Writer’s Commentary: Christopher Priest On ‘Vampirella’ #19 And Plans For Years Two
by Olly MacNamee
If you’ve been following our Writer’s Commentaries from Christopher Priest then you know you;re in for a frank, informative and revealing deep dive into his thought process behind each issue we’ve had the exclusive privilege of presenting to you all. And this one, for Vampirella #19, is no different. Read on, and enjoy…
[+++ NOTE: Possible spoilers for Vampirella #19! Buy and read the book, then return here for some creepy commentary! +++]
So, here’s where we’re at:
We’d launched Vampirella as a kind of Sex & The City With Fangs, taking a creative approach more grounded in reality (or, at least, near-reality) than the character has traditionally been. I’d made the deliberate choice to make Vampirella’s world smaller, reducing the scale from world or reality-threatening mega-events where she’d be weaponless and single-handedly taking on massive hordes of powerful demons while dressed in a string bikini. Due respect to other scribes, that wasn’t working for me.
Our smaller-scale Vampi was more about the universal struggles of young people trying to discover who they are and find their path in a cynical and complex world. Now having done that for much of the character’s 50th anniversary year, I thought it time for something different.
In our series we’d seen only glimpses of Drakulon, Vampirella’s home planet. Previous iterations of the character have produced several different visions for this place, including some which link it to the biblical Hell, an idea with which I strongly disagree not necessarily on theological grounds but based on my own conclusions of Vampirella creator Forrest J. Ackerman’s original intent for the character.
Ackerman was writing satirical science fiction, juxtaposing a sort of whimsical nonsense sci-fi with the horror genre. I wanted to remain true to that general idea while grounding it in a bit more focused reality than Ackerman may have appreciated.
Moving into Year Two, rather than repeat ourselves, I thought we should explore more of Ackerman’s concept, which led me to questions about Drakulon, about the world we have so far seen — a mostly barren, archaic sort of Robert E. Howard place.
I found Drakulon to be this place of wild contradictions. What little we saw of it in Ackerman’s original vision seemed primitive and yet, in his original origin story, Vampi, without blinking, takes command of an American spacecraft and flies it to another solar system. That suggests advanced technological knowledge and familiarity with alien species. How could Drakulon be both archaic and fluent in modern tech? There had to be more there there than what we’d so far seen.
And that’s how I began building my version of Drakulon, one which may or may not stand any test of time in today’s retcon-happy anti-continuity environment. I conceived of an ancient civilization with mysterious origins this storyline, “Interstellar” will explore. A mix of archaic Roman Empire-style civilization empowered by advanced super science which is often either mixed with or mistaken for witchcraft and sorcery.
Demons roam a post-apocalyptic landscape; post-apocalyptic because I couldn’t reconcile an advanced civilization with the sparse and barren vistas traditionally created for Drakulon. The vision of Hell had to be the result of some disaster, some bit of business yet to be disclosed. So, in Year Two I figured, rather than simply repeat ourselves, why not send Vampirella back home, which would inevitably lead to the conclusion that you really can never go home again.
We get a glimpse to remind us of who Vampirella is speaking to. This is important to me because so much of comics produced these days is written in first person narrative, but we rarely stop to explain to the reader to whom the protagonist is speaking and why. So we’re left with a stream of consciousness monologue that has no context.
The lone survivor of a passenger jet crash, Vampirella has been seeing a trauma specialist working for the NTSB. She’d left Dr. “Doc” Chary’s office hours before, only to return minutes later wearing different clothes and claiming to have been gone nearly a year. “Interstellar” is the story of that year.
Here Doc Chary speculates on a cosmic phenomena which would help explain the drought that created the barren vision of Drakulon long-term readers are accustomed to. This phenomena also pushed Drakulon into a perilously close orbit to the neighboring planet Arcadia, which caused massive ecological disasters for both worlds.
Here we get a glimpse of Dreyvant Aeopstyl, a revolutionary devoted to Vampirella’s mother Lilith. Lilith was captured in our companion title sacredsix #6 and dragged back to Drakulon to stand trial for crimes of sedition. Vampirella has journeyed back to her homeworld while remaining deeply conflicted over whether to help her mother or not. The Aepostyl and his followers have no such conflicts.
The Aepostyl’s horde use an old tunnel boring machine to leave Drakulon’s unforgiving surface and travel into the exotic, super-advanced world below.
More recap with Chary, who’s been trapped in his office with this delusional woman half the night. Chary believes Vampirella – whom he knows as “Ella Normandy”– is crazy, pure and simple. But she is an obviously troubled woman whom Chary, his protestations to the contrary, cannot abandon.
So now we pick up where we left off last issue: Vampirella skulking around the catacombs beneath Drakulon’s Senate complex while trying to decide whether or not to help Lilith. She has bumped into KAULDRYN (as in “flock of bats”), pre-teen Senate pages dispatched by Vampirella’s adopted uncle, Senator Hilal, to look after her.
