For a certain brand of internet commenter, the feminist, fully clothed relaunch of “Vampirella” is inherently joyless, so I can only hope Kate Leth and Eman Casallos’ flirty, funny “Vampirella” #1 will put that myth firmly to rest. Starting fresh in Los Angeles, Vampirella and her boyfriend Tristan take on fame, break-ins and her iconic old costume with humor, energy and just enough horror. At the end of the issue, I couldn’t wait to see how these characters would handle their new world. While “Vampirella” #1 isn’t as sharply executed as it could be, it sells its premise and previews the series to come with aplomb.
Leth and Casallos spend much of the issue proving how fun Vampirella will be in her new setting. Old Hollywood glamour and old Hollywood horror are part of the character’s DNA, and placing her physically there makes a whole lot of sense. The more modern challenges at hand — publicists, paparazzi, viral videos — also throw enjoyable wrenches into Vampirella’s status quo. Leth gets all these ideas into one issue with a keen sense of how serial fiction works; she reveals just enough of her hand to give the reader a showcase of the possibilities, tempting them back for more. I’ve read plenty of mind-blowing first issues that didn’t get this job done nearly as well.
Though it never really crackles, the dialogue is also consistently amusing. For all the jumping out of windows and punching monsters, there’s a sort of lounging character to the conversations. In one of the issue’s smartest turns, Leth has Vampirella show off her iconic thong-romper to Tristan, saying, “I couldn’t exactly leave it behind, could I?” It’s a wry moment that manages to ditch the outdated look without any hand-wringing about sexuality. Leth just moves the outfit off the battlefield, where it doesn’t belong, and into the bedroom, where it does.
Casallos handles the series’ mix of humor and horror well. The faces are quite expressive, which helps the jokes land just as much as it sells the scarier scenes. However, panels can get crowded or peculiarly designed. They often make it difficult for letterer Erica Schultz to place the dialogue in the order it would be read. Casallos also handily accomplishes one of the hardest parts of the issue: striking the right tone. With some more attention to composition and the macro design of the pages, he could really take “Vampirella” to great heights.
In addition, as much fun as the L.A. setting offers, the art from Casallos and colorist Valentina Pinto doesn’t have a great sense of place. Casallos’ framing and layouts can take the impact out of establishing shots. Pinto’s colors in particular can feel too conservative: drab rather than gloomy or Gothic. The tone of both Casallos’ lines and Leth’s script is more playful, and I’d love to see Pinto expand her palette to match that.
Despite its flaws, “Vampirella” #1 accomplishes its most important task: getting the reader excited for the rest of the series. I came away from this issue with a dozen different hints as to where it could head, and I’m eager to see how things progress. A relaunch always has to make the case for “why,” and “Vampirella” does just that.