A Writer's Commentary: Christopher Priest on Vampirella #5, on sale now from Dynamite. If you have a Writer or Artist commentary on your own published comics work, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Seduction of The Innocent," my inaugural story arc for VAMPIRELLA, is about a plane crash. The first half of the story arc focuses on events leading up to this disaster, while the second half focuses on how the disaster changes Vampirella and re-shapes her perspective of life here on Earth.
Comics frequently treat extraterrestrials as humans, endowing them with such humanity that it's easy to forget these characters are, in fact, alien species now resident on Earth. I mean, they own condos. They shop at Costco, eat at Taco Bell. They date humans, marry humans, have children with humans, none of which makes much sense.
I was traveling recently and stopped at a Walmart where, it seemed, seven out of ten people in the store were either Spanish-speaking or Somali immigrants. Now, mind you, this is Walmart in a typical American suburb, a place I was very familiar with but hadn't visited in decades. It was now, for me, a kind of alien plateau.
Neither of the two groups of shoppers seemed to integrate with one another beyond whatever was necessary to navigate the tight aisles. Neither group were speaking a common language. Being James C. Kumbaya-Harmony, I smiled and made eye contact with most everyone I met but discovered many of these people had come here fleeing incredibly dire circumstances which made eye contact seem hostile to them.
My efforts at folksy friendliness may have seemed suspect to many of them who greeted my smile with icy stares. And, as alien as many of these people seemed to me, this being the country of my birth, in this place, in this great American institution of groceries and discount cotton socks, it really wasn't them, but it was me who was the strange visitor.
Vampirella, the space vampire, has always seemed to me to be a bit too well integrated into a humanity that would surely distrust if not outright hate her for being different. The vampirism notwithstanding, just her having a foreign accent, which she may or may not have depending on who is writing her at the time, would be enough for some Americans, most especially, to treat her with distrust.
My fascination with setting superhero comics in the "real" world would never allow Clark Kent the level of benign comfort he's known for 80 years. Someone like Vampirella, who is not only an alien but a vampire who dresses like a hooker, could not possibly integrate as benignly into Priest World as she traditionally has. Thus, in my view, Vampi was well overdue for a reminder: You Are Not Them.
Welcome to Seduction of The Innocent.
So, by issue five, we are now beginning to understand the plane crash, which we already know will happen, is apparently a product of a conspiracy regarding some of Vampirella's enemies. The exact extent of her rogue's gallery and their reason for teaming up remains undisclosed, but we know these people are up to something. Issue 5 marks the first time these people come fully on-stage.
Last issue we followed a mysterious woman posing as a hotel housekeeper to the room occupied by a real estate agent. Here the agent returns to her room to discover a playing card, a Queen of Hearts, left on her desk. Longtime Vampirella fans will recognize this as the trademark of one of Vampi's classic enemies, the Blood Red Queen of Hearts, a disembodied spirit who inhabits the body of anyone who touches this playing card, which our hapless realtor does.
In the hotel's sub-basement, we see the mysterious woman who is apparently blind conspiring with Baron Gustav Von Kreist, the immortal decaying corpse and sworn enemy of Vampirella. From issue #1 we know Von Kreist is on the doomed plane when it goes down, and here, in this flashback, we see him as one of the conspirators, having great affection for this woman… or does he?
The woman suddenly becomes agitated, as though waking from a coma and finding herself with two smelly decaying corpses (the immortal baron and the dismembered bloody body parts on the table), and Von Kriest continues his affectionate conversation not with the cleaning woman in the sub-basement but with the realtor in the room upstairs; the consciousness of his beloved having transferred twenty floors up.
Having no further use for the vessel of the cleaning woman, the baron casually disposes of her as the ritual they'd come to perform reaches its zenith–
–congealing the bloody entrails and body parts into the half-woman-half demon Mistress Nyx, another of Vampirella's sworn enemies.
Nyx, who has been dead for quite sometime, is understandably confused. She no longer looks the way she did, and here, in our "Kelvin Universe" J.J. Abrams-ized reimagining of Vampirella, Nyx has been reborn as a kind of fire demon with a new look and redefined powers. She thanks Von Kriest by attempting to kill him–
–but, failing that, tracks Von Kreist's open PCS transmission to the realtor's room upstairs where she instantly recognizes Jezebel, the Blood Red Queen of Hearts, despite the queen appearing in a new host body Nyx could not possibly have seen before. I probably should have taken a moment to explain that.
