Writer’s Commentary: Christopher Priest On ‘sacredsix’ #3 From Dynamite

by Olly MacNamee

Once again we are blesses with another writer’s commentary courtesy of Dynamite Comics. This time it’s coming from the one and only comic book writing legend Christopher Priest. Not only does Priest talk us through sacredsix #3 – the latest issue of this vampiric team book – but goes even further with a typically frank and open discussion of the whole drama behind the birthing of his book and the problems and pushbacks that come when you’re writing about scantily-clad kick-ass vampires in today’s modern society.

(+++NOTE: Potential spoiler for sacredsix #3! Buy & read the book, then come back for the fun of the commentary!+++)

Let me start by emphasizing “sacred” is a PLACE, the City of Sacred, Georgia. The Six are the BAD GUYS — a fundamentalist militant wing of a shadowy organization called the Lumea Următoare, the “Next World”, bent on global domination (think: Vampire Taliban). sacredsix (all lowercase) is a Hatfields vs. McCoys story about an enclave of peaceful vampires who are being oppressed by religious bigots who have built their own super-modern Epcot Center up the road. If you can, imagine a mashup of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World concept of New Genesis and Apokolips and combine it with the 60’s-era Dark Shadows vampire soap opera.

The Six vow to protect Ashthorne from the Sacred bigots and advocate wiping the city out. DRAGO, Ashthorne’s vampire mayor, has been struggling to keep peace here since all the way back in previous Vampirella series Our Lady of Shadows  (Nancy A. Collins, Patrick Berkenkotter), knowing a blood war is one the peaceful vampires (who are not predators but are, in fact, the victims of vampires) would surely lose. But Drago is being shouted down by The Six.

Drago asks his (distant) sister VAMPIRELLA for help (see Vampirella #4), but Vampi hates Drago. Which forces Drago to turn to their mother LILITH, a powerful sorceress from the planet Drakulon, to help him protect the town. Lilith, in turn, lures the half-vampire bounty hunter CHASTITY, the fire demon NYX, her “adopted” daughter Victory (whom she has re-named DRACULINA), as well as her biological daughter VAMPIRELLA to Ashthorne where Lilith engages in saber-rattling against The Six.

(Minor spoiler here)

Now, where we’re going is obvious: to prevent the peaceful vampires from being wiped out, Ashthorne will obviously need Wyatt Earp and his clan to defend it. It should, therefore, be fairly obvious that The Six will ultimately be replaced by our ladies, hence the title. (End minor spoiler).

So, skip ahead to issue #3: Two young boys from the gleaming City of Sacred have gone missing. The search for the lost boys threatens the fragile peace between the two communities as law enforcement uses the missing boys as an excuse to escalate their persecution of Ashthorne. The mysterious, eternal PANTHA (who already lives in Ashthorne with Drago) has joined THE GARDENER—watchman for the city of Sacred—to search for the boys.

The opening teaser for each issue chronicles the story of Jordan, granddaughter of Ashthorne’s human police Chief Allen, who has cut school to attend a basketball game in Atlanta with her would-be suitor Malik and ended up missing the last bus back to Ashthorne. Malik and Jordan hoof it along deserted light rail tracks along with a line of other commuters trying to reach town before the sun sets.

To entertain Jordan who is clearly fed up with him, Malik regales her with the story of PANTHA and we delve into an updated version of the character’s origin. Rather than Pantha being literally the Egyptian war goddess Sekhmet, I’ve reimagined the character as a young girl who was cursed by Sekhmet for crimes against humanity. This is similar to the Warren-era origin in that Pantha, in her previous life, was in fact a bloodthirsty murderess condemned to walk the earth for eternity as a (ahem) black panther.

The fact we are telling Pantha’s origin is not as obvious as I’d have hoped, which is mostly my doing because I didn’t want to brand Jae Lee’s pages with a specific Pantha logo. As a collected edition, all of this should (he hopes) make perfect sense and be much more obvious as Samira, the obnoxious teenage would-be pharaoh in these opening scenes, does not transform into Pantha until the microseries concludes with sacredsix #5.

If you’re just joining us with issue #3 you are undoubtedly lost. There’s only two issues ahead of you and I’ve recapped a lot of it here, so catching up shouldn’t be a major problem. But, being lost is no fun, so I apologize. The book underwent any number of birthing pains (I’m coming to those), many of which are pandemic-related.

Issue #3 opens with the third installment of Pantha’s origin (I can hear current readers going, “oh. THAT’s what this is…”), telling the story of how Samira, the stuck-up power-hungry widow of the king, seizes power. The king’s concubine has fled with her infant son–the rightful heir to the throne–and Samira lit out in disguise in an attempt to find the child and kill him so she could keep the throne for herself.

However, Samira’s relatively small entourage was ambushed along the way and Samira, the serving queen-regent, was taken into slavery at a brothel (I mean, there was no Facebook back in those days) where they cut her hair and locked her in with other prostitutes.

Here she meets another slave girl who clings to Samira for protection and guidance but all Samira cares about is Samira, which is intended to contrast strongly with the gentle and obviously kind (but so far silent) Pantha in our current-day narrative. How could these two disparate characters possibly be one and the same?

This issue, an Egyptian soldier visits the brothel and, recognizing his now-enslaved queen, murders the barkeeper and frees Samira, who promptly murders the soldier for his trouble and then orders the death of every infant under a certain age in her attempt to wipe out the infant king and seize power.

Meanwhile, in the present day, artist Julius Ohta has arrived to succeed Gabriel Ibarra. Birthing pains. Gabriel is a very hard act to follow, but Julius dives in with both feet here, escalating the conflict between Ashthorne’s vampire mayor Drago and The Six who advocate violence.

