Writer’s Commentary: Christopher Priest Discusses ‘Sacredsix’ #5 From Dynamite
by Olly MacNamee
[+++ NOTE: Possible spoilers. Buy and read the book, then come back here for the commentary +++]
Okay, for this one I’ve shifted the “Obligatory Newcomer Info” to the end. If you’re new to this book, scroll down to the end for the basics!
So, this issue concludes our revisitation of Pantha’s origin, landing the evil, scheming would-be pharaoh Samira in New York City circa 1969, a tie-in to Vampirella #17 which is also set in the year 1969 and co-stars Pantha. Pantha is discovered unconscious in an alley by Warren Publishing founder James Warren (renamed “Warren Savin” in the original story). Savin is a writer but that may have gotten lost in translation because guest artist Guilherme Balbi made him a police officer for some reason.
Malik and Jordan, our teenage raconteurs, are finally arriving home in Ashthorne, Georgia, just as all hell is breaking loose in the main story. Malik wraps up Pantha’s tale (pun intended) with the Afrosiatic young teen Samira, who is much more a Beyoncé bronze, awakening to discover she is now apparently Raquel Welch, the template for the Warren-era Pantha.
While the Pantha character originally had this Raquel vibe, in our “Kelvin” Vampirella universe, I’ve re-envisioned a more culturally accurate Egyptian woman who is cursed by the goddess Sekhmet to wander the earth as a black panther. With all due respect to Charlton Heston and Elizabeth Taylor, Egypt is actually in Africa, and there was no reason I could imagine for an Egyptian woman to resemble Ms. Welch.
So here, in my version, Samira is inhabiting the body of the slave girl she shared a harem tent with. The slave girl was later revealed to have been Sekhmet herself. So, for the early days of Pantha’s journey through the modern world, she was wearing this skin.
Also, in my view, her name is not “Pantha” any more than our favorite space vampire’s name is “Vampirella.” I just consider it too arch, too camp, for those to literally be the characters’ names. It makes much more sense to me if those are what people call them. Vampirella would never refer to herself as “Vampirella.” It’s not her name. It’s a silly sobriquet she’s been stuck with. Likewise, our panther lady’s name is Samira, although here in issue #5, she has forgotten that.
In the Warren original story, poor Savin tried to force himself on his houseguest and was gutted for his trouble. So here Samira, her memory fading, is introduced to her new status quo by Sekhmet’s disembodied voice, leading to…
…The Blue Kitty wandering Manhattan. The drawing is lovely but, when dealing with giants (our Pantha is roughly the size of a large Siberian tiger) it is important to place them in context with identifiable objects in order to give them scale. Given the perspective here, Pantha appears to be a normal house cat. We only know this is a panther because we already know she is a panther. Had we never seen this character before, we’d have no clue as to how terrifying this monstrous-sized leopard is wandering New York’s streets.
So Pantha originally stalked her prey having little memory of these episodes when she later awoke, usually naked, in odd places. Per the Warren original, she took a job at a very well-lit strip club, and prowled the city at night until she met Vampirella in issue #17 of our title, so look for that hand-off.
Having arrived home, Malik almost blows his reward by uttering the dreaded P-word, but Jordie gives him a second shot as they arrive at Chief Allen’s house. Jordan, as you may recall, is the granddaughter of Ashthorne’s human police chief— who was murdered minutes before they arrived home.
Our main story begins with the mysterious GARDENER, who is hiding a bony hand and high tech wizardry beneath a pair of old work gloves. The Gardener is an enigmatic watchman for the City of Sacred. He has some kind of relationship with Pantha, who lives in Ashthorne, that I’m sure he is keeping secret from the religious bigots he works for. I doubt the relationship is romantic; I suspect it is more Big Brotherly. Pantha does not speak in our universe, at least not yet. In her animal form she will never speak (that’s just silly. Stop it), and we’ve just not been around Samira, her human form, long enough to know if she can actually talk.
Here we find Pantha horrifically frozen in an iced-over stream, except she’s not actually in the stream but lying on the edge of it. Okay. But she has scale here — she’s a huge cat, big enough to ride. And very, very scary to run into in the dead of night.
In Sacred, Victory, Vampirella’s former love interest, has been recruited by team den mother Lilith and sent to infiltrate the City of Sacred’s ecumenical academy where she takes a side gig in the school administrator’s office and also seduces her clueless freshman roommate Holly. A devout believer, Holly experiences enormous guilt over the sexual relationship and, finding no compassion from Victory, finally confesses to the school administrator, Lucille. Now, there’s something really off about Lucille, we’ve known this since her first appearance in issue #1.
