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Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Written by Richard Howell, Paul Dini, and Kurt Busiek. Illustrated by various. Leonia, NJ: Claypool Comics, 1996. 152p. $12.95. ISBN 0-9653109-0-6.


Fantasy; Popular Culture; Humor

Adults, teens, older kids; mildly adult situations

For those of you who don't know or don't remember, Elvira (nee Cassandra Peterson from the horror-city that is Colorado Springs) is a TV host famous for showing and commenting upon bad horror movies. This book reprints nine of her "most outrageous and amusing adventures from the early issues of her Claypool Comics" (1993-1994). It starts with a foreword by Paul Dini (Emmy-award winner for animation writing and co-winner of the Eisner and Harvey awards, among others) and an introduction by Richard Howell that details how Claypool came to publish this high-profile series after the rather disastrous previous comics appearances of Elvira via Marvel and DC. Howell also provided a cheery afterword about subsequent Elvira issues.

The stories are "real-world" experiences of Elvira with varying levels of pure fantasy. For example, the first story in this book deals with Elvira's struggle with the new station manager, Rosalind Wyck, who wants to get rid of her but can't fire her for contractual reasons. Rosalind thus attempts to make Elvira look foolish by forcing her to host a variety of inappropriate shows, including a cooking show and a kid's show. But by doing her trademark schtick, Elvira is a hit in each venue, and Rosalind is ultimately carted off to the funny farm. On the other hand, the two-part "Curse and Tell" teams Elvira and a teenage boy ("Talbot Lawrence III") who turns into a werewolf when he gets lustful. They seek to end Tad's curse by confronting the gypsy who bestowed it upon him, but Elvira ends up getting shrunk and added to the gypsy's collection of tiny wizards whose powers feed the gypsy.

Other stories cover Elvira's high school reunion; a naive angel's attempt to show a sleazy producer how the world would have been worse off without him (except that it would've been better. Let's put it this way: this guy was responsible for the bad reputation of "Alan Smithee," which is a joke you won't get unless you know something about the movie industry); Elvira's interesting encounter on a whale watch; the return of Rosalind Wyck; the introduction of another of Elvira's recurring nemeses, Spooky Suzie Knight; and a Christmas party where Elvira livens up the proceedings with "a good old nonalcoholic family treat--brewed up special from my great-aunt's recipe books. It's refreshing! It's tasty! It's free!" Among other things, this lively episode includes a nod to the Pinis and Elfquest: Elvira appears as one of Santa's elves and says, "At least if I worked for the Pinis, I'd get to carry a sword and stab people!"

What a pleasant surprise this book was! All too often books based on "real" characters are timid and deferential. (Look at how the Marvel and DC versions flopped.) But not this one. It's another first-class humor title from Claypool. The jokes aren't quite as pointed as those in Soulsearchers and Company, at least not in some ways. Still, the book is very entertaining, in large part because of the character of Elvira. Self-confident and in control in that Bugs Bunny way (and I mean this as a compliment), she is also self-deprecating (which I love) about her talents and her looks. It's very nice, though, to see her take command of just about every situation she gets involved in. You know she'll win and that she'll do an excellent job of taking the starch out of her enemies/detractors. Again, as with Soulsearchers, each story is introduced by Elvira. This time, the introductions cover real-world details about the stories, such as where certain characters debuted or the fact that the real Elvira inspired a particular story (the high school reunion one). I really like this technique.

Yes, there are a lot of breast jokes, both verbal and visual, but at least Elvira is up front about it. (Sorry.) The character makes nearly all the jokes herself and is fully aware of the effect of her chest on men, which gives her control over the situation. Contrast this attitude with your typical big-tits dead-serious superheroine (which is an asinine concept to begin with, given the typical physical endowments of female athletes) who is drawn solely to fulfill masculine fantasies. As far as I'm concerned, if you're gonna do this, you might as well have fun with it.

The black-and-white art (by old pros Neil Vokes, Jim Mooney, Dave Cockrum, and Ricardo Villagran, among others) is excellent and playful. Regardless of artist, Elvira comes across looking right, which is all you can ask.

If you like in-your-face humor, this book's for you. This title should be quite popular in most collections, and obviously Elvira fans are urged to rush out and buy it.

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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