Review: I, Vampire Vol. 2: Rise of the Vampires trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I, Vampire Vol. 2: Rise of the VampiresDC Comics’s loss of writer Joshua Hale Fialkov, before his tenure with the company ever truly started, becomes even more unfortunate. In I, Vampire Vol. 2: Rise of the Vampires, Fialkov writes not only vampire Andrew Bennett but also two of DC’s more troubled properties, Justice League Dark and Stormwatch, and handles them all with alacrity, proving the versatility the writer would have brought to the Green Lantern titles.

Fialkov, with artist Andrea Sorrentino, continue to offer an I, Vampire series that’s frightening and compelling — but also in this second volume, more so than in the first, wryly funny. I, Vampire is a can’t miss book; though cancelled, readers should still do themselves a favor and pick this one up.

[Review contains spoilers]

Rise of the Vampires starts roughly, with issues #7-8 interspersed with the same from Justice League Dark in a four-part crossover. Only the broad strokes of these issues are really important; scenes of the Justice League Dark and Bat-family fighting vampires are mostly just filler, and there’s a subplot where John Constantine and Deadman try to resurrect the deceased Bennett that ultimately comes to nothing. For four issues, what’s mainly important is just the end, where Bennett is reborn with souped-up magical powers, leading in to the rest of the book.

The crossover’s difficulties are hardly on I, Vampire’s end. Sorrentino’s work is always lovely to see, and here his gritty depictions of the Bat-family are just as good as the engraved look he gives to the flashback to the origin of the vampires. Fialkov offers nicely subtle moments in the grudging transition of Mary, Queen of Blood, from foe to friend. But Justice League Dark artists Admira Wijaya and Daniel Sampere have too clear a style in contrast to Sorrentino’s shadows, plus painterly coloring that clashes with the I, Vampire issues. Dark writer Peter Milligan still depicts his team as relatively impotent, their powers either depleted or misfunctioning, such that they mostly falter around until Bennett returns and the crossover ends.

I, Vampire grows scores better once Fialkov enters the second four-part arc, in which Bennett establishes a colony of vampires under his rule out in the Utah desert. I rather wish we’d been able to see more of the day to day life in Bennett’s enclave; Fialkov picks up with Bennett just before Mary, true to form, challenges him again for control of the other vampires, and then the two have to join forces again to fight the vampire hunter Van Helsings and their zombie vampire hunters.

This four-part story is many things — the fruition and collapse of Bennett’s idyllic vision for the vampires, an insight into the vampire’s struggle with the Van Helsings over time, a Stormwatch guest-shot — but it’ll probably be remembered best as “the zombie story.” There’s significant horror here, but Fialkov has some fun with how taken aback the vampires are, ironically, to have to fight equally undead enemies. Things get truly, monstrously wild when the vampires become zombies themselves (as Bennett calls them “zombie vampire vampire-hunters”), and that’s just before Apollo, Midnighter, and Jack Hawksmoor teleport on the scene.

At this point Bennett’s plan to broker peace (or unending, self-contained war) between the vampires and the Van Helsings has gone horribly wrong. Best here is Bennett’s voice, via Fialkov; for a title in which early critics feared emotional, sparkling vampires, Bennett’s narration is amusingly dry and sarcastic. “This is not going well for me,” he deadpans. “Let’s get all the vampires in the world — or, y'know, most of them, in one place and let me be their messiah. What could go wrong?” Mary, Bennett’s cohorts Prof. Troughton and Tig, and the Stormwatch crew are equally nonplussed; despite that things get downright bloody (especially when Bennett begins ripping the Van Helsings’s leader limb from limb), there’s a humor underlying this book that’s entertaining and balances the more absurd moments (see again “zombie vampire vampire-hunters”).

The emotional complexity of I, Vampire is also on display in Rise. Troughton and the Van Helsings' leader’s discussion of empirical moral relativism at the beginning of I, Vampire #10 is interesting enough (in what other comic do you find discussions of objective and subjective morality?), but more so when it gets to I, Vampire’s key pervading question — how can Bennett and Mary love each other, as they obviously do, and yet still so often be plotting to kill one another? It’s for this reason that Mary’s turns in the book — with Cain, then with Bennett and the League, then against Bennett, then with him against the Van Helsings — are so interesting, and why I wish we’d seen more of Bennett and Mary in relative peace in Utah before the crisis unfolded. The reader — and perhaps the characters — can’t quite understand how the two can live as a couple one moment and try to kill each other the next, and it makes for more compelling reading than the usual superhero versus villain.

Purposefully or not, Fialkov seems to be taking Bennett through an evolution of self on a trade-by-trade basis. Last time, Bennett died at the end of the book, returning here as a kind of super-vampire, changing from scourge of the vampires to their “messiah.” Rise of the Vampires ends much the same way, with Bennett having magically cured all the vampires, but at the same time taking their evil into himself and becoming the worst of the worst. If there were to be more volumes of I, Vampire, and the next few also ended with Bennett transforming, it might suggest it becoming predictable, but we should have such problems; unfortunately the next collection marks I, Vampire’s last.

Despite an errant crossover, I, Vampire: Rise of the Vampires is just as good as the previous volume, Tainted Love, and I look forward with both anticipation and dismay to the final book. More’s the pity, again, that Joshua Hale Fialkov has left DC, though I’m counting the days to Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Green Arrow. Hopefully Sorrentino will have some way to draw marauding hordes in Green Arrow just the same as in I, Vampire; the third panel in issue #12, where Troughton and Tig are overrun by a score of zombie-vampires with scythes and pitchforks, is especially striking.

[Includes original covers, sketches and covers by Andrea Sorrentino and a sketch by Ryan Sook]

Next week is a James Robinson week here on Collected Editions, with reviews of Justice League: Rise of Eclipso and Earth 2: The Gathering. See you then!
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