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Warren Publications pioneered the black-and-white comic book magazine format in the 1960s as a means of, among other goals, skirting the restrictions of the Comics Code, which had been adopted by the industry in 1954. The Code was very harsh on horror comics and specifically banned vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and zombies. Following the format established in Famous Monsters of Filmland, Warren successfully introduced two new horror comics, Creepy and Eerie, in 1964 and 1965, respectively. Both were successful and both carried vampire stories. They set the stage for the introduction in 1969 of Vampirella, a new vampire-oriented comic, and Dark Shadows, issued by Gold Key, the first two vampire comics since the adoption of the Comics Code in 1954.
Vampirella, a character developed by Forrest J. Ackerman, was somewhat different. She was, first of all, a woman, and female vampires had been rare in comic books, especially in starring roles. Second, she was not of the undead; rather, she was from outer space. According to the story line she was a native of the planet Drakulon, a dying planet where blood had replaced water as the life-sustaining liquid. Vampirella had come to Earth, where there was a steady supply of blood, to survive. She was pictured as a beautiful, dark-haired young woman (late teens to early twenties) with a scanty costume that hid little of her voluptuous body. Barbarella, a character developed by French artist Jean-Claude Forest and the subject of a motion picture by Roger Vadim, was the direct inspiration for Vampirella, whose red costume had a gold bat insignia just below her navel. When she smiled, her two extended canine teeth were prominently displayed. She also had the ability to change into a bat. Vampirella was impish as well as sexy. She engaged in a constant search for blood (or its equivalent), but she was the heroine and hence did not take life without reason. She was always mournful about the choices that her own survival often pressed upon her.
Through the years of her existence on Earth, the story of Vampirella’s origin has been retold on several occasions and left her with several very distinct accounts of her origin. In the early stories, her origin was described very superficially. She was from a planet in which blood was like water on Earth. It was present abundantly in rivers and streams. However, the blood source was being threatened by the double suns around which Drakulon whirled. Vampirella had grown up on Drakulon and was engaged to a young man, Tristan. Like other vampires, she exhaled carbon monoxide. Over the centuries the carbon monoxide in the atmosphere had broken down the protective layer, made of creatone, that protected the residents of the surface from the most harmful rays coming from their suns. The planet was now dying. Vampirella had an opportunity to escape when a spaceship from Earth arrived. She discovered that the veins of the crew’s bodies provided the life-giving fluid she needed. She killed to survive and then took the spaceship to Earth.
In a 1974 story, “The Vampire of the Nile,” Vampirella’s pre-Drakulon career was explored and traced to ancient Egypt. As Cleopatra, she had been summoned to the temple of her husband (and brother) Ptolemy to consummate their marriage. As soon as she entered his temple, she was grabbed and shackled to a large column. Out of a crypt in front of the column, the vampire-king arose and bit Cleopatra. She became the enchantress of popular history, a tragic career broken only by a brief affair with her true love, Mark Anthony. After Anthony died, she again entered the vampire temple and staked Ptolemy. Suddenly, the God Amun-Ra appeared. He could not remove her vampiric condition, but rewarded her by promising her reincarnation on Drakulon. Thus, she quickly moved to commit suicide with the poisonous snake.
Vampirella on Earth: Vampirella arrived on Earth in 1969. She needed blood daily and became a huntress for the blood within humans. However, soon after her arrival, she was involved in an airplane crash after which she was taken to a rural clinic for the wealthy. The doctor who rescued her also fell in love with her. More importantly, he created a synthesized blood substitute which freed Vampirella from her need to attack humans. Unfortunately, the doctor’s nurse was a disciple of Chaos, the evil force, that continually infringes upon the orderly universe, and became jealous of the doctor’s feeling for Vampirella. She carried The Crimson Chronicles, the bible of the believers of Chaos, and below the clinic was a temple where Chaos’s worshippers gathered. Here Vampirella would have her first encounter with Chaos and be taken prisoner by his followers.
