Purgatori: Witches Get Stitches

The nineties were a time when a company could sell a comic simply on the artwork, of what many would call style over substance. It was a time of holographic covers, collector’s issues, and the gorgeously-rendered characters within these books all possessed a gritty, acerbic aesthetic and attitude (in short, a typical ‘90s attitude). Some might look at these kinds of characters with a feeling of nostalgia while others might simply find them exhausting. The main character in Purgatori: Witches Get Stitches, the latest Purgatori collection written by Ray Fawkes and illustrated by Alvaro Sarraseca, highlights this dichotomy. 

The character of Purgatori looks more devil than vampire, complete with fiery red skin and leathery bat wings. She is a thousands-year-old vampire who sustains herself from the blood of others, not only stealing their life essence, but also their memories. Feeding adds to Purgatori’s own skills and abilities, but it also leaves her with a swirling cacophony of memories and emotions all struggling for dominance. A coven of young witches seek to take advantage of this and use Purgatori for their own selfish purpose. Purgatori must stop them before she begins to lose control of herself. 

Ray Fawkes inserts some interesting folklore creatures and the people who hunt them, but the very nature of Purgatori, and Fawkes’s rendition of her, makes Purgatori a character that doesn’t seem capable of having her own identity. Purgatori is basically a cypher who absorbs the memories and personalities of those upon which she feeds to the point that she is swept away on the experiences of her victims. She even comments on how she feeds on bad people for awhile, until she becomes bad, then she feeds on enough good people to point her moral compass the other way. Purgatori has a distinct lack of agency in her long-lived existence, and with her dialogue being mainly snarky and suggestive one-liners doesn’t allow her to be a multifaceted character. Purgatori’s dialogue also affects the story. When humor is purposefully inserted into horror, it creates moments of levity in what could otherwise be suffocating darkness. When humor is used too much, it saps all the tension from the story.. 

Sarraseca’s artwork offers some eye-catching horror moments, such as the shapeshifters Purgatori encounters and the witches combining more than just their energies to attack her. However, it doesn’t detract from the scantily clad, centerfold-adjacent renditions of the heroine, whose uniform is a black leather bikini. Purgatori isn’t contorted into unnatural shapes that defy physics and anatomy, but there’s also no denying that Purgatori’s pin-up looks are a major part of the book’s appeal. The book tacitly admits this in their cover gallery by inserting photos of a few professional models dressed up as Purgatori among the other sexualized drawings of the book’s star. 

As for this book’s purpose in a library’s collection, it might find some circulation among other gen-X and millennial males who spent their hard-earned money at their local comic shops, and in that vein, it could even be considered an artifact of a long-ago age. But unless a library has a collection featuring other pin-up fantasy comic heroines like Vampirella and Lady Death, this book could probably stand to be lost to history, or at least passed over when making selections. 

Purgatori: Witches Get Stitches
By Ray Fawkes
Art by Alvaro Sarasecca
Dynamite, 2022
ISBN: 9781524121679

Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Canadian,

Bettie Page: Curse of the Banshee

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
Dynamite, 2022
ISBN: 9781524121372

Publisher Age Rating: 13+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

Army of Darkness 1979

If you’ve got horror comic fans at your library, they might want to check out Army of Darkness, 1979.

Just when Ash is getting his life back together, the Necronomicon finds him again and he’s sent through the vortex to 1979 New York City – and MAN, he doesn’t like that. He still remembers why he left the first time!

The comic recreates all the deadpan humor from the movie that I remember watching over and over in 1992, but you don’t need to know anything about Ash or the Necronomicon—the comic catches you up and is a complete story arc. The comic’s pacing doesn’t have the magic of the 1992 movie, though. Or maybe I’m just old now? What it IS, is really splattery. I mean REALLY splattery. More than the old movie EVER was. Ash is introduced to a non-stop parade of increasingly comical and very diverse gangs who fight for the right to be the ultimate power in NYC. Unknown to most of them, the Necronomicon has adopted one gang member leader, who can turn them all into instant goop in a word!

There are lots of funny late seventies “in-jokes” folded into these pages that only someone my age will get – so, is the comic written for the adult market? I’m not completely sure. Certainly, no teen or pre-teen who enjoys this kind of splatter-fest can afford the prices I saw quoted on Amazon. BUT Ash still has his arm chainsaw, a wicked sense of timing, and the ability to unify all the gangs into one final assault on the wicked gang leader and his followers. What will the Necronomicon do next?

Asking if there is objectification of women in this comic is missing the entire reason a comic like this exists, but one skimpily dressed woman gang member and the constant blood and death storyline place this comic firmly in the adult collection. It’s an optional purchase.

This title comprises the  mini-series #1-5 from Dynamite Comics.

Army of Darkness 1979 Vol.
By Rodney Barnes
Art by  Tom Garcia
Dynamite, 2022
ISBN: 9781524121525

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)