Review: I, Vampire: Tainted Love trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

There are undoubtedly some standout gems in DC Comics's inaugural New 52 titles -- Animal Man, Batwoman, and Flash, to name a few. Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino's I, Vampire is another one of these.

I, Vampire: Tainted Love utilizes deft storytelling and thoughtful art to transcends what one might consider the "average comic book." Fialkov's demonstrates masterful control of the story; his chapters are mostly self-contained, at times forwarding the action and at times languidly doubling-back or showing the same events from another perspective, offering the reader the experience of a slowly unfolding novel. Sorrentino's art, which succeeds in moments of both horror and humor, ought be a model for other artists of the New 52.

[Review contains spoilers]

I, Vampire's first two issues give the audience a good sense of what they're in for, narratively speaking. In the first, Fialkov parallels the wistful parting of vampires Andrew Bennett and Mary, the self-proclaimed Queen of Blood, with Bennett fighting through an abattoir of the rampaging undead; the end of the first thread, the reader finds, is the beginning of the second, as Mary pits her vampire horde against her former lover to try to kill him. The first issue is told mainly from Bennett's point of view, but the second issue is told entirely from Mary's, as Fialkov goes back to show Mary gathering her horde.

These issues are vibrantly narrated -- Mary's voice, especially, is a winner -- and lushly drawn by Sorrentino, but they move the story forward only an inch (though they cover miles in character development). Such, the reader learns, is I, Vampire, a story demanding to be savored (and worth doing so) and refusing to be rushed.

It's also significant that Fialkov gives the entire second issue to Mary. It would be easy to see I, Vampire simply in terms of the hero Bennett battling the villain Mary, but in allowing her to become a perspective character, Fialkov reinforces that Mary is just as important as Bennett here -- that she and the vampires are not just stock supervillains. The reader won't want to join "Team Mary" -- certainly not after her vampires slaughter a subway car full of people -- but it's another example of the greater depth I, Vampire offers over other books.

With the third and fourth issues, Fialkov accomplishes a similarly skillful trick. The third issue serves to introduce Bennett's companion John Troughton, a professor-turned-vampire-hunter, and the two then encounter Tig, a "borderline psychotic" young woman orphaned by vampires. Though it's amusing that Bennett's supporting characters both consider killing him, this introductory issue seems too purposeful, sacrificing story for narrative intent, and so it's a relief when in the fourth issue, Bennett leaves while his companions sleep, and meets a peace-minded vampire like himself. Bennett takes the vampire under his (bat-)wing, showing the man some vampiric tricks. Unfortunately, this makes the vampire crazed, and he runs afoul of John Constantine before Bennett himself must finally kill him.

If it were not simply enough for the Bennett and the reader to now come to understand just how alone Bennett is, unable to even make friends with another vampire for fear of unleashing a monster -- in the final panel, Bennett and the reader learn that the vampire was Tig's father! What has seemed to be two isolated issues have been made to seem so isolated because they are in fact extremely connected. In the span of a single issue and with one character completely off the page, Fialkov changes Bennett and Tig's relationship and sets them up for conflict later on. As with the first two chapters, Fialkov writes two issues that can be read as complete stories on their own, but dramatically change I, Vampire when read together.

After those two pairs of issues, the final two-issue team-up with Batman is almost anti-climactic -- though Sorrentino's work, especially how he uses panels to bring focus to wide-screen, vampire-filled battle pages, make even two action-focused chapters can't miss. Tainted Love's conclusion comes very suddenly, and very strangely -- Tig, mistakenly believing that killing Bennett's might resurrect her parents, chops off his head with an axe even as she's surrounded by evil vampires and knows Bennett's a good one; and then lightning strikes and Cain, sire of the vampires, rises from the ground. No doubt Fialkov will explain in the next volume why Bennett's death summoned Cain -- and Fialkov packs enough in twenty-some pages that a swift end of the book can certainly be forgiven -- but Tainted Love comes to a quick end that will leave readers waiting for the upcoming I, Vampire/Justice League Dark crossover.

