Review: Swords of Sorrow: Vampirella & Jennifer Blood
Nancy Collins (scripter), Dave Acosta (penciller) Valentina Pinto (colorist) Erica Schultz (letterer)
Cover by Billy Tan
May 20, 2015
(Note: This review contains some spoilers. WWAC reviewed Swords of Sorrow: Vampirella & Jennifer Blood #1 with an advanced review copy from Dynamite.)
Birdi Lulu’s Thoughts:
I am a fan of pulp. I appreciate how the pulp genre plays with noir and camp and dabbles in dark humor. Given my adoration for pulp I was ecstatic to read Swords of Sorrow: Vampirella & Jennifer Blood #1. Vampi is such an interesting character who could annihilate a population if it pleased her, but I just … I was bored. I didn’t want to be bored, not with a genre that gets me all giddy. I wholeheartedly tried to convince myself that I wasn’t bored, but to no avail. Boredom abounded.
Collin’s writing felt flat and unimaginative. As SoS is pulp driven, the writing has to bombastically deliver. Although, Acosta’s illustration conveyed Vampi’s tenacity and sharp features; Vampi terrified me. She definitely could give Regina George a run for her money. I have a strong feeling Vampi would probably end up in the burn book. Acosta stayed true to the pulp genre while also playing with Vampi’s physicality. Vampi’s body was clearly doing work, and I always appreciate when artists make a point to show what physical work bodies are doing when they fly across the air to deliver a swift kick to the face!
In this mini-series, Vampirella gets down and dirty with some hardboiled detective work and coasts the Santa Monica pier searching for an allusive killer known as the “Pacifica Slasher.” Vampi spots a sketchy interaction between a man and women, and she follows them under the pier. As the man begins to attack the women, Vampi sheds her coat, flies through the air, and delivers a well deserved kick to the back. Vampi recognizes the “Pacifica Slasher” as the ancient old Devil-Shaman, Tahquitz. Every two hundred years, Tahquitz goes on a folk feast fest. But this time, Vampi caught up with him just as the appetizers appeared. However, Vampi’s opportunity to punish Tahquitz for his folk feast fest is missed. All of the sudden, a gigantic plasma globe appears out of the sky, and Vampi flies right into the plasma globe after Tahquitz. Not even a gigantic purple energy ball can stop Vampi though, but it will be awhile before we see her again as now our focus is pulled to Jennifer Blood.
Well look who’s returned! Vampi is spit out of the plasma globe and using her vampire bat wings flies through the air in search of a disguise. Though let’s pause for a minute and wonder why a disguise at this point? VAMPI, YOU FLEW THROUGH THE AIR WITH VAMPIRE BAT WINGS. Own that shit! Whilst searching for her disguise, The Courier pays a visit. The Courier is the man in charge of delivering the Swords of Sorrow to our heroines. Vampirella’s sword is a badass hook sword complete with ridges. I’m a little envious; Vampirella is a lucky gal to bear such an intimidating sword.
Vampi and J. Blood unexpectedly meet as they are both after Tahquitz. They verbally tussle as they put an end to the Devil-Shaman. Tahquitz meets his fate at the hands of Vampi and J. Blood. (Sounds like a riot grrl band, and I would pay to see that. I’m awaiting their first single: “Paint the Patriarchy Red.”) This is the part that really got to me. The interactions between Vampirella and Jennifer Blood are superficial and read as somewhat catty.
While the writing is uninspired, the art captures the campiness of pulp while staying true to the agility and chutzpah of Vampirella. Though, as you will see in Kate’s reaction, I must agree there is a serious lack of feminist angles in this SoS. Vampirella is such a rich and fascinating character, and the pulp genre lends itself to toying with patriarchal overtones. It was a disappointment to not even see a glimmer of feminism in this story. All the characters in SOS have previously been written mostly by men in a way that overly sexualizes them and doesn’t give them much, if any, agency. Give me something to fist pump about.
