Vampirella #25 (June 1973)
"What Price Love?"
William B. DuBay-Jose Gonzalez
Five months ago I reviewed the inaugural adventure of our heroine, from the pages of Vampirella #1. That story was created by Forrest Ackerman and Tom Sutton. Today we'll pop back in, some four years later, and see Drakulon's favorite daughter as rendered by Jose Gonzalez - the artist perhaps most associated with Vampirella. I am loving the art throughout the Vampirella: The Essential Warren Years trade, and although it looks great, I'll testify to not having read much from it. In fact, today's material comes from a simple flip-and-choose process for a story. I wanted Gonzales, so as long as he was the penciler, my major criteria was met. But... did I choose wisely? Let's investigate...
We're dropped into the middle of a story, but the narrative soon catches us up to previous happenings. Vampirella, allied with an older gentleman named Pendragon, has landed in New Orleans - 20 years after Pendragon vacated his life with his wife and daughter. He is unaware that his daughter has married gangster Richard Granville, and that they have a son. But he and Vampirella find themselves in the clutches of Granville's toughs, and when a mind-altering drug is administered to our Drakulonian beauty, can anyone be responsible for the results?No sense wasting time, as this one is pretty fast-paced. May as well write my thoughts the same way!
The Good: Hokey Smokes, Bullwinkle! This Pepe Gonzalez fellow can sure draw! Wow... I've always felt that Neal Adams's late Silver Age work was about as close to photo-realistic as one can get. But Gonzalez is simply incredible. I featured his work on the BWBC several weeks ago, but I'd not read any of his narrative pencils before this story. To say I'm blown away would be an understatement. Breathtaking to behold.
I'm going to insert right here that I continue to pat myself on the back for coming to the conclusion a few years ago that I need to check out more black & white work from the Bronze Age. On one hand, I continue to regret the time missed. On the other hand, catching up has been a blast - so better late than never!
Back to the story, there was a good and sort of not-so-good right from the start of the tale. Granville's goons decide that rather than kill Vampirella, they are going to make Pendragon suffer by injecting Vampi with pure cocaine and making "Pen" watch her reactions. Now it's good, because it drives the plot of this 12-page story. It's, in a way, bad as it seems a trope fully grounded in the era this was written - this plot could have been plucked from any number of films of the same period. It's seemingly too easy a device. But back to good - it becomes part of the morality play that is this episode.
I will need to read the issues that come before and after this, as I am intrigued concerning how the characters got to this place and where it goes afterward. While I don't think this is high (haha...) literature by any stretch, it has me curious.
One of the character traits you can glean from the art samples is Vampirella's need to have a special serum on 24-hour intervals to stop her from the desire to slake her bloodthirst on actual human blood. We're told that Vampi has pledged to never murder a human; it's fitting, then, that Granville's orders will prove his undoing. So while we as readers are pushed into a similar space as when we read Marvel's Tomb of Dracula, we find ourselves somewhat repulsed at the very nature of the lead character and unclear just where our rooting interests should lay. That is solid character development and plotting.
The Bad: Which brings us right to this section. While not bad, I'd say effective - it was tough to watch as Vampirella succumbed to the effects of the cocaine injection and her own serum withdrawal. Once Granville's child was introduced, it was not difficult to deduce where this was headed. And when it landed where it was going to, I found myself wishing that Vampirella would catch herself and pull back as she had earlier when she attacked her friend Pendragon. It was not to be. Upon reflection, the ending of the story probably goes with my impressions of the previous section - it was jarring, and left this reader feeling a bit weak. Good and bad, all wrapped up.
I'm not familiar with William DuBay's work outside this initial encounter. While his writing was light years ahead of Forrest J. Ackerman's (as seen in my review of Vampirella #1), it left a little to be desired. I did not find it as polished or mature (I use that term from an experience standpoint) as other Bronze Age writers I've encountered. Sure, it was ahead of what a novice would have written, but it didn't strike me as coming from someone who has mastered their craft.
The Ugly: Ah, not much here. I'm sort of struck by the death of the Granville child, but it was a necessary plot point even if predictable.
I'll look forward to some leisurely reading from my Vampirella trade. After two forays between the covers (so to speak), I have become curious enough to return and enjoy an extended reading. I'll also look forward to encountering a few other artists' work on the title. Warren certainly had a stable of solid creators, many perhaps unknown to readers such as I who might be characterized as Marvel/DC Zombies.