David Avallone's Writer's Commentary on Bettie Page Unbound #5, on sale now from Dynamite.
So when Bettie Page Unbound was announced, and planned, and plotted… it was a four-chapter miniseries. I didn't think we'd get extended, even with good sales. Wellllll…. we did. And I didn't know initially if it would be for one or two or five or twenty more issues. So issue five had to – sort of – stand on its own. Much like The Princess and the Pinup (Bettie Page Volume 2) got a one-issue epilogue (at Loch Ness), I thought I could do a one-issue epilogue for Unbound. I had a good candidate for the story, too.
If you read it, you know who that is. If you didn't… this is just going to be a mass of spoilers. Okay, I warned you… so in we go.
Covers: Most of the covers were done before I had any idea what I was going to do with this issue, and they're a lot of fun. Royle does a great Bettie-as-Catwoman cover. Julius Ohta actually got some input from me, so there are inter-dimensional portals AND the man who hypothesized them hovering behind Bettie. Scott Chantler does a beautiful job making a 1950s-looking comic book cover… of Bettie reading comic books. Newcomer to the series Vincenzo Federici recreates a classic Gil Elvgren pinup with Bettie, much as John Royle evoked the great Elvgren in the Halloween Special.
Page 1: First off, let's talk about the artist on this issue: Moy R. We want to keep Bettie flowing out to stores at high speed, so we've been bringing in the occasional fill-in artist, particularly on transitional issues like this one, and the epilogue to The Princess and the Pinup. Moy's work has a manga-inflected style, and he renders Bettie beautifully.
One of the benefits of writing a character for a few years… is you are able to give the saga some time to breathe. This issue falls between two big story arcs, and isn't quite as epic as the previous four… but that's intentional. If the stakes are sky high in every issue that can also get a little exhausting. I'm hoping by now that people love Bettie (and trust me) enough to let her have a slightly more quiet adventure.
Further… I don't know about you, but I don't particularly like stories where people have incredible life-changing experiences that… don't change them. (This is fairly common in comic book storytelling.) Bettie is a 27-year-old woman in 1952 who's just been on four different planets, in four different dimensions, fighting titanic godlike demons while undergoing radical transformations to her body. If I have to take a minute to readjust to Los Angeles after New York Comic Con… I bet she needs a little longer than that to get back into the "normal" swing of things in her life.
In panel 5, I keep meaning to ask Moy if "Javin's" is a reference to the great Marie Javins. The movie playing down the street is THE IRON MISTRESS, a 1952 biopic about Jim Bowie, starring Alan Ladd and Virginia Mayo.
Page 2: So last time, we dumped a pirate ship on Central Park East. Bettie's associates at Project Blue Book – and her friend Rick Chaplain, an actual rocket scientist from Pacific Aerospace Technologies – are fascinated. Rick was introduced in Bettie Page Volume 1, Number 1, and is loosely based on Jack Parsons (and P.A.S.T. is loosely based on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.)
Page 3: This page relates to what I said above about the aftermath of life-changing adventures. Captain McKnight didn't go on Bettie's interdimensional adventures with her, but he has to choose to believe them – or not. Believing them challenges his understanding of the universe. Here, he's struggling with that but ultimately – as always – coming out on Bettie's side.
Page 4: Fun with Lyssa Druke and her alternate universe mermaid counterpart, Melyssa. I will be bringing her (and her Crocodile friend, and the Pirates and Forest Boys) back at some point. They're too much fun.
Page 5: They didn't call it PTSD in 1952. I think it still would have been classified as "combat fatigue," if what Bettie had been through was classified as combat. A "week in the Catskills" is a common New York City short vacation in the fifties, and "head-shrinker" is period slang (though still sometimes used today) for therapist/psychiatrist. And yes… in 1952, the New Jersey Turnpike had just been completed. Thanks, Ike!
