"Vampirella: Volume 1 - Our Lady of Shadows" Trade Paperback Review
Written by Jeff Tolbert
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Originally published as Vampirella #1-6 and Prelude to Shadows
Written by Nancy A. Collins
Illustrated by Patrick Berkenkotter and Cristhian Zamora
2015, 200 pages
Trade Paperback released on March 11th, 2015
I've been vaguely aware of Vampirella for ages – if you're interested in horror it's hard not to at least know the name – but until now I'd never read any of the comics. I always associated her with those other hypersexualized horrorish comic semi-icons of the '90s, Lady Death and Purgatori, and never imagined any story that could possibly justify all the boobage. As it turns out, there is a story (at least, there is now), and it's not bad. Also there's boobs. So. Not mutually exclusive, I guess.
Vampirella: Volume 1 - Our Lady of Shadows begins with a cult kidnapping a little girl to sacrifice to Umbra, the titular Lady of Shadows. Vampirella, who hunts demons and other evil creatures on behalf of the Vatican, is sent to rescue the girl. She tracks the cult down only to discover that it was all a ruse and that she was their intended victim all along. The cult members succeed in making Vampirella Umbra's vessel, and the Vatican, her former allies, sends a bunch of cranky vampire hunters after her. She is rescued by Drago, a nosferatu who tells her that to defeat Umbra she'll need to claim the power of the world's most ancient vampires. We quickly learn that the Vampirella mythos positions Lilith, the first wife of Adam, as the mother of all vampires. After being cast out of the Garden, Lilith got biblical with a bunch of demons, each of which gave rise to a different line of vampires. By drinking the blood of the oldest remaining vampires and absorbing their demonic powers, Vampirella will be able to challenge the might of the fully demonic Umbra.
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So begins a fanciful jaunt around the world and a series of encounters with different types of bloodsucking undead culled from world folklore and horror fiction, including the Thai krasue and the Greek Lamia. This portion of the story is interesting enough, with Vampi romping around in Drago's private jet, sleeping with Thai prostitutes and hacking sexy monsters to pieces. The overarching conflict with Umbra and her cult lacks a sense of urgency – possibly because of all the random boobs flying all over the place – but there's enough substance to the vampire hunt plotline to keep the pages turning.
After this story arc, the book abruptly transitions to a different one, Prelude to Shadows, which is apparently set before the Umbra affair. The new arc is about a witch named Metifa possessing a nun. Vampirella has to go undercover as a nun herself, which is about as hilariously improbably as it sounds. At this point things start to fall apart, with any notion of seriousness quickly effaced by the blatant nunsploitation. It's amusing in its ridiculousness, but it's not much of a story.
The whole book features a noticeably retro writing style, but the Metifa arc especially so. Vampirella says hilarious things like, "I think it's time for 'Sister Ella' to retire for the night… and for Vampirella to go on the prowl!" Not being familiar with Vampirella's other iterations, I can only assume that the slightly goofy dialogue is intentional, but it doesn't always match the tone of the story. Much of it tries to sound somber and occultish, but ends up seeming more like high schoolers LARPing. There are also several typos (e.g. "etymologist" instead of "entomologist"), and an entire speech bubble seems to be missing at one point.
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The artwork is nice, but I really do wonder about Vampirella's outfit – hers is probably the most ridiculous superhero outfit of all time, less appropriate than Power Girl's and less practical than, uh-Power Girl's. I understand that the character of Ella Normandy is supposed to be sexy, that it's a plot point, but the character isn't quite developed enough to convince me that this is an instance of a strong female embracing her sexuality and asserting her strength in a male-dominated world, and not a failed attempt to reclaim an adolescent fantasy by investing her with a teeny bit more agency than her costume suggests. In a medium unfortunately renowned for its sexism, Vampirella isn't really breaking any new ground.
Having said that, this trade offers a sufficiently interesting (if extremely familiar) narrative, one that provides enough of Vampi's backstory to be accessible to newbs like myself. If future books settle on a single tone – brooding darkness or tongue-in-cheek drive-in melodrama – they could elevate Vampirella beyond the Lady Death/Purgatori '90s Boobsplosion into something actually worth reading, as opposed to taping to the inside of your locker because you're officially the coolest guy at Southern Municipal High, buddy.
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