David Avallone has a Writer’s Commentary on Bettie Page Unbound #3, on sale now from Dynamite Entertainment. He writes,
So we’ve seen Bettie-as-Red-Sonja, Bettie-as-Vampirella… and now… Bettie-as-Dejah-Thoris. Did you read the issue yet? You should… because this is wall-to-wall spoilers.
As always… acknowledgement up top to Kevin Ketner for his full-service editing, and Joe Rybandt and Nick Barrucci for letting me play in their sandbox.
Covers: John Royle’s been doing our “A” covers, and usually he’s got the cover that carries the concept, but this time Scott Chantler and Julius Ohta both drew Bettie-as-Dejah Thoris, too. She’s just that irresistible. John’s Bettie/Dejah is glamorous and gorgeous, “under the moons of Mars.” Scott’s shows an interesting twist: Bettie-Dejah in a death struggle with Bettie-Sonja. I had no input on David Williams’ cover, but apparently he has been reading my mind about future arcs… and that’s all I’ll say about that. Julius’ cover is a classic Edgar Rice Burroughs style Bettie as seen inside the issue. The photo cover, as usual, speaks for itself.
Page 1: Picking up where we left off, once again Julius Ohta invents a new world – even if inspired by one that’s been around more than a century. In this series, all of Bettie’s “new worlds” are inspired by, and pastiches of, famous fictional worlds. Here we are clearly on a world that is a reflection of Burroughs’ Barsoom, home of John Carter and Dejah Thoris… but as we’ll learn in this issue, not all reflections are perfect. Some mirrors have cracks, and some Spocks have beards, if you know what I mean. Last issue’s “Vampiron” was red as blood, so we decided on a lavender/purple world for “Burzana.” (Yes, that’s a cheap portmanteau of Burroughs and Tarzana, the Southern California town named after Tarzan.) Colorist Ellie Wright does the usual amazing job bringing this planet to life. Xenon, as I mentioned last time, is, of course, a noble gas… like Helium. (And Krypton.)
Pages 2 & 3: I mean, come on. This two page spread is a convincing argument that Julius Ohta deserves an Eisner for his work on this series. The Puru warfleet is pretty amazing, and also take note of Taylor Esposito’s great lettering work on all the sounds going on here. The issue’s title – Planetary Romance – is an expression I came across a few years ago, as a name for this particular genre of science fiction. I like it better than Space Opera or Space Fantasy. It has an appealing old-timey sound to it.
Page 4: I really love Julius’ designs for the Puru fleet and its equipment. A small detail like the winged firing mechanism of the snare-cannon in panel four, page four is what makes a world like this feel lived-in and believable. I also like his slender, elegant Puru.
Page 5: The name “Puru” I found in a couple of different places. It’s a word in Malagasy (a Madagascar language for “Blue” – the Puru are kind of aquamarine in color) and it’s also the name of a tribe in an ancient Indian text. Using “jaspers” to mean “guys” is something I picked up from my dad, who was born in 1924. Close enough to Bettie’s age that I think she could have used it to. He never stopped saying it. “Who’re these jaspers?” etc. I looked it up and as American slang it goes back as far as 1896. Speaking of my parents… my mother was a regal woman, very strong-willed and smart, a natural leader… and her name was Fran. Fryn Frynwen is a cross between Tars Tarkas and my mom. There’s an implication in the dialogue that the Puru are mildly telepathic… or at least empathic.
Page 6: Fryn Frynwen runs Jake Gibson’s name together. I had her do that with BettiePage and it was editor Kevin Ketner who suggested she should do this with Jake’s human name as well, if that’s what she does. Look at Julius’ command of comic book “acting” as strong emotions play on Bettie’s face.
Pages 7, 8 & 9: Jake Gibson! It was Julius idea to have his introduction break out of the bounds of the panels. He’s too much man for one panel! Jake is, of course, a pastiche of John Carter, with some similarities of background and origin story (and as the issue goes on, I’d swear he looks more and more like Taylor Kitsch.) But it’s worth mentioning even here, not halfway through, that this is story about looks being deceiving. The first tiny clue as to what kind of man Jake Gibson is can be found in who he learned war from… his former commanding officer, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest, if you don’t know, is a historical figure, and I chose him quite intentionally.
Pages 10 & 11: Bettie puts on the hard sell, and Jake goes for it. More beautiful visuals as they fly to the Puru City. In the narration on page 11, Bettie starts to hint at the larger theme of the issue. Something feels wrong, and she knows it. Even before she sees the beautiful family of Puru at play in the park.