Meanwhile, two experts in the ways of evil supernaturalism, Conrad Van Helsing and his son Adam, were investigating the plane crash in which Vampirella was involved. Conrad’s brother was also on the plane, and his body was found drained of blood. With pictures of four people on the flight whose bodies were not found, the somewhat psychic Conrad spotted Vampirella as the odd entity and concluded that she had killed his brother. The pair tracked down Vampirella who was being held prisoner by the leader of the Chaos followers who wanted Vampirella to make him a vampire. After the Van Helsings arrived, he also took them prisoner. While Conrad lay unconscious, Vampirella told her story to Adam who became convinced she was not guilty of his uncle’s death. Vampirella finally broke free of her chains and having been starved, was about to feed from Adam as Conrad awoke. What he saw merely confirmed his opinion of Vampirella. They escaped and went their separate ways. Vampirella fed off her willing captor, but he did not become a vampire as her bite could not transmit vampirism.
Vampirella found a job as the assistant with an aging magician and alcoholic, Pendragon. Their first tour took them to the Caribbean. Shipwrecked on an island, they encountered a man attempting to find a serum to cure his wife of werewolfism. He took Vampirella prisoner to use her as a guinea pig. Meanwhile, Adam showed up, and together they extricated themselves from the situation.
Conrad had also come to the Island to look for Adam, and was taken prisoner on Cote de Soleil by the followers of Chaos. Pendragon, Adam, and Vampirella conspired to free him. Once they escaped, Conrad’s opinion of Vampirella began to change, but it was not revised until together they tracked the real killers of Conrad’s brother to a group of Chaos’s followers in New Orleans. Once their relationship was established, the four would have numerous adventures through the 1970s. The emergence of the Van Helsings, tied as they were to Bram Stoker‘s Dracula (1897), signaled the eventual return of its main character as well, and one of the most interesting revisions of the Dracula myth. Awakened in the contemporary world, a cosmic being known as the Conjuress sent Dracula back to the 1890s to undo some of the damage he had done and reverse the process that made him a vampire. Vampirella joined him through the device of a magic mirror. In their initial conversation, Dracula revealed that he too was from Drakulon. He began to use magic to solve the planet’s problems, but contacted Chaos instead of accomplishing his task. Chaos had originally forced him to Earth. Vampirella agreed to help him redeem himself.
As Dracula and Vampirella met all of the principal characters from Dracula the novel, Dracula’s basic problem was to find some way to stave off his bloodthirst. After Lucy Westenra was resurrected when the stake was pulled from her heart (her decapitation being ignored), Dracula remembered his love for her. He was able to keep from biting Lucy, but could not restrain himself when it came to Mina Murray. Lucy saw him attack Mina and dropped dead. In spite of Vampirella’s help, the Conjuress pronounced Dracula a failure, and he was taken out of the story line, for the moment. The first issue of Vampirella appeared in September 1969. Forrest Ackerman was the first writer, and the soon-to-be-famous Frank Franzetta was the original artist. The original team was filled out by Trina Robbins and Tom Sutton. Ackerman was followed by Archie Godwin and a host of different writers over the years, most notably John Cochran, T. Casey Brennan, and Steve Englehart (under the pseudonym Chad Archer). Franzetta and Sutton were later succeeded by José Gonzales, with whom the image of Vampirella became most identified.
