At its heart, Vampblade is a lot like Ms. Marvel. Stay with me here. Both star strong, comic book-obsessed female protagonists, each of whom is imbued with amazing powers and the likeness of her hero. And while Kamala Kahn’s embiggening is inversely proportional to the enshrinkening of Vampblade’s wardrobe, they both use their abilities to thwart evil. Ergo, they are inarguably 100% alike. Although, Vampblade probably won’t win anything at Angoulême. Wait, do the AVN Awards have a comic book category? Because this might get a clean sweep! Vampblade #1 follows Katie Carva, a Skrillex hairstyle-sporting, LCS Valkyrie type, who, when set upon by a surprise mafioso hit at the comic shop in which she works, is magically transformed by a mystical version of TR-8R’s twirly death stick, into the titular (pun intended) Vampblade! From there, she doles out red-hot, nipple-clamped, juicy butt-bethonged justice, not just to the offending racketeers, but also to the shop’s sudden infestation of semi-transparent, multi-fanged penis demons, presumably from dimension XXX. Along the way, there are impalements aplenty, bodily bifurcations and even shades of hentai. So really, it’s got something for everyone.
As I assume will be true with most folks who randomly pick it up, I have conflicted feelings about Vampblade #1. On the one hand, it is the very definition of gratuitous; from the excessive sexualization of its main character, to the downright rapey affronts of its extra-dimensional dick monsters, to the way it comments (and advertises) the comic book industry generally (and Action Lab books specifically), down to its extravagant use of sound effects, the ubiquity of which is fun, but often distracting.
And yet, on the other hand, it does all of the above knowingly, with tongue firmly in cheek and elbow pointedly jabbed at the reader’s ribs. The main character, after all, is a suggestive meta-pastiche of the scantily-clad female protagonists of the ‘90s; as the writer even mentions, she comes from a place where Spawn and Vampirella meet. And if you recognize that style being both celebrated and lampooned in equal measure -- an ongoing and pervasive element of most Danger Zone books -- you will definitely enjoy this issue. However, as fun as its writing and as utterly ridiculous as its art can be, I fear its point may be lost on many readers.
Like many things about Vampblade -- including the main character’s real name, for example, which is only referred to in the solicit for next month’s issue -- much of what defines its core concept is only described clearly in the writer’s afterword. It’s an interesting history, to be fair, but there may not be enough in-story that will allow readers to appreciate it as the knowing nod it purports to be.
There are also a few strange plotting hiccups, which are only glazed over in the comic itself. For example, the fact that these demons apparently only attack comic book nerds can only be gleaned from Vampblade’s offhanded comment that she is “a comic nerd too...” before seppuku-ing the shit out of her guts. So it can get a little light on details and confusing thereby, but I still think this is an entertaining romp through archaic comic book ridiculum, and what remains clear is the sheer butt-ton of fun the creative team is having with it.
One thing I cannot abide, however, is that Vampblade #1 commits one of my new cardinal sins of comics; that is, using internet acronym speak as dialogue. In this case, the offending phrase in question is WTF. I’ve seen a lot of this recently, and while it’s fine for Twitter or texting, in comics, it not only immediately dates the book (which, admittedly, might be the point here), it also cheapens the integrity of the writing (which, again, might be the point here). Saying that, Martin almost makes up for this egregious error in judgement with the exclamation, “What The Holy Fuck Shit?!” which is solid gold cussin’.
Also fun, yet often veering on the side of the problematic, is the artistic direction from Winston Young. Like the story itself, there seems to be a heavy influence from Manga here, both in the crazy violence and sexualization, but also in the cartoonishness of the stylized facial acting. It may also feel, to the uninitiated, much less refined than something you will see in the Big Two, or even the more prominent indie publishers; but that’s okay, and actually allows the art to enjoy the more goofy, unrepentant fun of parody. There are also some legitimately great tricks Young pulls out, like the fisheye lens at the end, and the genuinely attractive (though not always consistent) figure work.
Unfortunately, it also means that it can become busy and overcomplicated. But I have to admit that the more I look at his pages, the more endearing Young’s work becomes. The same is true for Wollet’s lettering I earlier derided: it’s like a joke that is SO in-your-face, so ridiculous and overwhelming, that at some point, it gets funny again; the kind of thing you don’t want to, but can’t help yourself from laughing at.
As she collapses in the postcoital bliss that follows her nerdgasm of wish fulfillment, it becomes just as impossible to take Vampblade seriously, as it is not to enjoy it. And in that way, it has something else in common with Ms. Marvel: they both explore empowerment and the ability to feel comfortable with whatever skin you find yourself in. Of course, instead of heavy-handed, feel-good life lessons about racial and religious tolerance, we get piercing leather-clad nut kicks, nipple chains and nigh-bare butts. To-may-to, to-mah-to, though, am I right?
Vampblade #1 Writer/Colorist: Jason Martin Artist: Winston Young Letterer: Adam Wollet Publisher: Action Lab/Danger Zone Price: $3.99 Release Date: 2/3/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital