REVIEW: I, Vampire #1

And to think, at first I wasn’t even going to get I, Vampire.  Amidst all the DC Dark titles unveiled as part of the DC Relaunch back in June, I, Vampire stood out as one comic I definitely had zero interest in getting.  I didn’t like the cover, and the concept suggested in the solicit for the first issue just didn’t appeal to me at all.  It seemed like another soppy vampire romance to appeal to the Twilight crowd, and I figured that so long as the excellent American Vampire was going strong, surely any other vampire comic would be utterly redundant.  I know I’m not the only person who reacted that way at the time, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who still think that now, and as a result have decided not to pick up I, Vampire #1.  That would be a terrible mistake.

Based on some stunning preview art from the book released a little while back, and the generally high standard of the other titles released under the Dark banner thus far, I decided I’d give I, Vampire a go, at least for an issue.  It wasn’t a series I was particularly anticipating, with Justice League Dark being a title I was much more excited for amongst this week’s offerings.  But, though Justice League Dark was also great, I was shocked to discover that I, Vampire trumped it.  In fact, based on the disparity between where this title ranked on my personal hype list and its final standing among how I’d rank all the #1s I picked up this month after reading them, I, Vampire #1 might stand as my biggest sleeper hit of the New 52.

I had zero awareness of the previous incarnation of I, Vampire under the House of Mystery banner, as written by J.M. DeMatteis back in the 80s.  As far as I was concerned, this was not a relaunch, but the launch of a brand new series, introducing new characters and mythology into the DCU.  And, for someone coming into the comic with that perspective, I, Vampire #1 works very well.  We are efficiently introduced to our two key players.  Andrew Bennett, our hero, is a very old and powerful vampire who has retained his humanity, and so has devoted his eternal life to slaying his own kind.  Mary Seward, our villain, is Andrew’s great love, and also his greatest enemy and weakness, a vampire who shares much of his power but none of his love for humanity.  At this early stage in the narrative, we only get hints of their relationship and their shared history, but it’s a testament to the immense skill of writer Joshua Hale Fialkov that these both feel like rounded, real characters with their own nuanced personalities even without us having to immediately get exhaustive biographies explaining in detail exactly who they are.

Instead of starting with an origin story or exposition, Fialkov throws us right into the thick of things, juxtaposing the horror and piled corpses of the morning after with the battle of wills and sexual chess games of the night before.  Both prove equally engrossing.  The former shows Andrew’s power, but also the compassion and humanity that Mary intends to cruelly exploit, while the latter shows Catwoman #1 how to portray intense sexual chemistry between two adversaries without it feeling overblown and tacky.  I’m currently reading Tumor, an earlier work by Fialkov, and that too plays with chronology, jumping back and forth.  But while in Tumor there is an in-built, character-driven justification for these time shifts, here it feels largely like a stylistic choice, and while the unusual structure does make for a slick narrative, it did create the odd moment of confusion about what was going on, or when it was going on.

As I touched on above, one of the big questions for me going in is what a new vampire comic would do to stand apart from American Vampire.  And the niche that I, Vampire finds is that this isn’t a Vertigo title: it’s a vampire mythology entrenched in the DCU.  Though none of the famous superheroes actually show up here, they are mentioned, and how a vampire mythology might match up against them creates an interesting dynamic.  Andrew fears vampires declaring war on humanity because it might result in the superhumans wiping them out.  This is a world where vampires aren’t the heaviest hitters, so the question becomes, “How can they still pose a threat?”  The answer Fialkov comes up with to present vampires as terrorists: waging war on a human race they view as their oppressors, with Mary as their fanatic leader fighting for vampire supremacy.

Another thing I think Fialkov handles very well is the depiction of the vampires and their power sets.  Ironically enough, he is able to make Andrew, Mary and the rest feel different from a lot of the other vampires permeating pop culture nowadays by going back to the classic Bram Stoker breed: they can survive in sunlight, but are stronger at night, they can shapeshift into not just bats, but wolves and other creatures, and to kill them you have to not only put a stake through their heart, but also decapitate them. With how oversaturated vampires have become in all forms of pop culture these days, it’s hard for vampires to capture an enigmatic allure or a sense of menace anymore, but I, Vampire just about pulls it off.

I have a lot of admiration for the work Fialkov did in this issue, and it makes me keen to not just read the rest of Tumor, but pick up Echoes as well.  But I have to say, the true star of this comic is artist Andrea Sorrentino.  I mentioned earlier that I disliked the cover to this first issue when I first saw it, and I still don’t love it.  The Barbie doll figures with their pretty, pouting faces calls up that Twilight imagery that Fialkov’s storytelling inside does so much to dispel.  Also, as an interesting aside, it’s funny how I, Vampire managed to put a naked woman on its front cover (I don’t think tattoos count as clothing) without getting any of the sexism bad press other DC releases of recent weeks have got.  I think this demonstrates that the criticisms aren’t about readers being prudes, as some have suggested, but rather that sexuality and even scantily clad women is fine, but it’s the cheesecake fan-service depiction of it that’s tiresome.

But moving past the cover, the interior art is on a whole other level.  I described the preview pages released a while back as “stunning”, and “stunning” is the word that keeps on coming back to me whenever I try to describe the moody visuals crafted by Sorrentino.  Reminiscent of the work of Jae Lee or Tim Broadstreet, Sorrentino’s grounded, lifelike depictions of characters makes the monstrosities they turn into all the more creepy.  It’s also useful that he is his own inker, with the shadows around Andrew’s eyes seeming to become a seamless aspect of his base design, and some skillful use of full and partial silhouette at various key points in the comic.

Sorrentino is ably complimented by the colors of Marcelo Maiolo.  As mentioned above, this issue is very much a story of two halves: day and night.  And, appropriate for a tale where a vampire is the protagonist, the cool blue tone gives the night sequences a soothing, serene quality, while the stark orange glow of Maiolo’s sunlight makes the day feel harsh and threatening.  Elsewhere, Maiolo operates with a faded, washed-out pallette that brings out the deep blacks of Sorrentino’s inks, and together they manage to create one of the most intensely atmospheric comics of the New 52.

I also want to point out some cool work done by letterer Pat Brosseau, seeing that letterers don’t often get as much love as they should.  Notice how, in the space of a single issue, Brosseau establishes four different kinds of vampire voices through his fonts and bubbles?  In regular human form, the vampires speak in normal word balloons.  When Mary takes her glowing red “Queen of Blood” form, her dialogue boldens.  When a vampire is stakes, the font within the white balloon grows larger, turning red.  And when a vampire shapeshifts, their dialogue as a creature is spoken in a red balloon with white font.  Little touches like this further enhance the shifting identity of the vampires, so kudos to Brosseau too.

So, in closing, let’s cast aside the myths and the bad press.  No, this is not soppy, angsty teen love piffle like Twilight.  Yes, there is room for another vampire comic, even after American Vampire.  The Dark stable of comics have been among the biggest winners of the New 52, and I, Vampire is the perfect closing note to that trend.  I was initially hesitant about picking up issue #1, but there’ll be no such doubt about coming back for issue #2.

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