Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Vampirella Archive volume 2

I of course knew of the iconic comic-strip character Vampirella but until now I had never seen an actual Vampirella comic. I’ve never been much of a comics fan. I have recently developed a taste for European comics such as Jean-Claude Forest's Barbarella and Guido Crepax’s surreal erotically charged comics (in collections such as Evil Spells) and even more recently I’ve become a major fan of the British Modesty Blaise comics. But my exposure to American comics has been limited to a couple of 90s graphic novels and my exposure to American comics of earlier periods has been totally non-existent.

So on a whim I bought one of the hardcover Vampirella Archive collections (volume 2 in fact) which includes half a dozen of the original Vampirella comic books which first appeared around 1969.

Vampirella the character was at least partly the creation of science fiction super-fan Forrest J. Ackerman. Each issue of the comic included half a dozen or so comic-strip adventures plus various other features. Disappointingly Vampirella herself only features in one story per issue. This volume begins with issue 8 of the comic. Lots of different writers and artists contributed.

There are also fairly regular sword-and-sorcery stories and they’re pretty good as well. The other stories in each comic are the problem. The stories are often just too short so although the ideas are often very good there’s no time to develop them. By the time you start getting interested they’re over. Some of the non-Vampirella stories work; some don’t.

The comic was definitely aiming to be sexy. There’s quite a bit of nudity. There seemed to be a gradual increase in the level of nudity. In the first few issues in this volume there’s nudity but with the woman’s hair always artfully concealing her nipples. The later issues are not quite so coy. The publishers had evidently figured out that by 1971 they could get away with quite a lot and so they decided to ramp up the nudity quotient. Which I think was a good move. If you’re going to do a sexy comic you might as well make it genuinely sexy.

The Vampirella stories are very good and they’re linked which makes them more interesting. Vampirella is up against a deadly cult. She does have one advantage. She has found out how to survive without having to kill humans for their blood. Vampirella has no desire to hurt humans, unless she is forced to. She is an alien rather than a straightforward vampire and she is cast as heroine rathe than villainess.

In the lead story of issue 8 Vampirella is finding life on Earth to be rather difficult. On her home planet Drakulon blood is easy to obtain but on Earth the only way to get blood is by attacking humans. And Vampirella must have blood to survive. She ends up in a clinic where a kindly doctor tells her that he can solve this problem for her. Vampirella is not quite sure about this clinic - she’s rather suspicious of the doctor’s nurse. With good reason. Vampirella finds herself in a bizarre and terrifying nightmare world of demons. A good action-packed fun story.

In issue 9 Vampirella continues to hunt for the evil cultists but she is in turn being hunted by the Van Helsings (yes, descendants of that Van Helsing). They naturally assume that she is an ordinary vampire and therefore evil.

Vampirella is drawn to a decaying carnival in Carnival of the Damned. It’s not just decaying. There is an atmosphere of misery. And there is magic afoot, and the cult of chaos against which Vampirella has been battling may be involved. Meanwhile the Van Helsings are closing in on Vampirella. Vampirella acquires an ally, a broken-down stage magician named Pendragon who becomes a recurring character. A great story.

In Isle of the Huntress Vampirella and Pendragon are marooned on an island which is inhabited by a werewolf. Or perhaps not a werewolf. Just as Vampirella is not a conventional vampire so this werewolf is not a conventional werewolf. Vampirella could end up as either the hunted or the huntress. A good story.

Lurker in the Deep pits Vampirella and Pendragon against a very nasty aquatic demon. Fun.

As for the non-Vampirella stories, the sword-and-sorcery stories are pretty good. Gardner Fox wrote many such tales and his first story featuring the word-wielding queen Amazonia is excellent. A demon wants to claim Amazonia’s throne. He also wants to kill her but he makes a mistake that makes that impossible. He is however confident that he has neutralised her. This warrior babe is however not all that easy to neutralise. A short but entertaining tale.

War of Wizards is fairly good - a barbarian warrior is caught in a conflict between rival wizards. The barbarian wants to save himself, save his lady love and destroy the empire.

Amazonia and the Eye of Ozirios is a pretty decent sword-and-sorcery tale.

The Silver Thief and the Pharaoh’s Daughter benefits from a properly developed plot with some decent twists. The ancient Egypt setting works extremely well. A very good story.

Eye of the Beholder is the grisly tale of a medieval countess who will take any steps necessary to make herself attractive to men. Possibly inspired very vaguely by the legends surrounding Elizabeth Bathory? It’s a good story anyway.

To Kill a God
takes place in Egypt. A Roman officer seeks to save a beautiful princess. She is threatened by a high priest, or perhaps the threat comes from a god. This tale plays fast and loose with both history and Egyptian mythology but it does so in a very enjoyable way.

Prisoner in the Pool is set 3,000 years in the past. A greek hero has to free a maiden confined to a pool by a magic spell. A story that just needed a bit more plot.

In The Sword of Light a beautiful young queen must defend her realm against an evil magic warrior. One man could aid her, except that he’s a coward. A good fun story with mayhem, magic and a feisty heroine.

The stories with contemporary settings and the science fiction stories are more of a mixed bag. The Curse is promising - a man without a memory meets a half-naked girl who tells him they’ve both been cursed by a witch. It’s rather good.

Snake Eyes is a decent story of a girl named Sara who looks like a reptile girl, despite which she has managed to find a boyfriend. He has plans to launch her career as a side-show attraction but he needs money for publicity. If only he could persuade her to sell that strange pendant. It turns out that there is more to Sara than meets the eye, and there’s another twist as well.

Regeneration Gap is a successful sci-fi story in which an astronaut returns to Earth to find that 128 years have passed. Whether life still survives on Earth depends on how you define life.

The Escape concerns a glamorous female jewel thief in the 26th century. Her costume is even more revealing than Vampirella’s. She’s on the run and takes a desperate chance. Not a bad idea but with an overly obvious ending.

Quest is a very short but very good story. It’s very minimalist. There’s no dialogue and we don’t know where or when it takes place. It has a nicely nasty little twist at the end.

Final Thoughts

Given that so many different writers and artists were involved it’s inevitable that this collection is very uneven. Each issue did however contain a good Vampirella and usually a couple of other very good stories. And each issue contained two or three stories that were either disappointing because they were not fully developed or complete misfires.

That’s not such a terrible success/failure ratio. On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. Recommended, and Vampirella is such an icon that you really do need to sample some of her early adventures and that’s probably enough to bump this volume up to highly recommended status.

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