'Vampirella' off to slow start in '69; modern Flash a whiz

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

 

Feb. 15, 2011 -- Many retailers wouldn’t sell sexy Vampirella magazine to minors when it debuted in 1969. They believed they were protecting kids, and they were – from terrible stories.

 

Vampirella Archives Vol. 1 ($49.99) has arrived from Dynamite Entertainment, collecting the first seven issues (1969-70) of Warren Publishing’s third black-and-white horror magazine, after Creepy and Eerie. Like the first issue of Vampirella itself, the cover of the first Archives volume is the famous Frank Frazetta painting which introduced the voluptuous, scantily clad vampire.

 

That’s pretty much where the quality ends. When Vampirella debuted, Warren Publishing was going through hard financial times. And the once high-quality publisher was using second-rate talents in the late 1960s, and even a core cadre of up-and-comers (Ernie Colon, Tom Sutton, etc.) wasn’t enough to save the book from clichéd stories, amateurish art, poor spelling, malapropisms and erroneous homophones.

 

I was also looking forward to learning more about the origins of the title character, now a headliner at two different publishers (long story). But it seems Vampi wasn’t originally the star of Vampirella – she was simply the host of a horror anthology, similar to Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie in their magazines. And she poses a lot, theoretically exciting to adolescent boys (although, with the crummy art, I doubt it).

 

There is a story in the first issue giving her origin, but it isn’t written by a professional author. It is instead by Forrest J. Ackerman, the world’s most famous horror-film fan, who was the nominal editor of Warren’s Famous Monsters of Filmland. And it is painful.

 

Vampirella (her real name, implausibly) lives on a planet of vampires called (sigh) “Draculon,” where water is made of hemoglobin. U.S. astronauts arrive, whom Vampi promptly sucks dry, then steals their ship and goes to Earth, where, inexplicably, she has an evil, blonde cousin named (sigh, again) “Evily.” They briefly fight, and Vampi is apparently the good guy, albeit a blood-sucker who kills innocent people.

 

There are a couple more stories like this, each more excruciating than the last. The regular horror stories aren’t much better. I really can’t recommend this book.

 

Fortunately, Warren’s quality improved in the 1970s, before they went out of business altogether. So later volumes of Vampirella should be better. Also the series, and the character, improved greatly at later publishers, stories which are being reprinted as Crimson Chronicles by Harris Publications, and Vampirella Masters by Dynamite. Those I can recommend.

 

Elsewhere:

 

* DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns can apparently do no wrong these days. He just finished re-imagining Green Lantern to critical and financial success, and now has turned his sights on the Fastest Man Alive, with promising results.

 

The Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues ($19.99) collects the first seven issues of the Scarlet Speedster’s rebooted title, plus two stories from the Flash Secret Files and Origins 2010 one-shot. Not only do these stories lay the groundwork for the new series starring the resurrected Flash of 1956-86 (as a superhero forensics expert), not only do they tell you everything you need to know about the major characters, villains, background and milieu of the series, but they tell a whopper of a tale as well. Johns combines the innocent charm of ‘60s Flash stories with the hard-nosed storytelling of today’s CSI franchises in a time-travel whirlwind using most of the Crimson Comet’s rogues gallery. That’s a lot to pack in, but Johns does it effortlessly for a story offering revelation, mystery, thrills and charm. No wonder he’s CCO!

 

* NBM has released Salvatore Vol. 1: Transports of Love ($14.99), the first in a series of anthropomorphic-animal graphic novels by Nicolas De Crécy (Glacial Period) and … I’m really not sure what to make of it.

 

Salvatore is a master mechanic dog who steals parts from his clientele to build a Rube Goldbergian vehicle to travel to South America to reach his true love (a well-bred terrier). Inexplicably, he only eats fondue. Meanwhile, Amandine – a pregnant and extremely near-sighted hog – has a Mr. Magoo-like adventure where her car lands on an airplane, where she gives birth, and loses one of her piglets in the sewers of Paris, where it is adopted by a Goth cat. Thus ends volume one.

 

I know Salvatore is supposed to be funny, but mostly I found myself baffled by this adventure/comedy/travelogue. I am intrigued enough to continue, so maybe the second volume will give me more context.

