But really, she's everyone's.

*Oh sure, it’s fun to dig through the friendly back issue boxes and exhume fun little things. Various Jim Woodring-written Aliens miniseries, the Steve Ditko issues of Solar: Man of the Atom - those are great. But sometimes, I hunger for something just a little bit more esoteric, something a step or two farther off the beaten path. Something almost forgotten. Unjustly? As my compulsion to view the odder specimens among the fauna tightens around my throat and singes my tonsils, such evaluation grows hopelessly cloudy.

Donna Mia #1-2 (of an intended 4)

The first ever Donna Mia miniseries was published from 1995 to 1996, one issue for each year, by an outfit known as Dark Fantasy Productions. Each of the two issues has lovely cover art by Michael Kaluta, and exist in standard and deluxe foil editions, the latter type also sporting centerfold posters. The story of the miniseries concernes the origins of the oft-unclothed title character, who is the result of the merger of a 14-year old girl and a succubus from the depths of Hell; the difference having apparently been split, she retains the form of an attractive young woman, though she also has a pair of wings, a forked tail, and cloven hooves that inexplicably resemble high heels. She can hide these extranormal attributes, but only two of them at a time. Men and women find her irresistible, which is fortunate since she needs to feed off of the essence of the living; her every orifice is a portal back to the psychedelic, skin-lined Hell of her prior residence, so the aforementioned essence also nourishes the entirety of her succubae sisters, who are otherwise writhing around in a non-stop marathon of damnable stimulation, orgasm an impossibility. Also: the narrator and audience surrogate character of the story is Neil Gaiman.

No, Gaiman did not write the script. He did not suggest the story. This is not ‘based on an idea by.’ Actually, he had absolutely nothing to do with the series at all. Except, he’s one of the lead characters. And it’s not some thinly-veiled substitute - the narrator of the book is explicitly and definitively identified as noted comic book writer Neil Gaiman.

The book is actually the brainchild of creator/writer/penciler Trevlin Utz; Donna Mia had started out as star of a series of short stories in Dark Fantasy’s flagship horror anthology, the obscurely titled Dark Fantasies. She was eventually cleared for her very own book, four issues intended for the presumed purpose of revealing her origins; at least, that’s the notion I get from examining these issues - as you can tell from above, only half of the miniseries was ever finished. I’m not entirely sure why, though Utz makes reference in issue #2 to production delays preventing completed material from being published, and Dark Fantasy appears to have gone out of the comics business shortly afterward. The writer also credits himself with ‘bothering Neil Gaiman,’ so don’t go thinking he just plopped the Sandman legend in his book out of nowhere. This was, after all, a time of heightened interaction toward independently-inclined comics personalities - around the same time, titles like Cerebus and Rare Bit Fiends were becoming stocked with guest appearances by the characters of other creators, or the creators themselves. And what better ‘hook’ for a new series than the presence (if not creative contribution) of a most notable comics personality?

Thus we have Gaiman, sitting in a diner and clad in sunglasses and leather jacket as the tale opens. He tells us that he’s waiting there to hear a story, one that hasn’t been told since the 15th century; immediately, we see a new utility for casting the tale-crazy Gaiman in the saga, his own yen for folklore offering a certain logic to his position in the story (plus it’s funny, though if we were evaluating matters on solely that level someone like, say, Jim Shooter would have been a measure or two funnier). Donna Mia saunters in, cracks a Death joke, and staves off any initial assumptions as to her lack of sanity by showing off to the future 1602 writer her most prominent attributes - her tail and hooves, though there’s several shots of the unclad rear beneath her dress as well. We are then whisked away into Hell as Donna Mia relates her story to Gaiman - our first glimpse of the inferno is that of a massive wall of flesh, festooned with weird black mountains and spires, the center of the skin opening into a massive tunnel, its rim dotted with teeth and a small city at the lower curve. Soon enough, we spot the Grievous Angel, the self-proclaimed personal Lieutenant of Lucifer, armed with a double-edged spear, a flame-belching blade floating before his lips, a mysterious book (perhaps a rare first edition of Angels & Visitations), and a writhing serpent for a penis.

I expect you might be picking up a certain element of sexual iconography to the Hell of this book. That would not be an incorrect observation, though I stress that this isn’t a purely prurient perdition. There’s a thorough, extremely studied tone to Utz’s vision of torment - witness the inversion of the Kaballistic Tree of Life that accompanies the Grievous Angel at all times, his feet firmly planted upon the sephira of paradise, or the golden tears shed by Lucifer, who vanished forever after the abortion of his rebellion in Heaven, though he rules still. Images of metal piercing flesh mix with classical robes ’n sandals pageantry, all of it strained through the point of view of colorist Eric Olive, who differentiates the zones of human/Gaimankind and cosmic censure by giving the latter a garish, shimmering, almost neon look. By the time we’re in the Cave of Sirens, home to the original incarnation of Our Heroine, the glowing lime and blueberry skin of those frenzied essence-sippers loans an air of exaggeration to everything, in sharp contrast to the heavy realism of the mortal plane. It should be said that Utz’s pencils are largely assured in scenic set-up and extremely detailed in background (only after extended reading does one notice that the arrangement of the booths in the diner in which Gaiman sits forms an inverted cross), though his character art has a certain stiffness, and Donna Mia’s limbs (especially her usually uncovered legs) seem excessively long.

