Interview: Christopher Priest Shares His Plans For Vampirella’s Relaunch

Christopher Priest’s comic book career goes back over four decades, and includes the famed Marvel Knights: Black Panther run that heavily influenced the movie. Currently, Priest is writing Deathstroke for DC Comics. This summer, Priest is headlining Dynamite Entertainment’s Vampirella relaunch, which spins out of the recently released Free Comic Book Day: Vampirella one-shot. It’s also the 50th anniversary of Vampirella’s first appearance, which is one of the reasons she’s getting a new comic this year.

This isn’t Priest’s first time writing Vampirella‘s adventures, although he admitted to us that he forgot his original run. For the new series, Priest will be joined by artist Ergün Gündüz for a story that puts Vampirella out in the open. Essentially, Vampirella has been outed as a real vampire on social media, and the consequences are just beginning to unfold. Priest recently spoke with us about his upcoming series and shared a few details that readers can expect to see.

Superhero Hype: What was your first exposure to Vampirella?

Christopher Priest: Like most of America, as a bespectacled preteen ogling Warren magazines while the candy store counter man was distracted.

You have some history with Vampirella dating back to the Harris Comics days. Did you feel the need to settle any unfinished business with her?

No. Full disclosure, I’d forgotten I’d ever written the character before until somebody reminded me of a brief run I did with Eric Battle. I DO remember a silent 8-pager with the wonderful Alan Davis. There’s a lot of things that show up at comic cons with my name on them that surprise me, “I wrote this?”

Recommended Reading: Priest Did In Fact, Write This

Has your take on Vampirella evolved since the last time you wrote her?

(Laughs) Since I actually don’t remember anything at all about that previous run, I guess I’ll have to say, ‘Not at all.’ This feels like Day One, one of the least conventional writers in comics approaching a well-established franchise and looking for something new to say with it.

What was the genesis of your new Vampirella story?

Bruce Springsteen. No, really. Sampling a bunch of Vampi stories from varying runs, I realized there really is no overarching master continuity for the character the way, say, the Fantastic Four has. There are fits and starts and then new beginnings, including this one. As a result, Vampirella seemed to me to be rather disconnected from most life on earth, with only fleeting connections to friends and family. That kind of isolation can’t be healthy.

I remember reading a Rolling Stone interview with Springsteen way back during Born in The USA where Springsteen said something about how everyone needs human connection, something to the effect of, “Without community, we’d all go crazy and kill ourselves.”

I think the fleeting nature of Vampirella’s connections to community must make life very difficult for her. It would also make her extremely reluctant to trust, to even begin forming connections, because she knows sooner or later a new writer will come along and shake up the Etch A Sketch again.

I wanted to explore this idea, a look at love and relationships in this cynical age where each of our human worth is reduced to a few hair-trigger thumb taps on an iPhone. Technology has made the world smaller and yet emptier all at once, which is why I avoid social media and really wish people would not post anything about me on it.

Recommended Reading: Priest’s First Vampirella Story

We say unfathomably terrible things to and about one another with our thumbs, things we’d never even consider saying to one another were we face to face. We toss lifelong friends under the bus, betray lovers, spill company secrets, violate trusts. This is barbaric behavior.

As a result, I consider most any human relationship I’m in as terminal or at least ephemeral. This foolishness about “I will always love you;” relationships end. They either end at death–which is the best we can hope for–or, most often, they end over some stupid argument. But they end. It is only our varying measure of hubris that convinces us these connections will endure forever or, even if they do, that we won’t abuse them.

Love is an amazing gift but most of us take love for granted (hey– call your mom!) because love rarely presents itself in the way, shape, form or even the person we imagine it will. Fewer and fewer of us are willing to take the plunge. Oh, sure, we all make friends but that’s a relative concept because most of my new friends cannot penetrate as deeply as the friends I grew up with. And I’ve been deeply hurt and astonishingly betrayed by friends I’ve known my entire life.

