Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
I, Vampire has been by most accounts the biggest surprise hit of the “New 52.”Other successful books whose futures were thought to be uncertain at the start of this initiative such as Aquaman, or Demon Knights had well established creators and characters with strong legacies, and in retrospect their success hasn’t been such a serious shock. I, Vampire, on the other hand, had a creative team that wasn’t well-known and had done little in the world of mainstream comics; they were dealing with one of the more obscure properties in the DC Universe; and the covers for the first few issues, though attractive, were highly misleading at best, suggesting a twilight style romance aimed at that demographic. I myself was guilty of these assumptions and it wasn’t until around issue #3, after reading the first issue of Fialkov’s excellent Image title, The Last of the Greats, that I decided to give this book a shot. Needless to say I was immediately hooked by the electrifying story and the elegant brutality of Sorrentino’s artwork. I quickly picked up the first two issues and have been reading it regularly ever since.
That being said, the series really hit the ground running with an inevitable, epic vampire war between conscientious vampire Andrew Bennett and his vicious former lover, Mary, Queen of Blood looming around every corner – but it seemed to stall a bit when it stopped over in Gotham to feature a Batman cameo, and then ran a crossover with Justice League Dark. I know that at least part of the reason this was done was to take advantage of the interlocking universe with the goal of increasing readership and, honestly, I can live with that if it helps a good series survive, but I have still been glad to see the series return to its previous glory with a vengeance in issue 9, and now in the tenth issue which I believe is the best yet.
At the end of the end of the “Rise of the Vampires” crossover with Justice League Dark, Andrew Bennett is resurrected from the dead and given the powers that had once belonged to Cain, the first vampire, which essentially amount to arcane magical abilities inconceivable in their scope and their scale. Bennett has sent his human ally, Professor John Troughton, to notify the Van Helsings, an ancient order of vampire slayers, that he would like to speak with them in order to negotiate some sort of peace. Unfortunately for Andrew, the Van Helsings are on their way, but with different intentions, and Mary is willing to fight him to the death in order to reclaim her army.
The “most powerful being in the world” conceit shows up often in comics but usually fails to pack the dramatic punch that one would expect it to. This is because if said being is a hero, then you know the outcome of the story before you’ve read it, and if said being is a villain than the only two options are global annihilation, or the more likely revelation that they weren’t really all they were cracked up to be. It works perfectly, however, with the morally conflicted anti-hero of Andrew Bennett where the drama is all in waiting to see how he will use his power. It’s this moral gray area that Fialkov makes good use of in issue #10. He sets the story up by juxtaposing a philosophical discussion between Troughton and the leader of the Van Helsings about power and moral responsibility with images of the battle that is being waged between Mary and Andrew. As the leader ends the conversation and drops out of his airplane along his platoon of assassins and several tons of napalm on their way to destroy Bennett and 60% of the world’s vampire population, however, Fialkov comments poignantly on the futility of discourse in the face of passion and ideology.
Sorrentino’s artwork is breathtaking, but while reading this issue some of the finer points of that appeal became apparent to me. His contrasting use of heavy spaces of pitch black ink and very fine detailed lines lends a very ephemeral quality to his work which actually serves to imbue each panel with a profound sense of movement and urgency. In addition, his panel layouts are also unique and atypical. He employs two strategies throughout this issue: horizontal panels ranging from 4-7 panels per page and full-page images with smaller panels scattered loosely about. The horizontal panels create a powerful dramatic rhythm that, though I hate to reduce it to a film analogy, is akin to a well-executed shot / reverse shot sequence that builds tension only to cut away to a new scene, leaving the viewer in agonizing anticipation of the ultimate release. This technique was used to great effect in the noir films of the 40s and 50s and is perfectly suited to the dramatic horror of I, Vampire. The full-page images that Sorrentino crafts are largely silent and emphasize setting and scale, much like a traditional splash page, but instead of coming off as static, like splash pages often due, the emphasis of details or the inclusion of scattered panels Sorrentino’s work add a narrative umph! that prevents the rhythm of the drama from being disturbed, playing more like a bridge or a chorus than a rest. One example that was particularly striking actually reverses this concept. It is a two-page spread that presents sixteen panels showing close-ups of Mary and Andrew’s body parts engaged in sensual combat overlaid with a powerful image of Mary in viscous wolf form facing down a comparatively miniscule, but collected Bennett, juxtaposed again with the conversation between Troughton and the leader of the Van Helsings. All of these design techniques allow the creative team to effectively do what can only be done in comics, that is, the representation of static images that manage to move convincingly across time and space.
It can be intimidating to dive into a series like I, Vampire ten issues in when a single narrative strand has been ongoing since its inception, however, I think that new readers would find issue ten an exciting place to jump on board. There will be a few questions and finer points of the plot that won’t be explicitly restated, but the astute reader shouldn’t find it to be to prohibitive to enjoying the story. Despite loads of critical success, I,Vampire is still on the low end of the sales figures for DC’s current line-up so reader support will certainly make a difference, not to mention it will send the message that we would like to see more smart, attractive horror stories in the world of mainstream comics.