I don't think demons recognize us by our face or clothing. You can't fool your dog by removing your glasses or cutting your hair. Your pet knows your scent. Vampirella would know these characters the moment either of them got within twenty feet of her.
While the expectation might be that the unholy trio (so far) would stack hands and forge a pact, personally I think villains are mostly about egos. The daughter of the Mad God Chaos, whom we won't be seeing anytime soon (sorry), I imagine Mistress Nyx to have a fierce sense of entitlement and superiority. Getting her to fall in line with the rest of the crew should, therefore, require some effort, which is what this chapter of the story arc is about.
I invest a lot in the new Nyx here, defining her powers and creating her own version of Vampirella's dilemma–the need to prey on human beings for sustenance. To have any gravity within a drama, the villains need to be more than bowling pins for Vampi to knock down; they need to be fully realized people with their own needs and desires which logically propel whatever insidious agenda they ultimately create. Nyx can't just be a name.
Here we establish the rules: Nyx is a fire imp with the pyrokinetic ability to manufacture and control flame, including body heat of humans and animals. Her abilities include short-range teleportation and the power of flight. Nyx carries a hellfire scepter, golden skulls on a stick, which she uses to project flame and sap the life force from living beings.
Artist Ergün Gündüz has given Nyx a distinctly African look, which might get us into trouble somewhere down the line considering Nyx's human half is Caucasian (I can read the tweets now: Priest says all demons are black). Nyx herself is indifferent to any racial issues: in her demon persona she is composed of ash and brimstone. Her human guise has always been a buxom Caucasian blonde (as she is in Vengeance of Vampirella).
Here, Nyx is a redhead, which is kind of my fault. I sent Ergün some reference on a preferred hairstyle and the model's hair was red. Nyx has traditionally been blonde while the Blood Red Queen (BRQ) was a redhead. But, heck, we're J.J. Abramsing everything anyway.
Doesn't take the dog long to like Nyx despite Nyx having incinerated his master. The dog may regret that choice later…
The story of Nyx mirrors the larger story of Vampirella: someone who becomes infected by the human experience. Someone who, as we all do, desires life and love and purpose and who at least momentarily discovers those things and becomes seduced by them to the extent that they almost forget none of those things belong to them.
Both Nyx and Vampirella are living borrowed lives. To some extent, I believe that's what we all are doing. Life and love are incredibly fragile. Friends are precious and need to be handled with extreme care.
And, just when we've begun taking all our many blessings for granted… they're gone.
Simply gorgeous work by Ergün. And hilarious. This is the vibe I wanted for this run: young people trying to make it on their own in the big city.
In previous iterations, Vampi almost seemed to be wealthy, having little to no reference made to how she paid the bills. In our 50th anniversary view, Vampirella is more or less Peter Parker — the exceptionally gifted selfless hero who nonetheless struggles to meet rent every month.
Victory, Vampirella's ticking time bomb of a girlfriend, does not actually live there but she flops there almost every night and, as Ergün brilliantly illustrates with no need for words from me, we can clearly see Vampi has emotionally checked out of that relationship.
Benny The Witch, whom we met in issue #2's brilliant, fall-down-laughing funny speed dating sequence (which was all Ergün; those were all characters of his invention) seems sexually agnostic, indifferent to the two amazing specimens he is in bed with.
And a note about the specimens: throughout our series, Ergün is drawing a wide variety of women of varying ages, shapes, sizes and dispositions. I lobbied hard against comic book traditions of one-shape-fits-all Barbies, wherein we used to simply change the costume to indicate who was whom. Ergün's women are all living, breathing human beings endowed with dignity and unique quirks. His Blood Red Queen is amazing and sexy, all attitude, but looks nothing at all like Victory who, as Benny points out, lacks the, ah, boobledge to fill out Vampirella's costume.
As I understand it, Vampirella was originally intended to strike a satirical blow for women's independence and make a feminist statement. I'm not trying to make any statement beyond making this a fun and meaningful book, but I acknowledge the line between sexy and sexist is razor thin, and I personally may not realize I've crossed it until it's well into my rearview mirror.
Here we see the beginnings of Vampirella's eventual outing into social media (see our Free Comic Book Day issue #0). The public spotlight is the last place Vampi wants to be, and a mysterious summons by someone named "Drake" just heightens her annoyance.
Victory's flirtation with the indifferent Benny is salted by her sudden obsession with and jealousy over "Drake," whomever that might be, as well as her vampire-envy of Vampirella. We can hear the clicks of channels switching in her head and know Victory is a hand grenade with the pin yanked out of it.
