From the minute you laid eyes on her, you could tell she was trouble. Frank Frazetta’s cover to Vampirella #1 has her posed with one hand on her fleshy hip and one finger in her mouth. She’s wearing black boots and her iconic red sling bikini with the white collar and nothing else. I never witnessed the cover on the newsstand, but when I eventually saw it in my cousin’s magazine collection during my pre-pubescent days, my reaction was visceral and illuminating. I’m far from unique. The Comics Buyer’s Guide has ranked her 35 in a ranking of the 100 Sexiest Women in Comics. (It makes me wonder who’s #1?)
Vampirella is a comic book “vampire” created by Forest Ackerman and Trina Robbins for Warren Publishing in 1969. She was designed to serve as a horror hostess to an anthology series a la Elvira. She always starred in one of the stories in each issue as a way of assuring that people (boys) would want to follow the continuity (boobs).
When Warren went into bankruptcy in 1983, there was a legal battle for their properties: Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. The battle went on for nearly 10 years. In the end, Harris wound up with Vampirella, the only property they REALLY wanted. When Harris had to fold up there were more legal battles and in 2010 Dynamite won the rights to Vampirella.
Each company had it’s own vision of what they wanted Vampirella to be and so through the various incarnations Vampirella’s story has been corrupted, altered, bastardized, and convoluted. This is not unique when it comes to the world of publishing, and especially when it comes to a character that has existed for almost 50 years. Think about this. Over the course of 50 years she has undergone various incarnations through 3 different publishing companies, 1 live-action movie, and dozens of creators. Her story is bound to be complicated. I told you she looks like trouble.
Vampirella was originally an alien, from the planet Drakulon, one of the Vampiri, a race that lived on the blood that flowed as a natural resource in rivers on her planet. Droughts were causing the rivers to dry up and threatened the last remaining Vampiri. Coincidentally, a spaceship from Earth crashes on Drakulon just as the survivors are about to give up. Vampirella kills the astronauts and finds that they can sustain the Vampiri with their blood. She then pilots the ship back to Earth in an attempt to save her race, but discovers that Dracula, one of the Vampiri from Drakulon, is creating a race of vampires to take over Earth and that’s when Vampirella changes from predator to protector. This is the original Warren storyline.
When Harris took over, Vampirella learns that she is the daughter of Lilith, the first wife of Adam, the first man in the biblical story. Lilith would not submit to Adam and hence was cast out of Eden and replaced by Eve. Lilith spawned demons as a way to get back at humankind, but she repented and bore Vampirella as a way to fight the evil she created. In this version, Drakulon is not a planet, but a place in Hell. If your head is hurting right now, it gets even more convoluted. Suffice it to say, in all the incarnations, Vampirella is a protagonist who seeks out serial killers, monsters, and demons of every stripe.
As for the movie, it’s a Roger Corman movie directed by Jim Wynorski, which should immediately communicate preconceived notions: some positive and some negative. I won’t comment in order to let you find out for yourself without my impression hovering over you. Besides, I may choose to review it later on this month. I will only communicate the plot summary. Vampirella (played by the lovely Talisa Soto) travels from Drakulon to Earth seeking revenge on Vlad (Roger Daltrey) and his cult of vampires for killing her father and the Council of Elders on Drakulon. When she arrives, she forms an alliance with Adam Van Helsing to hunt down and destroy the vampires.
A final word. Vampirella was always at her best when she was involved in horror comics. Most of the current stuff is turned toward marketing and making her more PG rated. Nowadays, she fronts blood-drives (admittedly a worthwhile cause) and Lil Vampi and Vampi (children’s) Comics. I want my old Vampirella back. Even though she was great back then, she was a badass too.