Vampirella – The Eternal Heroine
By Jessica Dwyer
(cross posted to Fangirl Magazine)
In the history of horror films, fiction, and comics female horror icons are few and far between. There are of course the “final girls” of film such as Nancy Thompson that we see as the hero of the story. But for the ones that are considered the “monster” themselves they are rare. Even rarer are those that are both the hero and the monster.
In the annals of horror entertainment one woman flies above the rest in terms of being an icon and having had a life some would say is eternal…Vampirella. Vampi as she’s known to fans and friends alike has been gracing the pages of comics and, in one instance the small screen, for nearly 50 years. That’s an impressive feat for any comic book character, but even more so for a female vampire who managed to combine fantasy, horror, and even religion in her stories.
Vampirella was born in 1969 from the combined minds of Forrest J Ackerman and feminist comic icon Trina Robbins. The first cover of featuring her was painted by the legendary Frank Frazetta. With a pedigree like that, you know that a queen had been born. Ackerman would write Vampirella’s origin story for the first issue. While Vampirella’s signature look of barely there costume and collar would stick in people’s minds, it was her story and the character herself that would cement her place in the pages of science fiction and horror.
Rather than making Vampirella a normal, run of the mill vampire, Ackerman went with a sort of Superman backstory with the character coming from another world, thereby making her an alien. The planet Drackulon was populated by vampires which wasn’t a problem as the rivers of the planet were filled with blood, not water. The race could change into bats and sprout wings and also had super strength.
In the origin story Drakulon is slowly dying as the planets blood supplies are drying up. An earth vessel crash lands on the planet and Vampirella, after being attacked by the crew and realizing they have blood that can sustain her, travels back to Earth in the ship. When she arrives she realizes that the myth of the vampires on our planet is very similar to that of her own world. She decides to do good deeds while on Earth and help those in trouble in order to change the attitudes of those who believe vampires to be completely evil.
One unique factor in these early Vampirella works was that not only did the comics feature Vampirella stories, but Vampi herself “hosted” other supernatural tales in the comics that didn’t feature her…much like the Eerie and Creepy comics or the House of Mystery/House of Secrets comics. But Vampi was the star of her show.
Vampirella was a force to reckon with in the world of comics. She epitomized female sexuality mixed with intelligence and power. She was able to fight men and monsters with strength and grace and fought against her vampire nature. Vampirella was obviously a product of the times she came from, stylish in her knee boots and revealing costume, echoing the sci-fi camp of Barbarella (who’s similarly named) but she grew beyond that as her story evolved.
It would eventually come to be known that Vampirella wasn’t actually from another planet but that she was the daughter of Lilith, Adam’s first wife (an actual Biblical figure) and that Lilith saw in her a last chance of redemption from her past many sins. She was actually born from a level of hell in a final attempt to gain forgiveness from God for Lilith, heavy stuff for a horror comic.
Vampirella would continue through the 70’s into the early 80’s, being bought by Harris Publications in the 90’s where she would see a resurgence with the new wave of popularity due to the stylized “bad girls” such as Lady Death and Witch Blade at that time.It’s during the 90’s where she would also be seen for the first time ever in a live action film by Roger Corman and starring Talisa Soto.
Vampirella would find her current home at Dynamite in 2010 where she has crossed paths with numerous other icons of horror such as Ash Williams, Barnabas Collins, and as she has done numerous times through her life, Dracula. She would also be a major player in the mega crossover event celebrating female comic icons from 2015, Sword of Sorrow written by Gail Simone that featured Vampirella with Jungle Girl, Red Sonja, and others.
Vampirella continues to be an icon for both female power, artistic beauty, and an amazing piece of horror history. Be she on the page, on screen (as portrayed by Talisa Soto in the Roger Corman directed film version of the character) or even Lil Vampi, her toddler alter ego. She’s known world-wide by fans of horror and comics and she continues to keep inspiring artists and fans alike…and she looks fangtastic for nearly 50.