Vampirella #1: Seduction of the Innocent
Frank Cho (Cover A artist), Ergün Gündüz (artist and colourist), Christopher Priest (writer), Willie Schubert (letterer)
July 17, 2019
Fifty years after her introduction, Vampirella is rebooted yet again by Dynamite—though writer Priest promises that this isn’t exactly a reboot. In a CBR interview, he says that the book will acknowledge all of her incarnations without simply erasing them from who she is now: a monster woman displaced, trying to find a sense of community. We see some of this not long into the story as Vampi tries to explain herself to a trauma therapist. This present interlocks with the past, six weeks earlier, when Vampirella’s midflight battle with Von Kriest ends with a plane crash that kills all but the immortals on board.
Contrasting with a deliciously slow, almost wordless opening that lasts several pages and allows the reader to take in the scope of the tragedy of the plane crash, the pages that follow immediately jump into a chaotic back-and-forth between the past and the present, the battle and the conversation between Vampirella and her trauma therapist. The latter, who bears a striking resemblance to Priest himself, does not believe the story of her origins, but is willing to let her tell it—though he frequently interrupts her and occasionally injects his own concerns about how Vampirella, a technologically advanced, powerful being from a society without prejudice who wears thongs, can fit into our world. This culminates in his brow-raising statement, “Vampires are the new negroes.”
Gündüz’s art is solid throughout, and striking when not buried under the chaos of Priest’s words in Schubert’s word balloons, but there are inconsistencies that pile up to make this an overall frustrating read for me. The inconsistencies namely come with Vampirella’s clothing. Given the controversy around her costume and Dynamite’s short-lived run with her redesigns, it’s no surprise that she’s back in her original costume, which graces all of the issue’s covers with artists using varying amounts of material to cover her. Notably, most of the cover images lean less toward thong and spaghetti straps, and more towards the original Trina Robbins design, as does Gündüz’s initial image above of her standing by the crashed plane.
Thing is, I’m not even talking about her controversial costume. I’m talking about how the casual clothing she wears randomly develops shoulder straps, changes necklines, gains knots, loses knots. Buttons appear and disappear on the trauma specialist, too. Finally, the iconic costume suddenly and inexplicably makes its appearance as Vampi strips down in midair in what ought to have been a powerful scene, but instead was marred by this annoyance. It might seem like a trivial thing for some, but the inconsistency that ought to have been picked up by the artist and an editor kept drawing my focus away from what was going on and from speculation on more important things than how Vampi’s attire works. It was actually a relief when she finally got to settle into the costume for the few panels it appeared, though there were a few subsequent changes in panty lines.
Priest believes that the character is nothing without that iconic costume, which is an unfortunate reality for this fifty-year-old icon. The limited coverage of both Vampirella and her people is brought up repeatedly by the trauma specialist. In another interview, Priest makes it clear that he’d have to exit a vehicle rather than share it with a woman so scantily dressed. Which begs the question of why he’s the one writing her, especially when he has the trauma therapist deliver lines like, “You, half-nekkid Canadian bitch, are not no alien from Pluto.”
I am still new to Vampirella and am trying to find a good spot to get into her story, whatever that might be. I would love to see Vampirella become a character that can be defined as far more than a vampire alien in a thong, but I’m not sure that Priest’s intense focus on Vampirella’s clothing and immoral status as a vampire (and a Canadian, apparently) will be it.