Friday, August 12, 2016

Vampirella: Hollywood Horror review

    This is a premature review of the graphic novel since it won't be out until November 2016 but I've purchased all six of the issues which are to be collected into it and thought it'd be a good idea to give my thoughts on it. Hollywood Horror is part of Dynamite Entertainment's controversial plan to make their comics more female-friendly. Which, in simple terms, amounts to making some changes to the characters' costumes and personalities.

    Honestly, I'm all for this as I'm a great believer characters constantly need to be updated for new generations. The core of the character should always remain intact but there's nothing wrong with stretching characters and taking them in new directions. Complaints about removing her iconic costume are somewhat valid but for the fact Vampirella originally, you know, actually wore clothes in the original comic and the most recent version was made skimpier than its original slingshot bikini style.

    Times have also changed as Vampirella was meant to be edgy and shocking in 1970 but with the fall of the Comics Codes Authority and the Iron Age of Comics (a.k.a the 90s), countless female characters are dressed edgy and shocking. It's now more edgy and shocking to put Vampirella in a set of practical vampire slaying clothes (which her roller derby-esque outfit pictured above most certainly is not). I don't see the problem, honestly, and think it's a sexy new look which actually might get people reading the comic who'd assume the only purpose of the character was cheesecake with the old outfit.

    I'm actually more uncomfortable with the other changes which aren't so much bad as confusing. Issue 1# opens up (after some obligatory carnage to some innocents) with Vampirella, her live-in werewolf boyfriend Tristan, and her butler Coleridge buying a mansion in Hollywood. This sounds like a perfectly reasonable premise and it is but for fans of Vampirella (even the Dynamite version of the character), it's a bit confusing.

    How confusing?

    Vampirella has been in a (as comics go) stable relationship with another man, Adam Van Helsing, for about fifty years. Tristan is a character she used to date on another planet but they act like a stable married couple. It's like the new Superman opening up with him and Lori Lamaris living together. When the hell did this happen?

    Did I miss some issues? It turned out I did as while I was familiar with Vampirella vol. 1 1-38# by Dynamite, there was a Vampirella vol. 2 1-13# by Dynamite too.  Which, to me, means this is actually issue 14# but apparently no one cares about how confusing this is for a guy who wants to catch up. I mean, they're marked volume 1 and 2 with this being 3 but there were two Vampirella series before this.
Clearly not a sexy enough outfit.


    Still, as new status quos go, it's an okay one. To summarize the first issue, Vampirella kills a monster and it gets caught on Youtube. Fanboys being fanboys, they go crazy over her and Vampirella is recruited as an Elvira-esque hostess for horror movies. This brings her into conflict with Slade. No, not Slade Wilson, but the immortal sorceress ruler of the horror film industry. Teamed up with a lesbian demon-blooded agent named Juliette, Vampirella decides to free the world from the woman who made Friday the Thirteenth's remake possible.

    So did I like it?

    Yeah, mostly I did. It's weird seeing Vampirella happy and silly since it's been literal decades since she's last been allowed to be. I'm okay with continuity reboots but it does feel like this story could have used a few more connections to the old book. Why not bring back Sofia Murray? Pendragon? Hell, you could have used both characters in the reality as well as Adam Van Helsing rather than the new ones.

    The comic is a bit too silly, reminding me of the first couple of seasons of Buffy. It's the diametric opposite of the Crown of Worms TPB and about as good. I complained the Vampirella there was too angry while the one here is a bit too nice. There's very little sense of menace to the villains or the situations our heroine faces, which is odd for a horror comic. It honestly seemed more interested in Juliette and her girlfriend's relationship than the fact people are getting eaten (I like Juliette by the way and consider her a fun part of the cast even if I could take or leave her partner).

    Still, I'm sold.

    The art is beautiful and helps compliment the deliberately cheesy B-movie style. The designs for the many monsters Vampirella meets at a gathering of Hollywood monsters was also impressive, making me think this might be an excellent new continuity if they can get back some menace. I also liked the character of Slade even if she seemed somewhat dense getting the Vampirella was never going to join her. You can basically judge whether or not a villain is worth bringing back by whether or not you want to see her again and I definitely do. I hope she gets a power upgrade, though, as Vampirella pretty much owned her from the get go.

Vampirella's female foes are often blonde.
    The supporting cast is entertaining with Tristan serving as a supportive but fun monster boyfriend of the kind you usually find in paranormal romance. Coleridge, by contrast, clearly pines for Vampirella but is professional enough just to give the occasional bit of good-natured flirtation amidst his Alfred-esque snark. As mentioned, not a huge fan of Juliette and Guinevere since they kind of stop the narrative cold to talk about their relationship troubles as two supernaturals dating in L.A. but I've seen worse.

     All of the issues are funny and enjoyable even if they never quite reach a laugh-a-page enjoyment. The only issue I didn't enjoy from the book was issue 6#, which is about a bee-demon stalker who wants to get Vampirella's attention. I think we could have gotten a bit more action from the initial story arc in issues 1-5# and it felt like a breather from a story arc which wasn't that intense to begin with.

    Perhaps the best part of this comic and why I'm willing to cut it so much slack is that, despite the dramatic change to her costume, Vampirella feels more like her classic Warren self than she has in decades. Numerous comic book creators have portrayed Vampirella as a brooding anti-hero when she was conceived as a fun joking character who enjoyed life on Earth.

The classic outfit does make an appearance at Comic Con. I kid you not.
    This Vampirella reacts to fanboys perving on her classic outfit with wry amusement versus offense and is more irritated than horrified with the fact the monsters of Hollywood can't quite wrap their head around eating extras is wrong. Which, to be fair, makes them no worse than the majority of movie stars.

     Interestingly, I've got to say I think the alternate covers are worth as much as the magazine themselves. They do Vampirella in a variety of fun and engaging styles from realistic to action girl to anime-esque. It's worth buying the graphic novel for the dozens of stills you're going to get from these variants alone.

     In a comic book industry frequently polarized between traditional markets (heterosexual male geeks) and trying to appeal to new ones, I think the relaunched Vampirella definitely has potential to appeal to both sides. The formula is not quite right there but it feels like quite a bit of the urban fantasy and paranormal romance I read. I think if they inserted more of the classic Vampirella personality and characters with this new version, Dynamite could have a real success story on their hands. As such, it's not quite there yet but something I'll definitely be picking up the future installments of.

    Now answer me one burning question which was left unanswered by this book.  Is she an alien or not in this continuity?


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