Andrea Sorrentino's work panel by panel is great -- dark, gritty, and bloody, but with some blue-hued panels (colors by Marcelo Maiolo) that also convey the wonder of being a vampire, transforming to a wolf or to mist on the air. Sorrentino deserves even more praise, however, for drawing a Mary, Queen of Blood who is nearly naked through the whole book, and doing so tastefully and without gratuitousness. Never does Sorrentino artificially bend Mary's anatomy into a panel or draw undue attention to her body; Mary is present and Sorrentino draws her attractively, but in a manner that's natural and not artificial. I, Vampire is a book whose art needs no apology, and other DC artists would do well to follow its example. (That Sorrentino is soon to join writer Jeff Lemire on Green Arrow speaks volumes for what that title might accomplish.)

For every misstep DC Comics's New 52 initiative might have, there are books like I, Vampire: Tainted Love, arguably an instant classic, that make it worth it. Horror is a genre that hasn't fared well in the DC Universe (fans are still waiting for those John Ostrander Spectre collections), but IGN has just nominated I, Vampire as one of their best new series of 2012. If this series is going to continue, readers should look to pre-order I, Vampire: Rise of the Vampires as soon as possible. This one comes with the highest recommendation.

[Includes original covers, sketchbook pages by Jim Lee, Andrea Sorrentino, and cover artist Jenny Frisson]

Next week -- Hawkman, Nightwing, X-Men, and more. Have a good weekend!
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4 comments:

  1. Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, All Star Western, Aquaman, Demon Knights, and of course, Batman, have all been the pick of the litter for the New 52. But without a doubt, the highest compliment has to go to I, Vampire.

    The book had nothing but bad press surrounding it from the moment it was announced because of the stigma of vampires. The Twilight films, Vampire Diaries, etc, have become cliche and destroyed much of horror that are vampires in this current millennia. Even the cover of I, Vampire looked just like the sparkling vampires most of the public have hated. Not to mention an unknown writer and unknown artist doing the book meant nothing but trouble.

    Then I picked up the trade in October to see if the hype was real. And oh god, it is true. This is phenomenal reading. You summed up everything that needs to be said/written, CE.

    I, Vampire is the critically acclaimed book no one is reading,which is a crying shame because the sales are really low. The book is only still being published because of the acclaim from the media, so please people, go out and buy the singles, or for heavens sake the trade to show DC the title is worth keeping.

    I know Scott Snyder's Batman is getting all of the attention...but really, I, Vampire deserves the titles best new series over Batman in the New 52. Bandwagon-Batfans are 80% of the world population...but I,Vampire deserves the title for all of the negative preconceived notions the book has about it and proves the naysayers wrong.

    So people. Go out and buy this book. It is worth the try.

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  2. I had zero interest in a DCU vampire book, but Fialkov impressed me so much with his (sadly uncollected) Superman/Batman arc that I decided to give I, Vampire a chance.

    This really is one of the best monthlies DC is publishing right now, and I dread the possibility that it might be cancelled after the third arc. If it happens, I hope they give Fialkov another regular gig, even if it's a Vertigo series.

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  3. Like the others who have commented, I am terrified that this title is going to be cancelled because if definitely is one of the best of the new 52. I know a lot of people were dreading it because of vampire oversaturation but it does what a good vampire story needs to do - put a new spin on things and tell a damn good story.

    I've heard that sales for this title, while not high, are at least consistent so I'm hoping it will be spared the axe for a bit longer. Hopefully in that time, it can find more of an audience because it really does deserve to be read.

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  4. I know they are trying to sell comics to the Twilight fans with that cover, but as an adult the cover alone makes it hard to pick it up on a whim, even with the glowing reviews.

    That cover screams "tween girls, buy me."

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