Good, bad, the quest for immortality is a lot of fun with the focus on Dr. West’s side of things in “Vampirella vs. Reanimator” #2.
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated and Colored by Blacky Shepherd
Lettered by Taylor Esposito
Herbert West–the Reanimator–has awakened the Goddess of Death, and Vampirella is none-too-pleased about it. As West tries to unlock the ultimate secrets of life and death, Vampirella hopes to shut him down once and for all. But the Goddess of Death and Vampirella have history, and the grudge match that erupts may be more than Vampi can handle… on her own.
Cullen Bunn is very good with an odd assortment of characters, as seen in his run on “Sinestro,” and “Vampirella vs. Reanimator” #2 shows that his work with the two halves of unlife is no different. Through a focus on each of the eponymous characters in this versus title, Bunn is able to craft a narrative befitting both of them. That said, Bunn’s experience with relatively unsympathetic protagonists (such as, at times, Thaal Sinestro) definitely comes to the fore, helping to turn the traditional crossover between horror franchises on its head.
The primary focus of this installment of “Vampirella vs. Reanimator” seems to be Dr. Herbert West, the eponymous “Reanimator” of a trilogy of films and the story from H.P. Lovecraft that spawned them in the first place. Focusing on Dr. West and the ancient Mictecacihuatl, Bunn is able to continue the obsessed doctor’s descent into villainy at a smooth pace, never losing his social awkwardness nor overtly allowing his amorality to give way entirely to immorality. While the story of the Reanimator is one of a villain, Bunn is sure to avoid making it seem as though he is actually aware of his own fall from grace, instead just indulging in his own scientific knowledge. In doing so, he is able to craft an increasingly heinous individual while simultaneously never technically having West kill a single person.
On the other hand, we have Vampirella, who seems to exist within the narrative of “Vampirella vs. Reanimator” #2 for the primary purpose of explaining the true nature of Mictecacihuatl herself. While she does perform some heroic actions, or at least tries to do so, she is, within the framework of the story, more a heroic antagonist than a protagonist in her own right, with one flashback being the only point at which she has direct narrative focus. This lack of attention allows Bunn to work to the story’s strengths, letting her be the aloof heroine in spite of the audience knowing her path to be the right one, even as she tries to be up front and direct about what is truly going on with the supposed “gods of death.”
The only real weak link thus far is Mictecacihuatl. Aside from her name and that of her husband, Mictlantecuhtli, being likely difficult to pronounce for English speakers, her obsession with rising to glory again is rather one-note for the classic mummy story, with the inclusion of weird science by way of Dr. West being her primary saving grace. The story doesn’t truly suffer for her relatively cliché motivations and characterization, but it really pulls the gradual fall of Dr. West into relief by demonstrating a more modernized take on a similar scheme without the grandiose posturing of her era.
Blacky Shepherd pulls double duty as the illustrator and colorist of the miniseries, with artwork that could be considered the true draw of “Vampirella vs. Reanimator” in and of itself. Shepherd’s pencils use a heightened realism, a depth of physical form that stretches into intricately detailed hands and age lines, cracks in stone, and more, emphasizing the realistic textures of the human (and at times inhuman) form and its surroundings. Part in parcel of this realism is a focus on very realistic facial expressions, from the near-supernatural beauty of Vampirella and Mictecacihuatl to the more insomniac, human expressions of Dr. West and the villagers. At times, the penciling is very dark, with very deep shadows that use negative space to showcase the light of a shining supernatural effect in the night. Others, the darkness is in the form of shadowed eyes to emphasize a tired, or otherwise otherworldly presence amongst humanity.
By far the most interesting part of Shepherd’s artwork is his choice of colors, both in the color choices themselves and in where and how said colors are used. Much like the works of Nicola Scott on “Black Magick” alongside Chiara Arena, the vast majority of “Vampirella vs. Reanimator” #2 is deliberately monochrome, with the only color being applied to those elements that deliberately exist beyond the natural order, from Vampirella’s association with blood to Dr. West’s reagent. On the one hand, the blood red applied to Vampirella’s clothing, whether it be in the flashback or the present day, helps to both show a heroic figure in spite of the visceral nature of the colors and to show how she very much does not fit in with the human world at large, unlike the truly monochrome Dr. West. On the other hand, the sickly yellow applied to the “reanimation reagent,” including both the liquid itself and the glowing yellow eyes of Mictecacihuatl after her reanimation, is disturbing and disgusting enough to show itself as, while similarly divorced from the mortal experience as Vampirella herself, as having done so in a far less moral method, rather than just being a member of a species that is theoretically relatively everlasting.
Final Verdict: 7.5– While Mictecacihuatl is a relatively cliché villain, the story of two opposing franchises continues nonetheless with very interesting developments through the use of a villain’s overall perspective.