Vampirella: Southern Gothic by Nate Cosby
Vampirella is in the Witchblade tradition of pin-up lead female comic book characters. If you aren’t likely to enjoy comics with this type of art, there’s not even a slight chance that you’ll enjoy this comic book. However, if you are already a fan of Vampirella, you probably already follow her books, and nothing I say here will make you like them any less, though I hope to help you decide whether this new book is worth seeking out. Therefore, I’m speaking primarily to an audience somewhere in the middle, an audience of readers open to the possibility that while they may be offended by certain visual aspects of a comic book, they might still appreciate other aspects of Vampirella. For that audience, I suggest that, though not as good as some of the best Vampirella stories out there, Vampirella: Southern Gothic by Nate Cosby is certainly a solid story.
In many Vampirella comics, she tries to figure out whether she is a traditional vampire, a space alien, or a demon from hell. Seriously. Many of these stories are actually great ones written by some of the best writers in comics. Most people are surprised to find out the following writers have all had runs on Vampirella: Kurt Busiek, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, James Robinson, Mike Carey, and Howard Chaykin. Most of the runs by these authors are collected in the Vampirella Master Series editions. I’ve read most of these volumes and really like them, even though I don’t like earlier Vampirella stories. To me the great Vampirella comics are equivalent to Ron Marz‘s excellent writing on Witchblade (see my previous reviews); Witchblade, before he took it over, wasn’t very interesting to me. Now, Witchblade and Vampirella are both titles I glance at and am willing to give a chance from time to time since I’ve seen both titles written well, even if I don’t always love the artwork.
Nate Cosby’s story, though not great, is certainly a good, enjoyable story. Cosby, in three quick panels, lets the reader know that Vampirella has spent much of her life trying to determine her origin; however, through her first-person narration, Vampirella says those concerns have become less a priority now that she is fighting demons all the time. Then the comic quickly launches into a massive battle between Vampirella and countless demons — in a shoe store, which is a bit funny, but nothing very interesting. She receives a cut from a demon’s magic blade, and she is concerned because her mysterious, supernatural healing powers don’t seem to be working. She stumbles home, wanting only to rest. At that moment, the phone rings. An old boyfriend needs help of the kind only Vampirella can provide. He happens to be a Southern man in Mississippi. So off Vampirella goes to the South.
Up to this point, I wasn’t very interested in Vampirella: Southern Gothic, but Cosby hooked me by the time Jacob, the ex-boyfriend, finishes revealing his story — at least most of it — to Vampirella. He fell in love with a woman named Addy Black. Addy has recently died, and Jacob is concerned because Addy usually doesn’t stay dead this long. In fact, she was born a slave in 1832 and escaped in 1860. When she was captured and burned at the stake, Addy was offered a choice that resulted in her never being able to die. In the present of this small Southern town, Addy and Jacob and a number of other members of the town, including a minister, are caught up with a group of demons in an intricate way. And since not everyone is telling the complete truth, even her ex-lover, Vampirella is forced to play detective. In fact, after the initial scenes, I was pleasantly surprised to find out there was more conversation than fighting. And the plot was fun as well: There are some twists and turns that surprised me.
Basically, Vampirella: Southern Gothic is a short, fun Vamperilla book without her usual concerns for her origin. It’s also not a book that focuses on being a Vampire. And though it’s a Southern story about a white man in love with a black woman (who actually used to be a slave), it also doesn’t focus on race relationships. It’s more a love story about three people who care about each other and about the decisions they are forced to make. How much is a person willing to sacrifice for the one s/he loves? And can you love a person who doesn’t show kindness to others? How selfish is love? How selfless should love be? These questions are not dwelled on or developed with depth, but they are certainly brought up. I still think that the Masters Series is the place to start if you’ve never read Vampirella, but if you’ve read those and want to read more Vampirella, this volume would be a good book to read next.
WHY YOU SHOULD GIVE A COMIC BOOK CHARACTER LIKE VAMPIRELLA (& WITCHBLADE) A CHANCE:
If you like fiction about vampires, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and/or pulp horror, you should read Vampirella comics at some point. There’s more to these comics than the obvious pin-up look that I’m afraid pushes away many fans who would otherwise be very interested in these stories. As a feminist, I certainly roll my eyes at much of the art and many of the poses; on the other hand, as I argue in my Witchblade reviews, when Vampirella is written well, the stories themselves present a message about being a strong woman. In other words, the writing is often at odds with the art, and I greatly respect these types of writers who build contradictions within the expected meanings of certain traditional narratives. Think, for example, how bad Buffy the Vampire Slayer would have been if it had been written by someone other than Joss Whedon and featuring a Pamela Anderson-type character cast in the role of Buffy? This bombshell is exactly what one would expect from Buffy stories – she’s supposed to be a blonde cheerleader type at the start of the series, correct? She is given the name Buffy because of its less-than-flattering connotations! In fact, the entire premise of Buffy, like Witchblade and Vampirella, should be a complete failure. But, as most people agree, Buffy is a great success. Witchblade and Vampirella, when handled by writers as good as Whedon, are as good as the best episodes of Buffy.