So, now, imagine you’re an extraterrestrial whose normal biological function is characterized as “evil” or “satanic” by the paranoid, bigoted, primitive civilization you suddenly find yourself thrust into. Sure, Vampi could, I guess, lock herself in a closet for the rest of her life, but everybody needs somebody. But loving someone makes you vulnerable to them, and human relationships are far too often like the children’s game “Operation,” where you’re trying to remove the Funny Bone without setting off the buzzer. What’s a poor, single, blood-drinking alien girl to do?

Recommended Reading: Vampirella: The Essential Warren Years

The Free Comic Book Day Vampirella issue implied that Vampi’s been publicly outed as a vampire. But how much does the public really know about her?

Well, Vampi was briefly a celebrity in the “Hollywood Horror” story arc, so it’s fair to assume some people know some things about her. The FCBD story is set somewhere around issue #7 or so. Without getting into spoilers, let’s just say someone Vampi becomes very close to flips on her. When that happens, every intimate secret, every confidence shared, becomes a weapon of mass destruction.

I’ve been re-watching Matthew Weiner’s wonderful AMC series Mad Men, remembering fondly the days when a pair of intimates could break up, and the fallout from that would be largely contained within their workplace or community. Now, because of the thumbs, when people lose their temper, it’s a nuclear winter. We’re angry. We’re hurt but our pride won’t allow us to acknowledge we’re hurt so we go with anger instead. And, without much considering the consequences, we ruin each others’ lives and careers with our stupid thumbs. It’s not contained at work or on the block we live on. It becomes nuclear waste that endures forever, plopped out there on the StupidNet.

This is the world Vampirella is living in because I decided to deposit her there. With all possible respect to the many, many much better writers who’ve handled the franchise, I am usually much more intrigued by how comic book characters would function in the real world–the world we actually live in–than I am by the world far too many of these series are set in.

Recommended Reading: Vampirella: The Dynamite Years Omnibus 1

I mean, if War Machine or The Flash lived in the real world, I imagine they’d be spending their down time helping repair the water system in Flint, Michigan. But they’re not because the water in the Flint in these universes is not killing people–mainly people of color. The reason for that is Flint is not foremost on the mind of the people writing these series, which is not an indictment but a simple observation. What’s foremost on a writer’s mind usually finds its way into his writing, and far too much of what’s on the comics racks takes place in Pleasantville because the investment is more in who’s stronger, Hulk or Darkseid, than it is in exploring the world as we know it.

The majority of my mentor Denny O’Neil’s writing took place on this planet, the one we live on, where Green Arrow nearly bleeds to death crawling toward a pay phone while passersby ignore him. Gerry Conway’s epic Spider-Man work took place here, were Harry Osborn got hooked on drugs, the Goblin tossed Gwen Stacey off a bridge and Spider-Man snapped her neck trying to save her. That, to me, is way more interesting than Thanos collecting gemstones, and I really mean absolutely no offense to the amazingly gifted Mr. Starlin or anybody else.

Mark Waid may well be the very best at what he does. I’m so in awe of Dan Slott, I literally, not kidding, considered retiring after he spent a long dinner telling me the long history of his outstanding Spider-Man run. I just looked at him, “Dude, I quit. Never in life would I have thought of The Superior Spider-Man.” Please don’t get carried away with your thumbs, “Priest Bashes Other Writers,” it’s not true.

Recommended Reading: The Art of Vampirella

But this is what *I* do: take the Justice League and crash-land their satellite in the middle of The Sudan’s civil war. Screw around with Damian Wayne’s DNA results. This is what interests me: taking a very hard look at these characters in the context of the world we actually live in. That’s what Netflix Marvel is about, and I openly wondered what a Netflix Vampirella series might be like. Now, what would a Netflix Vampirella series be like if Lena Dunham produced it. Add villains and stir.

Ergün’s figures seem to have more reality to them than traditional comic artists. Is that an aspect that you’re both going for in the new series?

