David Avallone contributes his Writer’s Commentary on Bettie Page Unbound #1, on sale now from Dynamite Entertainment. He writes; I’m late with this, so you’ve had plenty of time to buy and read the comic. I hope you did… because this thing is chock full of spoilers!
This one started when Nick Barrucci had the fun visual idea of doing a series where every cover had Bettie Page in the iconic costume of a different Dynamite hero. Bettie as Vampirella, Bettie as Red Sonja, etc. So the challenge for me was: what story does that suggest? There were maybe simpler ways to get her in the costumes… like playing parts in movies or wearing the outfits in fashion shows, but I thought it was more interesting to actually have her turn into those characters, while still being Bettie inside.
In the Bettie Halloween special from last year, we had her go up against Yog-Sothoth, one of H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones, who is “the Gate and the Guardian of the Gate,” ie. a god-like creature who is himself (herself? itself?) a portal to other dimensions. Other dimensions gave me the opportunity to send Bettie on an epic odyssey through parallel universes, where she could embody other classic heroes in a quest to defeat a truly awesome and terrifying supervillain. I never imagined going quite this “big” with Bettie… but this “Crisis on Infinite Betties” idea sounded like so much fun, I really wanted to write it. Luckily, Dynamite okayed the pitch.
Covers: This one had 16, so I’ll just talk about the a couple, with my apologies to the artists I miss. John Royle delivers the concept-selling cover… Bettie in full Red Sonja mode, with cosmic blasts of some kind behind her. Perfect. Julius Ohta, without knowing what was coming next, suggested the Bettie Hitchhiking image, and I Ioved it. I told him to add a swirling inter-dimensional portal and he obliged, beautifully. Chantler’s cover is fun and funny, as always, with Bettie reading files in the bath, watched by a shadowy figure.
Inside Front Cover: A new intro from Colonel McKnight. New series, new intro… though going forward the story has gotten complicated enough that there will be recaps there from here on in.
Page 1: I wanted to jump right in for the opening splash page, and give the reader an idea of how crazy things are going to get right away. As usual, whenever I give Julius Ohta something insane to draw he exceeds all expectations. I can’t imagine doing this series without him. Speaking of invaluable talents… note Taylor Esposito’s fun Red Sonja-style font for the title.
Page 2: I haven’t done this kind of in-comic story recap before in Bettie, but I think this called for it. This issue comes after 8 issues of volume one, the Halloween special, and five issues of volume two… and it all feeds this story, but I really wanted new readers to be able to follow things. And I used to love it when Jim Starlin would take a whole page and give you a history lesson to bring you up to speed. Julius handled it beautifully. A panel of NY in 1952… then a Lovecraftian space god… then a grey alien… and finally the Loch Ness Monster. A lot to digest, I admit.
Page 3: The whole team together for the first time since volume one. Nice to see Rick Chaplain again: he’s inspired by two real people named Jack Parsons and Richard Arbib. It’s Julius’ first time drawing Rick and he really captured the character. He mumbles the names of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones. Take note of the order in which he lists them. There will be a quiz later. The “prison dimension” that Rick is talking about has a name: R’lyeh.
Pages 4 & 5: Taylor Esposito gives me a good ol’ John Workman-style sound effect, and this is a great page to take note of Ellie Wright’s amazing color work. She balances realistic muted colors with bright glowing effects. I have always had a childish affection for Nyarlathotep’s supremely silly tag-line “the Crawling Chaos” so no way I was going to let pass an opportunity to use it here. Bettie takes a big leap of faith into a time-space portal…
Pages 6 & 7: Welcome to Hyperborea! A note on the name: it actually comes from ancient Greek culture. I had thought it was an invention of Robert E. Howard’s, but he nabbed it from Herodotus, among others. The editorial mandate from Dynamite was that while we could use the Red Sonja costume on the cover… the inside art/story would have to be a pastiche rather than a faithful recreation. I honestly didn’t mind, because it allowed us to make something a little more original. Frankly, I think Julius’ take on the costume is terrific. I had a little input there, as did editor Kevin Ketner, but Julius did all the heavy lifting. Speaking of which… page 7 has some physical action, but it’s very much about showing Bettie’s emotional process of getting used to her new body. In six panels, Julius conveys an amazing range of thoughts and feelings.
Pages 8, 9 & 10: No matter where you go… there’s always gonna be some gross dudes. Bettie takes ‘em down. I’m not an artist, but artists tell me horses are hard to draw. Julius makes it look easy here.
Pages 11 & 12: It’s pretty likely that barbarian has no idea what “skedaddle” means, but context helps. I was happy when I realized I could make use of the double meaning of “Page” in this issue, and so we got our title.
Pages 13 & 14: In my research for this issue, I read and enjoyed some of Gail Simone’s RED SONJA comics, and the twins here are my unsubtle, red-headed hat-tip to Gail and her excellent work on the character. As she sneaks up to the castle, Bettie muses about the nature of her transformation into “Bettie the Page” and makes some good guesses about what’s going on.
Pages 15: Because I research everything… I had to check to see that “Whitman Samplers” were a thing in 1952. I immediately found an old magazine ad for them – from 1952 – with Bing Crosby.
Pages 16 & 17: The Count Vizier has a kind of Karloff vibe, though I never discussed with Julius what he should look like. The skeletons are, of course, a tribute to JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, one of my very favorite all-time movies. (I listened to Bernard Herrmann’s amazing musical score for that movie while writing this issue.)
Pages 18 & 19: Nyarlathotep often takes on human form. In this case he was somehow stuffed inside that guy. I guess he was bigger on the inside, like a human TARDIS. The Great Old Ones can bend space and time like that. I couldn’t imagine Bettie making the effort to memorize the pronunciations of the names of the Great Old Ones… so he’s “Nyarlathowhatsis” to her.
Page 20: And here’s our teaser for next issue. Once again, Julius does his “take” on a classic costume and I love it. He sketched a few designs and this was the winner. I’m very pleased with the joke in the last panel. The reader can see it, but Bettie hasn’t noticed it yet. In a month, she’s in for a big surprise. Vampirella was from the Planet Draculon, and so of course we’ll be visiting Vampiron next time. And once again, Taylor applies the perfect witty font to bring you back to classic Vampirella comics. See you in thirty!