June 10, 1963 was a Monday. If you were in America on this day and in this year, it’s very likely that you were aware that President Kennedy was to deliver the commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C. During his speech, the young President made his plans for a suspension of nuclear testing known, along with his commitment to negotiate a binding test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union and every other country that’d been able to harness atomic energy into a force for annihilation. As you stepped outside later during this mild day in late spring, to walk the dog, or to shop for groceries, or to drive the car to the shop for the regular inspection, to have it cleaned or the oil changed, you wondered if this meant that things would be ok now, if it was ok to let out a sigh of relief. Life seemed good again. The good guys had won. The Cuban Missile Crisis did seem longer in the past than only a few months. You could ask the neighbors over, or the guys from the office and their wives. Time for an old-fashioned barbeque in the backyard, your backyard with its well-hidden access to the secret underground shelter, a structure built to last and designed to protect you and your family and the dog from the radioactive fallout. If need be, you, the missus and the kids could stay down there, underground among the canned food, the containers of drinking water and the flashlights with their powerful, long-lasting batteries for many years to come, or at least long enough to outlast a war unlike any other war. Still, there was only so much room in the fallout shelter, that was why everybody did not only pack their supplies of canned goods and water and flashlights, but their service revolver, too. You liked your neighbors and the guys from the office, but if push came to shove, it was each man for himself. You all had your families to take care of. You had steeled yourself for the moment there’d be some commotion and some screams, and the missus urging you to check out what was going on, to see if somebody needed assistance. You knew that you had to refuse her, that you had to refuse them. Now, all of that seemed unnecessary. The man who ran this country had it all figured out. Kennedy had made the other guy blink. It seemed incidental that Kennedy’s day was not done yet. Later, back in the Oval Office, the President signed the Equal Pay Law, which no longer allowed employers to pay women less for the same job than their male colleagues. If you were such an employer, you usually saved forty percent on the payroll if you hired a woman for the job. So, now it didn’t matter. You could go ahead and hire the cousin of your wife or the pimply kid that you knew was a smart cookie. Thus, ironically, a law designed to protect the rights of career women in the workforce benefitted men. However, what happened on that day in America, if there was a little bit of optimism in the thoughts and prayers of men and women or if they simply went about their day, didn’t matter much if you found yourself in a foreign country, especially in this backwater of a country. If you were an American, you were either with the C.I.A. or the international press corps, and those in the latter camp were all young and very bored. Who had ever heard of a guy of the caliber of a Walter Cronkite take on a foreign assignment at his age but even those legends had started at the bottom. Still, how many reports could you file about stinking rice paddies, or pictures of the same for that matter? It was the boredom that killed you once the excitement had worn off and the thrill from cheap booze, the drugs and the prostitutes. There was very little thrill in a city like Saigon and a country called Vietnam that was tightly controlled by a hated dictator and his equally despised family. Sure, occasionally there’d be some small raids into Saigon, perpetrated by guerrilla fighters from Communist North Vietnam, but once President Kennedy had sent in hundreds of Green Berets and helicopters, things had quieted down considerably. When the troops began to use Agent Orange to kill the vegetation in the nearby jungles, this had sent the guerrilla forces packing. Then there was an attempt on President Ngo Dinh Diem’s life, but the Catholic seemed to have God on his side, and he took this as a sign to suppress the religion of those who did not share his faith and that of his family even more, which was the majority. When the workers went on a strike, he closed the factories. When the students rallied in the streets, he shut down the university. The same with the schools and the newspapers. The foreign press was allowed free rein with the understanding that they’d looked the other way. You might think this excluded the American correspondents who served no other master than uncovering and covering the truth, and with America now Diem’s biggest sponsor, but Diem was untouchable. North Vietnam, under the leadership of an old man by the name of Ho Chi Minh, a guy very deeply admired by his people who affectionately called him “Uncle Ho” since he had once declared that all the people of Vietnam were his children, had driven out the French. That was almost a decade ago and Ho, who had once tried to approach President Wilson in Paris when he was a young man and a short order cook to tell the most powerful man in the world the soap story of his home that was occupied by the French, was really old now. Thus, the Communist Party had retired Ho to make room for a younger, much more ruthless and decisive leader. Ho Chi Minh would stay on as the party’s figurehead, though. Whenever the politburo in Hanoi felt the masses in the North needed a bit of that old “Uncle Ho” magic to keep them going, the party leaders would cart Ho’s feeble, propped up body around for show. If you thought the French crew had their work cut out for themselves with a guy like Ho when he was still in top shape, you had yet to meet Le Duan, and you better recalled that the D in his was name pronounced like a Z. The new party leader of the North, who wore his jet-black hair perfectly parted to one side, looked as unassuming as if he were a teller at your local bank, that is if your bank teller had the ability to know what you were thinking, and his mind worked like that of a car salesman who’d marked you for a rube the moment your drove onto the lot of his dealership. Feeding the men and women, and later the children, of the North to the machine of war meant nothing to Le Duan, especially not since his sons attended a private school in Moscow where they burnt through an allowance that could have fed many families in Hanoi, or in Saigon for that matter. Le Duan no longer send guerrillas across the border between the two halves of the same country like “Uncle Ho” had. Ho’s Viet Minh fighters had never been rebels without a cause. They’d defeated the illegal occupiers, which had effectively ended the French rule over a country the foreigners had named Indochina. The Geneva Accords of July 1954 had established North and South Vietnam, with the 17th parallel as the dividing line. Along this line, mostly to the South, a demilitarized zone was established, Vietnam’s no man’s land. The agreement had stipulated that Vietnam would be unified within two years after free elections. But the elections never happened, leaving Ho with a mission still incomplete. But to inflict any real damage to South Vietnamese forces, Ho’s Viet Minh had to cross the DMZ first, only that the American military told them in no uncertain terms that this wouldn’t be tolerated. Le Duan opted for a different strategy. When he sensed an opening caused by the hatred among the population in the South against their own government, the North started to back the antigovernment insurgency that began to coalesce around the National Liberation Front, as Le Duan saw to it that the NLF’s established a military arm which they supplied with weapons smuggled in from the North. Instead of sending men, now all Le Duan had to do was to run a gun racket, the men were already in the South and they could be anyone. Soon, these men with many faces, who emerged from the shadows of neighborhoods only to retreat as quickly as they’d appeared, were called the Viet Cong. As determined as Ho’s rebels, they became the ghosts of Vietnam. To many of the American soldiers with boots on the ground, the French had always appeared weak. To take control of a country of mainly rice farmers didn’t betray much strength or military planning. When Japanese troops had invaded Indochina in March 1945, they were met with very little resistance. After Japan’s surrender once America had unleashed the powers of many suns on their homeland, the French returned, and lest they repeated their mistake, their troops were supplemented by many platoons with men who served in the Foreign Legion. Still, they had lost. To the American military, this told you much about the French. Their part had been the easy one. They knew who the enemy was and where he was. America was going up against a much more formidable super-villain and his unknowable army. But on this Monday, in Saigon at least, it was business as usual. High humidity, the same mosquitoes, the same girl prostitutes at the bars already around lunchtime. But something was different if you were among those foreign correspondents. There were whispers directed directly at them. This wasn’t new. Rumors of something important about to go down were swirling around constantly, given the volatile situation and the desire of the Vietnamese people to make their voices and their plight heard around the globe. If you were among these young men who’d once hoped for a career making opportunity when they set foot in this forsaken place but who’d mostly grown jaded by this point in time and who were aching for a nice, ice-cold coca cola sipped not here, but any place but here, you had learned to ignore those bold claims. Diem and his family and his corrupt cronies weren’t going anywhere, and their uncle, Uncle Sam, with his highly trained and equally skilled commandos would take care of the Viet Cong in no time flat. This was the United States you were talking about. So, these young men drank their whiskey sours and they shooed away the whispers like they did with the black mosquitoes that were already fat with their blood. But a handful of them, those who believed that perhaps they should follow up on any lead while they had nothing better to do, provided they made it out of bed in the heat and with a raging hangover the next day, they drove to the spot outside the Cambodian embassy in the South’s capital at the time the shifty looking men who emerged from narrow alleys and busy crowds had told them to come. If the Monday was as uneventful as most other Mondays during their time in South Vietnam, to these young men the Tuesday, this Tuesday, would be unlike any other day they’d experienced. It was the day when the horror they only knew from the movies and the comics came to a street in Saigon and their world.
Sometimes, the grotesque horrors from our darkest nightmares will take over the main stage with grand gestures of showmanship and eight gallons of blood to celebrate a spectacle of grand goignol as they’ll announce themselves to their audience, and to the world, in a puff of smoke that suspiciously smells of Sulphur. They did on March 13, 1954. It was a Saturday. For the French soldiers and their allies stationed at their massive stronghold located in Dien Bien Phu, a small city situated in a valley in the northwestern part of Vietnam, the day started like any other day in a region that was of little value to Paris other than that their rule was proof that they were able to maintain an empire that dated back to the glorious days of expansion and colonization. The report for that day could have read “situation normal, all fouled up”, since the boredom of endless drills and basically doing nothing was wearing the men down. Though the Viet Minh had been driving the French back for months now, the French High Command was convinced that this would avail them naught in the long run other than an unimaginable and unsustainable loss of life. The French on the other hand felt well prepared now. At their garrison in Dien Bien Phu, which was impossible to take due to its well-fortified walls and its overall strategic location, they had amassed not only 10,800 regular troops of the French armed forces, but they’d brought in reinforces of 16,000 men from elite units together with French Foreign Legionnaires and heavy equipment like aircrafts and many quadruple 0.50 caliber machine guns. Not even hell or high water would shake Dien Bien Phu, and thus by extension the French military’s presence in Southeast Asia. In the thick jungles, the Viet Minh picked them off men by men, but not behind these walls from where the troops could let bullets rain down on any fool who wanted to test his luck, artillery commander Colonel Charles Piroth boasted to his gunners and anyone who was in earshot as he strode across the place d’armes to inspect the morale among the men and the armaments that’d been installed to stamp out this audacious insurgence of lowly peasants once and for all. A hero of the Second World War now on his third tour in Indochina, Colonel Piroth told his men that he had more guns than he needed as he also exulted that they weren’t in any real danger. It was situation normal, for all intents and purposes. With their superior artillery, now it was their turn to do some picking off if the enemy dared to show their faces. They did, nearly 50,000 faces of them as they began to surround the garrison while keeping the French under constant heavy shelling, employing a strategy that ran counter to what was known in France about military planning and what the men had been trained to do. The Viet Minh started their campaign on this Saturday. On Monday, the battle for Dien Bien Phu, set on a stage in this theatre of war that would become known as “The Valley of Death”, did claim his most prominent victim. After he’d made the rounds in the camp to apologize to his fellow officers, Piroth went into his private bunker and removed the safety pin from a grenade. Desperate to uphold the fighting spirit among his men, his suicide was covered up for days. But word spread outside the well-guarded walls of the stronghold, and soon newspapers that reported on the Colonel’s act were dropped from planes on the camp. His successor was flown in quickly, one of the last few airdrops that the enemy granted the French. Ho’s Viet Minh were establishing an ever-tighter control of the airspace. The siege of Dien Bien Phu and its garrison lasted one month, three weeks and three days. While many of the men behind the thick walls began to grow desperate, thousands of volunteers, the very peasants the French had mocked, carried in food and weapons to the brave besiegers, and of course ammunition in near uncountable quantities. In the French stronghold, after several failed attempts to shake off their Vietnamese prison guards, the men received orders to stay strong as they were told that surrender was out of the question. To raise the white flag after the troops had offered so much heroic resistance would surely be a cowardly course of action the French High Command in Paris surmised. Consequently, when a flag was flown on May 7, it was the Viet Minh who proudly signaled that they had captured the French headquarter at Dien Bien Phu. The French had suffered more than 9,000 men dead, wounded or missing in battle. But those 11,721 soldiers who surrendered on that day, their nightmares were far from over. Ho’s decisive victory over the French, won by the generals and military advisers the wise “uncle” to all the children of Vietnam had picked, became legend immediately. Whereas President Woodrow Wilson most likely would have ignored the pleas from the short order cook who’d tried to talk to him in Paris, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was very well aware of who Ho Chi Minh was. His predecessor had lost China to Mao and his people’s republic, which were fancy words for saying communist. This was a lapse of judgment he didn’t intend to repeat. With the defeat of the French, Ho’s increased popularity and a country divided, the guy who’d wanted to speak to the leader of the League of Nations, had tipped one domino. It was enough to link America inextricably to Vietnam, hell or high water be damned. This was a history that was known to the foreign correspondents who arrived at the road outside the Cambodian embassy on the morning of March 11. It was the story that had given rise to the man they called “Uncle Ho”, and to men like Le Duan, and in the South, to President Ngo Dinh Diem. His residence, which was a palace, though the rectangular structure had the cold, efficient look of an office building, was located in the third district and the seventh ward of Saigon, which meant it was only a few blocks away. Catholic Diem had recently begun to step up his attacks on Vietnam’s Buddhists. When protestors took to the streets in the central city of Hue last month, Diem mobilized South Vietnam’s Governmental Military to disperse the peaceful protest. Under his command, they did so with lethal force which left eight dead, including several children. Though his extreme favoritism toward the Catholic minority of Vietnam and a cold willingness to shoot his own people, alienated him from the majority of those under his rule, and he’d become more and more isolated, Diem did have the support of a military ready to attack Buddhists. To the journalists who covered the brutal suppression of freedom of religious expression, and who had gone on to call it the “Buddhist Crisis”, this was another sad story among many. But in Saigon, the loud, crowded streets were back to the usual hustle and bustle that is typical for any major city in Asia or any other country in the world, with their population forced together, busy with trying to impress or to just survive. Given the situation, what those few journalists who’d followed the whispers and who’d turned up on this Tuesday morning saw, was a most peculiar sight. Almost as if they’d materialized out of thin air right in front of their eyes, a group of around four hundred Buddhist monks and nuns begun to walk towards them in a somber procession, preceded by a single, beat-up sedan. Still, only a few of the men took out their Kodaks, including Malcolm Browne, the Saigon bureau chief for the Associated Press. As the procession which moved in two phalanxes, knew only one direction, namely Diem’s palace, this was just another demonstration, or so it seemed to most of the men who watched them go by. Most of the Vietnamese bystanders hardly took notice since they had their own problems to worry about. But then the vehicle stopped, and the protestors stopped as well. Three men emerged from the car, all three of them garbed in attire that easily identified them as Buddhist monks. One of the men placed a cushion right on the pavement not too far from where Browne and his colleagues were standing. The other man opened the trunk of the vehicle which was an American model and took out a five-gallon can of gasoline that he brought to the cushion. As the third man, who was the oldest among them, a thin man well into his seventies, began to assume the lotus position on the cushion and the pavement, the assembly rallied around him in a nearly closed circle which still allowed observers to see what was going on. And as the old monk, of whom the journalists would later learn that his name was Thich Quang Duc, rotated a set of wooden prayer beads in his hands and the priest recited words in a language they didn’t understand, the other man doused him with the entire content of the container he was holding. The gasoline soaked the seated monk’s robes and glistened on his skin and his bald head that now reflected the light of the lustrous morning sun. With many of the journalists too stunned to say a word, to move or to reach for their Kodaks, they saw how the ancient priest produced a match which he lit and dropped onto himself. They knew this image. You know it, too. Maybe you don’t remember it, but if you try, really try, you can recall it from the edges of the land where the memories from your childhood live, memories that scared you back then. Recalling the image now, seeing it like those men did, in the radiant light of the morning sun in June, it seems silly and out of place. Those journalist with their press credentials and their Kodak cameras around their necks, those twenty-somethings who’d been bored and who craved some action that was a bit more interesting than yellow men in pajamas fighting other yellow men in some river bed or godforsaken rice paddy, they knew the image from the drive-ins back home. If you were trying to get to second base with a girl called Sue or Debbie as any guy would who had just gotten his license and his old man’s car, taking your date to a scary film would do the trick. She’d be frightened by what unfolded on the screen, maybe a bit faux scared if she was really into the other thing, and she’d get closer to you. You knew she was really into you if she moved really close if there was some silly monster on the loose. Often some poor slob in a poorly-fitting costume with an oversized-head made from cardboard, or they used shots of a spider, superimposed over a desert landscape to make it appear really big, like they did in “Tarantula”, or it was puppet with an odd-looking face, supposedly a gigantic bird from an antimatter universe like in the film “The Giant Claw”, which was an absolute stinker. You knew she had something else in mind if she leaned closer, because nobody other than your little brother was afraid of those. Or you learned very quickly that she simply wasn’t interested. Well, in that case you still had Mara Corday in an extremely tight pencil skirt you could ogle and boy, her skirts were really tight. With “Dracula”, or “Horror of Dracula” as this British production was known in the States, it was an entirely different story.