Pages 12: Never trust a man who pistol-whips an old lady. Even if she is blue-green and has antennae.
Page 13: Lavender skies become deep purple as darkness falls. I asked Julius for a clear difference between Puru City and Xenon, and he delivered. Puru City, like their warships, is fanciful and maybe a little art nouveau. Xenon is more of a bleak Industrial Revolution city, grim and warlike.
Page 14: The true Jake Gibson emerges… a “good soldier” in the service of genocide. Let me be crystal clear, though… this is NOT a commentary on Edgar Rice Burroughs or John Carter. When I did my outline for this story, the John Carter character was going to be good and noble, the blue aliens warlike and savage. But when I sat down to write it… that was too simple, and it employed a trope I truly hate. I don’t like it when the good guys are all beautiful and the bad guys are “ugly” (at least by human standards). It’s too easy. It engages the audience on a primitive level and encourages their worst instincts. And in the real world, it’s always a great deal more complicated than that. You want to see some handsome men who are going to save the world from ugly vermin? Watch a Nazi propaganda film. That’s an aesthetic I don’t ever want to promote. So I had to go back and make the story more interesting and complicated… even if it cost me the joy of writing John Carter (as I recently did for another company, but that’s another story). Anyone is free to guess why I named this character – a hero who turns out to be a racist punk – Gibson. You might get it right.
Page 15: And again we return to… Benway, this time called Binwen Quay. On parallel worlds sometimes you run into people you knew back home, and now twice in a row it’s been the supervillain Benway. I just realized writing this that in this scene I have a character derived from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs meeting a character derived from the works of William S. Burroughs. By my research, the word “genocide” was coined in 1943 but I don’t think it had quite made it into everyday usage as it has now: that’s why Bettie doesn’t use it. She does, however, know who Nathan Bedford Forrest was: a talented cavalry officer to be sure… but also a war criminal (Google “Fort Pillow Massacre”) and the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. (I like to think John Carter, though on the wrong side, served with someone not quite so horrible. Jeb Stuart, maybe?)
Page 16: Now that Bettie’s made her stand against genocide, it’s time for some swordplay! I gave Julius a lot of leeway choreographing the fight, as I have since we started working together and I could see his talent for it. Bettie takes on the talents and some of the personas of the women she’s morphing into on these worlds. In the first two issues, it was more clear: Red Sonja is a great warrior and Vampirella is a fearless vampire. What did she get from Dejah Thoris? Dejah is also very talented with a sword, but I think her best qualities are more subtle. She’s smart, she’s determined, she never gives up. Those are qualities Bettie already had, but I think they’re somewhat boosted in this story.
Page 17: The second chain-snap of the issue. I guess no one wants to bother with the clasp in the back, or just lifting it over her head. I love the look on Gibson’s face in panel five. He’s smug because he won, and he’s disappointed in her, and that now there will be no “planetary romance” between them. Julius gets all that in on expression in one panel. More great color and “sound” work from Ellie and Taylor as the machine powers up.
Page 18: I realize that at no time in this issue does anyone name the amazing creature that emerges from the portal. Jake even asks, but I realized there’s no reason Quay would know what it is. That, my friends, is Azathoth. Maybe the oldest of the Great Old Ones. Maybe the most powerful. Sometimes described as “mindless” and “mad.” You’ll notice he doesn’t say anything coherent. But he does have the brains to slap around Gibson and Quay and grab the keys.
Page 19: Fearless and determined: that’s our Bettie. In film script terms, this is what I like to call the “second act curtain.” All is lost. The mission has failed. The universe is doomed. But our hero leaps after the all-powerful evil space blob anyway… not knowing where it will lead or how she could possibly defeat him.
Page 20: Words cannot express how much I love this page. After using the Great Old Ones in these stories since last Halloween, I finally get to the big guy himself… Cthulhu. This was the majestic scope I wanted, and this page literally took my breath away, even in the original uncolored inks. The gang’s all here. Yog-Sothoth, Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep and Azathoth. And what has Bettie turned into this time? The smallest of the small. Admit it: Tinkerbell vs. Cthulhu is the epic climax you wanted all along. Be here next month for A R’lyeh Big Show. (Sorry about the pun: it’s possible Elvira is rubbing off on me. Not, in itself, a bad thing…)