By most accounts, Bettie Page did not have a happy life. Billed as both the Queen of Pinups and Queen of Bondage (despite doing shockingly little BDSM photography), she retired from modeling and became an evangelical Christian just four years after becoming one of the first Playboy Playmates. She struggled financially in her later years, trying to assert control of her likeness despite most of the photos she’d posed for falling into the public domain. There is a cruel irony that Page may be more successful in death than in life, as her estate has made Forbes’ annual list of top-earning dead celebrities several times since her passing in 2008.
This knowledge makes Bettie Page: Curse of the Banshee seem somewhat distasteful. Although there were comics based around an idealized accounting of Page’s life as a model and actress published over a decade before her death, Dynamite Comics has gone a step further by publishing several series based around the idea that Bettie Page was also an agent for an unnamed bureau of the United States government. In these stories, she gets into all manner of shenanigans involving time travel, alien invaders and murder mysteries when she isn’t posing for girlie mags.
Bettie Page: Curse of the Banshee’s plot is pure creature-feature shlock. Paired with another agent named Lyssa, Bettie is dispatched to Ireland to investigate some strange murders at the request of the Irish Intelligence Agency. Bettie is chosen for this task because she and Lyssa are reportedly the best they have when it comes to supernatural cases. Soon they are butting heads with the local authorities, who are skeptical of both the idea that a monster could be responsible for the killings and that two attractive young women could truly be American spies. Naturally, the rumors of a ghostly figure are quite real and Bettie Page soon falls prey to… the Curse of the Banshee!
The script by Stephen Mooney resembles an Ed Wood movie in all the right ways. Mooney delves into some real Irish history and mythology with his discussion of how the stories of banshees were likely inspired by the Celtic tradition of keeners singing sad songs at funerals and the best keeners being called “bean sidhe”, or fairy women. This winds up having very little to do with the story, which degenerates into a zombie-fighting horror comic, as those slain by the banshee rise in its service, but it does show more craft and forethought than many horror comics.
Unfortunately, the characters are as flat as Bettie Page is not. All of the characters came straight from central casting, from the Irish cops who give Bettie and Lyssa a hard time to the priest who tries (and fails) to perform an exorcism on a seemingly possessed Bettie. Even Bettie and Lyssa don’t have much personality beyond “feisty heroine” and “beleaguered best friend.” While this does fit the genre, it is somewhat disappointing given Page was famous for the fun spirit she conveyed in her photos and the writing doesn’t quite capture that.
The artwork is similarly conflicted. Jethro Morales can draw a beautiful woman and does a good job of capturing Page’s likeness. Unfortunately, Morales’ figures seem stiff when they are required to move and many of the action sequences are (like Bettie Page herself) unnaturally posed. There’s also some incredibly obvious panel recycling, which would be bad enough if it weren’t occurring in a static scene of three characters talking while one of them is reading a book.
Bettie Page: Curse of the Banshee is rated for audiences 13+ and I think that’s a fair assessment of the comic itself. It may not be a fair assessment of some of the variant covers in the gallery that takes up nearly one third of this book’s total page count, as there are several photo covers that are fairly risque, even with CENSORED bars covering certain key areas. Fans of Bettie Page will probably find a lot they’ll want to look at in this comic, but vintage horror fans looking for a fun read should look elsewhere.
Bettie Page: Curse of the Banshee
By Stephen Mooney
Art by Jethro Morales
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)