Writer’s Commentary: Christopher Priest Discusses ‘Vampirella’ #14 From Dynamite
by Olly MacNamee
Once again we bring you another writer’s commentary courtesy of Dynamite Comics. This tike round it’s the return of Christopher Priest who’s here to walks us through his thoughts and writing on Vampirella #1, out now from Dynamite.
[NOTE: Spoilers! Buy and read Vampirella #14, then join us back here for the commentary!]
Vampirella’s 50th Anniversary year, my first on the title, began with an odd little eight-page story which introduced two new characters: a black woman dressed in some approximation of Vampirella’s costume and a pre-teen girl living in a group home chatting with a rat. And my email inbox filled up with, “WTF?!?” This issue, Vampirella #14, brings ‘Seduction of The Innocent’, our first year story arc, to a close by arriving full circle back where we began on Free Comic Book Day in 2019 which, honestly, feels like much longer than just one year ago.
I presume there are spoiler warnings posted on this page, but let me add my caution as well because, in order to discuss the issue, I kind of have to give away the store beginning with, “Who’s that kid and why have we been watching her for a year?”
The kid is Katie. She lives (or, used to live) in a group home run by the usual trope of evil group home parents, which I realize does a great disservice to the overwhelming majority of truly selfless people who have opened their homes to needy children. Already severely wounded by the loss of both of her parents, Katie subsequently became eyewitness to the horrific crash of Affirm Airlines flight 1969 which destroyed a good chunk of suburban Los Angeles. That plane crash, where our series began with our issue #1, was the proximate cause of Vampirella checking into an Atlanta hotel here in issue #14.
The three heads of the snake behind the crash— Baron Von Kreist, The Blood Red Queen of Hearts, and Mistress Nyx – are all sworn enemies of Vampirella who have teamed up, Adam West Batman Movie style, not to kill Vampi but to strip her of the life, love, and happiness she had found in L.A. The tragedy was meant as a reminder, from none other than Lilith of Drakulon—Vampirella’s own mother—that Vampi is not human and Earth is not her home. Anything and anyone Vampirella loves or touches can and likely will come under threat from the forces of darkness and evil that stalk her.
Crashing the jet was, ostensibly, Mommy’s way of forcing her wayward child to come home or, at least, to the home Lilith had made for herself in Atlanta, Georgia, where she’s busied herself by meddling in the Hatfields vs. McCoys conflict going on between two small towns thirty miles south of there.
In issue #4 of Vampirella, Drago, Lilith’s son and Vampi’s sort-of brother, appealed to Vampi to help him keep the peace in the tiny impoverished town of Ashthorne, Georgia, where he is protecting a clan of peaceful vampires from nearby bigots trying to destroy them. Vampirella refused Drago, which sent Drago back to Mommy Lilith who then orchestrated our entire ‘Seduction of The Innocent’ story arc by orchestrating the plane crash and destroying Vampirella’s life. Left with nothing and nowhere else to turn, Vampi reluctantly caves in to Lilith’s pressure and heads East, arriving in Atlanta here on page one.
Most of our year one story has been told in flashback form by Vampirella lying on an Atlanta psychiatrist’s couch unraveling details of how she came to live there. Here in issue #14, we have come full circle, seeing Vampi’s first session with the venerable Doc Chary and filling in the final pieces of the puzzle of Lilith’s obsession with a homeless child.
That child, Katie, has tracked Vampirella down to Atlanta largely thanks to Vampirella having been outed on social media by her now-ex gal pal Victory. Now obsessed with her idol Vampirella, Katie is not taking “no” for an answer, and an overwhelmed Vampirella reflects on the root cause of it all— Mom.
Our “B” story is a flashback to Vampirella’s childhood on Drakulon in which we connect the dots from Lilith through Vampirella to Katie. Now, I again remind you of spoilers: this flashback is part of Vampirella’s therapy session, a story being told to Chary. Here we again see this Book of Prophecy, a great plot device created by Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton in their futuristic Forbidden Fruit Vampirella run which basically explains there are a myriad of interpretations of Vampirella and her history; a kind of mini-multiverse wherein all of Dynamite’s varying exploitations of the character, including her teaming up with — wait for it — Betty and Veronica, actually happened.
Lost in those pages is Lilith’s first child, the only child she’s actually ever loved and the centerpiece of the previous two issues. The lost child is tethered somehow to Katie, and we’re connecting those lines here in this issue.