 

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

 

Views: 431

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on February 19, 2011 at 10:12am

VAMPIRELLA: this may surprise you, Cap, because you and I are more often than not in lock-step with the achival material we read, but I did not buy Vampirella Val. 1. Like it's sister publications, it has achieved nigh-legendary status among its fans, and also like its sister publications, I hadn't read any. But Creepy and Eerie, while interesting to compare to EC at first, have both taken a nose-dive in quality. Tracy still reads every volume as they come out, but I have fallen far behind. I didn't pre-order Vampirella but I did flip through it when it shipped, and I just couldn't bring myself to be tied to another expensive series of only mediocre quality. It sounds as if I made the right decision. You seem to think the quality will improve. If you keep reading and it does, let me know in one of these blog posts.

 

FLASH: I bought the first issue of the new series as a kind of sampler, enjoyed it, and put it on "tradewait" status. (I'm trying to wean myself from periodical comics entirely.) I didn't pre-order this one, either, but at 20 bucks I am willing to forego the additional discount. Sounds as if I made a good decision with this one, too.

Comment by Captain Comics on February 19, 2011 at 1:50pm

There were a couple of stories in Vampirella Archives #1 by star artists, like Neal Adams and Reed Crandall. But the bulk of it is by the likes of Tony Tallarico, "Tony Williamsune," Jerry Grandenetti and Jack Sparling -- the latter doing a lot of the pinups, which wouldn't get a rise out of Robinson Crusoe.

 

I know some enjoy Grandenetti's work, but I'm not one of them. And I may be a bit spoiled by the modern-day artists on the Dynamite and Harris Vampirella series, who are usually pretty awesome. Ditto for the stories; today's Vampirella enjoys the attentions of writers like Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, as compared to yesterday's Forrest J. Ackerman, whose "writing" was mostly an excuse to string together bad puns lifted from EC hosts. I suspect Ackerman's sensibility would be more suited to Eerie Publications than Eerie magazine, but maybe that's just me.

Comment by Luke Blanchard on February 19, 2011 at 2:09pm
An interview James Warren did for Comic Book Artist can be read here. He talks about the problems his business had c.68-70. He has the same opinion as the Captain concerning the early issues of Vampirella, and nominates #12 as the issue where the series came together. He also speaks about the company's later heavy use of Spanish artists.
Comment by George on February 19, 2011 at 3:10pm

I had a thick trade paperback that reprinted the early Vampi stories (but none of the backup stories she didn't appear in). Pretty weak stuff. Even the stories written by Archie Goodwin were nothing special -- though superior to those awful Ackerman-written stories. I guess Forry was bringing his arch, campy sensibility from "Famous Monsters," but the corny puns didn't work here.

 

I really wish the Creepy and Eerie reprints were available in an inexpensive paperback format. I just can't pay $50 a pop for such uneven quality.

Comment by Ron M. on July 12, 2014 at 3:22am

I have a few of the earliest issues of Creepy and Eerie, and a couple from late in the series, and, except for the covers, I didn't care much for any of them. And the one issue of Vampirella I have, some weird thing about an evil queen that's blind ripping out her eyes so she can see, made me not want to get any more. There was one issue (Creepy#64) that had what looked like a zombie on the cover. All of the stories were different views on why someone would end up looking like that: disease, radiation, etc. None of them seemed very good. The only Warren magazine I had any interest in was Famous Monsters of Filmland, and those started looking alike after awhile.

I just went to the Grand Comic Book Database and it said something went wrong, they don't know what, but if it happens again tell them.

Comment by Captain Comics on July 13, 2014 at 6:58am

Whenever you read Warren books, Ron, wasn't representative of the publisher as a whole. They started out trying to re-create EC Comics in B&W magazine form, but metamorphosized over the years as they gained and lost money, and oriented to whatever James Warren thought the market was.

I may be biased, because of how old I was when Warren came along. But now I'm buying the Dark Horse reprints of Creepy and Eerie, and the Dynamite reprints of Vampirella, and not only am I corroborating a lot of what I remembered, but I'm learning a lot, too. And there's a lot to learn!

Comment by Ron M. on July 13, 2014 at 8:07am

Perhaps that's why I gravitated to Famous Monsters, since it was the only Warren magazine I saw back when Warren was in business. If the others were sold around here back then it must have been rare since I don't remember them. I do however remember Eerie Publications' Witches Tales and Tales of Voodoo.

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