Reprint Reviews: 'Vampirella v5,' 'Crime Does Not Pay v2,' 'Batman v8'

Vampirella Archives Volume Five (Dynamite Publishing, $49.99)

Reprinting Vampirella #29-35 (Nov 73-Aug 74)

By diverse hands

By accident or intent, the Vampirella Archives published by Dynamite are keeping contemporaneous with the Creepy and Eerie Archives published by Dark Horse -- all three series have reached 1973 or so. But, despite the magazines being reprinted here having all been published by the same company (Warren) and all being originally published around the same time, the Vampirella issues reprinted here are not of the same quality as the contemporaneous Creepy and Eerie magazines in one important way.

Which I'll get to in a minute. For the most part, though, they are much the same.

For example, like Creepy and Eerie, Vampirella was experimenting with color at this time (dutifully reprinted) and features the same host of Spanish artists on display over in Creepy and Eerie Archives. For the record, I was never big on the color experiment at Warren, because most of their stories worked just as well (or better) for me in B&W, since most of the artists they used (like the Spanish ones) were simply terrific at B&W and that's how they were meant to be presented. Besides, the color was often used to showcase Richard Corben -- whose airbrush work suffered in B&W -- and I wasn't much of a Corben fan at the time. (Yes, I know, heresy -- but to my amateur eye it looked like he really hadn't mastered art basics of anatomy and perspective, and was using lighting and color effects to disguise that defect. I still think so, 40 years later, and my eye is no longer amateurish. For those who take exception, remember that this is Corben at the very beginning of his career, and I think even his most ardent fans would recognize that he has improved quite a bit since then.) As to the Spanish artists, I have stated in other reviews that I love their Old World, illustrative, pen-and-ink style, then and now, although I recognize not everyone does.

Also, as with Creepy and Eerie in the early 1970s, Vampirella was experimenting with continuing series, with all the new Vampirella characters being female (and, it should go without saying, gorgeous). Pantha, a were-panther that continues to this day, launches in this very volume (and I must say, she was not very likable). Luana, a white jungle queen, makes a single appearance (although the letters pages speak of her as an ongoing character). A powerful witch named Fleur makes two appearances in two different time periods (she is endlessly reincarnated, so any era is fair game). I actually enjoyed Fleur more than Pantha, but evidently the latter hit other fans more positively. I find that inexplicable, as Pantha demonstrates bigotry (calling a black man "darkie," not only a racial epithet but an anachronistic one in 1973), heartlessness (she accidentally kills a man who gave her aid and shelter, which elicits no more than a shrug), is a stripper who sleeps around fairly aggressively (not a big deal in the early 1970s, but probably more so today) and after casually killing another man who had done nothing to her, remarks "I could use a manicure. My nails are a mess." (She also kills her parents, but they really had it coming.) Fleur, on the other hand, has a nice twist ending in her first story, and the second one is actually pretty funny.

If you've stuck with me this long, you're probably wondering what my complaint was in the first paragraph, and now we've come to it. It's copy editing.

After Archie Goodwin left Warren (the first time) and Bill DuBay became editor, all three Warren magazines suffered a huge drop in the quality of simple copy editing. Now, some may argue I'm annoyed because copy editing has been part of my professional responsibilities since entering the newspaper field in 1981. But I think poor copy editing is something everyone responds negatively to, whether they realize it or not. When someone reads something with poor spelling and grammar, I think it creates a poor impression, even if only subconsciously. 

And this volume suffers from all kinds of poor editing. There are a couple of subject/verb disagreements, and lots of misspellings -- "devouted" for "devoted," "confidant" for "confidante," and so forth. But the really strange one is malapropisms -- the use of a similar but wrong word for the right one. One story uses "bumpkin" where "cuckold" was clearly meant; another has a character refer to a youth as a "childsome" nuisance, a word that doesn't exist; a third describes Vampirella's fury as "chaste," when obviously some other word was intended. As I read Vampirella Archives Volume Five, a certain phrase from Princess Bride kept bubbling up in my head, complete with Mandy Patinkin pseudo-Spanish accent: "I don't think that word means what you think it means." 

Which was not only annoying, but strange -- contemporaneous Creepy and Eerie issues had emerged from the copy-editing wilderness by 1973, with usually professional levels of editing on display. Further, Archie Goodwin makes a return to Warren in the middle of this volume (although subordinate to DuBay). The continued sloppiness in this one title is hard to understand.

Speaking of Goodwin, he performed heroically in the early days of Vampirella to establish a working status quo for the character out of the nonsensical balderdash of her creation. By the time of this volume most of that had been jettisoned by a writer named Flaxman Loew. (A clear pseudonym, as "Flaxman Low" was an occult detective in short stories published in English magazines in the late 1890s and early 1900s.) "Vampirella," the feature, suffered from the absence of the Goodwin-created supporting cast, and also shifted the focus to sex/romance, with Vampi falling in love with a different guy every month (who usually ended up dead as a result). Not my cup of tea, so I'm hoping "Loew" is gone by Volume Six.