Pages 6 & 7: Who else are you going to talk to about dimensional portals, in 1952? Einstein was teaching at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton New Jersey, and occasionally lecturing at the college. Einstein hints that he was involved with some high tech work during the war, and that McKnight was a part of it. Maybe I'll tell that story some day…
Page 8: Part of Lovecraft's mythology was that dreams and visions of the Great Old Ones plague mankind… and particularly people with unusual, artistic or uniquely sensitive natures. Those people compared notes, and Cthulhu and his minions, and the Necronomicon would be things that those "in the know" would be aware of. Naturally, this would all include the world's greatest physicist.
Page 9: Bettie tells her story, and Einstein ponders the physics, while a couple of mysterious figures approach. But we've seen these two before…
Pages 10 & 11: The return of Endré and Alia. Longtime readers know that he's based on my good friend, (and college drama professor) Endré Hules, and she's based on Nastassja Kinski… and a Russian college girlfriend. (To be clear: my Russian college girlfriend was not Nastassia Kinski. She was gorgeous, sure, but not a famous supermodel.)
Endré knows that interdimensional portals (to the degree that such things exist) are known as Einstein-Rosen bridges… and that's why I wanted Bettie to meet Einstein in this issue. The Tunguska Star is the name of the Eternal Key that was in Russian hands for about fifty years, which Bettie first acquired in Bettie Page Volume 1, Number 7. The joke about Soviet intelligence agencies is based on the fact that if I used the 1952 acronym for Soviet foreign intelligence people wouldn't recognize it. It wasn't the KGB (which is the one people know.)
Pages 12 & 13: Einstein's boss at the Institute for Advanced Study was Professor Robert Oppenheimer… the project leader on the Manhattan Project, producer of the first atomic bombs. Oppenheimer had his regrets about ever having been in the bomb-making business, and Einstein was very much morally conflicted about being tied in any way to nuclear weapons.
Bettie Page was a very good student. She remembers her high school physics classes, and Newton's Laws. Alia is saying "What are you doing?" in Russian. Thanks to always fantastic letterer Taylor Esposito for indulging me here with a little Cyrillic.
Page 14: Remember, kids… always wear your seatbelts. Don't be like Endré, who's a rotten commie spy anyway.
Pages 15 & 16: Bettie and Alia last tangled in the aforementioned Bettie Page Volume 1, Number 7. Bettie was fresh out of basic training, and Alia was a well trained assassin. She was scared, and knew she couldn't beat Alia, in spite of her bravado. That haunts her in this scene. This seems like a good spot to point out the excellent color work of Ellie Wright, and how it embodies Bettie's powerful emotions in this sequence.
Wind Song, by Prince Matchabelli, was a very popular perfume in the 1950s, and not out of the budget of someone with Bettie's income.
Pages 17, 18 & 19: So… there's plot, and then there's story. I had the plot of this one very early in the process of writing this issue. Bettie is unsettled, goes to see Einstein, kidnapping attempt by Soviet agents, Bettie foils it. Easy. Clear. But… what's the story? Why tell it, beyond seeing the pretty lady interact with the old genius and then kick ass? That's fun, but it's not enough. I was halfway through writing it when I realized what the story was.
The story is Bettie realizing she has to accept the amazing thing she's just experienced, and that the four "other Betties" are part of her now, forever. Rather than be freaked out by it, she can – and will, and does – gain strength from it. Of course, that's true of all our life experiences, right? You can get crushed trying to understand what happened to you, or you can try to integrate those experiences into who you are NOW, and grow from them. It's not always easy: sometimes it is the hardest thing in the world. But it's one way to survive.
This started as a fill-in issue… of no great consequence to our ongoing saga of Bettie's adventures. But this sequence, on these three pages, is crucial to understanding who Bettie is evolving into.
Page 20: Bettie knows who she is now. As we all know… that can be a fleeing feeling, and you can wake up tomorrow with the same old doubts. But she's crossed a Rubicon here, and some part of that change will be permanent. She'll need that newfound power and confidence to face what's coming next: THE INVASION OF THE BETTIE-SNATCHERS.
As always… acknowledgment and thanks to Kevin Ketner for his full-service editing, and Joe Rybandt and Nick Barrucci for letting me play in their sandbox.
See you next time!