Dracula was the ultimate monster from the id, savage sexuality and raw lust all rolled into the tall, lanky body of actor Christopher Lee who looked like an English nobleman once all pretense of sophistication had been stripped away, a predatory beast made worse for his inbred aristocratic privilege. His Dracula was the ultimate seducer, the hunger of the flesh, a rapist of the mind and the senses. Lee made Dracula a ferocious beast that would stop at nothing to get the girl he desired, he wanted to control. The movie, that made even you a little scared and Debbie a bit too fascinated by this commanding man in the black cape, offered one guy who could defeat this monster, only that he wasn’t the typical broad-shouldered, lantern-jawed hero you were wont to see in a picture made in America. He was a nerdy type in his mid-forties, normally a friend or a colleague of the protagonist who was only there to deliver some scientific sounding mumbo-jumbo or some expository dialogue. But he, Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing, this rail-thin older gentleman with his sunken, gaunt face who still radiated a ton of charisma off the screen and who moved around like he was Batman, a Judo-Christian Batman, he was an unstoppable force, too. There’d be only one survivor once it was time for the final showdown which took place at Count Dracula’s castle. Though it would seem that the vampire had the upper hand, especially once his vice-like grip clasped around his opponent’s throat and he brought his long fangs very close. But Van Helsing, with a will and determination made of steel, managed to persist. He shook the monster off, and with his eyes scanning the count’s reading room, he spotted the only thing that kept the sunlight of a new day from getting to Dracula, knowing that the rays of the sun were deadly to this vile beast of ancient lore brought back to haunt our waking dreams. Racing along a table, Van Helsing (Cushing’s stunt double in this one instance) jumped into the air, tearing down the heavy brocaded curtains with his own weight. Still, this beast had a few corners available to him to which he could withdraw. But never on Van Helsing’s watch. In lieu of a crucifix, the crafty, resourceful man grabbed a pair of ornate candlesticks which he slammed together in such a way as to fashion a makeshift cross. With this symbol of his religion and his unwavering faith, Van Helsing drove the Prince of Darkness back into the light of the morning sun which had already cost him a foot and a part of one leg. Now fully exposed to the light which he couldn’t face, the count began to disintegrate until nothing was left of his terror but a heap of dust carried away on the wind, a startling and equally haunting effect shot that was created in camera with an almost documentary like feel to it. With an image this iconic, made by Hammer Films, not its low-rent American cousin AIP, and the staging of the scene expertly handled, you could be easily forgiven if you mistook this burning monk for Dracula or Frankenstein’s Monster set ablaze by the torches of angry villagers. And perhaps to those journalists, to the pedestrians who now interrupted their running to and fro, and the police officers who’d arrived on the scene with the Presidential Palace and an embassy close by, Thich Quang Duc was a monster. It was a monstrous act after all. The flames, which had quickly consumed his modest robes and his flesh, both of which they had caused to become black, were creating a black oily smoke that emanated from Thich Quang Du’s burning body, still situated in the lotus position. All the while another monk repeated two sentences over and over into a microphone that was hooked up to a loudspeaker system, with this message delivered in English and Vietnamese: “A Buddhist priest burns himself to death. A Buddhist priest becomes a martyr.” Some of the spectators had begun to wail, others prayed or stood in silence. Most of the foreign journalists currently in South Vietnam had chosen to ignore the whispers that had reached them on the day before. Those who’d made it to the intersection at Phan Dình Phùng Boulevard were rendered motionless by an image that was too unreal, too movie-like to be fully absorbed in ways that transcended memories of the language they’d learned from watching Western horror movies. But then, if Thich Quang Duc was the Dracula of this story, he had even claimed seniority to ensure his role when a fellow priest had offered himself, some of the journalists would later find out, logic demanded, at least Western logic, that there had to be a hero, a Van Helsing like character who pulled the curtains down to expose the beast to the light. AP bureau chief Malcolm Browne was this hero as he took several pictures on that morning which went around the world across the wire services. One photo in particular, which depicted the priest, who was calmly seated on the pavement, as a black figure engulfed in flames, galvanized public opinion around the world. This one image which could have been a single still picture from a Hammer horror film, or due to its visceral urban grittiness and its black and white quality, better yet a shot from a lower-budgeted American International Pictures production, forced America to better rethink its overall strategy for South Vietnam. Like Cushing’s Van Helsing, armed with a camera instead of his faith and a pair of candlesticks, Brown forced a man into the light only that it was the light of one man in flames. His picture, which was voted “World Press Photo of the Year”, and the image it depicted, had the ability to turn a monster into dust as a man who set himself on fire pulled an empire into a war. You had to wonder who the real monsters were. Who were the heroes? It was easy to answer who the villain in the North was. His face belonged to a man who’d make you buy a new car for a price too high. The problem was, that America’s ally South Vietnam had its own set of villains, not only President Diem. There was his corrupt brother who seemed like a choir boy when compared to his wife, Madame Nhu, the unofficial First Lady in the Diem government. Madame Nhu, an elegant, attractive woman who was wont to wear the latest fashion from Paris, spoke perfect English and she knew how to ingratiate herself with South Vietnam’s American benefactors, but to her people she was the Bride of Frankenstein. Nhu loved posing for pictures, clad in a clingy haute couture cocktail dress, one arm raised, fingers clutched tightly around the grip of a firearm, the left eye narrowed to a slit, taking aim at whoever was the enemy to her family’s total reign, and those were plenty. Madame Nhu loved to parade her wealth and status around as if she were an aristocrat born to privilege, but sans a modicum of decency. With her brother-in-law trying to avoid further escalation, as he made sure that the generals of his military had his back (they had, but only for show), Madame Nhu, who had actually converted from Buddhism to the Catholic faith to ensure her ascent into the ruling class, was having none of that, as she happily proclaimed that if there were others wanting to follow Thich Quang Duc action, she would “clap hands at seeing another monk barbecue show”. Shortly thereafter, President Diem, who was highly susceptible to his sister-in-law’s advice, stated that the elderly monk had been drugged and that in fact he’d forced to commit his act of self-immolation. The C.I.A. knew that statements such as hers and the global reaction to Browne’s picture of a priest who became a martyr, the utter shock and outcry, would only help to quickly increase the number of men in the South willing to support or to outright join the Viet Cong. After deliberations among the operatives in the Saigon bureau of the Vietnam branch office, a situation report was hastily related via cable from the U.S. embassy to the State Department. It contained a single question: “What if the Americans stationed in Saigon stepped back and did nothing?” The message and the question did reach a State Department official who didn’t have the clearance to pass it on, but who understood the urgency inherent to such a plea for further instructions of how to best proceed. With most senior level officers having left for the weekend, the cable was passed along the chain of command, sidestepping a number of stations that normally would have had to review the validity of the report, to determine the most sensible course of action that had America’s strategic interests in the region at heart. And then it reached President Kennedy who was on vacation himself. With the now accompanying text that offered some guidance poorly worded, the President had to come to the conclusion that the recommendation he received had been vetted by the most senior personnel in the State Department. Based on this intel, Kennedy agreed with the C.I.A. agents on the ground. The course of action, under these circumstances was for the C.I.A. and the military to do nothing. Consequently, the C.I.A. related the President’s word to the opposition that had begun to form among Diem’s generals in his military. In November 1963, the same generals led a military coup against President Diem, taking the Presidential Palace which was only a few blocks from the spot where Thich Quang Duc had set himself in fire. A Buddhist priest had become a monster, truly. You could see other monsters on the loose now. In fact, if you were looking for zombies to walk with, were these not the men, soldiers and ordinary citizens of Saigon who besieged the church where Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu had taken refuge? It was the only safe place they’d left after they’d turned an entire city and half a country against themselves. In an ironic twist of fate, this seemed like a cosplay reenactment of Dien Bien Phu, only that the men they eventually surrendered to did show them less mercy than Ho’s Viet Minh had. Diem and his sibling were slain once they had left the sanctity of the house of God. Then their bullet-riddled bodies were put on display. As this went down, Madame Nhu was on a goodwill mission in America, in Beverly Hills to be precise. The woman who loved to show off her diamond crucifix and her handgun in public and who wore dresses so tight that a French reporter once had commented that she was “molded into her dress like a dagger in its sheath” while she saw to it that her brother-in-law’s government passed “morality laws”, went on to live a long life, however one filled with many tragedies. As for what came next, in South Vietnam one general soon replaced another.
On the stage of the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, a very public stage, the siege of Dien Bien Phu began on March 13, 1954. It was a Saturday. It took one month, three weeks and three days for an empire to die. But when the show came to a smaller, more intimate playhouse, not only Off-Broadway but away from Manhattan, its high towers and the glittering lights of a city that never sleeps, death claimed one as his after an attack that lasted thirty-three minutes, thirty-three minutes of horror, with rescue or salvation either way this close. For want of a nail an entire empire was lost. For want of one sympathetic soul, a soul willing to get involved, a single life was lost. Just one. She had a name. Actually, she had two names, which somehow seemed appropriate if you were privy to the fact that this young woman led two lives. Born twenty-eight years ago and baptized as Catherine Susan, she adopted the name “Kitty” during her childhood which was a happy one. Calling herself Kitty better reflected the friendly, personable attitude she put on display since she knew it would win her many favors. Indeed, her approachability made her a bit of a class-clown at her high school. This happy-go-lucky personality served her well since she loved to work. Kitty began to take up employment in her teen years, with many of her bosses and co-workers having only nice things to say about her. When her family decided to move away from New York City to greener pastures, Kitty elected to stay behind since she had worked herself up to a position where she managed a popular bar in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens. She had started at Ev’s Eleventh Hour as a bartender, a role that perfectly fit to her outgoing nature, and her ability to crack jokes endeared her to the bar’s many patrons as she was able to engage even larger crowds. In fact, the young woman was friends with the married couple who lived above this local waterhole who enjoyed hanging out with the funny Kitty, and who she was wont to visit even at the odd hours she had to herself. But then there was the other woman, Catherine Susan, who was much more serious and who had a keen, ambitious mind that made her break the rules. Perhaps it was not Kitty, never Kitty, who was fired from her former job at a different bar where she’d also worked as a bartender. Catherine Susan was good with numbers and she’d taken bets on horses from some of the bar patrons, that was until the cops got wind of it and she was arrested. Then, once she was fully ensconced at Ev’s Eleventh Hour Bar, having earned the owner’s trust, she volunteered to work double shifts in his absence. But she was not taken advantage of. Instead she viewed this as an opportunity to gain more experience and to earn more money to save. Though it was Kitty who was well suited for tending a bar, Catherine Susan had actually moved into the hospitality industry because she had a mind for numbers and business processes, especially in catering. She saved most of her money since she intended to open an Italian restaurant of her own. With her current place of employment located in Queens, it made all kinds of sense to move from Brooklyn to this borough, to cut down on travel expenses and to have more hours available for work. Still, she decided to move into a more affluent area and into an apartment building in Kew Gardens located to the north of Hollis Hills. She took up residence in a recently renovated Tudor style apartment complex that was situated across from similar multi-story houses. Anxious that she’d have to spend too much hard earned money on rent but still not ready to let the opportunity to get the apartment she wanted pass her by, Catherine Susan decided that it was worth the risk to take another gamble, like she’d done with the horse betting, if not to break the rules, to bend them considerably. What she was about to do could get her fired again. She wasn’t single at that time, not since she’d met a special someone at a Manhattan bar on an early spring day in 1963. It wasn’t her first relationship, for Kitty it wasn’t. She’d been married, but briefly, and the marriage was annulled, with each party a bit sobered up as they went separate ways. Kitty was shocked by the experience. The more serious Catherine Susan picked up the pieces in a solemn mood that soon turned into a sense of liberation. It was she who chose her next mate and it worked, for a time, since it was the kind of relationship, she truly desired. She couldn’t make it public, though. Which was also true for her current entanglement. Had she been dating a man, it would have been impossible to move with him into the one bedroom apartment in Kew Gardens, given the morals of the time, but it was not that uncommon for career girls to have a female roommate, especially not if these were girls at an age that implied that they both were out looking for a husband. Mary Ann Zielonko was twenty-five and tended a bar. She’d already introduced her to her family as “a friend”, doing the same with the landlord didn’t seem such a big step after all. Thus, she and Mary had moved into the apartment at 70-82 Austin Street. Kitty became friends with Sophia Farrar, a woman of seventy years who lived across the hall. Catherine Susan and Mary Ann soon became really close with their next-door neighbor Karl Ross who had a poodle grooming business. The three of them had recognized each other immediately, which was a relief. With Karl there was no need for pretense. He was a kind man and he was gay, and only recently she’d bought a dog from Karl as a gift for her lover. Mary Ann adored the puppy like she adored how Kitty moved her hands through her short brown hair or how she held her Camel cigarettes. Like with the correspondents who’d sat at a bar in Saigon on June 10 a year prior, where they drank their whiskey sours as they ogled the girl prostitutes who wore too much makeup, not to look older and of age, that didn’t matter much, but to appear more Western and more worldly, the clients at Ev’s sports bar were well into it when she arrived for her shift on Thursday, March 12, 1964 at 5 p.m. They both usually worked days so they could spend the nights together, but with Mary Ann meeting friends at a bowling alley, she didn’t mind taking the night shift. As the evening wore on, she imagined how her lover got home and fell into bed. Drinking was something they both did quite excessively on occasion, an occupational hazard so to speak. On this night it meant that Mary Ann would be out of commission until the crack of dawn if not later. With the first hour of the new day at hand, March 13, 1964 was a Friday, not a small detail if you are superstitious and you believe in witches, Satan and some such, most of the guests began to file out. By 2 a.m. only a handful of patrons hung around the counter where her workmate Victor served them one last round of whatever poison they were into. Kitty had planned on visiting her friends upstairs. Once she took a look at the books and she began to tally the bar’s take for the night, it was Catherine Susan who got her coat ready. Victor, who glanced over as she said goodbye was a bit surprised since he knew what her original plan was, but she told him that she wasn’t feeling it, that she wanted to go home. Like with the French at the garrison in Dien Bien Phu ten years ago to this day, the situation was normal, still it was all fucked up. As she stepped out on Jamaica Avenue and she closed the distance to her red Fiat, another car came down the street, a white Chevrolet Corvair. The man behind the wheel immediately took notice of her as he started to slow down his vehicle. He’d been searching for her for nearly an hour. Frustrated, he’d just made a turn at 193rd Street, ready to give up and to turn in for the night. He lived close by. Actually, he was married, and he had three small children and a dog. No matter how late it was when he got back home from his nightly excursions, which came more frequently now, he was always on time for his job. He liked his job at Remington Rand where prepared the punched cards used for data storage for digital computers, and he was good at it. At his workplace, he was well liked by his colleagues and his manager. Why wouldn’t he be? Though the relationship of his parents wasn’t a good one, his mother had checked in and out of their lives whenever she felt like it since he was a boy, this didn’t affect his marriage. And by all accounts, he was a good husband and a good father. At twenty-nine, and contrary to the woman who just got into her car before his eyes, he’d no criminal record. He did not know this woman, still he had been looking for her, and from the way she moved and from her pencil skirt which showed beneath her coat, he could tell that she was young and attractive. He followed her car, but slowly, careful not to let her notice anything. It took them a little more than half an hour until she made it into Kew Gardens. When she parked her red Fiat at the Long Island Rail Road station, he parked on the other side. He could tell that she lived in one of the apartment buildings that were close by. She got out and he got out. She turned towards him and from across the street and for the first time, she got a good look at him. It was all it took. He was slender in build, but he wasn’t especially tall or menacing. He wore a wide-brimmed hat which shadowed his face, gloves and an overcoat, but that made sense given the weather. It never occurred to him that she might be frightened of him because he was black. For the most part, growing up in Michigan, then moving to New York City, he’d never experienced racism. But that was just it. She wasn’t tipped off by the way he dressed or the color of his skin. He couldn’t have known that this woman who was a complete stranger to him, he’d been out looking for any woman, knew him in an instant. He was unassuming enough, like a teller at your local bank, and she didn’t know that he held a steady job, that he was a good husband and a good father, but she saw right through his disguise. He wasn’t aware that she too led a double life and that she was quite apt to identify anyone who did as well. How could he’ve known that it’d taken her less than thirty seconds to understand who Mary Ann was when she’d seen the pretty woman for the first time at the bar in Manhattan? That she knew that Karl was also gay from just meeting him in the hallway once. As he pulled his hat a little deeper as if to brace the chilling wind and he started walking towards her, he couldn’t know that this cute brunette saw him for who he was. You could look at a photo of Le Duan and not see the monster, you might look at Malcolm Browne’s “World Press Photo of the Year” and you may think the burning Buddhist priest the monster. Catherine Susan saw a man walking in her direction, and she knew this man, this monster immediately. What she didn’t know, what she couldn’t have known, when she started to run from him, from it, and she ran for her life, was that the monsters lived right in her neighborhood. Like the men and women in the suburbs with the proper backyards and their barbecues, her neighbors had built their fallout shelters. They had their rations of canned food and containers of drinking water. They didn’t need flashlights. They didn’t bring a service revolver. But they’d steeled themselves for the moment there’d be any commotion and screams, like the couples who lived upstate. They liked you, but they all had themselves to take care of.