Artist Ergün Gunduz completely floored me with his vision of Drakulon and even made the 100,000th rip-off of the Star Wars cantina scene work. Ergün is not a traditional superhero artist, which is why his Vampirella works: it crosses over to a non-superhero fan audience in ways the book hadn’t or could not before. I personally see his work as a contemporary of an ongoing American comics renaissance wherein mainstream product is expanding with creative outreach beyond what we have seen as the traditional comics reader, with nontraditional “superhero” art by creators like Fiona Staples, Adrian Alphona, Georges Jeanty over on my new USAgent series (shameless plug), and other brilliant artists supporting ambitious and unconventional storytelling that is inclusive of a much wider range of potential fans.
I am proud to know our 50th Anniversary Vampirella run, which has been enormously liberating for me as a writer allowed to reinterpret and improvise without worrying about the rubber mallet of continuity slamming me in the skull, has found a wide ranging fanbase, many of whom are unconventional comics fans who’d likely never heard of me before.
So much of that is owed to Ergün’s more European and nontraditional art, which often reminds me of animation cells, and the startling dexterity he has with color rendering. My writing is whatever it is, but it is the art that speaks loudest in any comic book. I am not telling you a story, I am telling Ergün a story and Ergün is, in turn, telling that story to the reader. Hard as any writer may try, if the crowd doesn’t like the music, they’re not gonna come in and dance. Ergün Gunduz is our music, a wonderful and amazing gift.
The flashback is interrupted by a brief glimpse of Vampirella’s confronting her mother upon arriving in Atlanta. She keeps her fury in check for the moment because she wants answers more than she wants revenge. But the core question lingers: did you ever love me?
This is a painful memory for Vampirella who has known, her entire life, that she was, at best, a substitute for the daughter Lilith lost last issue, stolen by the demon Belial. Lilith created Vampirella in the image of her lost child, a virtual twin, in an effort to lure Belial out of his wandering through time and space. The tactic worked, but Lilith’s firstborn ironically became trapped inside a dimensional portal and became lost somewhere in time.
Here Lilith employs a blind mage to read The Book of Prophecy and, using Vampirella — which, ironically, is virtually all Lilith has ever done — the mage manages to find Lilith’s firstborn in one of endless alternate realities. This allows us to bring on-stage and into our “Kelvin Universe” Vampirella book for the first time (drum roll): Draculina.
Draculina was a bit of Warren-era silliness, the I Dream of Jeannie evil twin trope. Draculina has never been given much agency, and I wanted to keep her off the board for the first year or so in order to build out her character.
So, THAT’s why we’ve been watching this kid for a year. Now, IS Katie Draculina? Check out the next two issues, after which you’ll need to join us over in sacredsix for those answers as both characters will transfer there with issue #7 of that series after the conclusion of our first sacredsix arc.
Which leaves us only with Baron Von Kreist. I really like him and would love to keep him around a bit longer but our plan, now ruined by pandemic publishing interruptions, was for a major part of Vampirella’s storyline to branch off into sacredsix with concurrent events reflected in both titles. Now, who the hell knows, trains off of rails and so forth. We needed to send the good Baron on his way but hopefully we haven’t seen the last of him.
You’d have to ask Grant Morrison but my takeaway is I believe the old Baron’s got a crush on Vampi. At minimum, she is a worthy challenge for him and he is certainly more than a bit obsessed with her, a woman he knows he can never have. I wish I had more pages to dig around in VK’s skull a little, he’s an absolutely fascinating bit of genius on Grant’s part.
… leaves us where we came in more than a year ago: Katie pledging eternal loyalty to her new mentor, whether Vampi likes it or not. But we now know who she is. We know her story and how Lilith destroyed Katie’s life in order to selfishly manipulate her, which is precisely what Lilith has done to Vampi. Katie is now obviously being positioned as Robin to Vampirella’s Batman, but let’s see which way the wind blows and what’s blowing in it. We also now have the advantage of knowing who it was Vampirella was speaking to on the phone way back in the FCBD issue #0— her therapist Chary.
Our Halloween story is up next, followed by the launch of an all-new storyline which sends Katie to Ashthorne and Vampi to, wait for it, outer space…?
Thanks for hanging out. Stay safe, wear masks!