In which our pretty young shop girl and the otherworldly object of her fascination pluckily pursue the truth. And face the zombie custard pie hurlers of Los Angeles-on-Sea.
After her subterranean resurrection (mind you, aren’t they all?) in the 0 issue and her wanderings through a Los Angeles that seems to be a weird mix of Christian mythology and A Clockwork Orange stylings in issue 1, this issue sees the plot thicken as, instead of merely encountering the denizens of this strangely passionless hedonistic paradise, Vampirella and her new sidekick come up against the forces of the order Vampi is dedicated to destroying. The result is somewhat baffling, reasonably exciting and never less than entertaining.
After her rather violent actions at the end of the last issue, Vampi returns to the shop girl she fascinated earlier and throws some money at her as payment for her outfit, the money coming from a ‘bank vault’ that Vampi entered when ‘nobody’ was ‘around’. As you would expect when confronted with the object of her (barely sublimated) desire, the aforementioned shop girl is rather disconcerted to see Vampi out and about and sitting on her window sill. In her discombobulated state, the girl blurts out more snippets of info about the story’s setting, the most pertinent being that ‘real money’ seems to be rare or unusual and nobody steals because, if they do, they ‘lose the afterlife’, a fate about which, largely due to her immortal state, Vampi is remarkably sanguine.
Needless to say, Vampi’s venture into the world of bank robbery has attracted the attention of the police, although in this case the police are clowns and are intent on making sure everyone has a ‘good time’. Well, that’s okay, then. A surreal series of events ensue involving a clown police car that’s bigger on the inside than the outside, a custard pie that seems to contain a dimensional vortex and a mention of Charlie Caroli, which appears to be a misspelled reference to Charlie Cairoli, the Italian-English clown and variety artist who once performed for Adolf Hitler and, when World War II broke out, took the watch the dictator had presented him and threw it into the Irish Sea. The clowns pile on Vampirella who is saved by the quick thinking and bravery of her shop girl sidekick who eventually introduces herself as Vicki Vincent.
It’s safe to say that Cornell and Broxton are wearing their influences none too lightly here, but more of that in a moment. The issue continues with our first look at this story’s antagonist, a distinctly sinister angelic figure who removes and then imbibes the brains of one of his undead clown cops in order to understand more fully what’s going on in his domain. He is particularly exercised by the fact that Vampirella is acting like she “remembers”. It’s unclear what the figure means by this, as Vampi is most assuredly winging it at this point and doesn’t ‘remember’ much of anything at all. Anyhow, we end the issue with a conversation between Vicki and Vampi which is interrupted by the arrival of two of the winged ‘angels’ similar to the ones we saw in the first issue. They ensnare the pair of women in a net and take them away to, if the ‘Next Issue’ tag is anything to go by, the ‘camps’.
So, this remains a bizarre, almost surreal, take on the Vampirella character, but it’s hard not to be carried along by its chutzpah. There are all sorts of influences swirling psychedelically around in this story, and it’s hard to identify them all. Certainly the clown police are evidence of Cornell’s Doctor Who pedigree, an unsettling combination of the function of the titular ‘Happiness Patrol’ and the creepy aesthetic of the robotic clowns of Greatest Show In The Galaxy, both from season 25 of the original series. Cornell’s interest in faith and its relationship with society comes into play here, too. He’s playing it fairly coy in terms of revealing what’s going on, but you don’t have to be a genius to work out that there’s a lot more hell than heaven involved in this strange, disturbing ‘paradise’ into which Vampirella has stumbled.
In Vicki, Cornell and Broxton have created an eminently likeable guide to this world and a character with whom it is ridiculously easy to sympathise. Throughout, Broxton’s art is excellent, adept at portraying Vicki’s touchingly trusting nature and Vampi’s more hardened, experienced and shrewd facial expressions. His action stuff is suitably visceral too and, well, he knows how to draw a Nero-esque angel-figure drinking brains from a wine glass. Cornell’s dialogue is always readable (even if, at times, Vampirella talks like she’s attended a cultural studies course at some point in her long life – “societal norms”? Really?) and displays flashes of memorable wit, too.
This title continues to intrigue, entertain and disturb in more or less equal measure. The plot is rollicking along nicely and the art is generally very impressive. The pseudo-60s vibe is distinctly British, too. At times the book is extraordinarily reminiscent of Alan Moore-era Captain Britain and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that. The insertion of a revamped Vampirella into a dystopian future is a great idea and, at the moment, it appears as if Cornell and Broxton are fully prepared to take advantage of the creative opportunities that collision of character and setting provides. In short, this is good stuff. Roll on, issue 3!
