Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: Vampirella #1 (1997 series)

Vampirella (1997 series) #1, Ascending Evil Part 1, Cover Date November 1997
Written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, Pencils by Amanda Conner, Inks by Jimmy Palmiotti

Vampirella 1 1997 Cover
One of the half-dozen covers. Collect them all!

In a rare bit of blogging synergy, I've decided to review a Vampirella comic the same day that I helped review the Vampirella movie. I picked this particular book because I'm a fan of Amanda Conner's work on Power Girl, and decided to check out her work on this character that I knew basically nothing about before I saw the movie. Not only does an unknown Amanda Conner pencil the issue, it's written by Mark Millar and Grant Morrison, two of the biggest names in comics. Let's get to it!

We begin in a cemetery, where two people calling themselves teens make out while naked. I'm skeptical, considering I have never seen teens that look or sound like these two. The young manpoints out how this feels like the opening to a bad horror story, and brings up the rumors that vampires are in the cemetery, but the girl shoots him down. Just then, Vampirella appears, telling the blonde woman to "stick with comics," in lieu of serious book-learnin', even as a platoon of civil war-era vampires comes out of the ground. The Confederate soldier starts boasting about how he's outsmarted Vampirella, and how she's been "double-crossed" (although I don't know how), when she calls in a priest, who blesses the rain, turning it to holy water. The distraction allows Vampirella to pull the head off the general's body, and the combination of losing their leader/holy water causes the other vampires to die. The priest wonders why the holy water didn't effect Vampirella, but she only responds that it's one of life's mysteries.

Vampirella 1 stick with comics
Vampirella is full of sound advice.

We cut to New York, where a vampire mob is having a presentation about Vampirella. They briefly recount the events of Vengeance of Vampirella and the Vampirella Lives mini-series, focusing on her apparent death and return, and how she's become a top vampire hunter. We see "security footage" from outside a vampire-held business, where Vampirella set everything on fire and then shot a bunch of guns that she had turned into anti-vampire ordinance by carving tiny crosses into them. While one vampire wonders whether they shouldn't back off their planned attack on the mob, the leader says the attack will go on as planned, as "Von Kreist" will be sent in to deal with Vampirella and the local mob, led by a "Don Fattoni."

Vampirella 1 has risen from her grave
"Sorry sir, there are three more vampire plays on words in this report."

Later, at the Don's base, he meets with his daughters, who have apparently been led out of ballet class by armed goons, as Fattoni has word vampires are planning a move against him. He heads to the basement, where he attempts to interrogate Vampirella, ignoring her as she explains that she's trying to protect them from the other vampires. She frees herself from her restraints and goes to bite Fattoni, but one of his goons shoots her, leaving her incapacitated long enough for the mob to chain her to a table. One of the goons prepares to torture Vampirella, when suddenly bats appear en masse at the Fattoni compound. Von Kreist finds the Don and his daughters cowering in a room covered in crucifixes. He says that won't work, since he's not a vampire, and the other vampires he brought into the room are blind. Uh, I don't think that's how that works? Von Kreist makes the Don choose between "Pixie" and "Dixie," his two dumbly named daughters. He chooses to save Pixie, but Von Kreist shoots her anyway, just because he's a stinker. Meanwhile, in the basement, a bunch of vampires approach the (still chained) Vampirella, telling her she's "just dessert" now. To be continued!


I've talked about first issues before, notably how I hated Black Canary #1, since it required knowledge of a previous mini-series AND knowledge of a Green Arrow storyline, but didn't directly reference either. Unlike that book, this issue does a pretty good job of setting up "the vampire mob" as an antagonist, and Von Kreist as a hired goon who will presumably get taken out first. It also ends with a promising hook, as things look pretty bleak for our hero and the mobsters she was trying to help.The biggest problem with this series, by contrast, is that it focuses so much on the villains that we don't really know anything about Vampirella. We're told she's newly focused (by the villains), but we don't see why from her point of view. The book also spends a lot of time telling us how great she's become at killing vampires, yet she's somehow captured (off-screen) by a few stereotypical mobsters. Since she breaks free once, maybe she was playing possum, but why? It's the sort of thing comics can easily tell us via text, but Vampirella doesn't get any of that, because the mid-to-late 90's are too cool for thought bubbles or narration boxes.

I'm not really the biggest fan of either Morrison or Millar's work in general, but this is perfectly cromulent. It's appropriate that this series came on the heels of a mini-series by Warren Ellis and Conner, considering Millar first started getting mainstream attention for directly following Ellis on The Authority. Millar has really made a living off of following superior writers. The worst thing I can say about the writing is it gets a little precious. The confederate general that just rambles until he's killed wasn't so bad, but "FatToni"? A pretty on-the-nose Simpsons reference along with the "Pixie" and "Dixie" sisters makes it feel like a Tom DeFalco Spider-Man story. I'm all for a bit of humor, but the mobster stuff didn't really work out. All in all though, it's obvious they're going for a B-movie feel, with big action, over-the-top villains, and ridiculous outfits, and it does a fine job of doing that. But there's very little Mark Millar-isms, and while Vampirella is a bit of a jerk, compared to the average Millar character at this point she's a saint. Morrison on the other hand can't resist showing how cool and alternative these vampires are by surrounding them with beautiful women and human hearts like this is some weird Halloween cut of "Scarface." I'm counting the seconds before a bald Grant Morrison-looking vampire shows up in some throwaway gag that Morrison would probably call some sort of kabbalistic sigil re-strengthening blah blah blah.

Vampirella 1 Conner
Solid storytelling.

Conner's pencils are generally strong here. She's known for being a cheesecake artist, and she does draw a bunch of hot women in this first issue, but she's more talented than the average 90's cheesecake guy, especially if the average is Dave Hoover (of 90's Captain America)'s weird anatomy. Conner's able to convey emotion and tone through her pencils way better than most of the current crop of photo-tracers, so there's no dead-eyed, open-mouthed shots of hot women looking at the camera. I don't think her art is as good here as it is today, but she's already doing work far and above what you'd expect from a book called "Vampirella."

All in all, this is a solid little re-launch with talented creators, and holds up pretty decently as a starting point. It could definitely use more scenes set on the Planet Draculon, though.

90's Fashion: the book had five different covers, featuring art by Amanda Conner, Joe Quesada, and Jae Lee. Mistress NYX, a character who apparently killed Vampirella, is only seen briefly and not in full, she's wearing tiny 90's sunglasses, and later wears a version of Vampirella's costume if Vampirella joined the Road Warriors (i.e. she has spiky shoulder pads).  

1 comment:

  1. I read some of the original black and white Vampirella comics from the seventies a few years ago, and they were nothing like what I'd expected. I had always just sort of assumed they were the comic book equivalent of a horror exploitation movie, with lots of sex and violence, but they were actually relatively tame, and Vampirella herself was basically just a normal superheroine who happened to be a vampire. I was disappointed.

    I've never looked at any latter-day Vampirella stuff, though I do love Amanda Conner's art. I've never read her Power Girl run, either. The trades are out of print and super expensive. I'm kind of holding out for an Omnibus, though it sems unlikely.