This was a pleasant surprise. "Annual" has become a dirty word in the comic book community. Once something special, annuals have become excuses for shoddy artwork servicing lousy one-shots often so detached from the regular series that they may as well be incorporated into another. The Vampirella Annual is everything an annual should be.
The Vatican, like every country and/or city state in history, created an espionage network. Most famously — or infamously depending on your viewpoint — the Vatican spied upon such enemies to the Church as Henry VIII. The Vatican operatives in Vampirella fight the monsters that plague our world. Their rationale however is not necessarily geared for the good of humankind and remains vague. However, for the time being the Vatican and Vampirella see a need for each other and sometimes work together for common goals.
The Vatican has been keeping the existence of a particular cult from Vampirella. This cult worships her. Again, the network's reasoning is opaque. As far as Criswell is concerned however the secrecy was for her own good. Criswell of course nods to Ed Wood Jr.'s narrator in Plan 9 From Outer Space, and you know, given this esteemed media heritage, that Criswell is the Cheetos Guy. This one isn't mine. It belongs to Berkley Breathed who hilariously had the Bloom County gang elect Opus as vice president to Bill the Cat, at the time dead, while they had strategically sent him out for Cheetos. Hence, the Cheetos Guy.
While Criswell's minding the store, Vampirella gets wind of the cult and decides to investigate. Criswell becomes her contact, whether he likes it or not. What Vampirella finds is a very resourceful and dangerous group of individuals who only conditionally adore her. They'll obey her only if she becomes the bride of their lunatic leader. Ah-ha! Vampirella Cliche #201 and recently explored by Eric Trautmann in the regular series, but writer Brandon Jerwa takes a different approach. There's a reason why the maniac du jour wishes to wed Vampirella. Her hotness is only one factor, and the others don't add up to one shred of good tidings for humanity.
The King in His Eyes
Apart from Jerwa's almost flamboyant characterization for Criswell, the writer also crystalizes Vampirella's persona as a horror/action heroine, and he evolves a unique voice for self-narration that suits the alien vampire. He manifests a variation on Vampirella's hypnotic power that at once foreshadows the conclusion and creates a remarkable scene in which Vampirella finds her abilities useless against the believers. That shift also cuts to the chase for a big budget styled meeting of the minds with the cult and their nutso leader.
The only real complaint I have about the Vampirella Annual is that it's just not big enough to contain Eman Casallos' and Ivan Nunes' artwork. The scope of the story is huge, as are the settings and action sequences. This really should have been an oversized graphic novel or at very least metric to fully capture the level of detail and the broad storyboards. Ah, well.
Eman Casallos creates some fascinating and familiar visuals for the new additions to Vampirella's world. The chief cracker resembles Telly Savalas in The Horror Express.
The bat-like monsters are well-constructed and bear echoes of the past while staying fresh. Casallos' and Nunes' Vampirella is delicious, distinctive and dangerous.
However, the artists opt out of fashioning her trademark costume and instead sheathe her in a fetching leather motorcycling outfit. As well, they hook her up with some sweet wheels, second only to Batgirl's bike.
Of course, these are superficial accoutrements. The real importance arises when Vee goes into action.
Thanks to Casallos, she's an occult dynamo, and although the conclusion of the story depends more upon the subtle rather than "guns blazing," Casallos and Nunes come through with a haunting depiction of Vampirella's abilities.
Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.