Saturday, August 7, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Vampirella

In the summer of 1969, Warren Publishing launched "Vampirella Magazine." It featured a host who introduced the stories, just like their other magazines, and just like countless other horror comic anthologies since the 1950s. However, this particular host was destined for greatness even the Crypt Keeper must envy, as she was soon given her own series... and she remains the sexiest alien vampire to ever walk the Earth to this very day.

Vampirella's back story, presented in a couple of episodes written by Forrest J. Ackerman and which were more humorous than horror-oriented, had her hitch a ride to Earth from the planet Drakulon where blood flowed in rivers and her people drank and bathed in it just like we do in water. Or at least it had at one time--Drakulon was dying, as its rivers were drying up.

Fortunately for Vampirella, she hitched a ride on a space ship from Earth--where there is plenty of blood in the veins of humans--and landed a job as a horror host for Warren.

All very fun and cute. And that might have been the end of it, if not for a series of tales brilliantly written first by comics legend Archie Goodwin, and later by Steve Englehart and others; and gorgeously illustrated by Jose Gonzalez.

While not completely abandoning the whimsy of those first couple of stories, Goodwin took what had been a gag concept and developed a full-blown horror universe from it. Vampirella's world was an adventure-filled place where sci-fi elements swirled together with classic horror movie tropes and Lovecraftian cults and extra-dimensional horrors. Goodwin (followed by Steve Englehart, and T. Casey Brennan) put in place a foundation that the best Vampirella tales built on for the next few years. The cast of characters established by Goodwin, Vampirella's friends and foes, remained at the center of the strip, with the only a very few new creations taking on the importance and depth that those put in place during those early years did.

No one has managed to match the creative heights obtained by those early contributors to the Vampirella property. That point is more clearly than any spoken word by the above-painting from Joe Jusko, a collage of just about every iconic character and image associated with Vampirella. Every one of which was created during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Since Harris Publishing took over the character in the early 1990s, the strip has been one "re-imagining" after another, a never-ending scrapping and rebuilding of Vampirella's world without creating anything of lasting impact (or that held the interest of readers, as all the flailing about demonstrated). The only truly interesting thing that Harris did was a "cyberpunk"-type series where they Manga-nized Vampirella and placed her in the future in "Vampi." And even that didn't last.

After struggling for more than a decade to restore Vampirella to her former glory, Harris sold the rights to Dynamite Publishing earlier this year. Time will tell if they will fare any better with the character.

I hope they do at least one more "re-imagining" of the character... and that they bring her back to being a sexy alien vampiresss from Drakulon who is equally at home whether she is beset by horror monsters or sci-fi creatures.

So far, all I've seen from Dynamite is the promise of high-priced reprints of the classics. But, I'm one old grognard who is holding out hope that the grand old lady of horror will have another happy Halloween yet.

For more about the early Vampirella tales, click here to visit the companion blog Shades of Gray.

And you can read that very first Vampirella story at Rip Jagger's Dojo by clicking here.

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