raven haired heroine wanders through desolate landscapes populated by mutants...except with nudity, sex, and rape).

Ultimately, Blood Lust is an okay page turner, boasting the painted visuals, but largely inconsequential. Indeed, though set up as a bridge between Vampirella stories...you don't really come away from it with much sense of (or care about) the surrounding events.

Cover price: $9.95 USA.


Vampirella & the Blood Red Queen of Hearts 1996 (SC TPB) 96 pages

Vampirella - cover by John BoltonWritten by Bill Dubay, with Rich Margopoulos. Illustrated by Jose Gonzalez, with Gonzalo Mayo, Esteban Maroto.
Black & White. Letters: unbilled.

Reprinting: Vampirella stories from Vampirella (Warren Publishing) #49, 60-62, 65, 66, 101, 102

Additional notes: afterword

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Recommended for Mature Readers

Published by Harris Comics

Vampirella is arguably the most famous, non-Marvel, non-DC comic book character of the Bronze Age -- a scantily clad vampire from outer space who fought on the side of good, her fame is maybe a mixed bag, as much kitsch for her revealing costume as for the quality of her stories. Originally published in black and white by Warren, the property was later acquired by Harris publishing which, in addition to presenting new stories (and a re-interpretation of the character) also offered up some reprint collections of the vintage material.

Vampirella & the Blood Red Queen of Hearts collects various stories involving Vampi's battles with the evil sorceress, the Queen of Hearts, whose modus operandi -- appropriately enough -- is to steal the hearts of her victims. Billed as Vampirella's most "infamous nemesis", if this collects the entirety of the Blood Red Queen's appearances...they were pretty few. Even in this collection, many of the stories don't actually feature her, but are included more so as not to let sub-plots dangle or, in the case of a sequence where Vampirella returns to her home planet, because the stories are of seminal significance in the overall Vampirella mythos.

Though despite this continuity, there are still cryptic references occasionally to events that happened in the gaps between the reprinted issues -- though most are inconsequential or easy enough to pick up on. Although there is one sequence where a twist involves a were-cat named Pantha -- that makes no sense in this collection! But Pantha was a recurring character in the Vampirella series (more prominently appearing in the A Scarlet Thirst collection) -- although why her presence in this particular story, in this particular location, is unclear even if you did at least know who she was.

Despite Vampi's fame, I had never read an actual "classic" Vampirella story until I picked up another Harris reprint collection -- A Scarlet Thirst (reviewed below) -- which, much to my surprise, I kind of enjoyed. Though I put that down to possible novelty.

But this collection, too, I found oddly enjoyable.

I say "oddly", because one could argue there are problems in the story telling, and plots that kind of fizzle out. But despite my "Marvel/DC snobbery", they're also better than I might've expected. Vampi and her eccentric supporting cast are interesting enough heroes, and there's a certain atypical-ness to the plotting that makes the stories interesting to follow, mixing elements of super hero, with a more down-to-earth suspense (despite her vampiric abilities, Vampi can be a more vulnerable hero, not able to settle everything with a ten page fight scene), and aspects of horror and sci-fi. And the brevity of the tales (or chapters, in the case of multi-part stories) -- often only 10 or 12 pages -- helps, meaning they don't overstretch their interest-level.

The art -- primarily here by Jose Gonzalez -- is also a big selling point. It's beautiful to look at, mixing a kind of craggy sketchiness with a striking realism, it's appealing, and lends the series a unique look (the visuals clearly meant to maintain a consistency, as Gonzalez's style is quite similar to another Vampi artist represented here, Esteban Maroto) And, of course, not only is it beautiful as art...but it's beautiful in its depiction of Vampirella herself, as the comic, after all, is also going for a bit of cheesecake.

Interestingly, this collection also more firmly demonstrates the "mature readers" intent of the comic. Unlike in the Scarlet Thirst (reviewed below) collection, there's a lot more nudity on display in these pages -- the Queen of Hearts herself is always depicted topless! Though, almost like some sexploitive movie where the lead "name" actress doesn't do nude scenes, Vampirella, despite her scanty apparel, only appears more undressed in one or two panels.

The final two stories, from a later period, are the weakest (the writing chores having gone from Bill DuBay to Rich Margopoulos and Gonzalo Mayo handling the art). If anything, you would expect the comic to grow and mature over time. Instead the dialogue seems more wooden, and the art, though not without its strengths, stiffer and less accomplished. The sexploitation, however, seems even more pronounced and, as such, sillier. I dunno, somehow having a topless villainess could almost seem justified in the context, but in the final stories the plethora of naked ladies just seems kind of...goofy in its lack of logic. Given that the original Vampirella magazine was cancelled only a few issues later (as Warren itself closed down), you wonder if the decline in quality might've been responsible.

