Rating: 5/5 – Read the Humble Beginnings of Comics’ Sexiest Pain in the Neck!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.
Vampirella and I have one great thing in common: we share a birthday. Okay, not the actual date, but in July of 1969 while I was busy being born and America was celebrating the moon landing, Vampirella #1 hit the stands. It would be some forty years before I ever actually started reading her title, but we were fairly familiar with each other as we both grew up. After all, what comic-loving young lad wasn’t at least marginally aware of the raven-haired beauty from the planet Draculon who had a penchant for wearing the equivalent of a red slingshot and black stiletto-heeled boots? Still, horror comics just weren’t my thing when I was younger, so despite our mutual emergence into the world, we’ve lived our separate lives until fairly recently.
A few years back, while working a Free Comic Book Day promotion, I came across a copy of Vampirella Archives Vol. Four, and the store owner let me have it for much less than he should have. I have yet to read it (more on that later), but just flipping through the pages I knew I had a real treasure in my hands. Just looking at some of the incredible artwork, in glorious black and white, from artists whose names ought to be household words even if they aren’t…even a cursory look at the book ignited a passion within me to find out more. So I picked up a few of the more recent Dynamite trade collections to see where Vampi is now in order to appreciate where she came from. That led to basically moving backwards from Dynamite’s current Vampirella book to when Harris owned the title through most of the 90s and early 2000s with people like Kurt Busiek penning her exploits.
Still, I had that massive, hernia-inducing volume four hardcover calling to me, but even though I was reading backwards, so to speak, with the classic Warren material I really wanted to start at the beginning. Fortunately a copy of volume one showed up at my favorite used bookstore and I snatched it up. I’m glad I waited, because it’s a wonderful trip not only into the origins of one of comics’ most enduring and endearing females, it’s a great look at some artwork that time may have forgotten if not for Dynamite putting forth these gorgeous archive editions.
Forrest J. Ackerman is generally credited with the creation of Vampirella (he wrote the first Vampi story, at any rate, with Tom Sutton on art chores (and costume design by Trina Robbins)), but the writers’ list is a who’s who – Gardner Fox and Doug Moench are immediate standouts – to say nothing of the artists. If the iconic Frank Frazetta cover didn’t clue you in, maybe names like Ernie Colon, Billy Graham, Mike Royer – there’s even some cat named Neal Adams you might have heard of – will provide ample evidence of the talent jammed into this book. And it appears, at least, like they’re all having a good time telling these short tales of horror and imagination, whether or not the titular character appears in them or not.
Along that line, it’s interesting to note that after the first couple issues, Vampi takes a back seat and serves as a sort of “hostess”, introducing and closing each tale. So if you’re picking this up hoping to read about the origins of Adam Van Helsing, Pantha, or Pendragon, you might be a bit disappointed. They are tales for another day, and a later volume.
Fortunately, there’s enough other material that I didn’t feel completely jilted by Vampirella’s absence. We meet her cousin, Evily, who takes a couple stories for herself. I found myself hoping for more from her, but it seems, at least in the seven issues contained in this volume, that new waters were still being tested, and the book fluctuated from being a showcase of horror stories to the occasional buildup of the Vampirella mythos. Basically, they seemed to be throwing stuff to the wall to see what would stick. Still, along the way you get some entertaining stories to enjoy. Any fan of horror comics will pretty much devour this book from cover to cover.
A really great inclusion to the book is all the letters pages, where readers wrote directly to Vampirella, congratulating her on the success of her book and how it looks to be a nice companion to other Warren publications like Eerie and Creepy. Vampi responds in kind when she can to the repeated requests for poster-sized prints of her, as well as thanking readers for compliments on a particular artist’s work or story. It’s something Dynamite could have chosen to leave out, but because they didn’t the book is a wonderful trip back in time (to say nothing of all the ads they left in). Particularly sobering is the subscription mail-in tickets hawking a year of the book for (brace yourself)…3 bucks (for six issues).
Vampirella may be over 40 years old, but she wears it well. She ought to…she *is* immortal, after all. The Vampirella Archives Vol. 1 provides a nostalgic look back at a time when comics weren’t all about creating sophisticated storyboards for an upcoming film or working a series of books into an intertwining multi-issue crossover event. This collection sets a stage for a character who’s lasted outside the mainstream for more than four decades now, and is a wonderful way to chronicle her not-so-humble beginnings.
Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
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