Saturday, June 21, 2008

Vampirella in my new comics haul

I took home a very modest comic book haul yesterday, and not only that, but I showed my age by picking up two "re-boot" titles from the 70s--VAMPIRELLA QUARTERLY and DC's HOUSE OF MYSTERY. I have yet to fully digest the latter, but as for VAMPIRELLA . . . I apparently missed a previous entry in the Harris series, so I don't know exactly how Adam Van Helsing became the God of Chaos, but I continue to be struck by how the passage of time has re-shaped the sexual politics of Vampirella. No longer quite her same demure self, Vampirella asserts herself more, and here, she snaps off a pretty good one-liner as a sex-cult member talks about how he'd like to use his "spear" against her. "Well," Vampirella replies, "that's about the grossest thing I've ever heard. And I grew up in Hell." Nice one, Vampi!

Growing up in the 1970s, VAMPIRELLA was one of the great forbidden comic books in my life, so I knew of her and her adventures mostly by hiding in the farthest corner of the newstand and taking as many peeks as I could before getting caught. Over time, I've picked up a few old issues here and there and have followed the Harris re-invention somewhat sporadically. CRIMSON CHRONICLES, the trade paperback reprints of the old Warren magazine, have helped me re-capture some of those lost 70s moments, and the art of Jose Gonzalez never loses its aura and mystery for me.

I've enjoyed some of the more recent renditions of Vampirella--Bruce Timm immediately comes to mind--but inevitably, this new stuff doesn't have what the old stuff brought to the table. VAMPIRELLA QUARTERLY #1 includes a "re-mastered" version of "Shadow of Dracula" and "When Wakes the Dead," which originally appeared in VAMPIRELLA 18 and 19 respectively. (Vols. 2 and 3 of CRIMSON CHRONICLES reprint them, by the way.) These colorized "re-masters" seem almost disorienting, at first, like something's gone askew, along the lines of seeing a favorite black and white movie colorized. After another glance through the pages, the added color seemed to make Gonzalez's art jump off the page more, and I have to admit, I kind of like it. I'm no purist, I guess. In any case, these reprints reminded me of what the new Vampirella is missing--stories that provide a Hammer sensibility, rather than the Buffy-inspired story-telling that seems to inform the newer incarnations.

It's no secret that Hammer intended to make a film version of VAMPIRELLA in the mid-70s featuring Barbara Leigh and Peter Cushing, but I can't help but think that Ingrid Pitt would have made a more fitting actress. In fact, I wonder if her sensual features might have provided some of the inspiration for Gonzalez in his earlier artwork.

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