Like with A Scarlet Thirst, a found this an enjoyable collection. Part of me feels I should apologize for that, recognizing some weaknesses in the stories -- yet I can't entirely dismiss the appeal of these stories as being because of any inherent eroticism (though that's a factor). After all, despite the nudity, and Vampirella's skimpy costume, many of the stories aren't as "cheesecakey" as you might expect. And the bottom line is, I did just enjoy these as page-turners, where short comings can be forgiven because, as a collection, no one story is required to be stand-out in quality.

Despite the "Blood Red Queen" theme, this is reminiscent of A Scarlet Thirst in that it's main appeal is simply as a collection of tales -- a Vampirella sampler, if you will, hopscotching through her career -- rather than as a single, interlocking epic. And on that level, it's enjoyable.

Original cover price: $__ CDN./ $9.95 USA


Vampirella: A Scarlet Thirst 1993 (SC TPB) 144 pages

Written by Rich Margopoulos, Flaxman Lowe, Bill DuBay. Illustrated by Rudy Nebres, Jose Gonzalez, with Jose Ortiz.
Black & White. Letters: unbilled.

Vampirella - cover by Dave StevensReprinting: Vampirella stories from Vampirella (Warren Publishing) #36 ("The Vampire of the Nile"), 71 ("The Case of the Connected Clowns and the Collector"), 72 ("The Beauty and the Behemouth"), 83 ("The God of Blood", "The Betrothed of the Sun God"), 92 ("Braclets, Demons and Death"), 94-96 ("Death Machine", "A Plague of Vampires", "The Hound of Hell"), 110 ("A Feast of Fear")

Additional notes: afterword

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by Harris Comics

Harris comics acquired the rights to Warren Publishing's 1970s scantily-clad vampire heroine and, in addition to producing new stories, has also reprinted some old Warren-era tales in various mini-series and TPBs...like this one (published with a softer cover than conventional TPBs, more like Wonder Woman: Gods of Gotham). A Scarlet Thirst collects 10 tales from over a wide period of time, serving as a decent sampler of the Huntress from the Stars.

This is actually my first real exposure to Vampi (other than the Catwoman/Vampirella team-up) -- and particularly to stories from her original run. As such, I can't say how good a collection this is from a fan's point of view: are these "classic" tales? Or was Harris scraping the bottom of the barrel? Regarding it as a non-fan...I kind of enjoyed this collection.

The stories run a gamut of tones, from some quirky, tongue-in-cheek ones -- even intentionally comedic -- to stories of a more to-be-expected nature: adventure-thrillers with horror overtones. As well, because the stories are culled from different periods, we get a glimpse of Vampirella's shifting supporting cast -- from the alcoholic Pendragon, to the blind psychic, Conrad Van Helsing, to other supernaturally-powered ladies -- and glimpses of recurring plot threads (in some stories, Vampi refers to the demonic Chaos as if it's her recurring nemesis, while later stories have her butting heads with a sinister organization, Apocalypse, Inc.). The stories range from as small as 8 pages to 22 pages (though it's interesting to note that even the shorter stories have enough going on that they seem longer than that). Most are independent from each other, but a run of three consecutive stories showcases the idea of a sub-plot that is threaded through more than one story. Vampi herself ranges from being portrayed as, basically, a normal, vulnerable figure (vampirism notwithstanding) to a more conventional action heroine, able to kick and fight with the best of them. In some stories she's just a footloose adventuress, in others, she enjoys a career as a Hollywood starlet (which sets the stories in an unconventional milieu)...all the while, as a personality, she remains fairly consistent.

Admittedly, there are maybe no "great" stories here...and a few are decidedly uneven. But the very diversity of them, and the willingness to try things that are more than just action-fight pieces (contrasted with more mainstream superheroes) is fun. Particularly with the early stories, where you can't predict where the stories' headed, because the ideas are often off-beat. And because Vampi isn't necessarily looking for trouble, the plots are required to draw her into whatever's going on. Later ones have her acting more like a conventional crimebuster...but these can be capably crafted in their own right.

The art is effective overall, with Vampi pretty to look at, and all artists evincing nice technique, often with a lot of mood, from the more scratchy style of the two Joses, to Rudy Nebres' more richly inked and shaded work.

