Classic comic character Vampirella reinvented: now African-American

my comic collecting was held in a very different regard than my father's. I continued to get my stack of X-Men; my father continued to get Vampirella's stack.

Still, if it gets someone reading, comics are never a bad thing - and it was cool to read comics with my dad. Maybe it was the Saturday flea market banter between my father and Willy One-Eye, who sold tackle and mopheads, and maybe it was because the character seemed like little more than sex for sex's sake, but I never had much interest in Vampirella.

Until now.


Vampirella originally appeared as a headlining hostess in 1969's Vampirella #1, introducing various horror stories as well as her own. It took only eight issues before they realized the character could sustain readership as a leading lady -- but the sun finally rose with 1983's 112th issue.

Luckily the sun has no effect on Vampirella: current publisher Harris Publications acquired the rights to the Bettie Page-esque Vamp and first began re-publishing her in 1991. While her appearances haven't always been continuous, the character's resolve  has remained strong. A cult favorite, numerous models have portrayed her both in awe and quarterly print. She's an icon.

Which is the point of September's Vampirella: The Second Coming #1. Harris Comics began a promotional campaign billing a new Vampirella prior to the first issue, but a gimmick it isn't. The series celebrates Vampirella's iconic status through the eyes of the regular folk, beginning with Internet footage of the classic Vampirella's apparent death.

Tags (".V.") have been spraypainted across the city, there are underground parties held in her honor, fangirls and fanclubs, you name it -- and drawn to it all, intrigued by the tags littered across the city, is new character and (by the end of the issue) new Vampirella, Kelly Witten.

I'll say first that the character is intriguing, realistic and well-developed from the earliest stages of the story. She's a social worker for a battered women's center, married to a husband whose work keeps him farther away than she'd like, and she's always loved books.

I'll say second that she's black.

Some fans were wary of a re-envisioned Vampirella, others excited. Some accused those that were less-than-thrilled of being racists, some of whom probably were, most of whom probably weren't. Whatever the  case, Harris took a huge risk by reinventing the character, and judging by the hype, it's already paid off.

Like I said, I've never cared much about the character and I'll be buying the second issue.

You can tell yourself that it doesn't matter if she's black. That it isn't particularly newsworthy or shouldn't be billed as revolutionary or anything of the sort.

But you'd be kidding yourself. Even in today's world, with the United States having elected its first African-American President, you'd absolutely be kidding yourself. Forget about the President -- Hilary Clinton's still trying to -- and just consider pop culture.

Race is a touchy subject. Quite often, and I'm aware this isn't always the case, you turn on the television and you're presented with  a primarily white cast. Maybe there's a black receptionist at your protagonist's office; maybe there's a black character who's best friends with the lead. Or perhaps you're presented with the opposite.


In film, say, Transformers 2, all of the leads are white. Rather than flesh out Tyrese's character for the sequel, those at the film's helm decided to present the moviegoer with gold-tooth-plated, ape-like, grammar-raping stereotypical robots reminiscent of the farce of Robert Downey Jr.'s character in Tropic Thunder.

In comics, and perhaps I'm partial to the medium, there are well-developed characters who are defined not by their race and who escape the potential to be categorized by it just the same. Still, very few have achieved iconic status, and despite leaps and bounds to make characters like DC's Black Lightning a solid force in the comics world -- well, he's still named Black Lightning. Thanks, 1977.

You have to be careful. Playing with race is a gamble - one wrong move and you're stereotypical. Another wrong turn and you're a gimmick.


Whether it's unfortunate or not, it remains a risk. Google told me that British novelist Jeanette Winterson  once said "What you risk reveals what you value," and I'd wager that Harris Comics  has a great deal of value for Vampirella as a property. Icons change. They evolve. If something isn't growing, it's dying, and the character's never been more interesting or accessible.

It seems that there will be several new Vampirellas, the second a busty blonde: a step backward from the two forward with Kelly Witten. I am optimistic, however, since, conceptually, the series will revolve around women's empowerment through Vampirella's status in the world.

If done right, a black Vampirella may breathe new life into the current vampire phenomenon, avoiding stereotype and inviting a much-needed, more diverse demographic to the series and comic medium alike.

And don't worry, Tyra: there's still plenty of blood to go around.

Vampires are in.

True Blood, the Charlaine Harris-adapted stories of waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and her love affair with small town vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer) has garnered enough success for Showtime to have ordered a third season. (Even with Evan Rachel Wood's cancerous performance.)

The CW has been raising the dead for years: Superman as a television property via Smallville, the concepts of Melrose Place and 90210, Tyra Banks — but Tyra and her ty-rades still weren't enough undead for the network. New  to the line-up is The Vampire Diaries (cast pictured), probably starring some newcomer's pecs and the bust of a blonde.

Oh, and there's Robert Pattinson - you know, that kid from Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire? Maybe you've seen him in that.

The vampire has been a longtime mainstay of pop culture, exuding sex appeal and terror, and the comics world has been no stranger to blood suckers. Just ask my Dad.

I remember feeling very connected to him when we'd go comic shopping on Saturdays. He'd pick me up, we'd go to the local flea market (I'm from Ohio) and he'd buy me the comics I wanted, even getting a few of his own. I'd have my stack of X-Men — and my father would purchase issue after issue of Vampirella.

Vampirella, vampire warrior: born either of Draculon, a vampire planet, or of a division of Hell. The character's backstory has changed in her forty-year tenure as comicdom's sexiest vampire.

The Vampirella issues soon grew to the height of my father's Playboy collection, and I realized that

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