When she looked over one shoulder and she saw that the man was running as well, that he was running after her, she ran faster. Catherine Susan Genovese and Winston Moseley had never met, and they had not seen each other before Friday, March 13, 1964. Moseley had a slightly above average IQ, still he led what many would consider an ordinary life, but purely on the surface. He was employed. He was a good husband and a good father. But he’d committed around thirty burglaries in his neighborhood. When he no longer found the satisfaction, he desperately craved doing this, he approached a girl who was waiting at a bus stop. He forced her at gunpoint into a nearby alley where he ordered her to satisfy him orally. This sense of control was new, and it was thrilling, and he knew he wanted more, that he needed more. That was back in the spring of 1963, around the same time Catherine Susan and Mary Ann began dating. They lived in a motel room together, secretly, then they moved in with each other at the apartment in Kew Gardens. In July, Winston Moseley broke into another residence and when he encountered a young girl, fifteen-year-old Barbara Kralik, he raped and killed her in her parents’ home in Springfield Gardens. Only a few weeks ago, after the calendar had just turned to show a new year, Moseley assaulted Annie Mae Johnson at her apartment. He shot her dead with a .38 caliber pistol he had legally acquired, then he set her body on fire. Johnson’s residence was in South Ozone Park, not far from where he lived with his family. On the night he saw Kitty Genovese as she left her place of employment on Jamaica Avenue, he’d been cruising for a woman, a woman he wanted to kill. He’d brought his hunting knife, a knife that he now pulled as he was catching up to the woman he’d been following and who possessed the instinct to run away from him. As she is now running faster towards the building that is directly ahead and he’s increasing his speed as well, the hunting knife in one hand, she does something unexpected. She starts to back away from the swanky Tudor style house where he was sure the woman lived. Winston Moseley didn’t know her. He didn’t know her at all. It was Kitty who was running towards her apartment house, but it was Catherine Susan, she who’d identified this monster, who’d figured that she’d have to run the whole distance around the dark building since the entrance to her apartment was around back. Instead, with her mind which is good with numbers processing her options, she creates a plan. She races towards Austin Street. There’s a bar that is usually open way into the little hours. As she is running up a hill now and she’s getting closer to Lefferts Boulevard, the monster is catching up with her. She can feel its hot, frantic breath, but she’s almost there. She can well-nigh see the lights above the bar, she can hear music and the laughter of the patrons. But what Catherine Sue didn’t know, what Kitty didn’t know, is brought home to her in a moment of utter shock. The place has just hired a new fellow to tend the bar, and with business slow on the night before the weekend, he’s already locked up. The bar is as dark as the entire block. She’s too stunned to scream. But then Moseley stabs her with his long knife in the back. Now she screams. She screams: “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!” Lights flicker on in the building that sits across from the bar, a ten-story building, Mowbray Apartments. Subsequent reports will vary. With the initial report from the New York Times by reporter Martin Gansberg stating that there were thirty-eight witnesses, once more journalists descended onto this quiet neighborhood in Queens, the number grew. There had to have been forty-nine people in total who simply stood at their windows in the Mowbray, people who claimed that they thought that the girl was either drunk or in fight with her boyfriend. A woman went on record to say that if a young woman was out this late, she deserved what was coming to her. A man on the third floor switched off all the lights and turned the radio on, so her screams would not unduly bother him any further. One man who was a child when the assault occurred, later claimed that he distinctly remembered how his dad had called the cops. But he reported an attack since he saw that the victim was on her feet and “staggering around”. Using a tree and a parked vehicle for support, Catherine Sue had managed to get up. Winston Moseley had made good on his escape, or so it seemed. A man on the seventh floor of the Mowbray had screamed at him from his open window: “Let that girl alone!” But nobody else did anything to help her. Nobody came down from their apartment to check on her despite the fact that she was still screaming since she was in pain. But they all kept on watching. As Catherine Susan staggered to the entrance to her apartment, which was across the street and around the block, and she was bleeding profusely from her two wounds, the doorman of the Mowbray turned a blind eye when she passed him. Those eyes however that followed her saw something that she could not see from the level of the streets she moved along. The perpetrator had backed his car out of the lot where he and she had met, but he wasn’t driving away. Instead he was now parked at the curb. As he cursed and his warm breath fogged his windshield from the inside, he waited. Five minutes had passed. Then another five minutes. Kitty had made it to the entrance of her apartment building. She managed to climb up one set of stairs. There was another flight of stairs ahead of her, but she knew she couldn’t make it on her own. She could still scream and that was what she did. Karl’s apartment was the closest to the stairs and she knew he was a night owl. She could hear him move about. Then the door opened, but the footsteps moved away from the stairs. She wondered what he was doing. Perhaps Karl’s phone wasn’t working. Karl’s telephone was fine, but he wanted to talk to one of the neighbors to hear what they should do. Then another guy joined them. It was impossible not to hear Kitty scream. Meanwhile Winston Moseley who was certain that she lived in the Tudor style building and not the Mowbray, got out of his car. Like a beast he soon detected her blood trail which did lead away from the tall building and to the back of the house she had initially ran towards. He tried the door. It was unlocked. He could hear Kitty, too. Ross and the other two men heard him moved around. They could make out what Kitty was screaming. Then there was silence. Moseley had stabbed her in her throat so she couldn’t scream any longer. He then raped her, and assuming that she was dead by now, he left her in the hallway. He’d found the satisfaction he craved. Moseley did take something from her other than her dignity and her life. He stole the forty-nine dollars she carried on her person. After the brutal attack, which had lasted thirty-three minutes, Catherine Susan Genovese wasn’t dead. Awake and alarmed by all the commotion in the hallway outside her apartment and in the hallway one floor beneath, Kitty’s friend Sophia charged Karl Ross with calling the police as the seventy-year old woman ventured down the stairs. She sat with Kitty who was barely conscious but showed signs that she was aware of the woman’s presence. Sophia and Robert Mozer, the man who lived on the seventh floor of the Mowbray were the only people who had been willing to leave their nuclear fallout shelters. When detectives made it to the scene, finally an ambulance was called. Catherine Susan Genovese was picked up nearly an hour after she’d parked her red Fiat and she’d seen the monster that was Winston Moseley. She died on route to the hospital. What this case left police detectives with, was a puzzle. Stranger on stranger violence with the intent to kill was a relatively new phenomenon, though in Boston the “Phantom Strangler” was still on the loose. He was eventually identified as Albert DeSalvo when he showed remorse towards the woman he’d picked as his latest victim. DeSalvo was handsome but antisocial. Once he hit puberty, he began acting weirdly. His first arrest for battery and robbery came when he was twelve years old. There was nothing that tied Winston Moseley to Catherine Susan Genovese and, of course, Moseley was an unknown to the police. Like the French officers at Dien Bien Phu who understood how to follow a strategy they knew and not much else, the homicide detectives assigned to the murder case displayed zero imagination. Why would a stranger attack this woman? It made no sense. Disregarding the many eye-witness accounts they had on record once the entire neighborhood had been canvassed, the investigation focused on Catherine Susan’s relationship with her roommate. Even though the detectives hadn’t heard the word sociopath, they sensed that there was something abnormal about this case. Why look for a phantom or a monster under the bed if the solution was this close? Not to appear guilty themselves, Karl Ross and others soon did some finger pointing, and the women’s secret was out of the bag and out of the closet. Then, much to Mary Ann’s relief, who’d become the number one suspect, another coincidence occurred. Residents in Ozone Park did get involved when they suspected a robbery in progress. With one man making a call to the cops while the other went so far as to disable the suspect’s car lest he could beat a hasty retreat, Winston Moseley was arrested for an attempted burglary. One of the arresting officers noticed his car which matched the make, model and color of the vehicle seen at the Genovese crime scene. During his interrogation by the homicide detective working the case, he not only admitted to the murder of Kitty Genovese, but to the other two killings as well. The detectives found all of this rather surprising, and at first, they thought he was an attention seeker. Unlike Catherine Susan, they couldn’t see any monsters.
Meanwhile, self-appointed pundits have come forward with the intent to discredit the original reports. According to them, it was next to impossible that there were that many witnesses, and didn’t medical records show that Moseley’s first stab had penetrated one of Kitty’s lungs? Wouldn’t this have kept her from screaming? Others wondered, perhaps rightfully so, with six hundred murders committed in New York City in 1964, what made her case special, why do we recall the murder of Kitty Genovese after all? People remember this case, they remembered it. And if they didn’t, they got a reminder ten years later. If you picked up the December 27, 1974 edition of The New York Times, there it was. “A Model’s Dying Screams Are Ignored At the Site of Kitty Genovese’s Murder”, the headline proclaimed. Once you read the article and the reporting that followed in the next days, you learned that this sensationalistic crime, so it would seem, bore little resemblance to what had happened to Catherine Susan, and the erroneous reporting was plain as day, already in the headline. The victim in this case, twenty-five-year-old Sandra Zahler was not a model. She was a beautician by trade who had been bludgeoned to death on Christmas day, a crime discovered only on the following day by her current boyfriend. As for the people ignoring her screams, something the Times alluded to in their headline when they made the connection to Kitty’s death from ten years earlier, the newspaper quoted one woman, her next door neighbor, who said she had heard screams and what sounded like an “apparent struggle” between two people, a woman who, according to the newspaper, “recalled having heard the screams of Miss Genovese 10 years ago.” Still, nobody else noticed anything strange going on in their building, nor did they hear screams in the night. It was the holidays. The tenants were either fast asleep after their Christmas Eve celebrations, or visiting relatives, like her other next-door neighbor, the superintendent of the building, which perhaps explains why it took more than a day for her body to be discovered. What connected the two crimes, and eerily so, were the time and the place. Sandra Zahler was killed at around 3:30 a.m. Kitty Genovese had been stabbed by Robert Moseley on Austin Street at that time, which happened in view of the Mowbray, the very same address where Sandra Zahler lived and where she died violently. Some strange coincidences for sure, yet this was where the similarities ended. Whereas the homicide detectives in Kitty Genovese’s murder had originally investigated her death as a so-called “crime of passion”, because experience told them to do just that, Sandra Zahler had indeed been killed by the man she’d been involved with for two years, a relationship she’d only recently ended. As for her neighbor, Madeline Hartmann told the Times that she hadn’t called the police because she was certain that the man who lived next door to the young woman had to have heard her screams as well, and he was the superintendent of the building after all. It’s interesting nevertheless that obviously the Times reporter tried hard to connect the two cases while he completely ignored what stands out by contrast. Suraj Narayan, the forty-year-old unemployed shoe salesman who was arrested and confessed to the crime after securing legal representation with a little help from a rival newspaper he’d petitioned, The Daily News, had lived with the victim for two years in her apartment. But then he no longer did. The residents of the Mowbray were aware that he’d moved out when she’d moved on. The elevator operator of the apartment building knew. After he heard about the murder, he called the police to let them know that he’d taken Narayan to the fifth floor where her one-bedroom apartment was located. That was on Christmas morning shortly before she died. Winston Moseley and Catherine Susan Genovese on the other hand had never met. Her killing was not a “crime of passion” at least not in a traditional sense. Moseley didn’t know that his victim liked girls. Kitty didn’t run away from him because he was black. With people leading double lives that couldn’t be reduced to a simple equation of good versus evil, Kitty knew, and Moseley knew, the world wasn’t black and white. When a man who called himself H.H. Holmes, a medical doctor no less, bought a pharmacy in Chicago in the late 19th century, word of his good looks and his charisma spread far. With some of the attractive women even arriving from out of town, the popular pharmacist soon held auditions to fill several jobs. All the ladies who applied, and those who were hired, looked like the super-models of their day. Holmes was a bigamist and a notorious womanizer, but after he’d built a new two-story building which was to house his private living quarters and a newer, bigger storefront for his expanded business, he embarked on a killing spree. Eventually, he was found out, with the media now dubbing his house “Murder Castle”. In 1996 Holmes confessed to twenty-seven murders, though some historians claim that his victim might run well into the hundreds, and consequently, the “Devil of Chicago” was executed in the same year. It was the year in which Bram Stoker began work on a novel that featured his famous literary villain, Count Dracula. Though it’s well established that the antagonist in “Dracula” (1997) is very obviously influenced by Stoker’s employer, actor Henry Irving, a man of many faces in his own rights, some of the cruel ones exclusively reserved for his employee who had a huge crush on him, the idea of the dark seducer comes straight from the Holmes murder case. Holmes had secret trapdoors and pathways built into his castle. Holmes is considered the first American serial killer, a rarity at that time. Though men would kill multiple victims throughout the next decades, in the 1960s something changed. It was the decade when the idea of the man who hunted for his victims was born, quite literally. Ed Kemper killed his grandparents when he was only fifteen. He soon moved on to college co-eds he’d pick up while they hitch-hiked. The Zodiac Killer loved nothing more than to kill and to taunt the police and the media with his random murders. Though the identity of The Zodiac is unknown, many of his dark siblings were seen as outsiders (Kemper was almost freakishly large and socially awkward), 1974 saw the start of a chain of murders committed by a man who appeared as well-adapted as Winston Moseley had, and who had the good looks and the charm of H.H. Holmes. Like Catherine Susan Genovese, early on, he had decided to give himself a name and a personality to better ingratiate himself with different social circles, albeit with an air of cockiness about him, and a slightly grading smarminess in equal measure. By the end of the year which was closed out with the death of Sandra Zahler, Theodore Robert Bundy, a political campaign aide and an honor student with a major in psychology who, for a time, worked at Seattle’s Suicide Hotline Crisis Center, a nice young man all around and by all accounts, had killed thirteen women. Though he’d later resort to using trickery to abduct his victims, when he was Ted, he was all smiles and charm. No woman who was looking for a ride since hitchhiking was still a thing, especially if you were a student, suspected a thing. Ted Bundy looked like a movie star, and still he was a monster. For a long time, at least in public, Bundy knew how to be on his best behavior. He was controlled and methodically. He also killed without any sign of remorse and most brutally. There was nothing black and white about him, but chances are that with one look at him, Catherine Susan would have been able to see this man, this monster for who he truly was. Despite The New York Times’ best (and perhaps worst) efforts, the 1974 murder of Sandra Zahler is mostly forgotten. So is the name Norman Morrison, a thirty-one-year-old Quaker who hailed from Baltimore. On November 2, 1965 he kneeled down below the third-floor window of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s office at the Pentagon. Morrison, a pacifist who’d come to Washington to protest America’s involvement in Vietnam, had doused himself with kerosene, like the Buddhist priest had done before he’d set himself on fire, a scene depicted in a photo that had upset the young Quaker. Again, people who were busy with their lives, stopped on a street. But then again, nobody took a photo.
