Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Vampirella: Crown of Worms review

    Crown of Worms is the first attempt by Dynamite to introduce the character to modern audiences in 2010. It's not the most current Vampirella (Hollywood Horror) adaptation, which I've read and will review the graphic novel coming out in November, but it does give an idea what Dynamite thought were the fundamentals of the character. Specifically, the idea Vampirella was really-really angry all the time.

I'd have preferred this outfit on the cover.
    With more than a passing familiarity with the character, I should note Vampirella is traditionally a semi-humorous character. The character as envisioned in 1969 is a funny, flirtatious, compassionate goofball who doesn't treat the situations she finds herself in all that serious. How could she, she's a frigging vampire from space. The Crown of Worms character has a personality which consists primarily of snarling and scowling.

    The Bad GrrlTM of comics is a common problem where writers confuse strong with angry. This isn't to say female protagonists shouldn't be allowed to be as angry or upset as their male counterparts but one-dimension is one-dimension across genders. The writing for Crown of Worms is better than this and we have a justification for why Vampirella is really upset: her long-term love interest Adam Van Helsing is dead and this has caused her to give up on the human race.

    Crown of Worms opens with a really effective black comedy where a bunch of thugs are beating up a homeless man, Vampirella rescues the homeless man, the homeless man tries to get her to murder his attackers then insults her when she won't, only for her to get attacked by (vampire) cops all in the space of five minutes. It's a kind of absurdist situation which nicely sets up this is a world where Vampirella is one of the few good people left in the world and that really makes her mad.

    What follows is a Lovecraftian story about how Vampirella attempts to track down the nest of vampires which sent the cops but finds herself in the middle of a plot to summon a Cthuluean god which was responsible for the creation of vampires.

    This results in her fighting against mutated vampires with worm tentacles and their leader Le Fanu, a French prostitute turned vampire who Vampirella is more annoyed than threatened by. Dracula, Vampirella's fellow alien vampire and longtime enemy, offers to help her overcome the monster but only if she risks insanity by confronting her dark side.

       I liked the characters introduced in the book, Sofia Murray, in particular. She's a Goth girl Vampirella rescues and proceeds to follow her despite the Queen of Screams not giving her any reason to do so. It turns out she's been desperately searching for a purpose in life and the opportunity to be Vampirella's Renfield/sidekick is something she's all too eager to jump into. There's an issue devoted to her mundane pre-Vampirella life at the end which I really enjoyed. I hope the character sticks around but, sadly, she's not in the 2016 reboot.

I really like Sofia.
    Dracula proves to be the most interesting antagonist in this book and I applaud the writing for him. The Count has been overthrown by his followers, is on the run from a sinister cult, and is totally outclassed but he never loses his dignity or sense of menace. The fact Vampirella loathes him the way Reed Richaes hates Doctor Doom (or is it vice versa) doesn't prevent him from enlisting her help against the horrors which oppose him. Dracula has been done in many different universes, comic or otherwise, but the Dynamite one ranks high in my list of them.   
    Most of the book is fight-scenes and while Vampirella's outfits is surprisingly demure inside the book, she isn't that way on the cover for those worried about reading in public. The art in the back is actually my favorite part as there's some truly beautiful full page photos and pin-ups. Unfortunately, the fight scenes tend to drown out softer characterization and the book is somewhat humorless.

    Art-wise, the comic book can best be summarized as "90s-esque with actual realistic human body proportions." There's a lot of use of drawn-in lighting effects and dark colors designed to make the world appear moody as well as foreboding. Vampirella's red, Sofia's green hair, Le Fanu's blonde, and Drakulon's red are among the only real colors present and it works quite well in establishing mood. This is a World of Darkness ala White Wolf's and Vampirella is one of the few lights in the world, only to be flickering because of the suffering she's endured. The combat scenes are many but they're kinetic and interesting to look at.

    In conclusion, Crown of Worms is an okay book but trying a bit too hard. It wants Vampirella to be taken seriously as a character but it removes any edges from her personality but sharp. Even so, I'm glad I picked up a copy on Kindle and am going to pick up the second in the series as well.


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