Vampi was published in black and white magazines, where I believe hers often was the lead story fronting more conventional horror anthology tales, and sometimes, I think, there might've been more than one Vampi tale per issue (hence why her stories are often only 12 pages or so). Such magazines were published without Comics Code approval, but despite this, and Vampi being a "sexy" heroine, she keeps her clothes on throughout. In fact, salaciousness is actually rather minimal considering she rarely wears anything different than her bathing suit costume (a couple of the early stories more play up a racy aspect). In fact, a "mature readers" caution is warranted more for some gory violence, particularly in the Rudy Nebres drawn issues (whether a reflection of Nebres, or changing editorial policies, I dunno). For the time period, though, the idea of Vampi having an alcoholic sidekick was probably something that wouldn't be allowed in a conventional comic. Another story has Pantha (another Vampi ally) being menaced by a whip-wielding sexual degenerate -- again, not something liable to have graced the pages of Supergirl at the time. Though nothing actually happens, and it's one of the stories that seems more tongue-in-cheek than anything.

I'll repeat that my opinion is that of someone unfamiliar with Vampi overall, and that part of the appeal here is simply the novelty, the delving into these unexpected tales with these unfamiliar characters. But it was enjoyable on that level. Obviously, it would've been nice to have included other, more defining tales (such as delving into her alien origins) but as it is, it was fun to have on the shelf, to drag out from time to time to sample the next tale.

The collection closes with an afterward which points out how aspects of these stories don't quite gel with Harris Comics' later interpretation, and so should be regarded as less-than-canonical. Seems a bit cheeky to me. I don't necessarily object if another company gets a hold of a property and decides to overhaul it...but surely, if one is going to assign priority, the original stories are canon, and anything later -- such as the Harris stories -- are the ones that should be labelled as apocryphal.

Cover price: $14.95 CDN./$12.95 USA 


Vampirella: Transcending Time & Space 1995 (SC TPB) 144 pages

Vampirella - cover by Dave StevensWritten by T. Casey Brennan, Steve Englehart. Illustrated by Jose Gonzalez.
black & white. Letters: unbilled

Additional notes:intro by Richard Howell; intro by Steve Englehart.

Reprinting the Vampirella stories from Vampirella (Warren Magazine) #17-23 (1972)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by Harris Comics

Reviewed May 2012

This was one of a handful of TPBs Harris Comics put out -- after acquiring the rights to the then defunct Vampirella franchise -- reprinting vintage stories from Vampi's days in her own black & white magazine from Warren Publishing. I'd mentioned in my reviews of a couple of the others that though I had heard of Vampirella, I had not previously read much featuring her, and was actually kind of surprised to find...it could be a decent series. I mean, given the heroine is dressed in a swimsuit that would probably have got her kicked off a few beaches at the time, cheesecake aside, the storytelling is decent enough.

Artist Jose Gonzalez is the sole artist on display here, and he delivers generally nice work, at times with scratchy sketchiness, at other times with an almost photo-realism (when facial close-ups) and some grey washes to embellish upon the images so that it's more than just black lines on white. Granted, he tends to favour archetypes -- most of the women are beautiful, like Vampirella, and two of her friends, Pendragon and Conrad Van Helsing, are largely distinguished from each other simply because the latter is blind and wears dark glasses.

Although the Vampirella magazine was published outside the Comics Code, and some periods in its publication seemed to exploit that more than others (with nudity and harder violence) that doesn't seem as evident here. Certainly Vampirella's suit was pretty risque, particularly at the time, but it covers what needs be covered. And even then, Gonzalez' art isn't necessarily as overtly salacious as you might expect, tending not to always go for obvious cheesecake poses. And Vampirella's dimensions are surprisingly restrained -- by cliched comic book standards, she's almost flat chested!

Ironically, the modern day cover by Dave Stevens is probably more exploitive than much of the inside art!

A couple of things distinguish this collection from the other two Warren-era TPBs I read. One is that whereas those hopscotched through her career, this presents a chronological run of issues. The other is that because Vampirella actually shared her magazine with more general, stand alone horror stories, the Vampi tales themselves varied in length. And I had suggested there was an appeal to the shorter format. Although there is some variety here (the shortest tale 10 pages) most are of a more regular comic book length of around 18 to 20 pages. The result of both these factors is that maybe this collection isn't quite as fun, as the stories reflect less variety in tones and styles, covering just a few months, and the longer length, though hardly making the stories dull or anything, does maybe mean they lack some of the punch inherent in shorter stories.

