Joe Harris is "Scarlet" & "Spontaneous"

Harris' "Spontaneous" and "Vampirella and the Scarlet Legion" both debut in May

2010 was a big year for Joe Harris as his miniseries "Ghost Projekt" was released by Oni Press and he contributed to Dark Horse's revival of the seminal horror anthology "Creepy." 2011 looks to be even bigger, with May seeing the debut of two new miniseries from two different companies. The first is "Vampirella and the Scarlet Legion," a story illustrated by Jose Malaga. The series reintroduces classic elements of the character's mythology, tying into the new ongoing title from Dynamite Entertainment.

The second is "Spontaneous," a book we spoke with Harris about last year when the title was announced at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The first issue of the miniseries, featuring artwork by Brett Weldele ("The Light," "Surrogates"), will be this year's Free Comic Book Day offering from Oni Press.

CBR News spoke with the prolific writer about both projects.

CBR News: Now Vampirella is visually one of the more recognized characters in comics, but who is she and what made her an interesting character to write?

Joe Harris: Well, she is an icon, and that did attract me to the gig. Aside from being so recognizable, she sort of exists in her own space. How do you categorize Vampirella? Back in the 1990s, she fit in with the other T&A books with a horror fetish that were ubiquitous, but she had more of a heritage than that. To recap, really quick and basic; Vampirella is a vampire who comes from a place called Drakulon that, in past incarnations, has been portrayed as both an alien planet and another dimension. But the salient point is she's a vampire who protects humanity from the vampires who don't like us as much as she does. And she's really hot, and she's a serious badass, and she's got a great mythology that's been woven around her going back to the days when Archie Goodwin was writing the character for Warren Publications.

Her mission statement sort of evolved a bit to include "The Companions of Chaos," a cult dedicated to their "Mad God," Chaos, and a hierarchy of demons and lesser gods whom the cult, led by this long-lived sorcerer named Ethan Shroud -- all of whom Vampirella would take on with the help of allies like the magician, Pendragon, Adam Van Helsing and others.

What makes her interesting to write, in this case, is the opportunity to really dig into this famous, central core of the character's mythos, trash the hotel room a bit, then reassemble it. I'm trying to be very classic and respectful of what I think are great elements surrounding a great horror comics property, while offering what I hope is a refresh that's accessible and modern. I wanted to tell a horror story that was both creepy and epic, so there's a bit of a globe-spanning sweep to "Vampirella & the Scarlet Legion."

I hope it works!

How did you end up working with Dynamite Entertainment on this project?

They asked me. When I got back into writing comics not too long ago, I realized that so much of the landscape had changed and Dynamite was one of the new leaders putting out all of this vibrant stuff. I knew Nick Barrucci from way back and we stayed in touch looking for the right thing to do together. 

Did you know much about Vampirella before taking the book on?

Yes, sorta. As a fan of the old Warren publications like "Creepy" and "Eerie," I knew there was more to "Vampirella" than the bulk of what I glanced at in the 1990s and the stripper cosplayers you used to see a lot of at conventions, but I wasn't as familiar with the continuity or the "Vampirella-verse" as I am now. I absorbed a lot of it before sitting down to write "Scarlet Legion" and found some easy places for my own sensibilities and tastes to hook into. I'm a Rod Serling fan, a Richard Matheson fan, I love Anne Rice's vampire novels and Brian Lumley's "Necroscope" books and found that all of these things influenced the concept behind this series and, at least I think, really dovetailed nicely with Vampirella, her mythology and her long-standing supporting cast.

How does the book tie in with the current ongoing "Vampirella" series from Dynamite?

The short answer is, it doesn't -- not directly. But it does provide a sort of pretext for what they're exploring in the ongoing.

According to the press release, the book will re-introduce the Scarlet Legion. For those of us who don't know, what is the Scarlet Legion?

Technically, "The Scarlet Legion" is the name of the old Vampirella fan club. What I've done is take that name and build something out of what already exists in Vampirella's universe to hang it on. Grant Morrison and Mark Millar introduced this idea of "The Sisterhood" into the title back when Harris Comics was publishing. They were this Vatican-sanctioned team of nun vampire slayers who cross paths with Vampirella and become allies against a mutual threat. The Sisterhood figures prominently in this series, but "The Scarlet Legion" is a strikeforce made up of members of the Sisterhood and other, more essential and famous characters from Vampirella's past, who come together to take on a resurgent Companions of Chaos. They've been convened, I imagine, throughout history in times when the Vatican needed to get its hands dirty and take care of existential threats like Chaos. And when this new, old prophecy is discovered, in which Vampirella is identified as the key to the reconstituted Companions' efforts to resurrect Chaos and bring their gods and demons forth into this world, the Scarlet Legion finds itself hunting them both. 

Switching gears to another project of your, we spoke last year when the book was announced at San Diego but in brief, what is "Spontaneous" and what can we look forward to in the miniseries?

"Spontaneous" is my new supernatural horror/thriller miniseries at Oni Press. I created it with artist Brett Weldele and it concerns this young man named "Kelvin" Melvin Reyes who, on his third birthday, watched his father die from the phenomenon mysteriously referred to as "Spontaneous Human Combustion." As a result, Melvin dedicates his life to tracking and even sort of chasing occurrences of SHC in the average suburban town he grew up in. He ends up hooking up with a young, would-be investigative reporter named Emily and, together, they delve into the dark side of their hometown's history. They uncover conspiracies and secrets and the truth behind what amounts to an outbreak of bizarre, fiery occurrences science cannot account for ends up being stranger than fiction. It's filled with creepy and twisted little moments, young people sleuthing around like something out of "Brick" or "Veronica Mars," and terrible revelations as Melvin and Emily follow the rabbit hole they've stumbled across down into the dark.

When I first realized I wanted to do a project about Spontaneous Human Combustion, I hit on the simple one-word title, "Spontaneous" because it felt like the title of a Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant. I've really tried to build a story that was worthy of that vibe.

Finally, how did the first issue of the book end up being chosen as Oni's 2011 FCBD title?

I turned in the first script for the first issue and Oni Editor in Chief James Lucas Jones told me they wanted it to be their FCBD book for 2011. It was a nice vote of confidence. Everyone's really proud of the issue, and it looks so great with Brett's illustrations and painted colors.

"Vampirella and the Scarlet Legion" hits in May. "Spontaneous" explodes in comic stores on Free Comic Book Day, May 7.

Tags: dynamite entertainment, oni press, vampirella, joe harris, spontaneous, vampirella and the scarlet legion

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