What adventures will we find Vampirella on next? I’m hoping for some well-written verbal sparring, at least, and a sprinkle of feminist undertones, and if we’re lucky maybe we’ll get of glimpse of Vampi in combat with demigod turned vampire, Purgatori.
Okay, so, as you may or may not have read in my first SoS review with Ginnis, I know nothing about pulp comics, so I went to into Vampirella & Jennifer Blood #1 with zero expectations but with the hope that something interesting and feminist would be happening. I was sadly disappointed. And bored, like Bethany said. Bored, bored, bored. Also: bored.
Jennifer Blood is on the “villains” side of this “heroes vs. villains” conflict, and the first half of the issue tries to establish her as an anti-hero, but really, she feels more like an anti-anti-hero: a mockery of the anti-hero archetype that forces you to ask the question, how far is too far for a hero to go?
(For me, the line for “too far” was crossed by her killing the family of the cousin who “stole” her children after she’d been sent to prison for killing her husband after he’d discovered he’d married a coldhearted assassin).
I want to cut Nancy Collins some slack, though. Jennifer Blood was created by Garth Ennis, so it wasn’t like she was working with a quality character to begin with. But the choices she made, like introducing Jennifer by having her “working undercover” as a sex worker in Anaheim, is as heavy-handed and uncritically cliche as some of Jennifer’s actual inner monologue thoughts. A few gems:
“I’m Jennifer Blood, the most dangerous woman in the world.”
“Payback’s a bitch and so am I.”
“Scum is scum no matter which side of the country you live on.”
I wish I was joking.
So what happens when Vampirella meets Jennifer Blood?
Vampi arrives as a pseudo deus ex machina to “save” Jennifer from Tahquitz. They “talk” and they depart ways, with Vampi thinking that Jenny is a “psycho,” and Jenny thinking Vampi is a “nut job.”
Again, I wish I was kidding.
Bethany said that the art was suitably “pulpy” in feel, but to me, it fell as flat as the writing. I suppose its one redeeming aspect was that for Jenny’s backstory, it actually felt about as un-sexy as possible. It’s drawn in the same way you’d expect an anti-hero’s backstory to be drawn, with lots of blood and violence and no cheesecake. There are also a few shots where you see just how muscled Jenny is — this is no Hollywood action heroine body. She’s built. But this is undermined by the over-the-top sexiness of Jenny when she’s undercover as a sex worker. If there’s a point to the juxtaposition, it eludes me.
I will say that as a native Californian, I was pleased by the research and authenticity in the depiction of Santa Monica Pier and Anaheim, as well as the utilization of an actual Native American people, the Cahuilla, and the real legend of Tahquitz. The problem is that even though the comic says that the Cuahilla are “local” to that part of Southern California (meaning, I’m assuming, Anaheim and Santa Monica are Tahquitz’ hunting grounds), Tahquitz and the Cuahilla actually lived about 100 miles inland in the San Jacinto mountains, but I guess Palm Springs and Coachella aren’t as interesting as Santa Monica and Anaheim.
And that pretty much sums up everything that’s wrong with this — the choices that were made don’t seem to be particularly good ones, nor does there seem to be a particularly good reason for why they were made. Jennifer Blood, in hunting Tahquitz, doesn’t have to go undercover as a sex worker, but in doing so, they get to draw her in “sex worker” clothing and propositioning men. Her backstory doesn’t have to paint her as a sociopath, and yet it seems to.
There’s potential here, in Jennifer Blood, since her story is essentially the same story you’d expect from a male anti-hero. There are potentially interesting psychological avenues to explore — is she really a sociopath or just traumatized? How does her “maternal” soccer mom identity relate to this coldblooded killer? — but they are never explored, or even hinted at. If they had stuck with way of illustrating her–like the non-sexualized action hero we see in her backstory — that would have been an interesting choice as well, especially in a book like this filled with women who existed simply to be T&A for the male gaze, but that’s undermined by the whole sex worker “plot.”
There could have been an amazing feminist story in this rebooting of Jennifer Blood, but this series is not that story.