But despite the flaws, I enjoyed this Vampirella Archives well enough to look forward to the next. In addition to the Spanish artists and Corben, there are appearances by Jeff Jones and other early 1970s superstars-to-be, and I am content.

Crime Does Not Pay Volume 2 (Dark Horse, $49.99)

Reprinting Crime Does Not Pay #26-29 (Mar-Sep 43)

By diverse hands

This is silly stuff, but I enjoyed it mightily.

Naturally, these "true" crime stories have only one leg in history, if that. And the art is, generally, awful -- if I didn't know these stories were drawn by grown-ups, I would have assumed children did most of them. Ever seen a 10-year-old boy's notebook doodlings? Square boxes meant to be guns with six or seven bullets coming out at once, teardrops of blood jumping out of ever orifice, fangs for teeth, that sort of thing. I would not have been surprised to see the occasional badly drawn dinosaur or WWII fighter plane. Oh, and Batman. If you're 10, you've got Batman, dinosaurs and fighter planes all over your notebook.


But the gleefulness 10-year-old boys exhibit in their ultra-violent doodlings is on display here, and it's infectious. It's clear editors Charles Biro and Bob Wood were having a wonderful time, and so this reader did, too. It's silly, but I practically read the whole thing at a sitting, pointing out this or that bit of nonsense to my (entirely disinterested) wife. Maybe it's the 10-year-old inside me responding, but there you go.

One real highlight is the Foreword by Greg Rucka, which explains how erroneous the title is. If nothing else, he points out how crime paid pretty well for Biro, Wood and publisher Lev Gleason, who made tons of money on Crime Does Not Pay. The full essay elaborates on that idea, and I found myself nodding along and mumbling "exactly right" with each succeeding paragraph. I won't say it's worth the 50-buck admission cost, but it's a darn good essay.

Finally, as if to underscore this, I began to notice how an inattentive reader might assume from Gleason's house ads that his three main books were Boy, Daredevil and Crime. Wherever Crime Does Not Pay is mentioned, CRIME is in large, bold letters, and DOES NOT PAY is in teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy letters, sometimes separated entirely by parentheses. There's even a little ditty to help children remember what books to buy, that only works if you remove the words DOES NOT PAY: "Remember, BOY, DAREDEVIL and CRIME give you the most for your dime!" Yes, "does not pay" is dutifully included in that ditty, but in agate-size type. Clearly, Gleason & Co. knew what was the selling point. 

I imagine that once the novelty of Crime Does Not Pay begins to wane, I might not enjoy these volumes so much. But that hasn't happened yet, and we might reasonably expect both writing and art to improve over time. Regardless, I'll be here for Volume 3.

Batman Archives Volume 8 (DC Comics, $59.99)

Reprinting Detective Comics #155-170 (Jan 50-Apr 51)

By diverse hands

The first thing I noticed about this book was how small it is. I mean, it jumped out at me. Most DC Archives run 250 pages or better, but this one wrapped up on page 201 -- which is a mighty slim package for $60. Many others have bemoaned the expense of Marvel and DC Golden Age hardbacks, but I never have -- until now. I genuinely feel ripped off.

The good news is that DC's Batman reprints have finally hit that most mysterious decade, the 1950s. As I have remarked before, my ignorance of this decade was profound for most of my comics-collecting career, mainly because so few stories from this era were reprinted. I imagine there's good reason for that -- they were probably not very good, especially after the Comics Code of 1954 kicked in -- but I'm a completist, and I want to read these stories. 

Which are OK. This volume is still in Batman's "plainclothes era," when he fought mostly common crooks who wore suits, ties and hats. The emphasis is on detection, as per the title, although sometimes I longed to read some of the other, non-included features from that era's Detective, like Pow-Wow Smith, whose name appears on most covers. 

Anyway, one of the last stories in the book is "The Man in the Red Hood," which was the first origin story ever offered for The Joker. His appearance, albeit in cameo, presages the return of Batman's more colorful rogues gallery -- Catwoman, Two-Face, Penguin and The Riddler are due for returns in upcoming volumes after many years of hiatus, which I am eager to see. Most fans won't care, but for me it's vital -- some of those stories, especially the ones featuring Two-Face and Catwoman, are considered some of the first Earth-One Batman stories. 

I don't have much more to say, given how slim this book is. Really, DC, 200 pages for $60? You ought to be ashamed!

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For whatever reason, I decided not buy the Vampirella Archives. that sloppy copy editing would drive me nuts, too, though.

I have nothing to add to your comments about CDNP v2, but I know what you mean about the introductions. I have already chosen to buy Forbidden Worlds from PS Artbooks rather than Dark Horse, but I read the intro to the Dark Horse volume (which I read when I accidentally bought it) and I already regret missing those going forward. I am awaiting your review of Silver Streak Archives (hint, hint!).

Speaking of DC Archives, Action Comics v6 (originally solicited for June 6 release) has been officially canceled. (FYI)

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