Review: I, Vampire Vol. 3: Wave of Mutilation trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Joshua Hale Fialkov's I, Vampire was one of the best of DC Comics's New 52 debuts, and a reader picking up the series' three volumes is in for a treat. The characters, Andrea Sorrentino's art, even the structure of how the story unfolds is remarkable. That I, Vampire Vol. 3: Wave of Mutilation is the weakest of the three books is unfortunate but not unexpected; this is a common pattern, even with good books, that when cancellation looms, the series artist leaves, and numerous storylines have to be wrapped up at once, the overall product suffers. This does not lessen my esteem for the series, and I'm still eager one of these days to pick up Fialkov's new series The Bunker.

[Review contains spoilers]

What's been most notable to me is how, by accident or design, the overall status quo of I, Vampire has changed for each trade; in this way, the three volumes of I, Vampire are akin to three seasons of a television show. In the first, Andrew Bennett fought evil vampire Mary; in the second, Andrew and Mary team up to lead the other vampires and fight the Van Helsing army; in the third, Andrew has turned evil, and a human Mary leads their allies to stop him. In this way, the story never gets old or repetitive because it's always changing, and also I, Vampire continues its morally-gray look at the fine lines between good and evil in that good here becomes evil, vice versa, and back again.

I can't really argue that the multi-front war between the evil Andrew, his former allies, and the uber-vampire Cain is significantly different than Andrew and company versus the zombie Van Helsings in Vol. 2 or against the vampire hordes in Vol. 1. That is, Wave of Mutilation is probably not more or less taken up with action versus plot than previous volumes, though at some point I did think it began to drag as this character fought that character and this other character then fought that other character, etc. At the same time, Fialkov wraps up too quickly at the end, giving a restored Andrew really no time to reflect on his earlier bad deeds, up to and including that he murdered his good friend Professor John Troughton.

One notable difference was that in the earlier fight between the vampires and the Van Helsings, there were certain philosophical underpinnings of good and evil, and whether evil could be redeemed. In Mutilation, newly-evil Andrew seems intent on causing a Biblical destruction of the world ... mainly because it's just the evil thing to do, which makes it harder to get behind and sympathize with the "evil" character. This is in contrast to "evil" Mary in the first volume, who wanted to overtake humanity for what essentially boiled down to civil rights reasons -- disagreeable, when it came to slaughtering all the humans, but at least understandable and relatable in a way that Andrew's motivations here are not.

In the final chapter, even as Fialkov wraps up the Grand Guignol, the book flashes back as it has a couple times before. Series artist extraordinare Andrew Sorrentino departs the book after the third chapter, but returns to draw the flashback sequences, giving them (much needed) extra weight. As such, there's an implied thematic resonance to Fialkov's depiction of new-vampire Andrew's conversion of Mary. From the beginning, the audience has understood that Andrew's turning Mary into a vampire drove her crazy, and so all the destruction that followed has been Andrew's fault. What we learn here in the flashback is that pre-vampire Mary butchered Andrew's father, who had assaulted her; justified, perhaps, but the implication is that the "evil" was in Mary even before Andrew turned her.

I guess we can extract some worthwhile messages from this -- that at the end of the series, Andrew is freed from the guilt that occupied him, and also that Mary has always been her own (somewhat deranged) person and was not made that way by a man -- though it also confuses the book's points a bit. If Andrew knew from just after he'd turned Mary that she was crazy (that she had mutilated his father pre-vampirism), shouldn't that have assuaged Andrew's guilt from the beginning? It would be one thing of Fialkov had revealed all of this just to the audience, but I think the fact that Andrew knew, too, is perhaps an unintended discordant note.

Sorrentino and colorist Mercelo Maiolo offer fine work in what few issues (for Sorrentino, at least) they provide here. I especially liked that, in the Zero Month issue, Sorrentino returned to the engraved style which, he told me in email correspondence, was meant to resemble "illustrations Gustave Dorè did for his works on the Bible or on the Divine Comedy." Sorrentino's value in this book was obvious but is also apparent in his absence. No disrespect to fill-in artist Fernando Blanco, but the script calls for Mary to appear naked (as she has for much of the book), and whereas Sorrentino was always able to navigate the bounds of a "general readers" book with positioning and shadows, Blanco has a much harder time. At one point the production staff has to cover Mary's derriere with sparkly special effects, and toward the end Blanco just seems to give up and draws Mary in suddenly-appearing underwear. Sorrentino could teach a master class on how to draw a character who's both sexy and tasteful; Blanco doesn't quite accomplish the same effect.

Ultimately the conclusion to I, Vampire Vol. 3: Wave of Mutilation is satisfying but imperfect, which again isn't terribly surprising for a cancelled series. I finally picked up this third volume mainly due to Andrew Bennett guest-appearing in other titles on my upcoming reading list; it's a shame Andrew and Fialkov aren't still together, but I am glad that Andrew has continued to appear a couple times in the DC Universe pre-Convergence; my hope is he'll be included in the "dark" side of the DC Universe after the Convergence dust clears.

[Includes original covers, "WTF" gatefold cover, Fernando Blanco layouts, cover sketches]
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2 comments:

  1. I'm glad you gave this series a chance. As you said, it's not a perfect series, but it certainly is enjoyable. I often find sometimes writers "give up" when they're told their series will come to an end. Considering all the plot points, it seems they planned for a couple more issues to carefully pace out the story and flesh it out more; but given the "Ax", they were forced to rush and wrap up the story, which lead to an unsatisfying ending, but it also has a bitter-sweet ending, that somehow matches the tone of the entire series. Some titles such as Sword of Sorcery: Amethyst was able to conclude the series much better (though I'm still impatiently awaiting a conclusion to that story and the war against Eclipso), but for what it is, I, Vampire was a pleasant surprise, and like yourself, I eagerly await what DC has in store for Andrew. I'm also pleased he was returned to Justice League Dark sometime after this series ended, going back to original I, Vampire author: JM DeMatteis.

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    1. Agreed Sword of Sorcery was one that wrapped up well, and I'm glad to see them using Amethyst in Futures End.

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