With the determination that the Quaker displayed on his face and in his eyes, nobody tried to stop him either. What some bystanders did, was to coax him into releasing his eleven-month-old daughter whom he was holding close to his body as if to shield her from this world, or himself. After some reflection, he handed his baby girl to a woman who ventured closest to where he was sitting, a woman whose name could have been Sophia Farrar but wasn’t. Then, once he was certain this stranger who was now holding his child had gained enough distance, he lit a match like he imagined Thich Quang Duc had done. While people were watching, alas, he did not become a martyr, he became a lost footnote in one of the many books historians would eventually write about the Vietnam War. We don’t remember Sandra Zahler or Norman Morrison, a woman slain by her ex-boyfriend on Christmas day, a man who immolated himself on a public street in the Nation’s capital. There’s a lingering fascination with the death of Kitty Genovese but alas, not with her person. We know as little about her than we know about Sandra Zahler or Norman Morrison. We don’t know Catherine Susan or Kitty; we don’t know her two lives. What we remember is how her brutal murder supposedly happened, the unwillingness of onlookers to heed her desperate screams for help. Writer Harlan Ellison put it this way: “witnessed by thirty-eight neighbors, not one of whom made the slightest effort to save her, to scream at the killer, or even to call the police.” We know this to be factually wrong, but does it matter? A little more than twenty years after her murder, she did make it into an issue of what might very well be the most celebrated and most influential comic book series ever published. When she did, she had neither a face nor a voice. This Kitty Genovese had ordered a dress that came with a unique design aspect. A white fabric with black dots that reacted to motion as well as heat to create the impression you were wearing ink blots that were in constant motion, to make it seem as if a still wet black liquid had been spilled across a pristine table cloth, or this dress, black ink, or the type of black syrup used as a substitute for human blood in movie productions. We learn about this from an unskilled worker at the garment factory that produced this specific dress: “Customer young girl, Italian name. Never collected order. Said dress looked ugly. Wrong. Not ugly at all. Black and white moving. Changing shape… but not mixing. No gray. Very, very beautiful.” Since nobody claims the dress, the worker, whose name is Walter Joseph Kovacs, simply takes the dress home. However, it’s not to his satisfaction yet. In an ironic twist on demented killer Ed Gein, who cut human skin to fashion himself a dress that made him look like a woman, namely his beloved, deceased mother, Kovacs has other plans: “When I had cut it enough it didn’t look like a woman anymore.” In consequence, both acts are deeply misogynistic. Soon thereafter, he comes across the customer’s name in a newspaper: “Raped. Tortured. Killed. Here in New York… outside her own apartment building. Almost forty neighbors heard screams. Nobody did anything. Nobody called cops. Some of them even watched. Do you understand?” We know this to be factually wrong as well, in our world. Kitty wasn’t raped in front of her neighbors. She wasn’t tortured. But then, some of what we learn through Kovacs’ eyes fits to the original reporting. He takes all of this to mean something, that Kitty’s death and the way it happened reveals some truth about the human condition, a hitherto unseen pattern, thus Kovacs acts in the only way that actually makes sense to him: “I took the remains of her unwanted dress… and made a face that I could bear to look at in the mirror.” He can only see black or white. Never the grays. In the world created by Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons in Watchmen, he becomes a vigilante, Rorschach. Evidently, Moore based Rorschach on Steve Ditko’s Mr. A, his most Ayn Rand influenced comic character. Still, there are several ironies at play here. While Kitty is not given a face, Moore has Kovacs wear a dress made for Kitty as his face, but only after it no longer looked “like a woman”, thus the subtext becomes text. Whereas Kovacs’ myopic point of view doesn’t allow for any grays, Catherine Susan Genovese could see grays, because she herself was not black or white. And lastly, what Kovacs does to the dress i.e. to cut it to pieces and to rearrange the pieces until they fits to the way he reads his world (or deconstructing and reconstructing to use literary terms), had already been done by other men to quite the contrary result. 1964 was also the year when Warren Publishing began to put out a black and white horror magazine that brought back some of that horror feel to comics that hadn’t been seen since the Comics Code had put an end to EC Comics’ horror and crime comics. Five years later, Warren began to publish a magazine that recontextualized not only the role of women as victims in popular fiction, but specifically the perception of women who possessed supernatural abilities, women who were in league with Satan if not quite literally his spawn. Perhaps it was a move motivated to alleviate some of that guilt men felt when they realized that certain fantasies were less cool when you were confronted by the reality of a newspaper headline, but most likely, James Warren and his editor Forrest J. Ackerman understood that if women with magical powers weren’t any longer bad, but bad girls, this would help to sell magazines. Still, they had stumbled upon a unique idea, and once the sexual revolution became mainstream in the days before disco, the days of dark romance novels, key parties, women in flower print dresses and thong sandals, men wearing ascots to cover up an unseemly hickey, and recreational marijuana, there was no way of knowing where this would go. At Marvel Comics, this didn’t go unnoticed. In 1968, publisher Martin Goodman had brokered a new deal with Independent News which allowed for a better distribution of his comics and magazines, not comic magazines just yet. Shortly thereafter, when he sold his shingle Magazine Management Enterprises to the Cadence Industries Corporation (then known as Perfect Film), he broke free from a distributor which had tied him down considerably. Signing with the Curtis Circulation Company gave him the control he’d always craved. It also gave his comic book creators a new venue to put out comic book magazines that leaned into the new horror trend while emulating what Jim Warren was doing. Even as the Comics Code Authority began to soften its stance on horror content in comic books, in magazines they could be a lot more daring with risqué content geared at older readers, mostly boys between twelve and fifteen. Thus, the stage was set for writer/editor Roy Thomas to do what Walter Kovacs would to in Watchmen in the near future, i.e. to reconceptualize the murder of Kitty Genovese by rearranging the pieces, only he did it in reverse. Like Warren had, Marvel followed the new trend of horror which had started in the late 1950s when the classic Universal horror films were shown on local television, and with the subsequent rise of Hammer Productions. But it was a gothic horror revival. Warren had emulated this trend, and to great results, but they also used contemporary settings into which they incorporated said gothic horror tropes, most noticeable in their Vampirella magazine, and especially with the tales centered around the titular character, a character Thomas was about to “re-work” (i.e. copy) for Marvel’s magazine line. But not unlike in his earlier comic book work, like in his Avengers stories, he very much intended New York City to be a character in its own right. Consequently, on a page that is often overlooked when the story he wrote for Vampire Tales No. 2 (October 1973) is reprinted, he introduced the setting before he even showed readers his latest creation (co-created by artist John Romita that is) i.e. Marvel’s version of the good bad girl in horror comics. Thomas left little doubt about how he perceived the city he lived in. He also heavily evoked the memory of the murder of Kitty Genovese, either consciously, or because it had become part of the zeitgeist as an urban legend by now. The first page showed a stock photo of a most depressing city block of brick tenement buildings imaginable with an equally bleak looking street below and between them. Literally a far cry from Kew Gardens in the mid-1960s, but the caption Roy Thomas wrote fit the mood Moore would go for in his version of Kitty Genovese’s death: “This is the city. New York. Manhattan. The Big Apple. Three miles wide, ten miles long and nearly two million people (not all of whom are nice).” Then we’re treated to a wordless page with eight panels that presents various shots of a young woman as she’s walking through an urban neighborhood at night. Obviously, she is beautiful, with a headscarf covering up most of her dark hair. She’s clad in short trench coat that poorly hides her long, shapely legs with their feminine calves which are accentuated by her high heels, heels that make a sensual clicking noise whenever they connect with the pavement. From the look of it, she’s garbed in some type of clingy bodysuit made from a shiny, elastic material that comes with a leather-like surface, but since her outfit is this form-fitting, chances are, it’s faux leather. Clearly, we’re reminded of panels from the aforementioned Avengers series Thomas wrote, and John Buscema drew, panels in which the World’s Greatest Heroes were often shown wearing similar coats, worn over their superhero costumes. It is an intriguing page, far less depressing than the photo, but there’s a pervy looking guy following her. Romita’s art with its usual clean, yet slightly wicked attractiveness that owed a lot to Milton Caniff, was already very good, and inking himself, and working for a black and white production which allowed for interesting ink wash effects, was well suited for him. But when we come to the next page, again there’s not one word spoken or one single caption, and we see that we get another eight-panel layout with the long, rectangular panels arranged into tiers of four, and we become aware of the changing perspective, as if to mirror an inner turmoil, Romita betrays another artist’s long shadow. The page, in fact the entire sequence is very reminiscent of Bernie Krigstein’s work at the end of EC Comics’ New Trend line of titles, their famous horror and crime comics. We also notice that the young woman is all alone, and that she’s now trying to evade this unsavory character who’s following her. And as this creep catches up with her, we get our first line of dialogue, from him, since like Kitty Genovese in Watchmen, she has no voice, at least not yet. He says: “H’lo, girlie.” That’s all. We don’t need more. From this and his disheveled, maniac appearance even we can see the monster. As we get to the third page, again with eight panels, and now the blacks get a little blacker, still leaving room for some gray that bleeds in, the situation becomes dire. Clearly, as presented in three close-up shots of her symmetrical face, she’s getting very frightened. And for a good reason. The man, this monster has cornered her, as the man mocks her for not screaming. It is a bit disappointing for him since it breaks a pattern, he considers foreplay. This isn’t the first time he’s backed a young woman into a corner, a woman he’s seen walking by on a deserted city street at night. Now he forcefully disrobes her, only to reveal what she has on under her coat which is flung wide open under his coarse, brutal hands. We see that she isn’t wearing a jumpsuit, but leggings and a revealing, midriff baring, cropped top that exposes her white, luminous skin beneath her firm breasts and appears to be made from the same material as her pants. Her skin, presented in this titillating manner, her look, her voluptuous body, sheathed into her provocative, impossibly tight-fitting attire were like a billboard with the just one word written on it: victim. Winston Moseley had stared at Kitty Genovese in her tight pencil skirt as he was driving down Jamaica Avenue in his white Chevrolet Corvair and Kitty was getting into her red Fiat. This woman’s hair though, with her headscarf coming loose, we see that it is long and that it is as red as Kitty’s car. It doesn’t matter that the four pages are in black and white, a woman with these eyes, with this look in her eyes, and such uniquely shaped eyebrows for that matter, must simply be a redhead. As with the previous page, the eighth panel marks the spot. It’s her turn now to speak as a retort to his taunt that she might as well try to fight him a little, he might enjoy that, three words also as a response to his sleazy prompt, to counter the two words he’d said to her initially: “Why should I?” With that, she lowers her eyelids. She smiles. “Why should I?”, she simply says. What the hell was going on, you wondered before you turned the page. Now, there were nine panels and now it was this woman who leaned in, closer to this disgusting individual. She was leaning right into him, like Sue or Debbie did whenever there was something frightening on the screen of the drive-in to be seen, which hardly ever there was, or when she was really into the other thing. The woman obviously was, as she now took this creep’s ravaged face into her hands. Then she leaned into him real hard with three panels given to their kiss, a kiss that literally sucked the life out of this vile creature, this monster. But even when he lay dead in her arms, she was still not done. Now she spoke, even as she reached into his mouth that had fallen silent presently and from here to eternity: “Yes, indeed, that’s the way I want it! Just as I want this small and wriggling thing you called your soul.” A soul that was magically or devilishly transformed into a tiny butterfly which she now held between her long fingers as she delivered a mocking eulogy, and her hair was a cascade of red that splashed over her back: “There won’t be a ‘next time’ for you, little man.” As she slowly backed out of the alley with light, dancing steps and the sway of her hips, a husk was staring at you that hardly resembled the man any longer that once had filled it with the privilege that came to you when you were born a man. Or so it seemed. You had to wonder who the real monsters were. Four years prior, when Forrest J. Ackerman, Tom Sutton and Trina Robbins created a vampire girl who wore a similar costume and who had the wings of a vampire bat whenever she wanted to, she was little more than a pin-up, a flop at first, they had inadvertently let something loose onto the world of horror fiction, a procession of nubile young beauties of a supernatural bent and a preference for skin-tight and barely-there attire. These women, with their long, bouncy hair and the figure of a supermodel, used magic and sexual wiles to doom men, and there was one among them who best drove home the idea that the days when men could get away with everything were numbered, that here was a new apex predator to take over their rule and to grind them into dust with her high heels, laughing into their faces as she did just that. Her name was Satana. She was the Devil’s Daughter. No man would burn her on the stake, no man was going to force the Mask of Satan on her face, a mask that had long spikes that looked like knives.