Still, the visual appeal of the book is well beyond that of your typical erotic horror thing; it’s bizarre and often over-the-top, but canny and capable. We do get visions of the fully unclothed title character gazing backward at the charred husk of a man, though then we notice a big smile on his face, and that fact that his pertinent appendage is now but a smoldering heap of ash. As Donna Mia tells her tale, a nearby waitress becomes enchanted, and soon the booth becomes the scene of a furious round of tongue-rasslin’ between woman and succubus and author Neil Gaiman (who merely observes, I hasten to note) - but after that, there’s a few amusing glimpses of the same waitress lurking in the background, casting longing glimpses back at the booth, evidencing a certain wit. It goes a bit toward offsetting the gratuitous butt shots, like the one that closes the first issue as Gaiman is left sitting alone and (informationally) unfulfilled. Ah, but the wordsmith behind Mr. Punch is not dissuaded so easily!

Issue #2 opens with Gaiman taking his hunger for fresh folklore to Donna Mia’s apartment, where he’s immediately confronted by the waitress from issue #1, wearing only a t-shirt, underpants, and a smile. “…Do you want anything?” she asks, as Utz gives us a gaping shot of her posterior. “No. No, I’m fine, thanks,” replies the erstwhile Miracleman writer, a sly grin on his face, and the book verily catapulting itself onto my official retroactive Best of 1996 list. And all of these conversational panels are strategically positioned to cover up the more sensitive areas of four consecutive underlying pages of Our Heroine showering - it’s just that type of book. Eventually the waitress leaves, Donna Mia towels off, and we get back to the story of the great escape from Hell.

The opportunity arrives courtesy of the discovery of a place in Hell where the boundaries between Earth and eternity fray - a Warm Spot. Naturally a fight breaks out over access to this mystical point, and the soon-to-be Donna Mia engages is a kung-fu duel with a sister succubus, high heels/hooves flying, until the advancing party is gutted from stem to stern. “Fuck me!” propositions the immortal (if incapacitated) siren, and then, as logic would dictate, a translucent fetus emerges from her innards, also crying out “Fuck me!” To Our Heroine’s understandable dismay, the fetus then grows to giant-size, its detached umbilical cord attaining sentience and a maw full of teeth. The chase is on, with the future Donna Mia finally managing to hide in a crevice and launch herself hip-high into the fetus’ squishy skull. Unfortunately, a tiny monster was housed in the fetus’s head, and it attaches itself to her leg as she pries herself out. The beastie ascends into the air, and then in a plume of light transforms into - viola! - the Grievous Angel, who informs her that it’s the will of Lucifer that none may leave. Perturbed, Our Heroine dives into the Warm Spot anyway, the story ends, and Gaiman discovers that somebody has jacked his car.

Well, perhaps my car was stolen by agents of darkness. Right now, Beelzebub is cruising the mall parking lot, trying to pick up cheerleaders.”

And thus the miniseries comes to what would prove to be its close. We never do find out what happened to Gaiman’s vehicle, nor what the remaining half of the story held. I presume it’d have documented the succubus’ merger with the young girl, and Donna Mia’s subsequent early adventures, though I’m hoping we’d have also seen Gaiman team up with Dave Sim, the Batman to his Superman, to take on the legions of the damned. It would not be the end of Donna Mia, however - the very next year a brand-new three-issue miniseries, also titled simply Donna Mia, would surface as a launch book for the then-nascent Avatar Press (why yes, there was a variant cover available). Olive had departed by this time, Utz’s b&w pencils growing more and more luxurious and adorned with each issue, and his storytelling becoming more overtly satirical. Avatar would eventually publish expanded versions of the Dark Fantasies shorts (as the two-issue Donna Mia Giant Size), and a heavily compressed one-issue revamp/recycle of the Hell portions of that first Donna Mia mini, under the title Donna Mia Infinity. Neil Gaiman is nowhere to be found in this new presentation.

Also nowhere to be found, at least in regards to the comics world of today, is Utz. In addition to the above, a Donna Mia #0 was released, plus a collection of pinups and a few assorted short stories, and then Utz apparently left the world of sequential art. Behind him was left this utterly bonkers, genuinely unique book, overtly lecherous yet made with more evident care and skill than the average wank pamphlet. Who can tell where such a thing would have gone, given alternate circumstances? I can hardly believe that the thing exists, but here it is, right beside me - I don’t even recall what possessed me to buy it, but I’m glad I did. And while I wish I could provide a succinct summary as to the work’s positive and negative attributes, a neat consumer guide with a grade appended to the close, I cannot - books like this resist such evaluations, as their weird history clings so tightly to their skin, that sometimes one can only marvel at the sheer occurrence of it all.