When she first sunk her teeth into the comics world on the cover of magazines from Warren Publishing in the 1970s, Vampirella was instantly a memorable horror culture character thanks to a scantily clad, striking design by Trina Robbins. But with the contributions of co-creator Forrest J Ackerman and creators like Frank Frazetta, Archie Goodwin, Jose Gonzalez and others, she soon developed a weird world of adventures all her own that have kept her active in comics on through to the modern Dynamite Entertainment series.
That world of characters gets a news spotlight from a new writer starting today as Brandon Jerwa launches "Pantha" -- a new ongoing series starring the cat-metamorphing heroine from Vampi's world -- before taking over the regular "Vampirella" title with the incoming issue #21. No stranger to properties that mix horror and sex appeal, Jerwa spoke with CBR News about his plans for both series, delving into his early exposure to the world of Vampirella, his love of the depth that world holds including the team of "weirdo superheroes" that will appear in "Pantha" amidst ongoing crime and ancient Egyptian story turns and his plans to shake up "Vampirella" in time for her milestone 25th issue while not throwing out the reinvention brought on by his frequent writing partner Eric Trautmann.
CBR News: Brandon, the Vampirella world is one that by now has a long and varied history within comics, and with a book like "Pantha" we're starting to see a rebirth of characters beyond Vampi under Dynamite's watch. What's your particular origin with characters as a reader and how have those early encounters impacted your work here?
Brandon Jerwa: I've had to think about this, and I believe I know exactly when I first discovered Vampirella. My father worked at a pawn shop for a while when I was about 7-8 years old, and there was usually a wide variety of sci-fi novels, magazines, comics and the like in the store. I seem to recall getting my hands on some of the old Vampirella magazines during that time. Interestingly, I didn't really lock on to the sexual undertones of the character at that time. Well, actually, I should say that I was aware that she was this sexy, seductive woman, but I was far more interested in the vampires, monsters and cosmic goings-on.
I was the kid who checked out every monster, ghost, werewolf, vampire and mummy book the library had, over and over again. I also loved the monster movie guides that would come out; I would memorize them all, and then religiously check the TV Guide in the hopes of finding them on. I spent a fair amount of my youth hoping that "Monster Hunter" would end up being an actual job option for me -- if G.I. Joe team member, superhero, astronaut or Han Solo didn't pan out as careers.
That's a long way of saying that I think the world of Vampirella has been lurking right outside my window since I was a kid. I'm just opening the window and living in it.
Dynamite's "Vampirella" in general is not a reboot of the character or her world, and Pantha is a character we've glimpsed briefly in the latest series, so we know she's got a history coming into this story. What about her past played into your conception of the character whether it be favorite past exploits or major events worth referencing?
Pantha was not familiar to me, so I read her previous appearances and tried to find an angle that worked for me. Dan Jolley is one of my best friends, so maybe I'm biased, but his Pantha short story "Bound" is my favorite. It has a sort of "Night Gallery" vibe to it, which I absolutely love.
I'm not really lingering on the past, though. As you say, we're not rebooting; we're reintroducing. That doesn't necessarily have to come with heavy baggage.
One element that you seem to be playing with in a big way is her Egyptian origins. What's the draw in that kind of ancient adventure fiction, and how does the past inform the present arc being told here?
The Egyptian connection is the one thing that I have retained from her previous exploits, although I did feel like the mythology needed to be streamlined on that front. There were some inconsistencies within that framework, so I spent a bit of time figuring out how to make the necessary repairs without trampling on someone else's work.
The end result is that "my" Pantha is not a direct reincarnation of the goddess Sekhmet, but she once believed herself to be. She is, however, the last living aspect, or avatar, for Sekhmet. There is a sort of karmic loop inherent in that situation, and it plays a big role in the initial story arc.
The name of this opening story is "Dangerous Game" -- a literary reference not lost on a bunch of readers, I'm sure. If this is a story about the hunt, then who's hunted and who's hunter?
The title is familiar, yes, but I'm not actually playing the riff from that classic story. That being said, there will definitely be some hunting going on! Pantha is operating in New Mexico, and has become somewhat fixated on a string of missing person cases. Her investigation leads to a bigger mystery that goes back to ancient Egypt, and an enemy who has been waiting a looooong time to get some payback.
The initial PR from Dynamite teased some other Vampirella characters might be showing up in this series. Any clue as to who we'll see from old Warren favorites like the Rook and Pendragon?