Still, because of the consecutive run, there are a mix of stand alone tales, a multi-parter or two, and tales that are interconnected even if not strictly speaking "to be continued" -- so there's not too much sense you're left with too many threads dangling. Written by T. Casey Brennan and a relatively young Steve Englehart (who would go on to achieve his own fame in the biz at Marvel and DC both) there is some variety to the tales -- from horror/adventure, to more thoughtful, introspective and character-driven pieces. A story arc involves the legendary Count Dracula, whom they had fought before apparently. And he's -- surprisingly -- repentant about his years of villainy, but is torn between his desire to reform, and the primal bloodlust that rules him -- an inner conflict with which Vampirella herself is only too familiar. As the collection's title implies there is some other worldly adventures -- some involving weird dimensions, others time travel, with, of course, a few set in the regular world.

There are a few spelling and/or typo mistakes -- or possibly sometimes a miscommunication between writer and artist (in one scene a text caption describes a woman as "homely" when Gonzalez draws her as beautiful)

Ultimately, not quite as strong a Vampirella sampler as some of the other TPBs I've reviewed for the reasons mentioned...but still a perfectly solid collection of tales of the "huntress from the stars"

Original cover price: $__ CDN./ $12.95 USA


Vampirella, Masters Series, vol. 4: Visionaries 2011 (SC TPB) 120 pages

coverWritten and illustrated by various.

Reprinting: 11 short tales from various Vampirella comics, plus a pin-up gallery (1993-2006)

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Recommended for Mature Readers

Published by Dynamite Comics

Reviewed Dec. 2014

Vampirella (The Masters Series): Visionaries is a collection of short Vampirella tales, culled from various sources, though reflecting the later Harris Comics Vampirella line (as opposed to the original Warren Magazine series) -- though by this point the rights to Vampirella is held by Dynamite Comics! On hand are various high profile creators including (of all people) Alan Moore, as well as Kurt Busiek, Alan Davis, Gary Frank, Ty Templeton, Bruce Timm, Michael Golden, Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale and others.

This was one of those TPBs I picked up off the book shelf on a whim, not out of any particular interest in it, or pre-knowledge about what it contained -- and I kind of put it back on the shelf with the same sentiment.

Short stories can be tricky things -- even in the comic book world (despite the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words!) -- as they often end up being, well, short. Though, funnily, Vampirella as a character should be well suited to the format since her original adventures in the Warren days were often only 10 or 12 pages long. But here the creators tend to embrace the "short story" philosophy, presenting little mood pieces, quirky incidents, or vignettes. None really amounting to much on their own.

Alan Moore and Gary Frank's collaboration is basically a re-telling of part of the novel Dracula (Vampirella nowhere in sight!) -- the gimmick being it's re-told in modern times (a character even remarking that it reminds him of the novel). But I'm not really sure what the point of it is otherwise (perhaps it made more sense in its original context from Vampirella/Dracula: The Centennial). And it is ironic how Moore has often been quite protective of his own work (apparently critical of the idea of movie adaptations of his comics) when all a story like this is him just, y'know, recycling Bram Stoker.

Alan Davis draws a wordless tale of Vampirella trying to defend a baby from cultists. Loeb & Sale's piece is a tongue-in-cheek self-reflective tale (an affectionate homage) done as a kind of hard boiled PI tale in which early Vampirella writer/editor, Archie Goodwin, is a character in the story who comes under the sway of the mysterious vampiress. While Jimmy Palmiotti (as writer) with Amanda Conner (as artist) indulge in, um, literally toilet humour involving a monster on a killing spree during Halloween and Vampirella having, uh, diarrhea.

You kind of get the picture.

Among the most "mainstream" of the tales is writer/artist Steve Lieber's "The Killing Floor" which evokes a classic, Warren-era Vampirella comic by being black & white -- though it too mixes the macabre with, seeming, tongue-in-cheek.

This is a slight mature readers collection, both because of the gore and violence, and occasional flashes of minor nudity.

Ultimately, it's certainly a respectable collection of artists and writers, but by and large the stories themselves are airy and forgettable. And it is perhaps best aimed at Vampirella completists. Those just looking for some good Vampirella stories won't find too much here. And those just looking to sample the character -- and maybe thinking a collection of tales by different creators would be a good intro -- are unlikely to come away with much feel for Vampirella as a person or much sense of why she has endured, off and on, for decades -- well, other than her skimpy dress, of course.

Cover price: $__ USA.



 

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