The idea of a woman, especially a woman who was highly attractive and sexually active, and who dared to choose her own partner or partners, was threatening, especially to a power structure that favored a patriarchal rule. It was like those women had a superpower of their own, but surely a destructive one. In the view of certain men this had to mean that they had forged an unholy alliance. A witch was easy enough to be dealt with. But a beautiful witch? You had to be pure in spirit lest you fell prey to her spell. Her punishment had to be most severe to set an example, to rein in any notion among other women or even men that this kind of behavior, this free love making, wouldn’t be tolerated. There is a certain dark irony in the fact that when President Ngo Dinh Diem brutally suppressed every religion that wasn’t the one he believed in, or on the other end of the spectrum, he promoted those who had converted to his Catholic faith, like his sister-in-law, this was as much a way to solidify his autocratic rule as it was learned behavior. The Spanish Inquisition, which lasted well into the 19th century, the witch-hunts that reached from the European continent even into what the colonists called “The New World”, these are not only examples of a targeted cleansing of undesirable elements in the name of God throughout history, they are also powerful reminders of a patriarchy lashing out against those who threatened its status, namely women who possessed a head of their own and a body to die for, that is unless such a woman got with the program like Madame Nhu. Herein lies the greatest irony in that you had to ask once again who the monsters were. Traditionally, horror fiction has always allowed for these themes to be explored under the guise of fairy tales and allegories. With the gothic horror revival of the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, witch-hunts and vampire witches, intent on sapping the energy and blood (and other juices) from their male victims began to populate the horror films of that period, both in American and European cinema. Perhaps there is no better example to illustrate this gloomy chapter of history of societies and mankind that works as a parable, with some subtle forth wall breaking, as well as a rather searing comment vis-à-vis the treatment of independently-minded women, not just in a past long dead but throughout time, than Mario Bava’s utterly remarkable movie “Black Sunday” (1960). It is even more astonishing for the fact that this was Bava’s first film as a director, a career choice he made when other creatives are well into many years of service. He was too, but not as a movie director. Bava was born in Italy in 1914, and since his father, a sculptor with ties to the Italian film industry, worked as a special effects photographer and cameraman, and his son often accompanied him to his shoots, it seemed a natural path for the boy to choose, to follow into his father’s footsteps, and so he did. Bava soon excelled as a cinematographer, and clearly, he had a distinctive visual style he developed over time since he had first lensed two movies for legendary filmmaker Roberto Rossellini in the late 1930s. After having worked in all types of genres in a local industry that was in its heyday, Mario Bava sat behind the camera on Italy’s first science fiction film and what is widely considered that country’s first horror film, Bava realized that he could only ever hope to fully shape a production according to his ideas if he went into directing. By doing so, remarkably on his first feature, he became Italy’s new top director at the age of forty-six, and in one fell swoop, he turned actress Barbara Steele into an overnight star in the horror genre. Born in England, Steele worked in her home country as an actress until her contract was sold to an American studio. After she’d wasted two years virtually doing nothing but sitting on a beach in Los Angeles, with receiving payment per her contract, but sans any offer for a film to appear in, she eventually decided to try her luck in the booming film industry of South Europe. With her unique look of high cheekbones and compelling, almost manic eyes, she was perfectly suited for the vampire witch Princess Asa and her doppelganger, Princess Katia in the movie Bava was putting together (with himself in the director’s and the cinematographer’s chair), a dual role Steele filled to perfection (though, as with most of her international productions, once “Black Sunday” made it to English speaking territories via American International Pictures, Steele was dubbed by another actress). The other star of this film is Bava’s cinematography with its deep blacks and highly expressionistic camera angles from a camera that is constantly on the move, a look that is beautiful and poetic and harkens back to the horror movie cycle of Universal Studios in the 30s in general, and rather specifically to Karl Freund, another genius cinematographer who became a director. Though set in what appears to be an almost hyper-gothic world of old castles, broken crypts and misty graveyards, “Black Sunday” and thus Bava owe a lot to Freund’s most famous films. “The Mummy” (1932) which he helmed but not shot, is an American cousin to Bava’s movie on a visual level, and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” from 1927 which has a very similar theme. The latter movie and “Black Sunday” are about two women each, an ingénue who appears as an empty vessel throughout the film (i.e. a blank slate that lacks personality) and an evil doppelganger who steals her likeness or her youth and beauty. With Freund lensing what is considered Lang’s best film, there is also a visual kinship to Bava’s gothic masterpiece. But then there’re Mario Bava’s distinctly Latin winks to the audience i.e. how he slips a meditation on gender roles into a horror film that is ostensibly just a scary movie, albeit a film that is very well made. However, this is the one theme that is as old as horror stories, if not older even, unless you don’t count fairy tales as horror. On its surface, “Black Sunday” is a film about a terrifyingly powerful witch, a terrifyingly beautiful witch, who is executed in a violent manner, only for her to rise from her premature grave two hundred years after these events, to exact her terrible revenge on the descendants of those who wronged her, namely on those members of her influential family that are still around. From the opening, there’s irony, though this one is outside Bava’s purview. In the English language version, we hear a narrator’s voice that tells us about what literally amounts to a holy war, the hunt for those who’re in league with Satan, vampires who hide among the living during times when “brothers did not hesitate to accuse brothers and fathers accused sons.” The place is Eastern Europe, Moldavia to be exact, and the time is the early 17th century. What seems intended as a justification for the brutal acts we are about to see, might make sense, there is one brother who accuses his sibling publicly and in the foulest manner, if indeed this was what Mario Bava puts on the screen and before our eyes, but it is not, thus our narrator becomes a tad unreliable. And if we can’t trust the words we hear, Bava offers a strong visual cue that clues us in that we shouldn’t trust the images either. What we see are groups of older men dressed all in black and a group of rather menacing looking, shirtless bodybuilder types who hide their identities by wearing a black executioner’s hood. These groups of men have assembled in a foreboding looking forest as judge, jury and hangmen at the trial of a witch. But the fix is in. There won’t be a trial and for good reason since the accused is in cahoots with the lord of flies. We are briefly introduced to Prince Vaida, a stern looking, bearded fellow who has brought forth his next of kin, his sister, Princess Asa Vaida. Even those of noble birth might be infected. Her nobility can’t protect her, not when her brother accuses her. Asa’s lover and loyal servant, Javutich has already been dealt with. Now it’s Asa’s turn. Tied to a torture rack with her back turned to the camera, the sign of Satan is branded into her skin. Then a metal mask is about to be nailed to Asa’s lovely visage. It’s the Mask of Satan and it is furnished with long spikes on the inside that are pointy and sharp as nails. But not so fast. Asa is clad in a demure white dress and her skin is very white and luminous against the shadows the trees cast and the black robes of the men. The words her brother speaks while he is almost giddy with anticipation stand in stark contrast to the white of her dress and her innocence. The Mask of Satan is a symbol of oppression, but with its long phallic spikes it is also a signifier of rape, of the body, and with Asa to be burned to dust and thus her face and her identity and her voice deleted, of the spirit and the soul as well. But what is intended as a show of force of religious masculinity is but a sign of total impotence, when the fire of men, intended to set Asa’s body, the body of the temptress, ablaze while she yet lives, is extinguished by a downpour that washes away not man’s sins but his vanity. We then cut two hundred years forward as we follow to medical doctors on their journey to a congress. The older man who is a mentor to young Doctor Gorobec, bribes their coach driver to take them through a forest that people say is haunted by the witch. Soon they come upon the crypt where Asa is entombed. Dr. Kruvajan behaves like an ugly tourist and it is he who rapes Ava even in death, figuratively. The man brandished his walking cane with reckless abandon and he even pulls his gun to shoot a large bat. When he does, he also trashes Asa’s sarcophagus, and since he’s cut himself, a few drops of his blood make it into the tomb, not touching Asa just yet. Once again, the symbolism is text not subtext, but then we’re introduced to Princess Katia, a descendant of Asa’s who’s a dead ringer for the dead witch, as she should be since she’s portrayed by the same actress. Though Katia seems a bit morose with her emo attire and two fierce looking dogs at her side that’re obviously wanted by Hades, young and attractive Dr. Gorobec is immediately smitten. That melancholy? He hardly noticed, all that he cares for is that she’s beautiful. Later, once the two men settle into the inn where they’re staying for the night, the young doctor in love wines to his mentor about how he simply longs for her and he wishes he could return to the castle that is conveniently located right next to the crypt. It doesn’t matter that he hardly knows the woman, not at all actually. When Asa later steals her youth, after the witch and her equally resurrected servant have unleashed massive havoc on the entire Vaida clan, including Katia’s brother Constantin (who looks like an Italian stand-in for Polish director Roman Polanski), an ordeal he surprisingly survives, Dr. Gorobec’s all heartbroken. How can he live on with Katia’s beauty gone from the world? She’s also basically dead, but that is a mere afterthought to him. But as luck would have it, things aren’t always how they appear, Bava seems to be saying. With Asa finally getting burned on the stake, while she’s still alive, she’s forced to release her hold on the young woman and Katia makes it back to the land of the living, and much to the young doctor’s relief, she’s completely back to her old self. But even as he shoots us parting glances from across the screen and from behind his camera, cinematographer and director Bava has one lasting bit of irony for us. When Gorobec and his new alley, a Van Helsing like priest, had gone up the castle to put an end to her revenge (she’d also made good work of her rapist Thomas Kruvajan) they needn’t do it alone. Bava imported a mob of agitated peasants, outfitted with pitchforks and burning torches, from one of James Whale’s Frankenstein movies to do Asa in. This they did. Now tied to an extremely high stake (well) Asa’s in the center of a fire, with hungry flames leaping up to her. This is what Bava chooses to end his film on, this and the laughter and loud cheers from the crowd. The monsters, who were they?
Readers who were intrigued by the introduction of Satana because they liked the story by Roy Thomas and the art by John Romita, or they liked this character who was basically Marvel’s version of Vampirella but who was still somewhat unique, were certainly caught off guard once they opened up the next issue of Vampire Tales. With the first story in Vampire Tales No. 3 (February 1974) given over to the beautiful spawn of the devil herself, Satana certainly looked different, and the city she moved in, was definitely not New York. Once they flipped through this 10-pager, appropriately titled “The Kiss of Death”, to see what else this horror mag had in store, readers came to a text feature penned by Carla Joseph who was a secretary first at Marvel and then at Curtis. Stan Lee had a nickname for everybody who hung around the bullpen, his nickname for Carla was “Cute”. In any case, the article told you about how John Romita had created the character visually, with much praise going to “The Jazzy One”, only that in her new tale, and in the artwork shown throughout the issue, Satana didn’t look anything like Romita’s original design except for the fact that she still had long, red hair but even that had changed. There was a pin-up near the end of the issue and save for the fact that her name appeared on the page, she was unrecognizable. Satana wore heavy goth eye shadow and a crown on her head with the horns of a ram or an Aries if you preferred the Zodiac sign, a symbol of strength, creativity and sacrifice. Speaking of sacrifice, ritualistic sacrifice, there were near naked bodies all strewn around her and a dude with a hood and a giant axe at her side who looked like he came right out of the opening of “Blood Sunday.” While Romita’s version had a wholesome American farm girl look about her, this Satana was erotic and dangerous, and she’d eat you alive should you dare to cross her. Literally, since Satana was succubus who feasted on the souls of men. In a cheerily tone, with which she somewhat awkwardly tried to emulate the voice of her boss Stan Lee, “Cute” Carla let readers know that the changes, the new design ideas, they were Romita’s. If they were, the artist had surely taken some classes in European art styles, classic art, and in the occult in the three months that had passed since the issue that had introduced the character had hit the high shelves at your local drugstore, those that held the magazines for older readers. Spinner racks were for little kids. As it were, the radical look, considerably toned down for the comic story itself, was the work of one man who’d found his way to the Marvel offices (not literally, since he lived in Spain and he send in his artwork via mail), because Jim Warren had run into trouble. When he’d started putting out comic book magazines that circumvented the Comics Code since they weren’t displayed as comics, he’d hired a group of old stalwarts from the EC Comics days like Al Williamson, Reed Crandall and Angelo Torres, or guys like Jerry Grandinetti who hailed from their stints at DC Comics. But Jim managed his successful brand rather poorly and distribution even worse. Soon he was hit with a shortage of cash, and with no moolah to go around, his top artist left quickly, them being freelancers and all. But if Warren was a poor businessman, he was still a crafty fellow. Soon he and his editor Archie Goodwin made overtures to one of the most untapped markets for comic book art, namely Europe. Since these excellent artists had no idea about the page rates that were paid in America, Warren sold them a bridge. The Spanish revolution was well underway at Warren Publishing when Marvel began to poach some of Jim’s talent. They’d also recruit some of the best artists directly from Spain, like Esteban Maroto and Enrique Romero, the latter already hard at work on the British sky series Modesty Blaise for writer Peter O’Donnell. Still, the guys wanted to work for Marvel, because who hadn’t heard of Marvel Comics, only that this wasn’t comics, it was better. But the art was only one part of the equation. With Thomas too busy with being the Man’s successor as editor-in-chief of Marvel, virtually every writer in the office had wanted a piece of Satana, especially once the first pin-ups by Maroto made it to the office, with artwork that was steeped in raw sexuality and came with a vibe of European horror cinema and no, not of the tame Hammer variety. As the heir apparent to Stan and Roy, Gerry Conway got the assignment. Conway was just twenty and he was writing Marvel’s biggest books. In 1971, Thomas had co-created Morbius, the Living Vampire, more of a throw-away Spider-Man villain who surprisingly had gotten a new lease on life in the magazines his new assignment appeared in. Morbius was on the cusp of getting really popular. Gerry was ready to do the same for Satana. She was definitely better looking than Michael Morbius. To achieve just that, the writer moved her from New York with its gloomy shadow of the Kitty Genovese murder to California, a land of hippies still, but more of cultists and often of the more satanic kind. Satana, specifically Satana as Maroto drew her, was perfect for this setting. Conway’s first story was nothing to write home about, though, except for his wicked sense of humor. He cast Satana in a world in which a Christian leader was the bad guy and an idealistic girl, a member of a cult of hobby Satanists no less, became a martyr when she saved the Devil’s Daughter from certain death, who, unbeknownst to her, was the genuine article. After this adventure, Thomas moved Satana to a different mag, The Haunt of Horror. So far, she hadn’t clicked with readers. She also got a bit of competition from her brother, Daimon Hellstrom, also known as The Son of Satan, of course. He appeared in comic books, though. When Gerry Conway began to plot the next stories for Mr. Hellstrom’s sister (unfortunately Esteban Maroto had moved on), he did quickly realize that he needed to do something unusual. Conway began to break down a character arc for her during which readers would learn why Satana was on Earth, not in Hell. The Four, a powerful cabal from the netherworld were making a play for daddy’s throne. Their agents on Earth had used powerful magic to sever all communications between father and daughter, with the latter now doomed to the walk the Earth. Naturally, the fiery redhead was pissed when she learned about this plot via her own dark magic. Satana was now the roommate of a friend of Ruth Cummins’, the young woman who had given her own life so Satana could live. On the downside, her soul didn’t even go to her daddy’s collection since she’d died saving a life, Satana’s. Like Ruth, Gloria Hefford, Satana’s latest BFF, wasn’t in on who her gorgeous, red-haired roommate was. For Satana to have someone to talk to who knew, the writer gave her a cat, a talking cat called Exiter, her familiar. While spying on the agents of The Four, Satana learned that they needed to make a sacrifice to seal the deal. Satana didn’t care much for that aspect, but she had learned the identity of the man who led the agents of the Four here on Earth. His name was Miles Gorney and he was a business tycoon. He was literally the man. However, before she could plot her revenge, Satana needed sustenance, and for a succubus, that meant taking the soul of a man. Santana hunted, and since she was in Los Angeles, she went to club on Sunset Boulevard, where she picked up an old womanizer, literally old. The guy she left with was way past his prime. While he’d gone to seed, he was surrounded by girls half his age who didn’t see him, not with his belly and his head going bald. Thus, when the sexy redhead in her revealing black leotard had approached him, he didn’t ask questions. He wouldn’t much longer anyway, because Satana killed him in an alley. Next she did some shagging herself when she got a Vietnam vet to do her bidding. Soon, the young guy, First Lieutenant Richard M. Corbett, waited on a roof with his M-16 in hand and the rifle’s telescopic attachment locked in on his target, the man Satana wanted killed. He fired, because Satana or no Satana he cared little if he killed the Viet Cong or this man he hadn’t heard of before she mentioned his name. Only seconds after he’d pulled the trigger, Satana appeared next to him on the roof, yet instead of rewarding him with her body, she killed him with a kiss that sucked all life from him until he was an empty husk and his soul a butterfly she sent to hell. He had done what she had asked him to do, what she had commanded him to do, but she had made a mistake. Gorney wanted to die. He was the intended sacrifice for her enemies. And thanks to her, he had become a martyr. It was anger at herself that made her kill Corbett. The story is interesting on many levels, the format is especially. Conway didn’t relate the events in a comic, but in a prose tale, which came with a set of illustrations like in a pulp magazine, courtesy of Pablo Marcos. Conway’s writing style is actually very good. As for the story structure, amazingly, we enter the story from the point of view of a cat, who is Exiter, only that we hadn’t been introduced to Satana’s feline familiar yet. Thus, we follow this cat as it prances around in the garden of an apartment building complex that is as uniquely Californian as it’s lightyears away from Thomas’ New York City, or Kitty Genovese’s for that matter. Then the cat finds its mistress who’s lounging in a garden chair. This is where Gloria Hefford lives, and a killer, who’ll become Satana’s assassin, not her killer, but a killer for her, and with the way Conway describes the sexy demon, with well-chosen words in lieu of Maroto’s pencils, we know this Army vet won’t be able to stand up to her. Neither would we: “Her hair was so red it was almost on fire, and her eyes were feline and gray as a cat’s. Her face was classic in its beauty, feminine yet austere, sensual yet cold, hard yet somehow soft. Her eyebrows were arched even in relaxation… And though the night was cool, she wore an outfit that was barely decent, a black leotard with several swathes cut from its cloth to reveal pale white skin. She did wear shoes, but they were strange – unwieldy fur boots that rose almost to her calves, with bits of bone and other trinkets attached to fur rim like ornaments.” She also had a most peculiar birthmark on her neck, the satanmark. A soul-stealer with the ability to control men, she was Asa by a different name.