In an effort to avoid the many sensors down there, Kauldryn has led Vampi to what they’re calling “the farm,” a place where human beings are kept alive while drained of their blood. Because of the drought, Drakulon has resorted to creating synthetic blood substitutes. This secret “farm” provides fresh, top-quality, organic blood only to the elites.
Pages Six and Seven
In an effort to avoid security patrols, Kauldryn leads Vampi on a magical journey through the labyrinth beneath the Vampiri capitol. Here artist Ergün Gündüz just amazes with his Disney-esque animation cell style, breathing joy and life into the Kauldyryn kids and providing much-needed momentum while I lay in way too much exposition blah-blah-blah about what’s going on.
The bigger concern, for Vampirella, is the existence of this “farm” suggests the Vampiri have discovered independent means of accessing Earth. They have obviously conducted raids, imprisoning these people and harvesting their blood. This, of course, now enlarges and complicates Vampirella’s mission: she not only needs to rescue Lilith, she needs to destroy the cosmic gateways being used by the Vampiri.
We get a glimpse of Mom – Lilith – trapped within a Gravat. At the time of scripting, I had absolutely no idea whatsoever what a “Gravat” might be. This was one of those things where I just went on faith that my brilliant artist would deliver something fresh from his imagination rather than struggling to imagine something from my own. I just typed “Gravat”. Shrug. Let’s see what the guy’s got.
Vampi gets a new costume here. This is mostly for Mattel and Hasbro: Interstellar Vampirella. The catacombs are too narrow to allow productive use of Vampirella’s wings, so one of the kids gives up her maglev harness, which will allow Vampi to move more efficiently through tight spaces, and give Dynamite another doll to sell at Christmas.
Oh. so that’s a Gravat! Home run, Ergün.
Page Ten and Eleven
Suleyman, a kind of Vampire Mitch McConnell, tries to cut a deal with Vampirella here. Suleyman would just as soon be rid of Lilith, especially with the Aepostyl and his nutty fanatics on their way. Vampi is, of course, worried about the gateways, but Suley tells her not to sweat it: Lilith has reprogrammed those gateways so the encryption requires a specific genetic code – Vampirella’s. In other words, Vampirella herself is the key to operating the gateways.
Pages Twelve and Thirteen
Vampirella finally gets what she came for: a meeting with mom. Should she save her? Snug inside the bowels of the giant Gravat, Lilith isn’t all that worried. A master manipulator, I imagine Lilith has every confidence Vampirella will ultimately solve the problem, a problem Lilith herself created.
Lilith does, however, drop a suggestion that her lifelong friend and Vampirella’s adopted uncle, Senator Hilal, was likely about to get whacked. This sends Vampirella hurtling out of the chamber, frustrating Suleyman who’d hoped Vampirella would solve his political problems for him.
Meanwhile, two of our Kauldryn kids are in Hilal’s apartment, preparing to do what kids do, while Hilal himself is presumably on the Senate floor.
This page actually didn’t exist. It had been a tiny panel at the bottom of page thirteen, but this new guy, this terrifying, bizarre, unhinged maniac, is simply a master stroke from artist Gündüz. Ergün has vested Shane with the kind of “what the hell?!” lunacy of classic villains. So much so that everyone at Dynamite, myself first and foremost, have fallen in love with Shane.
Much like the Kauldryn kids (and, for that mater, the Gravat), I’d asked for something I considered rather cliché and ordinary, and Ergün delivered innovation and excitement–wide grins all around among the creative team and editors as we wondered aloud what drugs this man must be on to come up with his incredible vision. So editor Matt Idelson asked the High Command for an extra page this issue so Shane’s debut could be more terrifyingly memorable.
Don’t be surprised to hear of a Shane solo one-shot in the near future.
[Spoiler Alert] Too bad this Kauldryn kid lent her armor to Vampirella…
Pages Fifteen through Eighteen
Who the hell is this guy? What does he want? Ergün cuts loose as the action kicks off with subdued color against which the brilliant “zap” beams and the fire engine red of Interstellar Vampirella (TM) wildly pop.
Ergün lays us all out with this amazing invasion splash, a Heavy Metal-style pop art vision of a futuristic alien city being attacked by a giant drill bit. This really has the flavor of classic Warner Bros animation, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century. Gorgeous, stunning work. With every page of “Interstellar” turned in, I regretted not getting Ergün to Drakulon sooner.
Shane has apparent facility with magic, having transported Vampi and the surviving Kauldryn kid to parts unknown. Nothing left to do but follow the light–
–to what is likely THE most bizarre image ever printed in a Vampirella comic book. And, yes, that’s saying something! Thanks for reading!
Vampirella #19 is out now from Dynamite