Sunday, September 9, 2012

Death On The Wing

A non-Marvel nod to: Purgatori

When I was still collecting comics, there were times when I'd be hit with an impulse to pick up a new series very different that what I was used to reading. I couldn't have hit the mark more sharply than when I began reading Purgatori, the series of an Egyptian slave who became a power-crazed vampire.

Published by Chaos! Comics, the drawing power of Purgatori was pretty clear. The artwork for the character featured a good deal of bare skin, and a very prominent pair of breasts on not only the title character, but the various female characters featured in her stories; but in addition, Purgatori lusted after other women, which meant a lot of near-explicit scenes of lesbian erotic coupling which no doubt contributed to sales vis-à-vis male readers. Add to all this the fact that there were plenty of bloody, savage killing sprees in practically every issue, and you had a book that went beyond the formula of traditional comic books--at least, as far as it could, given that it was still on the shelf as a comic book.

As for the character herself, she didn't really venture beyond the basic. Purgatori lusted for power, and made bold grabs for it no matter the stature of the foe she set herself against. There was nothing redeeming about her; in fact, she couldn't have cared less about redemption. When she was in her vampire form, all bets were off. You went up against her, and you would suffer a gruesome, sadistic death--"bloodshed" was an understatement. Sakkara--her human form--was less bloodthirsty and more reined in, but still calculating and agenda-driven. The only place we saw the character being vulnerable was in the bedroom, in slow foreplay with her chosen lover.

So how do you placate a character whose only driving force is to seek out greater power for herself? As far as power plays, the sky was the limit. Purgatori involved the character in greater, more ambitious plans featuring opponents who could give her a run for her money. Other vampires. Lucifer (who gave her the name "Purgatori"). Dracula (of course). Vampirella. And would you believe Odin? Often, Purgatori's reach would exceed her grasp; but as an opportunist, she exploited openings that allowed her to occasionally turn the tables. Interestingly enough, pains would be taken to show her being out of her depth when going up against strong male characters--characters who treated her in a humbling manner and were not subtle about letting her know how they regarded her in terms of her "place" at their feet. And when she viciously resisted, she would be even more viciously slapped down. Such confrontations were the exception, rather than the rule, and probably were more to show the arrogance of her foe than a sexist display--but the distinction seemed borderline, at best.

I collected Purgatori for awhile--but though I enjoyed the diversion, there was only so far the character could go. It was a book done in arcs--and when a character is written in such a way, you veer further away from her history until all you're left with is the latest set of circumstances in which the character finds herself. At that point, Purgatori merely becomes a gun which the latest writer to come on board points at a new target. Her plans and goals became more convoluted, though a stalwart foe remained Lady Death--another busty Chaos! Comics creation who, like Purgatori, was a "goddess" but more medieval in nature and appearance.

Chaos! filed for bankruptcy in 2002, and sold their characters to other publishers. Purgatori and Lady Death were part of the so-called "bad girl" trend in comics that began in the late 1990s but didn't transcend too far past the turn of the century. But that would seem to suit the temperament of Purgatori herself--who is content to lie low for a time, but always keeps an eye out for new opportunities of conquest.

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