Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Vampirella Volume 2 # 1

As they did recently with Red Sonja, Dynamite Entertainment hits the reset button on their other big moneymaker franchise, Vampirella by hauling in a major player writer to start over from scratch.  For Red Sonja that was Gail Simone, and in this case, Bram Stoker Award-winning author Nancy A. Collins (also of Swamp Thing and Jason vs. Leatherface notoriety within the comics realm) vows to bring the buxom nosferatu back to her horror roots.  Thus far, she makes good on that pledge.

Since 1969, ol' Vampi has emerged as a supreme badass from her black-and-white gestation during the Warren Publishing years.  Archie Goodwin's cult heroine of course predates Marvel's masculine vampire assassin Blade, who thrust his alpha-smothered katana into the hearts of nihilistic bloodsuckers during the nineties.   Blade was portrayed on celluloid by Wesley Snipes to usurp the limelight in this fiercely contested bracket of horror-grounded comics.  Prior to Blade, Marvel had Morbius, who has tormented Spiderman on occasion and returned now and then to haunt readers on his own.  Let us not forget other fang bang comics over the years such as The Tomb of Dracula, Planet of Vampires, I, Vampire, The House of Mystery, 30 Days of Night, Vampire Tales and the red-hot contemporary series American Vampire.

Under Dynamite's umbrella, Vampirella has regained her prestige in the wake of onscreen vampirism vogue such as The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and of course, the adolescent-targeted cash cow Twilight series.  Personally, I would flag the sensational Swedish film Let the Right One In and its equally powerful American remake Let Me In as not only the finest horror fiction story in more than a decade, but the primer to making a schlock queen like Vampirella a returning overnight sensation.

With the revived interest in Near Dark, The Lost Boys, Fright Night, Max Schreck's immortal Nosferatu (my vote as the best vampire flick of all-time) and Christopher Lee's Dracula portrayals for Hammer Studios, Vampi's resurrection in the care of Eric Trautmann turned out to be a bigger success than even Dynamite themselves probably anticipated.  As with Red Sonja, the imprint has spun off numerous Vampirella miniseries, one-shots and crossovers to the point some might argue she's become a pop Drac, an older comics world equivalent to Kristin Stewart.  In other words, Vampirella Lite.

Already the feeling to Vampirella Volume 2 # 1 haunts of classic Vampi.  Eric Trautmann rebooted Vampirella properly when taking charge of the franchise for Dynamite in 2010, but the publisher's decided necessitation to go back to the primitive in 2014 rings not to high heaven, but you-know-where.  Nancy A. Collins goes straight for the jugular (no pun intended) in the first issue of the six-part "Our Lady of Shadows" story arc by thrusting the daughter of Lilith upon the feet of Ethan Shroud and his nefarious Cult of Chaos.

Vampirella is sent by the Vatican to investigate the kidnapping of a little girl, Emma Baxter.  Emma is marked as a sacrifice to be performed on The Feast of Shadows, one of Chaos' most holy (or unholy, if you will) days.  As it turns out, the girl's father, Bill, happens to be a member of the cult.  Having had plenty of her fill of the dreaded warlock and high priest Shroud in the past, Vampirella begrudgingly accepts the task set before her. 

Things don't go well for Vampi as she's captured and submitted to a brutal ritual, branded as a future vessel for Umbra, the Lady of Shadows within Chaos' unsanctified realm.  There's nothing at all pop-minded and pretty to Collins' exposition in this story, in particular the gruesome final stanza of issue # 1.  Chaos has eviscerated Mrs. Baxter and left her for dead hanging upside down.  The biting (pun intended this time) closure to this opening act finds Vampirella forced to surrender to her bloodthirsty impulses by feeding on Baxter. 

Collins immediately turns the Vampirella ethos on its head with this scene, given the fact our scantily-clad heroine has sworn to protect humanity by destroying her own kind.  In this issue, Vampirella is twice a victim of obligation and having to disavow her principles this quickly into the new series is, well....cool.

Dynamite's officially on a hot streak with Gail Simone's brilliant overhaul of Red Sonja, plus The Twilight Zone and their John Carter of Mars books.  Debuting this month as well and likewise as promising as Nancy A. Collins' charged-up debut for Vampirella is Troy Brownfield's The Blood Queen.  Okay, Dynamite, you're now forgiven for canceling Miss Fury.

                Listenin' to:  Hank3 / 3 Bar Ranch - Cattle Callin'

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