Halloween's just around the corner (Halloween ComicFest 2016 is October 29th, mark your calendars), which means it's time to troll the horror comics on top of kicking out the fright jams on the tube.
As they have done with Red Sonja, Dynamite Entertainment continues to hit the reset button on their other big moneymaker franchise, Vampirella, by hauling in new creative teams to start over from scratch. Kate Leth's current Hollywood-steampunk inception of the legendary vampiress has its supporters, particularly a new generation of readers who've balked at Vampi (and Sonja's, for that matter) gratuitous skin trade. For me, though, Dynamite had a hell of a good thing going with Gail Simone on Red Sonja and in Vampirella's case, Bram Stoker Award-winning author Nancy A. Collins. Thongs and swinging cleavage being secondary to the bigger attraction: tremendous writing from two of the industry's pros. Collins, who also had terrific comic book runs on Swamp Thing, Sunglasses After Dark, Dhampire: Stillborn, Predator: Hell Come A'Walkin' and Jason vs. Leatherface, vowed to bring the buxom nosferatu back to her horror roots on her run from 2014 through '15. In her brief but bountiful stint on Volume 2 of the series, Collins well made good on that pledge.
Under Dynamite's wing, Vampirella regained her prestige in the wake of onscreen vampire vogue such as The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and of course, the adolescent-targeted Twilight series. Personally, I would flag the Swedish film Let the Right One In and its equally powerful American remake Let Me In as not only the finest horror fiction story in more than a decade, but the primer to making a schlock queen like Vampirella a returning overnight sensation.
With revived interest in Near Dark, The Lost Boys, Fright Night, Max Schreck's Nosferatu (my vote as the best vampire flick of all-time) and Christopher Lee's suave Dracula for Hammer Studios, Vampi's resurrection seemed a given. In the care of Eric Trautmann, Vampirella turned out to be a bigger success than even Dynamite themselves probably anticipated. As with Red Sonja, the imprint has spun off numerous Vampirella miniseries, one-shots and crossovers to the point some might argue she's become a pop Drac, an older comics world equivalent to Kristin Stewart. In the care of Nancy A. Collins, however, the spinoffs, one-shots, annuals and miniseries were either goofy fun (i.e. Feary Tales) or downright horrifying, as with Prelude to Shadows, a prequel to the first issue of Collins' outstanding debut, the six-part "Our Lady of Shadows."
Eric Trautmann rebooted Vampirella properly when taking charge of the franchise for Dynamite in 2010, but the publisher's jump back to the primitive in 2014 rang not to high heaven, but you-know-where. Nancy A. Collins went straight for the jugular (pun intended) in her Vampi debut in "Our Lady of Shadows" by thrusting the daughter of Lilith unto the feet of Ethan Shroud and his nefarious Cult of Chaos.
Vampirella is sent by the Vatican to investigate the kidnapping of a little girl, Emma Baxter. Emma is marked as a sacrifice to be performed on The Feast of Shadows, one of Chaos' most unholy rites. As it turns out, the girl's father, Bill, happens to be a member of the cult. Having had plenty of her fill of the dreaded warlock and high priest Shroud in the past, Vampirella begrudgingly accepts the task set before her.
Things don't go well for Vampi as she's captured and submitted to a brutal ritual, branded as a future vessel for Umbra, the Lady of Shadows, effectively the governess of Chaos' blood-flung realm. There's nothing at all pop-minded and pretty to Collins' exposition in this story, in particular the gruesome final stanza of issue # 1. Chaos has eviscerated Mrs. Baxter and left her for dead hanging upside down. The biting (sorry for another bad pun) closure to this opening act finds Vampirella forced to feed on Baxter and end her suffering.
Collins immediately turned the Vampirella ethos on its head with this scene, given the fact our scantily-clad heroine has sworn to protect humanity by destroying only her own kind. In this issue, Vampirella is twice a victim of obligation. Having to disavow her principles this quickly into the series was, well....cool. As Vampirella is fated to become the high mother of the global vampire sect during Collins' 13 issue run, to call Volume 2 of Dynamite's hold on the franchise a game-changer is hardly doing it justice.