It’s important to underscore most of the narrative here had originally been intended for the pages of Vampirella. The Ashthorne Vampire Civil Rights story was to be our Year Two storyline but I shifted it over to the new book once Dynamite expressed interest in branching out. So the seeds of sacredsix were planted before our Vampirella 50th Anniversary book was even launched. The entire Vampirella Year One storyline was, in fact, a scheme by Lilith to lure Vampirella to Atlanta and, ultimately, Ashthorne.

Here in issue #3 we catch up to Nyx, formerly “Mistress” Nyx, half-human daughter of the Mad God Chaos. A half-demon, Nyx finds her half-humanity comes with strings attached: empathy verging on kindness (see Vampirella #4-5). So there’s the obligatory exposition: who is Nyx and why she is coming to Atlanta: to avenge herself against Lilith for deceiving her over in the Vampirella book.

We then catch up with Victory, Vampirella’s former love interest from her solo book, who has been corrupted if not brainwashed by Lilith, given a demon ring with magical powers, and renamed “Draculina” after Lilith’s lost daughter (see Vampirella #12-14). Victory has been enrolled in Sacred’s ecumenical academy and works part-time in the main office so she can feed intel back to Lilith in Ashthorne.

She’s partnered up with a roommate, the hopelessly naïve freshman Holly, whom Victory, a bisexual, has seduced in order to control and exploit her. Holly believes she is in love but is severely conflicted by her Christian convictions, which will drive Victory’s character arc in surprising ways.

Chastity, the half-vampire bounty hunter recruited by Lilith in issue #2, takes the place of a Victor County sheriff’s deputy on page 11 in order to blend into the invading army of police when they breach the town of Ashthorne. Chastity is clearly on a mission for Lilith.

Page 12

Page 12 rejoins Pantha as she searches for the missing boys along with the mysterious GARDENER, the watchman of the City of Sacred. The Gardener has mysterious and undefined power, notably super-strength, which should be demonstrated here where he shatters a tree (except the tree is not shattered…). There’s something more, something a bit creepy, about this guy, although some of that is not as obvious as I’d hoped.

By page 13, we’re back at a secret gathering of Ashthorne’s vampires, ghouls, and other freaks in an abandoned mining office. The gist here is The Six, now led by ZYLAVEN, the so-called Second of The Six, is pushing to murder the policemen who have invaded Ashthorne searching for the boys.

(Minor spoiler #2)

It is Zylaven, and not Cadiratra, the First of The Six, who is actually the book’s heavy, as will soon become obvious. Keep your eye on him.

(End minor spoiler #2)

While Drago struggles to keep the peace in Ashthorne, Cadiratra confronts Lilith in her Atlanta penthouse only to be joined by Vampirella who is plenty pissed off at Mommy Dearest for all the havoc Lilith wrought over in Vampirella’s own book. The confrontation and storyline is interrupted by Nyx’s arrival in a fabulous finale by Julius that promises fun times in the next installment.

So, that’s where we are. Here’s how we got there…

Birthing Pains

So, the book is called sacredsix, not Sacred Six and REALLY not THE Sacred Six. This is a fight I lost before the idea landed on Editor Matt Idelson’s desk, along with the logo design letterer Willie Schubert and I designed for the book, which is supposed to run vertically up the side of the cover and not horizontally across the top of it. Ironically, I got the vertical logo design idea from Dynamite, having seen them do that a number of times, but it elicited agita from upstairs (wherever Dynamite’s stairs may be). I’m really not sure why but, after a few rounds it became clear to me that, as in our national politics, the issue itself became subordinate to the fight over it. Winning the fight became more important than actually being “right” or “wrong” about something. I’ll hazard a guess that there was some concern about how the book would be displayed in comics shops, an issue the pandemic has made incredibly moot.

Other birthing pains: my referring to the characters as “sexy” and as “Wild Girls Gone Bad” in promo copy. Now, look… I admit to being a dinosaur who is completely lost in the world. I never know what is politically correct and what is not. The pushback was pretty fierce which puzzled me considering the genre we are working in– scantily-dressed female vampires. Now, I am not defending scantily-dressed female vampires, but let’s not kid ourselves about what we are doing here. Once an icon of 1970’s women’s lib, Vampirella is today often misconstrued as repressive sexism. And now here’s six characters in the same (jugular) vein. I somehow managed to find the third rail and grab it with both hands.

sacredsix #1 final cover by Jae Lee

Add in the brilliantly talented Gabriel Ibarra, a mind-blowing mashup of Bill Sienkiewicz and Gene Colan. This guy’s work just creeped me out. My main complaint about horror comics, about even writing horror comics, is most horror comics frankly aren’t that visually horrible. But, ho, ho, waitasec– who’s this guy?!?

Between Gabriel’s awesome and incredibly creepy technique and colorist Mohan digging the grave even deeper, I gotta tell you, I was floored by how awesomely creepy our debut issue looked. There were obvious problems with the storytelling– bringing characters “on-stage” so as to properly recognize them, and, most important, differentiating the darkness of the vampire village of Ashthorne from the gleaming light of the modern City of Sacred. But I hoped those matters would work themselves out in the wash.

Then the pandemic… and the shutdown… and somewhere along the way we lost Gabe. Production stops and starts, deadlines get missed, and I start receiving emails from confused readers, “What is this book?!?” Le sigh.

We are hopeful most of the kinks have been ironed out and S6 can finally settle in past the rough sledding. I’ve planned a very ambitious storyline for this project, one with important resonances to many top issues of the day. I’m hopeful our ladies will take flight and soar through Dynamite’s horror pantheon for an extended run.

Thanks for reading!

%d bloggers like this: