Thursday, November 19, 2015

Vampirella: Crown of Worms - A "Vampire: the Masquerade" super story?

I have long been a big reader of comics, and I imagine my love of the medium started like most fans: superheroes. I started by reading the issues my older brother no longer cared about (Avengers West Coast mostly), until one day my dad took me to my very first comic book store. They had a dollar bin, and I quickly purchased whatever I could find – usually the ones with the coolest covers and anything with the Green Lantern or the Fantastic Four. Moving to a location that was prohibitively far away from the shop, I turned to my neighborhood Kum & Go for my comic fix before finally mail ordering my issues of Mutant X ; I’m a sucker for anything with Havok in it. I have been reading comics one way or another for more than twenty years now, which does not seem like a long time until you realize that I am not yet thirty, but until recently I have always stayed away from what I classified as “T&A” comics.

I am sure you know the ones I mean. In my arrogance and self-importance, I assumed that many of these titles (Witchblade, Vampirella, Red Sonja, etc.) were little more than visual fodder for the more perverted of my nerd community. This belief started to fade when I got into Red Sonja comics (thank you, Gail Simone). I bought Swords of Sorrow as it was coming out on the basis of Red Sonja’s appearance in the comics, but I quickly found out that I really enjoyed another “T&A” superheroine. Enter Vampirella. In my defense when it comes to comics, the age old adage which teaches us not to judge a book by its cover is often wrong in this medium, and I just had little interest in a character whose, it seemed, main assets could be seen from said cover. I love being wrong.

Due to her inclusion in Swords of Sorrow, I decided to check out this character from what seemed a good starting point: Crown of Worms. I was shocked (and delighted) to find that the character was normally attired through most of the story; whatever, the whole “I fight in a bikini” thing just seems so ridiculous to me. As I read through the pages of the story, I found myself completely surprised. This was not at all what I expected, and yet it seemed so familiar. Then it dawned on me: Crown of Worms is one of the best Vampire: The Masquerade (V:tM) storylines that anyone has ever written. It just is not set in the World of Darkness game setting. Warning, this post assumes at least some familiarity with Vampire: The Masquerade; arguably one of the greatest table-top roleplaying games ever made.

The Story:

After the death of her lover, one Adam van Helsing, Vampirella is rounding up and slaughtering the forces of Dracula (yes, the Dracula). She comes to a club which the local vampires use as a cover for their activities and as an easy source of food. Upon entering, Vampirella has a throw down with the vamps, convinced that Dracula is behind the source of the vampiric incursion into Seattle. To her surprise, she finds one of Dracula’s lackeys, Le Fanu, is not only the ring leader, but had been inexplicably altered. She is no longer a normal vampire, but rather has been infested by what Vampirella learns to be an ancient worm-creature. The creature wants to find the correct host (read: key) so that it can break into out dimension and sate its ravenous hunger.

In a fight that takes the building down, Vampirella befriends a human being by the name of Sophia Murray. Sophia aids Vampirella in her recovery from her encounter Le Fanu, and tags along to confront the undead/extra-dimensional menace. This sends the human character on a path of self-discovery in which, after dispatching the Big Bad, she decides to stick around and help Vampirella as her sidekick (for lack of a better term). Overall, a pretty solid story.

Best V:tM story ever written?

Emphatically, I say “yes”. If you have ever run V:tM, you know that the storylines involve intrigue, vampire politics, and the occult in equal or greater measure to combat. Vampire is not a traditional role-playing game in the way Dungeons and Dragons is, because it endeavored to be different; it was more about narrative and the attempts to maintain (or lose) one’s humanity after decades, centuries, or even millennia of undeath. The stories focus on the vampiric community, and the centuries-old plots laid by its more venerable members, usually using the society’s younger members (traditionally PCs) as pawns. This is very similar to the intrigue between Dracula and Le Fanu in Crown of Worms.

Both Le Fanu and Dracula (as well as the worm beast) have their own purposes, and both would love to rope Vampirella into it. The club where Vampirella initially encounters Le Fanu in the story is basically the best depiction of an Elysium I have ever read. We can assume that Vampirella (actually an alien) is mechanically a Caitiff (clanless) vampire, and due to her disapproval of Vampire society either an independent or Anarch. Sophia becomes a vampire hunter in training over the course of this story, and the human/vampire team-up would also make for a riveting game of Vampire. Really, this story-arch has everything you could want from a Vampire: The Masquerade game without any of the proper nouns or copyrighted information; this thing is capaign setting equivalent of V:tM SRD! Not only is the story enjoyable and the artwork pleasant, the opportunities for a storyteller to mine ideas for his/her game are myriad. If you are still playing Vampire (you lucky so-and-so), and are getting tired of the same old story lines and plots, then do yourself a favor and pick up some Vampirella. Oh yes, and never judge a comic by the scantily-clad outfit of its protagonist.

Strong on his mountain (er…at his desk),

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