Whereas text pieces in comic books or comic magazines were usually considered throw away material that was hardly ever read, with these crudely written stories intended as one-offs, Gerry Conway made this text story and another one he’d planned, an integral part of the story arc he’d mapped out for the Devil’s Daughter, so much so, that in the comic stories he had his artist do flashback scene to this first prose story. This was highly unusual, what is even more unique, even once he dropped the ball with the middle segment, his second act, another writer would use his treatment to build to something that was even better, a story that became a trial run for one of the most beloved comic storylines in the history of the medium. His name wasn’t Tony Isabella. But first, also in Haunt of Horror No. 2, Conway opened his second act, and this time readers got a comic story, a two-parter (it continued in issue No. 4) and as Satana went to a nether dimension to see if she could cross the barrier that kept her from hell this way, and with art by Enrique Romero, you got the sexiest looking Dr. Strange story that didn’t star the Master of the Mystic Arts. This time, Satana hooked up with a childhood friend, incubus Zannarth, who she had tricked, and friend zoned back in the day. Corbett had been a tool, and what Conway told readers about the vet, there was little sympathy to go around: “Richard M. Corbett was really quite insane.” On a side note, Conway and Artist Ross Andru had introduced a Vietnam veteran in the Amazing Spider-Man just a few months prior, Frank Castle, The Punisher, Marvel’s first anti-hero. Still, while Corbett served as a one-night-stand for the sexy succubus, her bond with Zannarth was a spiritual one, and while the two of them stood around and looked awesome (Satana did), Conway did what he did best, he explored the relationship of these characters. Zannarth: “Your powers frighten me, female. There’s something about you that reaches into a male gut… and tears his heart free.” Satana: “Is that why you hate me, Zannarth? Because I once did to you what I’ve done to our would-be attacker?” The incubus: “Perhaps.” But Gerry Conway did lack a proper handle on Satana’s personality, and when Tony Isabella took over for the next issue (it would be his only one), there was something vapid about his version of Satana. Haunt of Horror No. 4 (November 1974) still closed out the second act, with Satana at a turning point. Zannarth died since Satana had overestimated herself (this seemed to happen frequently with other paying the price), and after some in-fighting among the Four, the final boss showed his face, none other than Mr. Gorney. With Satana as confused about what was going on as the readers, she had yet to hit the lowest point. That she did when the third act of her character arc kicked off with the second prose story envisioned by Conway, and readers didn’t even have to wait for it, you only needed to turn a couple of pages. But what this was, was pure magic. When Thomas had been looking for a new writer for Satana, Stan’s new golden boy had first right refusal, and Isabella wanted to write her as well, because she looked nice, but another writer had thrown his hat in the ring, a writer who was two years older than wunderkind Gerry Conway, though he was a relatively new addition to the Marvel team. But what he lacked in experience, he made up in subject matter. He was born in England, but when his mother grew tired of an England, a London that was still in a post-war funk and you still only got things like food on rations, she uprooted her family. He’d later say: “My mother’s attitude was that she was tired of rationing… She was tired of crap… she wanted steak.” Thus, at the age of three he left Great Britain, but he’d visit often since there was still family to visit, and there were old myths that fascinated him. Soon, he was into the occult with like-minded friends. Thus, in his mind, the two poles came together that would shape his writing career: dark, unknowable powers, and strong women who wanted to break away from a life that consisted of little portions served one at a time, women who wanted to taste raw meat and raw experiences. Satana was tailor-made for him. Thus, Chris Claremont embarked on a journey that would lead to Dark Phoenix, a journey that began with a badly beaten Satana, discarded in a dark alley of an urban city, hardly alive, and in a way, this was Kitty Genovese all over again. It was also a do-over of Conway’s first Satana comic story, only that Claremont did it much better, and his writing style was, surprisingly, also much better. In “Doorway to Dark Destiny” we are introduced to a young surgeon named Michael Heron who’s just pulled a long shift at his hospital after a massive and rather deadly pile-up on one of L.A.’s highways. It triggers his memories of Vietnam which he compares to this accident (Claremont is excellent this early on when he compares the work of a medical team in a combat zone to one in an E.R. Somebody has to make the tough call who gets emergency treatment and who is too far gone to be dealt with in the little time there is). We also learn of his decision to become an ex-priest, since he couldn’t love this one kid who killed women and children and who was asking him for forgiveness. We also learn about his friend, not quite his friend, Jimmy Cruz who has stuck with it and who bounces around the intensive care unit to offer the last rites to those whose time has come. As Heron walks home in the little hours, he comes across a black cat that forces him into the alley where he finds a woman who’s barely holding on. Then strange things happen. When a man comes to the alley with a gun to finish the job, the cat transforms. Not much is left of the killer beyond that point. Heron gets Satana to his apartment because this is what the cat who is a cat again, wants him to do. A few hours later, to Heron’s surprise, a near naked Satana is up and standing in his kitchen. She’s apparently much better. But she’s also in for a surprise. He is the first man she cannot control. When Heron leaves the apartment to get a paper, things did get awkward back there, he learns how the woman got her groove back. He finds the drained body of the night porter in his hallway. Shortly thereafter, unsurprisingly, Jimmy Cruz shows up and he isn’t alone. He commands a number of Kennedy’s disillusioned Green Berets who’ve found a new cause, the destruction of all that is evil. The men take Heron captive but spare Satana whom they’d almost killed the other night, since with shots having been fired, one of the neighbors surely must have called the police by now. The Devil’s Daughter is more than ready to take the fight to Cruz and his men. With Exiter doing reconnaissance in the city and eventually at Cruz’s base of operations (the cat has telepathic link with its mistress) Satana finds one of the Green Beret. With the way she punishes the man to get him to reveal the location they have brought Heron to, if you thought of Christopher Lee’s Dracula as a ferocious beast, here you got Claremont telling you how a supremely pissed Satana beats an armed Beret to a bloody pulp. Her take down of the Vietnam vet makes your body hurt all over just from reading Claremont’s description. Then we get the final confrontation, Satana against the remaining men (Satana, she is boiling with rage since Cruz has flown in some demonic help to kill Exiter), ex-priest against priest. The latter encounter is made very poignant due to the history between the men and their understanding of the faith. Are those who kill in the name of God not evil all the same? Here’s looking at you, Prince Vaida. Once Satana has time to move on to Cruz, things don’t go so well for the man of the cloth. Pulling a Cushing, he brandishes a crucifix to drive the mad redhead back, only that it does nothing for him. Ultimately, Cruz’s own hatred has rendered him impotent like a certain group of men in Moldavia, or as Claremont has Satana put it: “You cry in vain, Cruz. As you have deserted your God, so has he deserted you. The scales are balanced.” Monsignor Cruz dies. Heron is ready to administer the last rites, and Claremont remains a bit vague, for dramatic effect, if even Heron makes it out alive. After all, Cruz has killed her cat. But Claremont wasn’t done yet. When Haunt of Horror No. 5 (January 1975) hit the magazine racks, a few months before Len Wein and Dave Cockrum re-launched the X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men No. 1 (with uncredited script input by Claremont), Claremont closed the third act of Conway’s Satana arc in a comic story, and did he ever do another great job. What is even more remarkable, he did it in collaboration with an artist that many would consider old school. Born in 1920, George Evans was thirty years older than the writer. During a decades long career, Evans had done it all and to this day he remains one of EC Comics’ most underrated artists. However, if you thought that the artist was stuck in the 1950s somehow, you had another thing coming. Though he kept some of that classic, clean art he was renowned for, a style that was perfectly suited for the war and crime comics he’d worked on, for “If This Be Hell…?”, he adopted a sensual, slick style that gave his classically attractive characters, and even his settings, a sense of carnal lust that was surprising but wildly appropriate for the over-sexed, sweaty 1970s with their women in low-cut leotards and their men with a big mustache, broad shoulders and in open-collar shirts, this staging of machismo, bravado and sexual prowess that came with the sheen of an after shave commercial. In this decade, a man, a villain, a monster perhaps, would not be as impotent as Prince Vaida and his hooded and robed cohorts, not even when facing this woman of fierce independence and raw sexuality. Lesser men fell by the wayside, sure, as evidenced by the two men Satana demolishes at the beginning of the story, but it was time to go up against the big bad now, the puppet master behind the scenes, Miles Gorney. Satana needn’t do it alone, alas, Michael Heron had survived, and he wanted to help. Looking at the handsome ex-priest with his orderly 1960s hair and his soft features, this man who wore turtleneck sweater under his suit jacket, the gorgeous redhead concluded that he better wore protection. She bestowed a sacred ring upon him, the Azshiran, an object she deemed more effective than his faith. She was wrong. Soon, an emissary from hell showed up who presented her with an invitation to see Mr. Gorney. To make this more convincing, the trickster demon showed her his calling card: Michael Heron’s left hand, cut at the wrist, the Azshiran still worn on one of its fingers. Soon, Satana found herself in the reception room to Gorney’s corporate offices, and with this crush of beautiful assistants you couldn’t help but be reminded of H.H. Holmes. When she and Gorney met, they had seen each other briefly before, he was all that, a man’s man, and like any man with confidence, he presented the tokens of his achievements to her, only in her case, it was a freak show of horrors, a very personal one. There was incubus Zannarth, this male she’d friend zoned who had still given his life to her, only that he was in a state of dead not being dead, and that he now begged her to grant him deliverance. Then there was her cat, its eyes now blank circles since they were in want of their pupils like Orphan Annie’s. Then there was her current lover, ex-priest Michael Heron, stripped to the waist, his crucifix on a chain still attached to his neck, which was more than could be said for his left hand. If this be hell? This was hell, contained in a sleek business penthouse with an orgy going on as these events unfolded. Of course, Heron gave his life trying to save this woman.
Haunt of Horror No. 5 was the “Daddy Issue”, in case readers hadn’t guessed this by now. Satana had. Was there ever a more manly man, a bigger daddy than Satan? Lo, there wasn’t. Miles Gorney was but a mask worn by the Devil himself. This whole thing, all what she’d gone through, it was a ruse of Satana’s dad to see if she was a worthy offspring. In the end, since she was a self-respecting woman of the 1970s after all, and since she had read a couple of issues of Stan and Jack’s Thor, she told her old man to fuck off and in no uncertain terms either. Thus, daddy pulled the old Galactus card and he banished Satana to Earth, forced to walk the streets that had names and not the eternity of hell, but not so fast. To her, this was not punishment, in Claremont’s mind it certainly wasn’t: “For the first time, she is free.” He’d free another redhead soon, but still he wasn’t done with Satana, not yet. After incorporating her in an issue of Marvel Spotlight, a comic book that now starred her brother, once Satana returned to a Marvel magazine, all bets were off. For Marvel Preview No. 7 (Summer 1976), with an incredible cover by Bob Larkin, an incredibly sexy-looking, highly suggestive cover, Claremont teamed-up with another Spanish master artist, Vicente Alcazar, and this 31-page story became his pièce de résistance. If readers knew the writer by now from writing Marvel’s suddenly extremely popular X-Men comic book series, this was one that was not for the kiddies. “Damnation Waltz” starts with a young woman, Judith Chamber, who returns home from an assignment, in an amazingly rendered page one might add. Judith was a writer, but she was also a wife and a mother, and she had come to the conclusion that she needed to cut down on the former to fulfill the other role life had given to her. Unfortunately, once she enters the residence, she finds her family slain in the most brutal fashion, with her husband decapitated and his head put on wood pillar just for show. This is when Judith has a complete breakdown. Soon her late husband’s buddy shows up, his business partner and friend of the family. One look at this smarmy creep and we suspect some serious foul play, especially once he begins to feed Judith sedatives. But again, things aren’t what they seem. Judith begins to realize that there’s something seriously wrong with her. She has nightmares of another life, a life in which she looks different and she behaves differently, and once we fellow Judith on her journey through a Los Angeles of curio shops with their dusty old tomes and tokens of the occult, and abandoned, desanctified churches made into temples for the worship of deities as old as Lovecraft’s ancient gods, the woman from Judith’s dream takes over her body and mind. Still, she has the strength to admit what she already knows: once her dreams began, she’s no longer satisfied with a life lived in small servings, though afraid, she’s tired of rationing. Judith Chamber, writer, wife, mother, has tasted the steak, now she wants the whole bloody thing. Clearly, Judith is Satana, but trapped in this mortal form, a scheme set in motion by four mystical beings and their agent on Earth with the intent to weaken Satana to better kill her. On its surface, this is Claremont rehashing Conway’s original plot, but with a twist. In a way, he reversed engineers “Black Sunday” with Judith as Princess Katia, a woman very much devoid of anything that resembles a personality, a blank slate, and Satana, the Devil’s Daughter no less, cast as the much more exciting Princess Asa. It’s also interesting to note that this tale was published six years prior to Warrior No. 1, the magazine in which a young Alan Moore brought back UK superhero Marvelman in a similar fashion. Mickey Moran, a writer, led an ordinary life only that in his dreams he could fly, frightening dreams at first. Moore used this to retcon much of Marvelman’s origin, and Chris Claremont does the same to a degree since we learn (rather conveniently for the story he’s telling) that when Satana was born, her soul was bonded with an awesome demon named Basilisk. Thus, when our smarmy pal manages to split blonde Judith from her Satana persona, and he’s about to sacrifice Satana in her ecto-plasmic form on the altar of a desanctified church, her death will be an end and a beginning. He’s like Dr. Kruvajan who desecrates Asa even in her tomb. With a long knife raised over his head, he’s a brother to Winston Moseley and Ted Bundy. Moseley killed Kitty Genovese on the thirteenth, Bundy killed thirteen women in 1974 (there would have been fourteen, but his first victim managed to escape). And what does the man scream as he’s about to plunge his knife into the body of a woman who is two women: “thou who art thirteen times thirteen! The hour of sacrifice is at hand!” Judith screams as well, does she ever scream, to warn him that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. His overconfidence, a little something she knows a lot about by now, will be the end of him, of her, the end of everything. In a way, he, Brian Abelard, was a man who blindly followed the orders of the Camarilla of the Elder Gods, he who told his followers that the situation was normal, only it wasn’t. Abelard was artillery commander Colonel Piroth born again and this was March 13, 1954. All said and done, Abelard’s actions didn’t cause the end of everything, but the end of the empire of the Camarilla on Earth, and among the rubble, the blood and the broken bodies, Abelard’s, who still held on to his knife. But what it was, after Judith (and thus Satana) had reclaimed and fully embraced the demonic entity (her Phoenix Force, if you will) was an end and a beginning. Satana, now in control and Judith gone, was towering above everything, clad in a more comic book friendly outfit, the one Claremont and artist Sal Buscema had already tested for Satana’s appearance in Marvel Spotlight. This story also marked a change for the man Chris Claremont. The writer was transforming. His style had been very sparse, to the point, now it betrayed a propensity for overblown dialogue, and emotions, and melodrama, with characters stating their state of mind and well-being and motivations on pages that were nearly blackened out with captions and speech bubbles, and words, so many words. When crime novelist James Ellroy was told by his publisher to shorten his current manuscript by about two hundred pages, the writer famously didn’t change the story or any of his subplots, instead he excised five to ten words from every sentence. Claremont did this in reverse to his own style. Arguably his prose tale “Doorway to Dark Destiny” remains one of Claremont’s best works where his style is concerned, yet “Damnation Waltz”, influenced by his mother, and very likely by Bava’s “Black Sunday”, brought him this close to the Dark Phoenix Saga. Just two months after Marvel Preview No. 7, he introduced Phoenix to the readers in X-Men No. 101, a new personality for a mild-mannered X-Men character named Jean Grey, also known as Marvel Girl. The cover for the issue mirrored Larkin’s for the magazine. He and artist John Byrne (who was born in England like Claremont) began their Dark Phoenix Saga in earnest in X-Men No. 129 (January 1980), an issue that, coincidence or not, introduced a young teenager named Katherine Pryde, a young girl with an ethnic background who had an outgoing, fun character as well as serious side to her, a girl who called herself Kitty. As for Jean Grey, she gave in to her dark nature and eventually died. Though, in all fairness, this hadn’t been the original end for the character as envisioned by Claremont and Byrne, Chris Claremont once again did a test run. A year prior to the publication of the landmark issue that, to the utmost shock of many readers, saw the demise of Jean Grey, who’d become immensely popular when she was transformed into Phoenix, in Marvel Team-Up, Claremont showed readers the most gorgeous and powerful version of Satana yet, courtesy of the art team of Mike Vosburg and Steve Leialoha. Clad in a long black dress that featured a slit that reached well below her navel and dangerously high slits on both sides, with a tight leggings underneath, Satana wore an attire that was a combination of Romita and Maroto’s design ideas, and now finally she wore the crown with the crooked horns of a ram on her head. This Satana was grace and beauty. With but a finger she exuded more sexual energy than was needed to burn up the pages. Consequently, this much power given to a woman, such an awesome ability to control men, could not be allowed free rein. Thus, Claremont cosplayed as Prince Vaida and he killed her off in the same issue. Satana got better, though.
