- Vengeance of Vampirene – Spellbound: #57 (22 October 1977) – #65 (17 December 1977)
- Art: Adolfo Usero
Irene is the princess of the small Balkan kingdom, Geldania, which is ruled by her kindly father Prince Stephen. The princess has been attending a boarding school in Switzerland, since her mother’s death. She excels at sports at the school and her classmates are also impressed that her despite her status she is not snobby. This life is to become disrupted, when her uncle, Count Zukor, decides to overthrow Stephen. He plans to capture Irene in order to keep his brother quiet, but Irene escapes, she makes her way home and seeks out her old nurse, Magda for help. Irene gets into the castle and with a bracelet that maps all the hidden passages, she attempts to find her father. Unfortunately she makes a noise that attracts the attention of Zukor’s men. It is then Irene first dons the appearance of a Vampire, playing up the superstitions of the country. She has to make a leap from the tower into the water below, but luckily escapes and this gives her the idea to continue to use the myths of vampires to help her father.
She prepares a new plan to get to her father. First Magda and other loyalists use a kite, shaped like a large bat, to distract the guards. It works and Irene in her vampire costume, manages to get into the castle and through the passageways to her father. He asks her to get a message to one of his supporters, Anton Tesla. Later Irene is at her hideout in the Vampire Tower, a place where no people like to venture as they are scared and superstitious. She has a problem leaving as there are still guards nearby. She initially planned to get to Tesla in her peasant disguise, but now will have to become Vampirene again. She distracts the sentries by hitting their coffee pot into the fire. Then with the fire out and in her costume she makes her way past them as a shadowy vampire shape. Using her mountaineering skills she climbs a sheer mountain to avoid Zukor’s soldiers. She reaches the loyalists and tells Anton Tesla that he must lead an uprising.
That night as snow falls, they find out an armed convey is on the way. A plan is formed to seize the guns. Vampirene sets off on skis, doing a jump over the convey. But it seems her plan is failing as they are not stopping. She makes a second appearance giving the men an opportunity to shoot at her, she’s cleverly fixed her cloak up and stayed hidden so she is in no danger of getting shot. This gives the others a chance to ambush the trucks. Anton is relieved to see Vampirene ski away.
Irene returns to Magda and while playing the part of her niece in the village, she sees a dog attacks a young soldier. Despite being an enemy Irene helps him. That night they fly the bat kite high, while Irene skates across the now frozen lake. Count Zukor has his suspicions about the legendary Vampire and decides he can use his prisoner as bait. Irene arrives at the castle but is surprised to find her father has been moved. When she is searching for him, she comes across a guard, luckily for her it is the same one she helped earlier. He says he will help her, and they use secret passages to get to her father. They manage to free her father and they stay hidden in tunnels when alarm is raised. She then sends her father on to the rebels but she stays on to spy on her uncle.
Nikki, the guard, makes his way back to the others, but as he can’t account for his whereabouts at the time Stephen was freed, he is captured. They will torture him for information unless Irene can free him. She creates a diversion with a fire, unlocks the door and they escape into secret passage. Zukor is enraged and thinks there must be a secret way into the castle. Irene and Nikki are laying low in the passages, but Zukor is intent on searching every inch of castle until he finds the passages and they are forced to flee. They make it to the Vampire Tower, where they think they will be safe, but Zukor insists it be searched despite guards reluctance, he has no time for superstitions. Irene releases her cape from the top of the tower as a distraction. They get to Zukor’s snowmobile and escape towards the loyalists. They don’t make it all the way as the vehicle runs out of petrol, and they are forced to take refuge in a cave. Zukor wants them alive, so he can find out Prince Stephen’s whereabouts. One of the guards foolishly lets off a warning shot, causing an avalanche. While Irene and Nikki are safe in the cave, it ends up being a great way for loyalists to capture Zukor’s men, and then they rescue Irene and Nikki. Prince Stephen declares this day of victory will always be a public holiday and Vampirene can be put to rest.
Keeping with the Halloween spirit, I thought this would be a fitting story to look at. While the protagonist is not actually a Vampire, just playing on superstition, it is something that is more rare to see in these comics. The preferred supernatural beings were witches and ghosts, there are a few stories with vampires and some references may have been made to them (such as Nightmare Academy, Worlds Apart and Dracula’s Daughter) but it was less common. I really like Irene’s vampire costume, it goes for a classical Dracula look but also plays off the bat elements. She uses a second version of the costume, which is more of a bodysuit which is more practical for what she has to do physically. I quite like that she has two versions, the one that plays on the myths and she takes off a layer and has the bodysuit which gives her a more bat-like appearance and more maneuverability. This story also has one of my favourite covers, done by Norman Lee, the grey/purple and green used for Vampirene, and her posture makes her an imposing figure. The cover immediately captures attention. This is also one of my favourite story titles, the alliteration, the merging of Irene’s name with Vampire, the foreboding threat of vengeance!
The art by Usero is great too, as well as Irene’s costumes I like Count Zukor being made distinct with his facial scars. He also handles the action scenes well. They do well at establishing Princess Irene as a top sportsperson, taking a little time at her boarding school, before jumping into the main plot. The change in weather also makes sure she can show off her varied skills (such as her swimming and diving, then when the lake freezes over she can show off her skating). She could stand proudly beside other costumed heroes like the Cat from Catch the Cat or Bike Rider. She is clever, brave and resourceful and has some uncommon skills such as marksmanship and judo as well as being achieved in a lot of winter sports. Although there are times when it seems obvious that she is not supernatural (I do wonder how the guards don’t see her skis when she jumps!), it is interesting how she plays on the people’s fears and superstitions, to keep them at bay. It is also nicely played that she acts as a distraction while the loyalists can take advantage of that. There are some coincidences, like that she happens to help Nikki, the one nice guard, who in turn is the one who finds her in the castle. But the story is still exciting and appealing and one of Spellbound’s best. Which again highlights that it is a pity that Spellbound didn’t last longer, as it was printing some interesting and different stories.