(This review originally appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website.)
After the intriguing and, at times, dramatic 0 issue, I was eager to have a look at issue 1 and see how some of the hints dropped in that self-contained prologue are developed in the series proper. Well, there’s only one way to find out…
Before I go any further, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that I am not what you would call a die hard Vampirella fan. I don’t particularly bear the character any ill-will, but my experience of her is confined to a few issues of the original Warren anthology mag and Grant Morrison’s gloriously over the top take on the character in the 90s. I may have an axe to grind, but not a Vampirella-shaped one. More seasoned fans of the lady from Drakulon may have a very different take on this and I’d be delighted to hear from any of them in the comments below. With that in mind, it’s onwards and, in this case quite literally, upwards as we see Vampi climbing her way out of her underground tomb pretty much exactly where we left off at the end of the 0 issue.
The red on black line of commentary which appeared towards the end of the previous issue is also present, offering a succinct insight into Vampirella’s thought processes as she emerges from the subterranean passages only to be confronted by the winged creatures who dispatched one of our rebels last time. These creatures turn out to be, on the surface, angelic in nature, although Vampirella can smell sulphur on them. Vampirella shakes them off, making spectacularly short work of one of them. (If you ever want to see someone being beaten up with their own recently removed arm, then this is the place to come.) Having ascertained that she can still sprout wings in this brave new world, she flies off and, using Mount Rushmore as a landmark, navigates her way to LA.
And this is no LA you have ever seen before. Not for the first time with this title, I am reminded of 70s sci-fi flicks – there’s a distinct Logan’s Run feel to the panels in which Vampirella explores a futuristic city that manages to be both brightly and cleanly gleaming, while at the same time revelling in a kind of loveless and crass hedonism. It would be an exaggeration to say that dildos are everywhere in the LA of the future, but they’re certainly more… ahem… prominent than in the present day city. Costumes are gauche and vulgar; architecture and ornamentation are blatantly phallic.
Vampirella’s choice of costume is clever, then. In marked contrast to the in-your-face crudeness of the locals, it’s a throwback to the late 60s and early 70s – sexy but stylish (I do love me a pair of arm-length gloves) and the short hair is a bold move that I think on the whole works very well. Even more attractive is Vampirella’s character. Cornell presents her as intelligent, inquisitive, self-assured and extremely likeable. And dangerous. Her encounter with a citizen whose look is part-Clockwork Orange, part Behind The Green Door does not end well for the young man concerned.
The issue ends with Vampirella smearing her iconic bat symbol on her red top, grinning wickedly and declaring that she’s here to “wreck” the shocked onlookers’ world. Which is, on the whole, pretty cool.
So, is this worth persevering with? Yes, I think so. Cornell writes a sexy, clever Vampirella with a new look that really works. The world she finds herself in is interesting both visually and thematically. Broxton’s artwork is inventive and clear and, when it needs to be, dramatically visceral. The mystery of what’s going on in this strange city, of what lies beneath its superficial perfection, is deftly developed through a series of well-scripted encounters. Vampirella’s meeting with the clothes shop clerk is beautifully written and the clerk’s plaintive “You don’t know what you just did to me” provides an intriguing clue to the emotional cost of this hedonist’s heaven.
That said, I have some reservations. I could be wrong, but I think we might be in anti-Trump political commentary territory here. Cornell’s a liberal chap and the presence of a decayed Mount Rushmore, a much diminished and explicitly whitewashed LA and the references to money suggest that the evil that is at work here is an analogue for, if not the tangerine one himself, then possibly a GOP who, liberals would argue, hides its venality and corruption between a veneer of morality, rather like the mono-syllabic ‘angels’ who attack Vampirella while reeking of sulphur. Does this worry me? Not at the moment, no. I have no problem with politically influenced and motivated art, provided it’s done well and doesn’t get in the way of good story-telling. The moment things get preachy, I step off. As I mentioned last time, I’ve been reading Cornell’s stuff for a long while and, the odd wrong step notwithstanding (yeah, Demon Knights, I’m looking at you), I have confidence in his ability to write exciting, memorable stories peopled with interesting, believable characters.
