Nancy A. Collins and Patrick Berkenkotter’s “Vampirella” #1 finds Vampirella trying to save an innocent child from a dangerous cult. However the cult wanted Vampirella all along. They catch her with ease and put her through a ritual to make her the host for one of their gods in this paint by number beginning to the new series.
It seems, given the name and costume alone, that there should be a campy vibe to “Vampirella” to balance some of the darker elements, but it’s played here with a deadly serious tone, which is perhaps why it falls so flat. The book is filled with stereotypes from the evil possessed cult leader to innocent children and put upon newly single mothers. As someone relatively new to Vampirella, the story provided no understanding of her powers or motivation. She feeds on an innocent that’s going to die anyway and feels guilty about it, but what separates her from other vampires? Why does she care about the lives of innocents? Why does she work for a Monsignor seemingly connected with The Vatican? What are her powers and skills? Does she get paid to do this work? Is she actually supposed to be good at it? The first issue doesn’t have to deliver on all these questions, but at least a few would help to invest a reader, rather than wasting time on minor characters and tedious seen-it-all-before cult backstory.
To make matters worse, the stilted, almost formal third person narration really prevents the reader from getting inside Vampirella’s head or connecting with her on a more intimate level. There are certainly ways to make third person narration work, but here it only serves to put a reader at arms length from the protagonist.
While Vampirella’s classic costume plays well on sexy pin-up covers, interior artist Berkenkotter struggles (and rightly so) to make it work on a character that moves and breathes. The resulting design is narrow fabric that then balloons outward to fully cover Vampirella’s nipples and then becomes narrow again. It’s incredibly awkward and weirdly distracting, as it feels decidedly unnatural. For such a tonally serious book, the classic costume is laughable. Collins tries to address it in a fun way early on, but it doesn’t make the moment when she takes off her coat in the cemetery to reveal the costume any less ridiculous.
Beyond the distracting costume, Berkenkotter draws a powerful and compelling Vampirella, but most of the rest of the book is a bit dull. It’s competent, but nothing stands out as exceptional in the storytelling or character work. Occasionally, backgrounds will drop out or become vague and none of the characters except Vampirella show much design or character thought. Jorge Sutil’s coloring is similarly competent but unremarkable on the whole. There are a few very nice nighttime scenes toward the end where he really embraces the tonal blues, giving those scenes an appropriately moody and foreboding quality. Sutil also does a nice job of keeping those same scenes from becoming incomprehensibly dark, despite occurring at night.
In the end, there just isn’t anything new in “Vampirella” #1. The plot is recycled, even if Collins tries her best to give it a slightly new spin, and Vampirella is so devoid of any specific personality or skills that — despite her eye catching looks — she could be subbed out with any noir detective, horror hero or dark superhero.