Vampirella has always been a rather one-note character. Created in 1969 by Warren Publishing, she sprang fully formed into the world as a Frank Frazetta pinup good guy/bad girl from the planet Drakulon (later revised to the much more mundane Hell) who used sexuality as a weapon to satisfy her dual duties of superhero and horror story host. Vampirella was part Vampira, part Barbarella, and all 1970s.
But would you believe that Vampirella is older than Swamp Thing, Ghost Rider, and the X-Men’s Wolverine? On the one hand, that feels like such a ludicrous claim to make. Characters like Wolverine and the Punisher (whom Vampirella also predates) seem to be established cultural icons always around in one form or another. Vampirella, meanwhile, is as mired in her decade as lava lamps, shag carpet, and ABBA. So what is it that gives one property staying power and not another? Can timelessness–pardon the term–be revamped?
The elevator pitch: what would happen if a supernatural ‘70s sex icon upped stakes and moved to 2016 California? The answer, as it turns out, is a resounding “meh.”
Before delving into the story proper, there are two elements of this update that need to be addressed up front: one very good and one potentially not so good. The good: nobody insults the classic outfit. Yes, it is a ridiculous piece of attire. Yes, it’s the result of someone describing a sexy bathing suit over the phone to panel van art legend Frank Frazetta. But it’s also a part of the character’s history, and a big one at that. Much like Green Arrow’s boxing glove arrow, you can roll your eyes at Vampirella’s red onesie, but you have to acknowledge it. However, the assumption that her new all–red leather biker outfit is somehow lower profile than her old outfit is simply ludicrous, which brings us to our big maybe: social media. That’s right; Vampirella has entered the blogosphere.
Now, before jumping to conclusions, what author Kate Leth (writer of Bravest Warriors) may be about to do with the character is potentially quite clever. Vampirella got her start as a horror comic host. Extrapolating that to the modern day and making her an internet icon is only logical, if it is handled appropriately. It is, after all, very, very difficult to drag an older character into the modern age, and Vampirella’s backside trending on Twitter while slaying monsters might not be the most advisable way of updating a classic.
Author Leth’s writing is restrained and digestible, though the initial plotline presented (monsters using the Hollywood lifestyle to their advantage) is hardly the newest take on a theme. Artist Eman Casallos (Jennifer Blood, Alice Cooper) does the story no favors with work that is as bland as the story. Neither Leth nor Casallos (who draws exclusively for Dynamite Comics) are what one might call major comic figures, and this first issue has done very little to change that fact. What is most deserving of ridicule is the complete and inexcusable misuse of panels and space. There are entire pages of this book that contain more empty space than actual artwork, and not for any justifiable artistic or narrative reason. It is lazy, wasteful, and unacceptable.
Ultimately, the first issue of the new Vampirella series is not a recommend. This pains me to write, but only because I was looking forward to dropping an “It sucked!” or “It doesn’t suck!” pun at the end. Truth be told, this comic is just too bland to fall on either side of that spectrum. What we are left with is an introduction to characters we’re given no reason to care about and a plotline you would expect out of a forgotten seventh season episode of the Vampirella: the Legendary Journeys television series.
Vampirella: Issue 1. By Kate Leth. Illustrated by Eman Casallos. Dynamite Comics, March 2nd, 2016.
VAMPIRELLA: ISSUE 1 [COMIC REVIEW]
An unnecessary update of a character no one demanded.