Although there are one or two slight niggles (why do the ‘angels’ not follow Vampirella to the city, for example?), this remains a very enjoyable issue. There’s enough here to keep me interested in the series, and there are (just) enough hints dropped to prompt some theorising about the nature of the situation in which Vampirella finds herself. Broxton’s art is very good; Cornell’s script is witty and fun. All in all, this is worth checking out.
Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton take a fresh look at the scantily clad vampiress from Drakulon in this 0 issue of Dynamite’s new series, and offer intriguing hints about her future.
0 issues are odd things, really. They tend to be disposable: not connected closely enough to the first issue proper to be indispensable for understanding the main plot; not involving enough to be interesting as a story in their own right. Not having read the first issue of Vampirella yet, it’s impossible to say with any certainty just how important this issue is in terms of the new series’ overall narrative, but I can say that, in Vampirella #0, writer Paul Cornell and artist Jimmy Broxton have crafted a tale that is, indeed, engaging on its own terms – even as it acts as an intriguing teaser for the main series.
The first half of the story follows three characters (two men and a woman) who are trudging through a snowswept wilderness that, we are told, is one of the “vast empty places” of “paradise”, a word that here refers more to a physical locale than a transcendent mental, spiritual or emotional state. Our characters are nearing the end of a quest. They have a map and enough doubts about what they’re doing to necessitate an intriguing conversation that reveals a little more about the society against which, it would seem, they are rebelling. It would seem their “paradise” is not all it’s cracked up to be. Love, apparently, is not easy to find and, although their lives were “a luxury” back where they came from, there’s a grim fatalistic determination about them that suggests that, whatever they expect to find at the end of their journey, they’re prepared to sacrifice their lives in their pursuit of it. That goal is described by the group’s apparent leader as a “snake” that she wants to “plant” in paradise presumably to shake things up. Throw in a really quite intimidating flock of silhouetted flying creatures that could be either angels or demons as an impending threat and you have enough of a mystery and an immediate sense of danger to make for a pretty compelling story.
While one of the group stays behind to fend off the approaching threat, the other two press on, entering an underground vault that contains their prize: the tomb of Vampirella. In a desperate effort to wake our slumbering vampire princess, the two characters cut themselves and drip their blood onto her mouth, ultimately sacrificing themselves to wake her up.
And wake up she does. Rather spectacularly, if truth be told. I’ve not mentioned Jimmy Broxton’s art yet, but now’s a good time to do so. It’s excellent. In the opening pages the lines are reasonably thin and clear, faces are expressive and poses naturalistic; for the pages in which the two characters navigate the subterranean tunnels leading to Vampirella’s tomb his layouts and use of shadow are just superb. It’s very atmospheric – and unnerving – stuff. For the moment of Vampirella’s resurrection… well, I don’t think ‘visceral’ really cuts it. She awakens with a primal rage that is evoked magnificently and her vitality and determination as she climbs up and out towards the light is palpable. It really is exceptionally impressive stuff.
As for Cornell’s script, it’s very engaging and contains just enough hints about the world in which Vampirella has awoken to make this reader very intrigued to see how things pan out. My enjoyment of Cornell’s work goes way back to his Doctor Who New Adventures novels for Virgin in the 90s. Cornell was instrumental in infusing those novels with a post-modern playfulness while at the same time delivering the requisite cleverness and horror with which the show is traditionally associated. A similar mingling of gothic sensibilities and self-conscious storytelling is present here. Throughout the comic the artwork is accompanied by a strip of narration at the bottom of each page.
For the most part, that narration is in the kind of pink 60s balloonish font you might expect to see on a Beatles cover; it comments on the action in a lyrical, playful way. This changes once Vampirella wakes, however. The font becomes a more urgent red on black; the narration changes to first person and suggests a subtle (and, for this character, somewhat troubling) vulnerability.
Perhaps most intriguing of all is the book that Vampirella’s ‘rescuers’ have left for her – a confusingly comprehensive and contradictory collection of origin myths and stories, as well as prophecies about her future that Vampirella instinctively pushes against. This is a Vampirella who does not want to be pigeonholed or coerced into fulfilling some kind of destiny, even if that coercion comes from people to whom she owes her newfound active state.
On the whole, then, this issue does its job very well. As a prologue to the main series, it gives the reader enough detail about the new world in which Vampirella finds herself to encourage further reading. It also introduces the character clearly and sets her moving without too much pointless introspection. In short, it certainly is an involving story in its own right and, at only a quarter (or for nothing on Comixology!), is well worth a punt.
NB: This review first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website. Pop on over and give those awesome hard-working guys some love.