Thursday, March 5, 2009

Vampirella: Crimson Chronicles Maximum

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded. This time, a review of Vampirella: Crimson Chronicles Maximum Volume One (Harris, 2008).

I've often thought Harris Comics, who've been telling new Vampirella stories as well as repackaging the original ones that Warren published in the seventies, rather overstates the cultural impact of their limited-appeal character. I'd really have to argue her status as a "horror icon," though lovers of black-and-white horror adventures could do worse than checking out these tales.

Vampirella was created by the late, great Forrest J. Ackerman in 1968 as the horror hostess for one of Warren's anthology magazines full of parent-worrying gore and schlock, sort of a late '60s cutie-pie version of the Cryptkeeper, convoluted origin and everything. After a few episodes, two of which are reprinted here, she was given a proper, ongoing adventure series, initially helmed by Archie Goodwin and Tom Sutton. This package reprints two of the "hostess" installments and all of the Vampirella adventure stories, although not the many backup stories, from the first 37 issues of her magazine. It's a pretty dense read at 448 pages.

These episodes, which featured the character in an often-uneasy alliance with a drunk stage magician and two members of the van Helsing family, saw Vampirella in an ongoing battle against members of a dangerous chaos-worshipping cult and a gaggle of demons and monsters. Unfortunately, the series does suffer from a constant turnover of writers, who, apart from the great Goodwin, include Casey Brennan, Steve Englehart and someone with the quite unbelievable name of "Flaxman Loew," which is possibly a pseudonym for Mike Butterworth. As you might expect from an American book of this period, everybody keeps the letterers in business with incredibly wordy captions and thought balloons, and most of the action is pretty entertaining, but some ongoing subplots seem to fade away as new writers take the helm every fifty pages or so. Most of the quite wonderful artwork is by Jose Gonzales, with some fill-in work by others, including some early pages by Jose Ortiz, who'd later work on Rogue Trooper in 2000 AD.

Overall, I think it's a good collection. As you might expect from a smaller publisher, it's a little thinner than a Marvel Essentials for a buck more, but it's still very good value for money. It would have been improved by including a table of contents, page numbers and the original covers of the magazines, but for a low-priced introduction to the character, it's not a bad package. Recommended for fans of '70s Marvel Comics, as I think readers familiar with comparable books of that vintage will see lots of positive similarities.


Anonymous said...

As well as his 2000AD work, José Ortiz also provided excellent art for early/mid-80s UK titles such as 'Scream' and 'Eagle' (the revived version), "The Tower King", "The News Team" and "The Thirteenth Floor" were all particularly good IMO.

Micropublisher Hibernia put together a nice softcover volume of the first "Thirteenth Floor" stories:

G.G. said...

Yeah, I have a handful of Thirteenth Floor episodes from the Eagle and Tiger period. You've gotta like Max the Computer; he's just so darn mean.