Mother Mary, leader of The Six Marys, the Navy SEAL team of O.C.E.I. (Catholic Exorcism Initiative Office), does The Obsessive Girlfriend Pop-In, something I'm sure we've all experienced in one form or another. This is a very dangerous move for Mother, who is usually a brilliantly focused vampire hunter. Last issue we saw she'd had an encounter with Vampirella which they'd both agreed was a one night stand, yet here she is, being busted by Nutty Victory who immediately knows Mother is full of crap and jumps to the (correct) conclusion that something intimate has gone on between the nun and the vampire.
As Mother exits, we see she's being tailed by Clopas, one of the Six Marys, inconspicuously dressed in an iron mask and an M4 assault rifle.
Here we see more of the life Vampirella has built for herself, a collection of kids who obviously mean a great deal to her, along with a warning from her therapist Doc Chary, our Greek Chorus, about the perils of becoming too attached.
A warning that would best have been echoed to Mistress Nyx who is herself becoming seduced by this gift of stolen humanity. Nyx has completely forgotten about the life, the soul, she snuffed out in order to take this bath, which speaks to her underlying evil despite the obvious conflict her compassion for the woman's son suggests about the struggle between her demon and human halves.
This is the key to Nyx: whereas Vampirella is burdened by conscience and a genuine bonding with human beings, Nyx is much more like Vampi's mother, Lilith, whose concern for human beings is transactional at best.
Here Lilith would have snuffed the kid without a second thought. But, bringing surety to Doc Chary's warnings, Nyx grows attached to the child of the woman whose life she took without hesitation. Nyx has a sudden, instant life. Vampirella and whatever is going on with Vampi's rogues is the farthest thing from her mind.
PAGES FIFTEEN AND SIXTEEN
Here we meet Drago, the creepy purple vampire from Nancy A. Collins' brilliant Our Lady of Shadows. In that run, Drago was not specifically identified as Vampirella's brother, but in several iterations of Vampirella's universe it's been stated that all Vampires are Lilith's kids, so I thought why not?
Drago was (and still is in this version) the more or less unofficial mayor of a community of vampires. In our universe, that community is the tiny village of Ashthorne in Atlanta's orbit. Here Drago lays out a plot line that comes out of nowhere and apparently goes nowhere, which means you should pay attention to it.
The crisis in Ashthorne– local conservatives oppressing the peaceful vampires living there (in this case using the planning commission to run an interstate highway right through their town; a virtual stake in the heart) presents a major dilemma. These ghouls and undead aren't bothering anybody. They're minding their own business. But the butt-clinching conservatives will not leave them alone and are provoking what Drago calls here, a return to the "old ways."
Here also Vampirella infers Drago has victimized her in the past, which is also likely to get me into trouble because it'll be a few issues before we have a fuller understanding of what she means by "used to screw me," but I'll try and head off the tirades by saying there's a lot of ways friends and family can screw you. Stay tuned and hold your fire.
Heads up: the Ashthorne plotline rabbit chase is not a rabbit chase. It is, ultimately, what this entire story arc is about.
Here we begin a rapid succession of short scenes driving toward a break in this two-part episode. I don't know why, I really can't explain it, but the notion of a demon obsessed with bowling just tickled me to death. Don't ask me where it came from, but Nyx's human half is simply addicted to certain physical pleasures that have little to do with human genitalia. She's human, she's breathing. And, my God, look– there's a bowling ball.
No matter how crappy your life may be, folks, you can always go bowling. It is literally God's blessing to us.
So, we juxtapose Nyx's good night with what the heck is Blood Queen up to with Victory? The answer is two-fold: BRQ needs a lift to Nyx's house, while also planting a travel brochure in Victory's Ober car (page 20).
BRQ, resourceful, confident, and definitely sexy, effortlessly gains entrance to Nyx's stolen Beverly Hills condo and the child sleeping within. This is my personal sense of evil: not the overt bludgeoning and mustache twirling, but the graceful verve with which the Blood Queen serves it up. She's a woman who enjoys her work. And Nyx can't just blow them off that easily.
This is all foreshadowing of the main theme: the price Vampirella pays for immersing herself in humanity. Love has an actual cost. Friendship has an actual cost. Most of take these things for granted but all love and life are incredibly precious and fragile…
…as both Vampirella and Mistress Nyx are about to discover.
Thanks for picking us up!