Really? I actually thought the opposite (laughs). Ergün Gündüz exists in his own reality, and his work, to me, looks more like beautiful animation cells. He has a fine art sensibility and a wicked sense of humor that translates into a totally unexpected look and a sharp turn away from the more classic Jose Gonzalez types. I can see Ergün’s work translating seamlessly to animation, and the more “underground” sensibility of the look adds a perfect Bohemian dimension to the writing. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Which of the new supporting cast members do you gravitate towards the most?

Oh, come on, Daddy loves all his children equally 🙂 The new cast members represent different challenges to Vampi and it’s really too early for me to have much of a favorite. They serve the story in different ways and, I felt, rather than resurrect or redefine characters like Van Helsing or struggle to find a way to make those characters fit, we’d hear new voices.

Recommended Reading: Black Panther by Christopher Priest Vol. 1

What can you tell us about Katie, Victory, and Stan the Rat?

Stan is not a rat. Stan is a Maligenii– an ensnarer demon. He inhabits vermin and spies on Vampirella, among other things. His name is Eustankhios. You can’t kill him, he’ll be around. Victory is an Uber driver and Katie is maybe the most rabid of what will eventually become a legion of Vampirella fans. She’s a lost girl, lost in the terrible social services system who, in Vampirella, finds an unlikely role model.

But I really can’t tell you much about these people, or Benny The Witch, without coughing up plot details.

We couldn’t help but notice that Von Kreist was on the airplane that went down…and he wasn’t wearing pants.

That was all Ergün 🙂 I never said, “take off his pants!” They magically reappear in issue #1.

So, we have to ask: who would Von Kreist sacrifice to get the Devil’s pants?!

As I see him, VK is a killing machine, driven crazy by his own immortality. As with all evil people, Von Kreist’s ego and emotionalism drives him. However, in the specific case of the plane crash, VK is part of a team, running plays set by the quarterback. I also have some personal thoughts about Von Kreist’s larger motivations but suffice it to say most evil people would see Vampirella–whom they would presume to be a creature of arcane origin–as a traitor to the cause of evil. But they (and many of us) miss the point hat Vampirella is not actually a vampire. She is not ‘undead.’ She is not borne of hell or whatever.

She’s a Martian with fangs.

Recommended Reading: Deathstroke by Priest Vol. 1

In all seriousness though, is Von Kreist Vampirella’s primary enemy going forward?

Not sure why there needs to be a villain. That always puzzles me; why comic book writers insist on going to that well every time. It’s even on the solicitation report, List This Month’s Villain. The best Star Trek TV ever done presented challenges and conflicts that had nothing to do with a villain, and those episodes had no bad guy. I give it up to Wrath of Khan for having an effective villain, but the Trek showrunners and studio ruined the franchise by trying, endlessly and to this day, to recreate that classic film and burdening each and every Trek film with yet another (yawns heavily) villain.

Vampirella will face many challenges. I hope to write compelling stories about her. But I detest formula. This being her 50th anniversary, let’s not kid ourselves: you bet, the gang’s all here. Most of her rogue’s gallery will, in fact, be checking in. But I don’t feel bound to present the VOTM.

Which of her bad guys would you consider to be her Joker?

Oh, don’t know, but likely the biggest pain for her will be her mother. Stay tuned.

Recommended Reading: Batman vs. Deathstroke by Priest

You’ve mentioned that your run will favor Vampirella’s sci-fi aspects, so should we expect to see more of life on Drakulon? And will any of Drakulon’s other famous residents drop by?

One of the worst things done to Superman was to have all these OTHER survivors of Krypton show up. It erodes the uniqueness of the main character as the last survivor of a doomed race. I’m not nuts about there being other Vampiri running around. I’d rather play Vampirella more like Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where this guy is mistaken for the Messiah. Here, Vampirella is mistaken for being both a vampire (wrong) and evil (wrong). She is an expatriate. She’s stuck here, with us primitive knuckleheads who cast all our superstitious, religious, and prudish issues onto her.

Final question: can you offer readers one final tease about your upcoming Vampirella run?

Samuel L. Jackson is her therapist.

Vampirella #1 will hit comic shops on Wednesday, July 19.