Geektoberfest: Vampirella’s Sordid History*

From the minute you laid eyes on her, you could tell she was trouble.  Frank Frazetta’s cover to Vampirella #1 has her posed with one hand on her fleshy hip and one finger in her mouth.  She’s wearing black boots and her iconic red sling bikini with the white collar and nothing else. 

I never witnessed the cover on the newsstand, but when I eventually saw it in my cousin’s magazine collection during my pre-pubescent days, my reaction was visceral and illuminating.  I’m far from unique.  The Comics Buyer’s Guide has ranked her 35 in a ranking of the 100 Sexiest Women in Comics.  (It makes me wonder who’s #1?)

Vampirella is a comic book “vampire” created by Forest Ackerman and Trina Robbins for Warren Publishing in 1969.  She was designed to serve as a horror hostess to an anthology series a la Elvira.  She always starred in one of the stories in each issue as a way of assuring that people (boys) would want to follow the continuity (cleavage). (It may not be pretty or enlightened, folks, but let’s be honest about this.)

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When Warren went into bankruptcy in 1983, there was a legal battle for their properties:  Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella.  The battle went on for nearly 10 years.  In the end, Harris wound up with Vampirella, the only property they REALLY wanted.  When Harris had to fold up there were more legal battles and in 2010 Dynamite Comics won the rights to Vampirella.

Each company had it’s own vision of what they wanted Vampirella to be and so through the various incarnations Vampirella’s story has been corrupted, altered, bastardized, and convoluted.  This is not unique when it comes to the world of publishing, and especially when it comes to a character that has existed for more than 50 years. 

Think about this.  Over the course of 50 years she has undergone various incarnations through 3 different publishing companies, 1 live-action movie, and dozens of creators.  Her story is bound to be complicated. (I told you she looked like trouble from the very beginning.)

Vampirella was originally an alien, from the planet Drakulon, one of the Vampiri, a race that lived on the blood that flowed as a natural resource in rivers on her planet.  Droughts were causing the rivers to dry up and threatened the last remaining Vampiri.  Coincidentally, a spaceship from Earth crashes on Drakulon just as the survivors are about to give up. 

Vampirella kills the astronauts and finds that they can sustain the Vampiri with their blood.  She then pilots the ship back to Earth in an attempt to save her race, but discovers that Dracula, one of the Vampiri from Drakulon, is creating a race of vampires to take over Earth and that’s when Vampirella changes from predator to protector.  This is the original Warren storyline.

When Harris took over, Vampirella learns that she is the daughter of Lilith, the first wife of Adam, the first man in the biblical story.  Lilith would not submit to Adam and hence was cast out of Eden and replaced by Eve.  Lilith spawned demons as a way to get back at humankind, but she repented and bore Vampirella as a way to fight the evil she created. 

In this version, Drakulon is not a planet, but a place in Hell. If your head is hurting right now, it gets even more convoluted.  Suffice it to say, in all the incarnations, Vampirella is a protagonist who seeks out serial killers, monsters, and demons of every stripe.

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As for the movie, it’s a Roger Corman movie directed by Jim Wynorski, which should immediately communicate preconceived notions: some positive and some negative.  I won’t comment in order to let you find out for yourself without my impression hovering over you.  Besides, I may choose to review it later on this month.  I will only communicate the plot summary. 

Vampirella (played by the lovely Talisa Soto) travels from Drakulon to Earth seeking revenge on Vlad (Roger Daltrey) and his cult of vampires for killing her father and the Council of Elders on Drakulon.  When she arrives, she forms an alliance with Adam Van Helsing to hunt down and destroy the vampires.

In preparation for this post, I wanted to read something Vampirella that is semi-current. For a true dyed-in-the-wool, Vampirella fan, Trial of the Soul leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not that Bill Willingham did not write a compelling story. It is not. Nor is it that the artwork leaves much to be desired. It does. What is here, appears to set up a larger story where Vampirella is hunted by religious zealots.

That strikes me as ridiculous. Vampirella is an alien, from another world. At least that is from the original continuity, but I freely admit things probably changed in the 50 intervening years.(It has.) If that is the case, then there was no exposition to catch me up to her current milieu. As a consequence, I can only call this an OK read, but I want to see more. The artwork was really good and less exploitative than most of her works.(Followers of the blog must have realized by now, that I am a sucker for punishment.)

For now, I hope that you feel I gave Vampirella a fair shake. Just because I did not like the Trial of the Soul one-shot, it does not mean that Vampirella is a lost cause. Clearly, Vampirella is a character that draws money. As long as that continues, there will be plenty more stories of Vampirella in various incarnations. Thanks for reading the post.

* Portions of this post were previously published by me on my son’s WordPress site called EvilGeekCult

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