I actually wanted to call this book "Pantha and Pendragon," but that didn't fly. I did get to make Pendragon a major supporting character, though. Pendragon, Lorelei, Tongueman and Skaar are actually all over the series, as Pantha's allies. They're a loosely-based team of weirdo superheroes (so loose that they don't even have a name) who are constantly trying to help Pantha, whether she wants them to or not.
We'll also see the Conjuress, one of my favorite characters in the Vampirella universe. She's about to play a very big role in both books, actually, and I'm having so much fun with her. On the villainous side, we have Mamba and the Blood Red Queen of Hearts showing up immediately, and issue #5 will actually be a one-off crossover with a big Vampirella event happening at the same time. Lots of guests in that one.
Your artist here is Pow Rodrix who's bringing a bit more of a classic superhero feel to his pages. What's the working relationship been like, and how is he adding to the feel you want for this book?
Pow had started working on the book while I was out of the country working on my documentary, so we didn't have any sort of initial conversations, and the book was already well into production by the time I returned. He definitely has a very distinct style, and I think that, where my script is really not driven towards the outrageously sexy aspects that the character was known for in the 90s, Pow's art brings that into the book. I'm hoping that readers will find a good balance of heart, mind, and body between the two of us. [Laughs]
Speaking of Vampirella, you take over her main title with issue #21. You've spoken about this being a really easy handoff as the previous writer is your frequent collaborator Eric Trautmann. When you're coming in after a run you admire, what do you do to really make your first story stand out without rewriting the rules?
I had jumped in to write issue #11 and the first Annual, so I've been in close communication with Eric about story for months now, even before there was an inkling of me taking over the book. I think people who have been reading the book since the early days of the Dynamite relaunch will probably be amused to see how some story points from those two issues are going to spin off into "Very Big Things" before Eric even finishes his run.
There will be some unfinished business to deal with in my first story arc, but believe me when I tell you that I'm hitting the ground running. You can pick up my issue #21 as a first-time reader (that's always crucial to me) but you'd be missing out on some great stuff by Eric in the issues that precede it. By the last page of issue #25, however, everything will be different. There's a very distinct feeling of "no turning back" in Eric's last issues, and that leads beautifully into me taking a baseball bat to the whole shebang.
One of the main additions to Eric's take on Vampirella was her new sidekick, Sofia. Is that point of view character someone you'll be sticking with as the new issues begin to role out, or will we be seeing Vampirella's world from a new angle?
Sofia is about to become a very major figure in the series, and we're going to see exactly how intense an effect she's had on Vampirella since she first debuted. My pal Mark Rahner is writing "Vampirella Annual" #2, and even though it's a done-in-one, it definitely draws from that aspect of the overall story.
The first arc you have on the book is called "Inquisition" which promises to bring a lot of change to a series that's already been full of blood and religiosity. What can you tell us about the Inquisitor coming to threaten our lead, and how is the whole world of vampires and creepy creatures she inhabits tied to this conflict?
I don't want to give too much away right now (sorry), but I will tell you that there are powerful forces beyond our world who watch everything, and they're worried that Vampirella doesn't have her head on straight anymore. The balance between Chaos and Order is tilting pretty badly, and Vampi's going to have to prove that she's on the right side of the fight, lest she be forcibly removed from that fight. Permanently.
Artist Heubert Khan Michael is coming back to the book to kick off the series with you. What does that kind of creative continuity mean for you as the new writer on the block?
Heubert has been amazing. It really is like he can see inside my head sometimes. That's been especially rewarding for me, because it takes the pressure off of trying to communicate the established bits of visual language of the book in my scripts, and lets me focus on the actual writing.
Overall, both of these characters come from a particular part of comics history and have a shared tone and sensibility. When you look over all their past exploits separate and together, you've got to be thinking of them as a pair. What can you say about the future of the Vampirella world and where "Vampirella" and "Pantha" may intersect in the future?
For me, these characters are really a blast to write. They're monsters, superheroes, adventurers, and sci-fi heroines, all wrapped up into strong female leads.
I know there will be people who look at the covers of the books and immediately dismiss them as hyper-sexual-exploitation-titillation-whatever. I would invite those people to judge the books as an entire package, and then see how they feel. Vampirella is a fantastic character with an amazing history of creative talent on her pedigree, and her supporting cast will be a big part of my stories as we move ahead. I genuinely hope that I'm writing Vampirella's adventures for years to come, because I'm having a great time.
"Pantha" #1 is on sale today from Dynamite Entertainment. "Vampirella" #21 goes on sale next month.