Writer’s commentary by David Avallone for Legenderry: Vampirella #5
Legenderry: Vampirella was my first series as a comic book writer, and I have to thank Allison Baker, Chris Roberson, Bill Willingham and Joseph Rybandt for pushing me to do it, recommending me for it, and having the faith that I could pull it off. I hope they were satisfied with the results.
And so here we find ourselves in the final issue. In Chapter Four I tried to set up all the elements for the climax, and now the curtain rises on my (hopefully) Grand Finale. What follows will have some MAJOR spoilers, including the really big twist I’ve been building up to: this is best read AFTER you’ve read Legenderry Vampirella Chapter Five.
Page 1: Mercy and Rudolf Rassendyll riding to the rescue of Vampirella, and arriving to see her handiwork. On the one hand I always want to stress that Vampirella doesn’t want anybody’s assistance. On the other… we could all use a little help from our friends.
Page 2 & 3: A beautiful two-page splash from David Thomas Cabrera. I take every chance I get to say nice things about DTC, because his work on this book has been extraordinary. He’s used every piece of photo reference I threw at him, and graciously accepted my occasional small tweaks on framing and layout.
The title of this issue is HEARTS OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS: the reference to Jospeh Conrad (already present in the “Kurtz” character) is obvious. The reference to Roger Zelazny’s craziest novel is a little more obscure. The last page of the previous issue teased this issue’s title as THE VAMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but that was a joke.
Page 4: Vampirella has been previously established (long before I started writing her) as invulnerable. But… she’s made of matter, and a disintegrator (or “demolecularizer”, as my characters like to call them) is going to disintegrate matter. The glancing blow here isn’t quite enough to make her disappear in a puff of smoke, though. The sizzling glow where the beam hit is her body replacing cells at almost the same speed that the beam is burning them off.
It’s worth mentioning here that in Chapter Three I tried to make it clear that I favor her original “Planet Draculon” sci-fi origin story, in all of its insane glory. No Biblical hoo-hah here.
Page 5: In my first drafts, I rarely gave the Clones any lines. When I see David’s art I am invariably moved to give them something to say. They’re pawns, and what’s really going on is always above their pay grade. Still, they see what’s happening and react like any confused pawn does when the important pieces start moving (and wiping them out.)
Page 6, Panel 5: Doing a book set in a world populated by legends, you want to work with iconic characters. Bill Willingham, when he created the world of “Legenderry”, brought together a fantastic group of the Dynamite Comics characters and reimagined them in fun and interesting ways. When I was asked to spin-off a series with Vampirella, I was given a lot of freedom to add new characters to this setting.
Working with turn-of-the-century public domain characters is not a new idea, and Alan Moore worked these fields rather thoroughly in his LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, so I had to take to my shelves to find characters I loved and wanted to write, given this opportunity. (I also took a moment to check with the irreplaceable Jess Nevins that Alan had not exploited any of these characters already in his books.)
In this panel you see three at once: Kurtz, The Emperor Jones, and Rupert of Hentzau. In this “alternate universe” of Legenderry, I postulate that MY Kurtz – rather than dying – opens a trade route to the Jungle and becomes a very rich man, with some of the personality traits of a certain other famous billionaire whose initial is “K”. Likewise, the Emperor Jones survives his nightmarish flight from revolution, and finds refuge in the Council. The Devil-may-care Hentzau is much as he was at the end of The Prisoner of Zenda: out of a job, and pretty pissed off at Rudolph Rassendyll. I have loved writing these three guys, and hope I get a chance to use them again.
Page 6, Panel 6: Valcallan returns, with an electro-rifle. We all know who the “mad old Sikh” is, right?
Page 8: I intended these panels to mirror each other, but left that out of the script. I thought the framing wouldn’t work. David Cabrera read my mind and did it anyway. Rassendyll is probably flashing back to his desperate assault on Zenda. His memory is hazy, though… because… (spoiler!) he’s not really Rassendyll.
Page 9: The constable is named Sennett. Of course he is. Later, this man will go on to form the Keystone Kops, klearly.
Page 10: I hate to send Mercy away from the big finale, but that’s how it worked out. She’s based on a pulp character from the late fifties, but I won’t say who… maybe next time.
Page 12: I love the “climbing the airship tow-rope” action beat. So did the producers of A VIEW TO A KILL. I think we’re BOTH ripping it off from a 1971 Michael York WWI movie called ZEPPELIN. And here’s a little more chatter from the Clones, for laughs. I think they’d definitely be talking about the death toll this one lady has racked up among their ranks.
Page 14-15: Here we go. I’m genuinely curious if this worked… if people saw it coming. Naturally, Rupert figures it out before everyone else.
Page 16: It could be argued that Black Mass saving Vampirella here is a deus ex machina moment… but I did my best to set it up. It’s not random. Black Mass has been there all along, and he saves her because he loves her. It’s a love story. I’m pretty sure in the solicits for the first issue I mentioned that. You just forgot, in all the violence and fun.
Page 17: The moment in the previous issue, where Rassendyll is looking at himself quizzically in the mirror, should come to mind here. Black Mass lost himself for a bit. The disguise was too perfect, including susceptibility to knock-out drugs.
Page 18: This is a good time to mention Dave Lanphear, letterer and Robby Bevard, colorist. Like a bad movie director, all I told Dave about anything in this series was “it would be nice if there was a cool lettering treatment” (when Kurtz is orating, or Black Mass is speaking). I didn’t give him a single useful idea other than “make it cool”, and he did.
In this issue, it was Robby Bevard’s idea to have the sun slowly setting, and the sky turning colors, as the story progressed. A perfect idea, beautifully pulled off, that helps the story – indeed TELLS the story – magnificently. Robby’s work on the whole series has been stunning, and always in service of the narrative.
Page 19: In issue one, the story began on the airship platform of Kurtz tower. It ends there, too. I like that sort of thing.
Page 21: Vampirella hasn’t had a reason (or a chance) to extend her wings in this series… I thought it would be lovely to do it here, at the end. I always listen to music when I write, and soundtrack nerds might find it interesting that I listened to “Taarna Forever” from Elmer Bernstein’s score for Heavy Metal when I was writing this sequence. (No one else will care.)
Page 22: Our story ends, for now, with a joke from Citizen Kane, a hopeful ending not unlike Here Comes Mr. Jordan and the final payoff of the running gag about Rudolf’s silly name. I hope you enjoyed the ride…
For more on Legenderry: Vampirella #5, click here.