With his “Black Sunday” as one of the most seminal horror movies ever made, five years later the master director set out to do the same with another one of his films, in the science fiction genre. There’s a very intriguing line of dialogue that occurs near the one-hour mark of “Planet of the Vampires”, in the English language version. We see a couple of men (and one woman), decked out in their leather space explorer uniforms, as they are standing guard around their spaceship, the Argos. Though they each hold a lonely vigil, the three patrol their posts individually, a laser rifle in hand, they are in communications with one another. As for the situation? “All ok”, Sanya replies, the woman, a gorgeous redhead. The next post to dial in, post number three confirms: “All fine here, too.” This little scene is as hilarious as it’s very telling. These men and this woman can’t be serious, right? After following a distress call, they are stranded on Aura, an unexplored planet, that is until they can repair their engine, which is a big if. Even if, chances are that an unstable blast off will tear their ship to pieces. And if that wasn’t enough, the crew of their sister ship, the Galliott, are all dead, and they too are slowly getting picked off by an unseen enemy. In the previous scene we learned that this enemy was not that invisible after all. Still pretty shaken by the attack she has just experienced, Tiona, the second female crew member of the Argos, a platinum blonde playmate of the month type, whose visage doesn’t betray much intelligence really, told Sanya what she saw: “I looked right at them… They were humans. Not ghosts. Empty faces. Dead faces” And, if anyone should know about empty faces, dead faces even, it’s probably this woman who doesn’t get much else to do in the movie than to look pretty, provide fodder for jump scares, and to scream a lot. Still, outside, walking but not going anywhere, we have our three crew members, including two of our most valuable players, as they tell each other that the “situation was normal, all fouled up.” No, certainly not “fouled up”, it was all fucked up. Yet admitting that would be admitting defeat. But this was Dien Bien Phu, and our Captain Mark Markary (seriously) was Colonel Piroth. It’s near the one-hour mark of “Planet of the Vampires” that we learn something that the characters we see on the screen don’t yet know, or don’t have accepted as gospel just yet. Like the men in the garrison in the Valley of Death, the crew members of the Argos are overrun by an enemy that is invisible but shows a force of strength, he is one, but he’s also legion. What they are up against is not more than a wraith, a collection of many souls that act and think as one, with all traces of individuality cancelled out. But once you are about to die, and you accept this thing, once you are willing to sacrifice your individuality, you are good to go among these Viet Minh. Yet we learn something else from this brief scene, if it wasn’t already apparent from what we’ve seen in the hour that has passed, we are in the hands of a genius filmmaker. There is a reason why this film has had such a huge influence on “Alien” (1979) and “Prometheus” (2012), not just on its director Ridley Scott, but on the cinematographers, the sound designer and the set decorators, yes, even on H.R. Giger. This is a film about a being that sucks your individuality right out of your body like a certain redhead is wont to do with your soul (if you were a man in her case), thus in this little scene Bava gives us two men and a woman who stand apart, but are dressed identically, and when they talk to one another via their face-time devices, they spout off the same meaningless lines generations of soldiers before them knew how to say. How much individuality is in them, we wonder, and that is before they lose. “Planet of the Vampires” is a movie that shouldn’t work. The budget is laughable, especially for a science fiction movie. The actors all look the same, which is ironic since they are from different Latin countries except for our Captain who is played by American Barry Sullivan (who was well past his prime which is very noticeable whenever he appeared next to Sanya, the female lead, portrayed by gorgeous German-Brazilian actress Norma Bengall who was almost twenty-five years his junior). The acting, if that’s what you want to call it, is borderline campy, not in the least since the dialogue is pretty awful, too. The plot, such as there’s one, is a fairly unimaginative rehash of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The One Who Waits” (1949). As far as narrative and story structure are concerned, there’s a huge plant (they explain why a spaceship needs a meteor rejector, how it works and why it’s next to impossible to venture into space without any such device. So yes, you are right, this thing will become important later on, for the plot twist to happen near the end of the movie), but if they shone a massive stage light on it, it would have actually been far less clumsily an introduction with the way they did it in the movie. And considering all this business and the hoopla that goes on around the meteor rejector, so much you might think this movie is about this rather dull device, the payoff at the end is fun, but also kinda cliché. Whereas “Black Sunday” worked from a story perspective, it is, after all, a fairy tale and a powerful allegory, you can make a valid argument that “Planet of the Vampires” sounds a warning bell about the individuality negating effects of Communism, or the dangers of Colonialism or Militarism or whatever, but that’s an idea, not a story. As a story, when told, “Planet of the Vampires” is a mind-numbing dull. But then again, this was not a story, but a movie. And if “Black Sunday” was his masterpiece as director and cinematographer, you got all that here, but also his talent on special effects and set design. First off, this is an absolutely gorgeous looking film. The use of color alone is highly unusual and very evocative, and the visuals, including the props and the look of the stage, the stagging and shot blocking, all feed into a growing sense of dread that far surpasses all American productions at that time (technically it was a half-American production) and is only rivaled by “Alien”. Interestingly, that film’s second most famous scene (you know its most famous one), “the space jockey scene”, is more or less directly taken from Bava’s film, which is also incredibly effective. Here we follow Markary and Sanya as they explore the ancient spaceship of other explorers who’d followed the same distress call, only in what appears to be centuries ago, explorers that were giants. Confronted by technology he doesn’t understand, the Captain of the Argos behaves a lot like Dr. Kruvajan, he’s clearly more of a colonist than an explorer. Sanya is a bit more sensitive towards the gigantic devices (and the marvelous set Bava and his crew have built), though as was custom in those days, the lovely actress has the thankless role of looking pretty or afraid most of the time. Bengall does both pretty excellently and her look in a tight, gray leather uniform, which she doesn’t wear in this particular scene, has become a bit iconic and most certainly helped to promote the film. It’s also interesting to note, that Scott and his screenwriter Dan O’Bannon swore up and down that they’d never seen the film after “Alien” premiered and reviewers notices the similarities. O’Bannon has since reversed his stance and admitted that, yes, we stole that from “Planet of the Vampires”. Bava’s film is indeed the strange outlier in that virtually all of the movie’s strengths are derived from its atmosphere and the subtext it creates which goes beyond the most obvious reads. The vampires of the title are not meant to be taken literally, but metaphorically. There’s the theme of loss of individuality, but what Don Siegel has said about his movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, Bava could have also stated that it goes further than any political affiliation. What this is, at its core, is the dream of an old man to be important once more, not be phased out and exchanged for a younger model. It’s no coincidence that the man who’s ostensibly our hero does give in to those who have called them, while his much younger, more attractive engineer fights till the end. Markary is the one with a lot to lose and the most to gain. When they cannot make it back to their home world at the end of the film, since engineer Wescant has damaged the meteor rejector to a point Markary can’t repair it, he takes this in stride. Standing at the helm of the ship, he sets course for Earth, and with the lovely, young Sanya next to him, you can almost see the wheels inside his head click, control by an alien lifeform be damned. On Earth, a contemporary Earth of the 60s, he was going to be a new Adam. He’d rule supreme, despite his age. As for his Eva, why, she was standing right next to him. If he’d ever grow tired of her, which he should once she got older, there were plenty of Earth women to choose from. It was an island, this Earth, but it was also paradise. Now, one could argue that it was an angel who made all of this possible, this wet dream of an aging man (Bava was just two years younger than Sullivan) with the name of the actor who played Wes Wescant (again, seriously?) being Ángel Aranda and all, but that might be taking it a bit far. Still an interesting coincidence. However, what Bava’s movie would lead to, was the creation of a (fictional) woman who was as lovely as Sanya, if not more so, and indeed, there’d be an Adam at her side, not an old man (older gentlemen would be there, too, but only as remnants of a past that hadn’t known the virtues of free love), and this Adam would look dangerously similar to the Italian studs in a Mario Bava movie, as virile and adapt at love making as such a woman could demand.
The film was a bust. Sure, you got a sexy redhead, and an airhead of a platinum blonde va-va-voom girl who really knew how to scream, but there were no vampires in “Planet of the Vampires”. What a scam. And if you wanted to know about scams, you only needed to ask this man, who in 1969 was exactly the same age as actor Barry Sullivan. As he sat in his cramped office with magazines, proofs and paperback novels strewn all around him, on his Formica desk, on the shelves, the file cabinet and even on the floor, he was playing with the ornate ring he was wearing, not his wedding band mind you. Since he and his wife were taking a break, that one had vanished into one of his drawers underneath his desk. The ring he wore looked a little something like the Azshiran, the magical ring Satana gave to Michael Heron for protection. In fact, the redhead would have known what to do with this man who had to remind her of that Henry “Hank” Johnson, “pushing forty, partially bald, overweight and under-developed”, this loser, this womanizer she’d picked out and picked up at club on Sunset Boulevard, except that Satana wasn’t real, and that he wasn’t overweight, but he wore horn-rimmed glasses, part of his disguise, a ruse, like the ring. Glasses made you look smart, and this ring, it was special. It was a gift from Aleister Crowley, the famous mystic and occultist his own mother had called “the beast”. This ring had value, showing it off at parties got you all kinds of attention, the right kind. And if a girl was willing to go the whole nine yards, one of those naïve college co-eds in their mini dresses and knee-high boots, he’d bestow this one of a kind ring on her. Only of course it wasn’t. He had a whole box made. Anyway, this was a much more rewarding scheme, he sincerely hoped it was. At least he wouldn’t get arrested for it like in 1960, when he’d mailed a couple of obscene letters to a bunch of young girls who’d sent him fan letters since they were into horror movies, science fiction movies and all that jazz. He’d managed to build up a reputation as a super-fan, and when he and Jim Warren began to put out Famous Monsters of Filmland, intended as a one-shot originally, this thing had really taken off. A fanzine in spirit only, this was a slick magazine that opened the right doors to him, not just in literary circles, he had those from being a literary agent, but to the Hollywood crowd. He got invitations to have walk-ons in movies and he was even mentioned by name in several books and movies. Forrest J. Ackerman got it made, he only wished he could get laid by a really hot-looking girl; and the girls these days, and the clothes they wore. Again, he thought about “Planet of the Vampires”. The two girls in the flick were surely easy on the eyes. Now if only there were vampires in this movie that looked like a crazy LSD dream with all those weird colors, vampire girls, sexy vampire girls. Then it struck Forrest J. Ackerman what an idiot he was. He jumped up from his chair and into the air, figuratively. Then he ran over to the office next door where he found Jim talking to one of the artists he worked with, mostly cast-offs from Marvel and DC, even some of those who had worked at EC until they’d ruined the industry for everybody. Back in the day, comics could get away with a lot of stuff, stuff of the kinky variety. But his publisher had found a way around the Code. Warren was not the first guy who tried this, comics camouflaged as magazines. Carl Wessler had put a comic magazine, but he didn’t have Jim’s distribution or other successful magazines to his name. For a time, Warren had even worked with Gloria Steinem. And after a few try-outs in one of the mags, with what Jim had called “Monster Comics”, in 1964, he had begun to put out Creepy, a year later Eerie and a war comic, Blazing Combat. With that, he was well on his way of becoming the next Bill Gaines, only he wouldn’t fuck it all up. Of course, Ackerman knew, and Jim knew, that Gaines was doing just fine. The bastard who’d struck oil with MAD, now sat on the board of directors of Warner Communications. But that didn’t matter at this moment. Almost beside himself with excitement, Ackerman told Warren about his idea. She could even be a host like Uncle Creepy, in her own magazine. And there would be stories that featured her in a prominent role. Nobody wanted to see Uncle Creepy or Cousin Eerie in a yarn, but a vampire girl? You betcha. This sounded all sweet and dandy to Jim, but what about the stories and who to write and draw them? Well, for starters, the artist who had just handed in his artwork for a story for Creepy wasn’t that averse to the idea to be drawing a sexy vampire lady in a comic magazine. At Marvel Comics, the Code wouldn’t let Jim Steranko draw buttocks on his girls and if one of his sexy female spies was shown from behind, Steranko had to make sure that she wore an unwieldy belt that covered up her assets. With Jim Warren you could basically draw a girl butt naked that was if you found a creative way to cover up her private parts, the irony being that if you draw her fully clothed, you could actually get away with much more, since her attire would quite literally be painted on. But who to write a story about this girl who lived on a planet of vampires? Ackerman was chomping at the bit, but a writer of comic stories he just wasn’t. But flush with success (if not money, but neither Forrest nor the artist needed to know that) he could well imagine that another magazine would do gangbusters, if marketed the right way. Jim had to admit that his idea was actually pretty genius. Their readers were boys, he only wished he still had Wally Wood kicking around the office, but Wally got busy with paperback cover illustrations. The artist did a fine Wood impression, and thus he gave the assignment to Tom Sutton who seemed to like Ackerman’s idea as well. However, Sutton was no Wood, nobody was of course, other than Wally Wood. When they left Jim’s office, Sutton had a new assignment, and Ackerman got a sexy girl. When they handed in their work, there was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Vampirella, that was the moniker they had given to this vampire girl, was obviously a star in the making. Right on the first page, readers were introduced to her close up and personal. Very personal, since she was under the shower, only that on her planet it was not water that ran from the tap, but blood. The next page was a full-page splash that depicted her, you guessed it, naked again (well, as naked as they could). The third page came with yet another splash page, though there was a little insert panel that showed a vampire dude as he drank from a fountain of blood. The rest of the page showed a futuristic city that did look kinda neat, and there was Vampirella, in an outfit for a change. She wore a cropped, backless top and the tightest pants imaginable, the type of pants that in the world of comics came with high heels. She had wings now like a bat that carried her into the air, but you hardly noticed since in true Wally Wood fashion, Sutton had given her breasts that were nearly as big as her head, with the shape of her protruding nipples well-nigh outlined against the stretchy fabric of her top. Next, Ackerman introduced a conflict. Because of drought, her planet didn’t have one sun, but two, blood was literally running dry. But as luck would have it, there was a spaceship, an American spaceship, and Vampirella decided to see what was up with that. Meanwhile, Tom Sutton treated you to some shots of her ample derrière. Since she was too weak and she wanted to play, she changed into a vampire bat. Sure, why not? With one man a direct descendant of Dr. Thomas Kruvajan, naturally he fired at the vampire bat. Now this pissed Vampirella off and she decided to turn invisible to better attack the men who’d treated her thusly. When he had a wraith picking the men off, Ackerman was directly homaging (stealing from) Bava’s “Planet of the Vampires”. But surely, you wanted to ogle this girl, hence she turned visible again, which gave Sutton plenty of pin-up material as she now pranced in the air as she showed off her fangs. The question why she’d need them on a planet where blood was a sustenance that flowed in rivers, you daren’t ask, not after you’d read the dialogue. Vampirella: “My Drakarate jab means business!” Unnamed, very unfortunate astronaut: “Hell has no fury like a woman scorched.” Well, at least there was another butt shot. After she had feasted on the men (you don’t want to shoot at those bats), she explored the ship. Her eyes grew really big when she saw the men that were resting in stasis in a hibernation chamber. Lo, TV dinner! The story was god awful, even for Jim Warren’s standards, but the artwork was nice, in a “this looks a lot like Wally Wood” way. If only she looked a bit more interesting. It needed work. Luckily, he knew the right kind of person for the job. Once he got the character designs back from Trina Robbins, here was something they could work with. Now that looked how you imagined a sexy alien vampire girl. He commissioned a cover artist. You had to see the hairstyle and especially the outfit Trina had come up with, in paint. When he showed F.J. the painting, his editor nearly fell out of his chair. The hairstyle the character had on the cover was nice and all, but that outfit, that was something else. It made the character. A red bodysuit cut like a swimsuit, but with a high collar and a daring, very revealing front slit, only that the slit plunged so far down that the cloth barely covered her entire crotch while it left her firm belly, her upper torso and plenty of skin at her round breasts fully exposed and to be leered at. What Sutton had only alluded to, on the cover, the girl’s erect nipples took center stage. She was on the floor in a kneeling position as if waiting for instructions, however, this way you couldn’t tell if she was wearing shoes or if she was plain barefoot. When you got the chance to look at her face eventually, you saw that she had a nice smile and pale blue eyes that seemed somehow off, as empty as if you were looking at a shop mannequin, not appealing. And her complexion was too pale.