Here we finally pick up where we left off last issue: Dead Chief Allen. The vampire bounty hunter Chastity was taking aim at Zylaven, the “Second of the Six,” when Vampirella, Victory and Nyx crashed the party and spoiled her aim.
I’m not a fan of the G-string Vampirella is drawn in. Her costume, as designed by artist Trina Robins, is sexy but not sexist. Way too big a wedgie going on here, way too much butt cheek. We’ll work to correct that.
So there’s the dilemma: Chief Allen was the human counterpart to Ashthorne’s vampire Mayor Drago. The two of them worked hard to keep the peace between the mostly-black human population and the mostly-vampire supernatural residents. The town has been invaded by a small army of state police allegedly searching for two missing boys. The Chief was the only person in town who could chill those guys out…
… and Chastity smoked him by accident. So now all of the ladies have skin in the game: they all bear some responsibility for whatever happens in this crappy little town. (Minor Spoiler) This will obviously help with their eventual buy-in to the series premise. (End Minor Spoiler)
Nyx, our Human Torchess, gets powered down because Lilith has her power source — a hellfire totem, so she’s stuck with the rest of them as the cops breach the secret meeting, choosing to shoot first and ask questions later.
Malik finally makes it to first base, but Jordan’s either a good girl or perhaps an experienced girl, experienced enough to know how hard it is to stop once you’ve gone too far. Which is a good thing because she’s about to get some very bad news.
Pages Eleven through Sixteen
Mommy Dearest saves the day and, as a bonus, offers Vampirella a chance for revenge. In an earlier Vampirella run, Vampirella was murdered by (then-Mistress) Nyx and suffers PTSD as a result. I couldn’t imagine sharing a room with someone who’d once impaled me on a spear. As much as Vampi would love revenge, she’s paralyzed by the emotion and also conflicted: her beef is with the demon. But here she faces Nyx’s human half, a side of her increasingly at war with her evil nature.
The ladies get new duds, courtesy of talismans in the shape of Vampirella’s sigil. A side effect of the magic (or super-advanced technology, depending on how you look at it) is their outfits are rendered in bright white, like a risqué wedding party (hence the rendering on many of our covers).
Rather than take personal revenge, Vampirella moves in the opposite direction: protecting everyone by taking the fall for Chief Allen’s death. She sees this as the only way to prevent a bloodbath in Ashthorne, though she makes a mortal enemy of the devastated teen Jordan.
Pages Seventeen and Eighteen
Lucille the school administrator has been lying in wait for Victory to return, with a surprise (and super creepy) twist.
So, here’s the entire point of the Victory character, where we’ve been going with her from the very beginning in Vampirella #2: a brutal encounter with her own selfishness which will have lasting impact in the sacredsix series as well as on Vampirella herself.
Artist Julius Ohta expertly pulls off both moments, moving from comical absurdity into an amazing depth of dramatic shock with the flip of a page. Nicely done.
Julius gets Pantha’s scale wrong (either that or the Gardener is fifteen feet tall) here — which all artists struggle with — but he nails the storytelling. The Gardener’s obvious urgency tells the story: these two oddball characters share a bond yet to be fully explored.
Giving mouth-to-mouth to a huge, savage panther? When I wrote that, I had no idea if the artist could make it work. Julius nails it. We also finally see an image of Jae Lee’s Samira juxtaposed with the Pantha character, finally driving a stake into the ground to join the rails of the prologue microseries and whatever the hell is going on in Ashthorne. And, speaking of which, we finally realize why Pantha was so exhausted, from a long night of searching for the missing boys…
… she’d found them. Very nice composition here. We still don’t know why Pantha looks completely different in the prologue, but let’s assume I do and will get to that eventually. I really love Julius’s water technique and his use of lighting here, along with Mohan’s amazing moody color.
And now we’re set for our first arc’s conclusion, ‘Pluto’s Gate,’ next month, wherein we discover Lilith’s true motive for, well, doing anything.
+++ OBLIGATORY NEWCOMER INF +++
Skip this if you already know: “sacred” is a PLACE, the City of Sacred, Georgia. The Six are the BAD GUYS— a fundamentalist militant wing of a shadowy organization called Lumea Următoare, “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. The Six have vowed to protect Ashthorne from the Sacred bigots and advocate wiping out that city.
Two young boys have gone missing from the gleaming City of Sacred. 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 vampire hunting in Ashthorne.
DRAGO, Ashthorne’s vampire mayor, asked his mother LILITH, a powerful sorceress from the planet Drakulon, to help him protect the town. Lilith, in turn, lured 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).
+++ END OF OBLIGATORY NEWCOMER INFO +++
Thanks for reading. Stay safe, wash your hands, wear your mask!
sacredsix #5 is available now from Dynamite.