Vampirella became (and as of 2010 remains) the longest-running English-language vampire comic book of all time, its last issue (No. 112) appearing in February 1983. Meanwhile, in the mid-1970s, Ron Goulart had produced a series of six Vampirella novels adapted from the comic book story line. In the late 1980s, in the atmosphere of reviving interest in vampires, Harris Comics acquired Vampirella and in 1988 issued a single issue (No. 113) following the old Warren Comics format. Three years later, Harris Comics launched their new Vampirella program with reissues of the old Vampirella stories in a new format, and the creation of new Vampirella stories, the first of which appeared in a four-part series written by Kurt Busiek. Busiek picked up the story of Vampirella after her disappearance in the final Warren issue. Busiek also wrote the first of the Harris stories to appear in color the following year. During the 1990s, under Harris’s guidance, a number of writers have taken up the challenge of writing Vampirella; however, Tom Sniegoski is usually given the credit of remolding her as a 1990s “Bad Girl,” a totally feminine creature who can nevertheless function as a superhero for the youthful readership. In the process of producing the 25-issue series, Vengeance of Vampirella, he also recreated the myth underlying Vampirella’s existence. In a story line called “The Mystery Walk,” Vampirella’s extraterrestrial origin was put aside for a mythological one. Lilith, the first wife of Adam in Hebrew folklore, sought to earn forgiveness from the God of Order. After her creation, she rejected Adam. She was expelled from Eden. In her rage, she hated God, and her hatred took on form as the lilin, who in turn spread evil in the world God created. She finally decided to return to the light and forced herself back into Eden, a place neglected since Adam and Eve had been expelled.
In Eden Lilith initiated her plan for her own redemption that began with caring for the garden. She then created the twins Magdelene and Madek and sent them into the world to undo the evil that had resulted from Lilith’s hatred. The plan backfired and the twins merely created more evil. Vampirella was created to defeat the twins and then pick up the mission of opposing the world’s evil. Before going into the world, she was trained to master the dark side that resided within her inherited from Lilith. The Sniegoski reworking of Vampirella has launched a new career for Vampirella and kept her comic books regularly among the best selling in the industry.
The Vampirella Movie (1996): Through the years, plans were announced and rumors circulated about a Vampirella movie. Model/actress Barbara Leigh was designated the future star of a 1970s movie and her picture appeared on the cover of a number of Vampirella comic books. However, it was not until the mid-1990s that a movie actually was shot. In the made-for-television movie, directed by Jim Wynorski, Vampirella’s origin took a more sinister science fiction turn. In ancient time, people of Drakulon would attack and drain the blood from each other. They had arisen to a point where such behavior was no longer acceptable. Then approximately 3,000 years ago, there arose on Drakulon a new cult led by Vlad (Roger Daltrey) and a small cadre of people. They plotted revolution. Vlad was arrested and was to be tried. During his audience before Drakulon’s council, an escape team arrived and they and Vlad killed all of the members of the council. Vlad himself drank from Vampirella’s father. Determined to bring her father’s killers to justice, Vampirella (Talisa Soto) followed them to Earth on a returning Mars probe. The journey took 3,000 years. Once on Earth, she made common cause with Adam van Helsing, the head of a vampire eradication agency, and together they tracked down Vlad and his minions.
In 2009, Vampirella celebrated her fortieth anniversary at The Vampire-Con in Los Angeles, at which a new Vampirella model was selected. As the twentieth-first century gains steam, Vampirella remains one of the most influential vampire characters in the literary realm. She has been the subject of multiple trading card sets, six novels (by Ron Goulart), over 300 comic book issues, several model statues, and one movie. The comics have been translated into more than a dozen languages including most of the European languages and several in Asia. Harris continues to employ a spectrum of top comics writers and artists that continually attract new fans and revive interest in the older fans. In the wake of the revived interest in Vampirella in the 1990s, Harris Comics organized a fan club, The Scarlet Legion, which provides an avenue for fans to share their enthusiasm and through which Harris offers a number of Vampirella premiums and limited editions not otherwise available to the public. After forty years, Vampirella is more popular than ever. The Scarlet Legion maintains a web presence on the Harris Vampirella site, http://www.vampirella.com/.
Having appeared in 1969, Vampirella is now seen as the original “good guy vampire,” whose lineage would be traced forward from the comic to the novels of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Fred Saberhagen, to the hundreds of romance and young adult novels of the present, to the very successful television characters such as Nick Knight, Angel and Henry Fitzroy (created by Tanya Huff), and the Twilight novels and movies of Stephanie Meyer.
Vampires, Werewolves, Ghosts and Other Things that Go Bump in the Night see: Vampire Fandom: United States
Vampirism Research Institute see: Vampire Fandom: United States