It was not all a wash. Ackerman’s idea was solid. Vampirella’s outfit on the cover by French artist Aslan was what sealed the deal, if only the cover was better. He knew the right man for the cover her wanted. The cover by Aslan? He’d publish it later, for the 1972 Vampirella Annual in fact. As for the other cover, somehow Frank Frazetta managed to let her show off even more skin, and she was even paler. But the composition was much better. Since she was standing this time, with her long legs spread very far apart, you saw that she was wearing knee-high boots made from shiny black leather. But what made Frank’s cover such a standout, was the haunting quality it conveyed, and if you looked at her face, now she had a wicked smile and a come-hither look that was hypnotic. One look and you were doomed to follow her gladly as she slowly led you to your doom. And you were going to thank her for it. Vampirella No. 1 hit magazine shelves in September 1969 and the rest is history as they say, only not quite. First, Jim Warren had to decide what to with her for the next issue, and to see if Ackerman had a plan. He hadn’t. Well, that was disappointing. Still he decided to give F.J. another attempt, but with a different artist, only that Forrest J. hadn’t screwed the pooch bad enough just yet. With Mike Royer at bat, the art was markedly less over the top, though the girl was in her red bathing suit, you assumed, with the interior art in black and white. But this tale, oh the humanity. Vampirella had made it to Earth (using the crashed rocket of the ill-fated crew), contemporary Earth like in Bava’s film, and once she learned from a newspaper that a monster magazine was holding a competition for a cover girl, she had a new goal in life. Wouldn’t you know it, the guys on hand to judge the contest were Forrest J. Ackerman and Jim Warren. With the way he had Ackerman staring at Vampirella, leering and almost drooling, Royer gave the editor the creepiest smile as well. After this stinker, Vampirella needed to rest for a while. She’d still be hosting the stories by other writers in her own magazine, but for her own stories and a writer thereof, Jim Warren had to figure out what to do about that. Which meant that he’d call his other editor into his office, which also meant that his other editor would be the new writer. Sutton was back, and now Archie Goodwin picked up the pieces such as they were, meaning he’d have to build Ackerman’s vampire girl from the ground up. Vampirella was back with issue No. 8, which also featured her second cover appearance in a painted cover by Ken Kelly. This was an actually scene from the story itself, Vampirella chained to an altar, about to be sacrificed to some monster that loomed in the top half of the painting, and while this beast, it was a god in fact, was huge, Vampirella was rather small, like doll by comparison. Once you got to the story, a 21-pages extravaganza no less, you noticed that Sutton’s art had changed. Granted, the splash page that showed Vampirella half floating in mid-air but with one foot on the snowy ground, still brought the sexy, but Sutton was no longer doing a Wood impression. Though Vampirella was clad in her ridiculously tiny getup she seemed much less of a sex kitten but almost like a person with something that resembled a personality. Sutton gave her body a heft and weight and her outfit looked no longer like it was painted on but like actual fabric. For all intents and purposes, she was nearly the Vampirella readers are familiar with today. The second page was also wordless, and you got several panels of a bleeding woman trying to find shelter as she was staggering about. There were definitely shades of Kitty Genovese. In fact, if you look at Barbara Steele in the shocking opening of “Black Sunday” and at a photography of Catherine Susan around the time of her murder, and you look at how Sutton draws Vampirella in this issue, there’s a uncanny resemblance you cannot fail to miss. As for the story, we quickly learn that Vampirella is the sole survivor of a plane crash that’s left her wounded and disoriented in a mountainous region. It’s safe to assume that we are in Switzerland, but once she wakes up in a large, luxurious chalet, this no longer matters one bit, since we’ve entered into the world and landscape of a Hammer film. Since there was a gothic renaissance going on in all things horror, Goodwin leaned heavily into it. The girl from a world that is not ours, one she fears is dead by now, is being treated by a young doctor who is not on the up and up, and if this isn’t gothic enough for you, his nurse is called Lenore. Oh, and by the way, the good-looking doctor, he had to amputate her vampire wings. With some creepy things going on at this health resort for the rich and famous that doesn’t look that swanky to be honest, more like a set left standing from Corman Edgar Allan Poe movie, Goodwin introduces us slowly to a new supporting cast, you know, F.J., that thing you’ll need if you want to tell an ongoing story. There’s Conrad Van Helsing, an old man who is blind, but more alert than his ancient age and fragile state lets on. He’s also a psychic. And there’s his son Adam who even Sutton draws a bit like Alain Delon and who’ll soon rise to his full-blown status of a Latin Lover Hunk. Since they are Fearless Vampire Hunters it makes sense that we meet them on a cemetery, and this is when Sutton goes all James Whale on us, and a darn fine job he does with it, too. Meanwhile, Vampirella discovers that somehow, she has stumbled into the plot of Amicus Productions’ “Horror Hotel”. She has noticed the strange amulet the nurse is wearing from a chain around her neck, and as it turns out, Lenore is bat shit crazy. She and the doctor are reincarnated version of themselves, they’ve been lovers since the old Salem days, and now the nurse who heads a freaky cult and her crew are about to sacrifice her on an altar, and with chains around her, you guessed it, Vampirella is helpless and powerless. One wonders however Archie got that idea, but the to whom she’s going to be sacrificed to is much more interesting. With Vampirella nosing around in the chalet, she is after all a vampire girl, it hadn’t really taken her that long to come across an old tome called “The Crimson Chronicles” and lo, what it said sounded like a recipe for disaster or pretty cool if your name happened to be Brain Abelard: “And the great god Chaos, along with his seven demon servants, was defeated and exiled to the nether-void… these Chronicles survive for those who would serve his cause and work for the day when Chaos and his seven servants gain strength to war again.” This was Goodwin giving this series what it’d lacked the most: a compelling hook. Hence forth, Vampirella would tussle with a shady secret society, the Cult of Chaos. And instead of stealing it from the Gothic Renaissance, he took it from the American pulps. It is pretty obvious that he was leaning heavily into H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos, only that H.P. was almost forgotten by that point in time. A failure all around, the writer had died dirt poor in 1937. Though not the nicest fellow to hang out with, and ugly to boot, Lovecraft had made friends among his peers to whom he wrote endlessly. The readers of the pulp magazine his stories appeared in; they didn’t like his stuff. And normally, that would have been the end of it. But then two of his friends forged ahead. Two years after his death, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei founded Arkham House to re-publish a handful of Lovecraft’s works in one handy volume. They couldn’t even sell one hundred copies. As luck would have it, Derleth was well-heeled and he did what any guy with more money than to know what to do with it would do, he’d show the world. After several attempts, that all failed to ignite so much as a spark to get readers on board with what he considered groundbreaking if not world-changing writing, he shelled out even harder. He paid to have Lovecraft’s stories translated into other languages. Almost as if he was a member of the Cult of Cthulhu, Derleth was determined to see the ancient god live again. What happened next is what always happens in these situations. Though Lovecraft’s works didn’t move the needle in his home country, the French, they ate it all up. And they wanted more. Derleth was more than happy to oblige. Knowing a franchise when he saw one, soon he’d have writers create more stories in the rich world established in Lovecraft’s yarns, of which there weren’t all that many, frankly. And lo, finally the American audience began to catch on, more than twenty years later. Goodwin going to this well for Vampirella was actually quite original, because at that time, it hadn’t been done to death. And as far as Lovecraft’s reputation is concerned, let’s just recall that if you can only see black or white, you will fail to see the real monsters. As for what Goodwin achieved in his first story, you can’t overestimate his contribution. Despite their best efforts, as stellar as they were, Conway and Claremont weren’t able to turn Satana into a popular character. True, only fairly recently writer Jeff Parker and artist Kev Walker gave her a rather prominent and pretty cool role in Marvel’s Thunderbolts series, this time in an outfit that they stole from the closet of Dracula’s Daughter Lilith who shared her fate as a (mostly) forgotten character, but that wasn’t the Satana we last saw in Marvel Team-Up. However, when it comes to this vampire girl Forrest J. Ackerman had thought up, one reason why we remember her, why she is actually pretty famous to this day, is the costume by Robbins, the cover by Frazetta, and for what Goodwin did with her, and he did it all in the first story he wrote for her, and thus, the first words on the third page read like a mission statement for the character and the series going forward: “Vampirella must awaken; awaken to face greater terror, greater trials; awaken to learn… Who Serves the Cause of Chaos?” In the next issue, Goodwin and Sutton continued the gothic trend. Then Vampirella skipped yet another issue, the last time her magazine would be without a Vampirella story (the series ran until March 1983 when it ended with No. 112), and when she returned, Goodwin gave the series also some levity when he had her meet a new companion, another old guy, Mordecai Pendragon, a stage magician and a drunk. Now, everything was in the right place, only not quite. One puzzle piece was still missing to turn Ackerman’s vampire girl from the stars into a character that’d stay popular beyond the cancellation of her magazine.
Drawing a sexy girl in provocative, barely-there swimsuit was fine and all, but a guy needed to pay the rent. Once Jim Warren’s money problems became obvious, Tom Sutton knocked on Marvel’s door and when he learned that Gerry Conway and Steve Englehart were about to turn the X-Men character Beast into a real beast, in keeping with the horror trend, he jumped at the bit to do the artwork. Losing a well-liked artist like Sutton so soon after he’d began to turn Vampirella around could have been catastrophic for the plans Goodwin had for her, only that was just it, it wasn’t. If you only know American comics or the American comic book market, you only know half of it. Comics, except for superhero comics, are as much a part of the pop culture of other countries as they are (or used to be) in America. This created a number of super star artists, especially in France and Spain, artists you might never have heard of. One of those artists was José “Pepe” González. Born in Spain in 1939, González had been working for Spanish publications as a professional artist since he was seventeen. Once Jim Warren saw samples of González’ art, and with the exchange rate doing him a huge favor before the energy crisis hit, Jim replaced Sutton with the artist who was destined to make Vampirella an international pop icon. When readers glimpsed the full figure image of her on the cover for issue No. 19, one arm stretched out, a bat balanced on her hand, a painting González had actually created for a poster, she became a pin-up sensation not only for adolescents. Overnight, “Pepe” González had made a sex symbol out of this vampire girl, only that this was a mere by-product of what the artist brought to the series. González started with issue No. 12 (July 1971), and while his painted art was already fantastic, his interior artwork was equally good. This issue featured a very striking cover by Sanjulián (who also hailed from Spain), an impressive work indeed, but once readers took a look at the 20-pager “Death’s Dark Angel” by Goodwin and this artist who obviously was not Tom Sutton, their world was never the same. The art was unlike anything known to an American audience. While seeing the work of artists from across the Atlantic had become more commonplace in the early 1970s, and guys like Esteban Maroto or Gonzalo Mayo were pretty terrific whenever they did a story in one those comic book horror magazines, this still left comic fans wholly unprepared for what González unleashed on them with this one story alone, and Goodwin gave him the perfect vehicle. Best described as a Southern Gothic tale, this was the best Vampirella story so far, hands down. A rich, pretty disgusting guy had made a Faustian deal with a lesser demon who got his powers from one of the seven servants of the ancient god Chaos, and lest he died and his soul reverted to this demon and Chaos, he’d decided to force Vampirella to turn him into one of the undead. Appropriately, at the beginning of the story, González showed the vampire girl, clad in a short coat and her high-heeled boots, as she lounged on an old cemetery, the only place she, an outsider, felt at home. There was a distinctly European look to her now, combined with a style that had yet to be named, but which ultimately would become known as goth; and with this one image, which was erotic and darkly romantic, but not in the least overtly sexy or even vulgar, instead of importing a fashion trend, González might have invented one. Once she was carried into the air by the tragic, winged demon, and later chained in the fallout shelter of the bad guy, Vampirella became a must-read magazine. What made González such a standout, apart from his talent as a craftsman and his ability to draw Vampirella with the face and body of an Italian or Spanish movie star, albeit while her face and her eyes emoted a lot of personality, was how he used his inks. Fine lines and ink washes were surrounded by the blackest black ever put to the page, and thus previously spied only ever in one film, Mario Bava’s “Black Sunday”, specifically in the opening scene which also offered a wellspring of inspiration for the design, lightning and overall atmosphere González felt the strip could benefit greatly from, and which he consequently recreated and created for the series. Under his skilled hands, Vampirella would become much more than just a sexy pin-up. In fact, the artist was so good that ironically in turn, Goodwin became the weakest link. Abandoning the path, he’d just embarked on with this story, he wildly steered his stories back to the idea of gothic horror as defined in the Hammer films. Ironically, again, Goodwin’s tale “…And Be a Bride of Chaos” in Vampirella No. 16 (April 1972) was both, a highlight of his tenure on the series and the lowest point under his watch. The things that work, work great. There is the art by González who is going from strength to strength, and there is the plot. This is the story in which Goodwin reveals the leader of the Cult of Chaos, and lo, he’s none other than Dracula himself. But not so fast, since everything you thought you knew about Dracula, was wrong. As Goodwin told it, the Count came from the same planet as Vampirella herself, but since he loved to hunt, on that world, he was considered a criminal and sentenced to death. But instead of seeing his atoms destroyed, he was sent to the nether-void where he came face to face with the god Goodwin had taken from H.P. Lovecraft. Unable to free himself from this realm, Chaos made Dracula his agent on Earth and he gave him all the abilities we had read he had, while his shortcomings were explained as having been caused by the ordeal of his execution. And if you hadn’t guessed it, Dracula had captured Vampirella since he knew she’d be strong enough to bear the child of Chaos, his way of bringing himself into the world, an idea so bad that Jim Shooter stole it for an issue of The Avengers and Chris Claremont had to retcon his mess. While this is not a bad story per se, what Goodwin was missing was that Vampirella was not built for gothic horror. Like Bava had showed him, Ackerman had envisioned her as a character set in modern times. Vampirella was quite literally a daywalker which meant she could handle the harsh light of reality just fine, at least a reality as defined by comic book writers. Sure, she could go up against Dracula and werewolves and a cult worshipping the elder gods, but what about the real monsters? By the mid-1970s the last vestiges of what one would consider gothic were blown off the big screen by “The Exorcist” and similar fare which asked a simple question: what if the devil was real? He was. He was one of us and he was legion, and he wore many faces. That of Madame Nhu, that of H.H. Holmes, Ed Kemper and that of a good-looking political campaign aide named Ted Bundy. And he looked like Winston Moseley. Writer Bill DuBay, who followed Archie Goodwin (after a few surprisingly lackluster issues by Steve Englehart) was the first writer of Vampirella who applied modern sensibilities to the strip (which meshed perfectly with González who could do much more than draw graveyards and gothic castles). DuBay, eleven years younger than Goodwin, was deeply steeped in comics lore. In 1964, when DuBay was sixteen, Stan Lee awarded him the first Marvel “No-Prize” ever for having the largest comic book collection among their entire readership. A lifelong comic fan, Bill named his first child, a girl, after the comic character Crystal, who had briefly joined the Fantastic Four when original member Susan Richards was on maternal leave. Incidentally, his wife Peggy was the sister of comic artist Rich Buckler. Still, when DuBay took over, his most shocking splash page came early into his run. After Vampirella got into a fight with a mafia clan in No. 24, In Vampirella No. 25 (June 1973) readers saw how two mafia men held her down, while another guy shot her up with heroin. Needless to say, if you thought an old guy who cosplayed as a pale Hammer Dracula was bad, the world, as defined by DuBay and his peers, was here to tell you otherwise. One of Marvel Comics’ final horror tales of note (in one of the original black and white magazines that is) came in December 1981, in No. 29 of a series called Bizarre Adventures. “Mirror, Mirror” by Bruce Jones and John Buscema (inks by Bob Wiacek) starts with a young boy reflecting about how his older half-sister, a girl his mother had once given up for adoption, had entered his life. Having to share his family with her now, this late in the game has left him bitter. Thusly, deep in thoughts he overlooks a stack of magazines the girl has carelessly left lying atop the staircase. He takes a deep plunge, and when he slowly gets up, and he takes a look in the tall mirror at the end of the stairs, he sees a hand wielding a long knife. Only over the course of the next days does this blurred image gain more focus whenever he returns to take another look in the mirror. The face in the mirror, it is his half-sister’s, the hand holding the knife is his. Afraid that the mirror is showing him the future, a very near future in which his resentment for the girl will make him kill her, the boy starts to actively avoid his half-sister, this intruder whose mere presence has motivated his parents to shift all attention away from him. Thoughts about his half-sister dominate his mind still, but now he’s thinking about what he will do. Almost too late does he realize that Caroline shares this feeling of rejection he’s had for her. It’s she who attacks him with a knife. Defending himself, she falls to her death. As he picks up the knife, still confused by what had just happened, and he looks up, he sees his own image in the mirror, holding the knife. What had just occurred, was the pendulum swinging in the other direction. The cycle was closed now. This cycle that had once begun with a woman in white who possessed the ability to cloud men’s mind, who was cruelly punished by forcing a mask of knives into her face, the face which had tempted men, a woman who was violated even as she lay dead in her tomb, a woman who was stabbed with everybody watching and whose dress was worn as a face. As a reply, men had created women who stole your soul (if you were a man), women who rejected their fathers and who sucked your bodily fluids right out of your body. But they were ostensibly the heroines of their own stories. It was time to take back control. The boy holding the knife in Jones’ story is called Michael. In John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) Michael is the name given to “The Shape”, a blank slate, a hive-mind of masculine rage not unlike Bava’s alien wraith. Laurie is allowed to pick up the knife, she who saw the monster, she who is pure. Kitty Genovese was never “the last girl”, Kitty was the first girl.