The DCnU: 1 Out Of 52 Ain’t Bad… Right?
I tried as hard as I could to avoid everything that DC is trying to do with the “The New 52”. I’m still furious that instead of trying to tell good stories through existing continuity, DC’s response has been to give up on continuity altogether citing the plea of “it was too confusing for new readers”. First of all, that is such utter nonsense. These days all mainstream superhero comics are written for collected trade publication. In some cases it is only a few weeks turn around between the last issue of a story being published and then that issue getting reprinted in a trade collection. This brings up point number 2. Not all of DC’s titles are bogged down by multi-issue stories or continuity issues. Look at what was being done in Detective Comics BEFORE they killed Bruce Wayne. Single issue stories with Batman every single damn month. It boggles the mind to think that with its stable of writers and artists that only Paul Dini was the only person capable of telling single issue stories. Sure things were a bit screwy after Infinite Crisis but it is the fault of DC Editorial as a whole that their writers and artists aren’t reigned in more for the sake of neater storytelling. Someone should have sat down with every writer on every DC book and reminded them not every story has to be epic and that not everyone writer is Grant Morrisson, able to tell complex over-arching narrative that encompasses the entire history of a character*. The moment Dan Didio and Geoff Johns came up with the idea to “re-invent” Superman and everything that was a result of him (The DC Universe, if not all of Superhero comics in general), both men should have been fired. There was nothing wrong with Superman and the DCU to warrant changing them so drastically. Hell it was Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis that led to things being not “new reader friendly” in the first place. Minor tweaks were needed, nothing so drastic as destroying 70+ years of storytelling.
The problem is that I’m not here to rip the DCnU, as it has been dubbed, to shreds. I’d like to, I mean I’d REALLY like to, but that isn’t why I’m here. See for every piece of shit title that the DCnU has generated there has been one diamond. One title out of 52 that played enough to my sense of nostalgia that I was compelled to at least read the first issue* and then the second issue and… well you get the idea. So DC deserves some congratulations I guess. One book out of fifty-two made the cut. That is only a .019230769% success ratio with a long-time comics reader. Break open the champagne, I only feel less than 99% alienated as a loyal customer now. So what is this amazing tale? What comic got me to sit and accept at least one aspect of the DCnU? What played with my sense of nostalgia enough to actually read something to do with the worst conceived reboot in comics history that doesn’t involve Spider-Man?
Would you believe I’m talking about I, Vampire?
Yes, I, Vampire, the original DC Horror pseudo-goth comic. The original ran as I… Vampire in DC’s main horror title House of Mystery beginning in issue #290, running for 24 issues, telling the story of a heroic, yet tragic Vampire named Lord Andrew Bennett fighting his former lover turned nemesis Mary. This was before Neil Gaiman came along and made it safe for adults to read horror tinged comics with Sandman. I… Vampire is what you wanted a Vampire-cum-Superhero to be. Tragic past, doomed love, never-ending life… I… Vampire had it all. Hell it even had Lord Andrew Bennett team-up with Batman in an issue of Brave & The Bold back when that was JUST a comic book**. It even had a resolution as House of Mystery was doomed for cancellation by 1983. The tale of Lord Andrew Bennett wrapped in House of Mystery #319, pretty fortuitous since House of Mystery was cancelled just 2 issues later with #321. Lord Andrew drifted around the fringe of the DCU for a bit, survived Crisis on Infinite Earths and even got a mention in the Marv Wolfman/George Perez History of The DC Universe prestige series. From there it was being a supporting player in the Doctor Fate book before being a bit player here and there or whenever something involving The Lords of Order would get mentioned in a story remotely related to the DC Horror pantheon.
So imagine my genuine shock when I, Vampire was announced as one of the DCnU 52. I actually read the initial release list back in June and my reaction was “I, Vampire? Is this a reprint of the old series?”. I couldn’t believe that DC would resurrect a title like I, Vampire. I mean, I can think of something like 10-20 DC War and Western Comic characters they could have put into a book before I ever would have dreamed of I, Vampire coming back. Yet, that nagging sense of nostalgia kept whispering in my ear. It reminded me that I… Vampire was awesome cheezy fun. It was like Dark Shadows but with more angst in an age in comics where angst ridden heroes were pretty much the domain of Marvel and The X-Men. It was one of the
earliest works of J.M. DeMatteis, he who would help relaunch the Justice League with Keith Giffen after Crisis on Infinite Earths. He who would give us “Kraven’s Last Hunt”, arguably the last GREAT Spider-Man story ever written. Instead, this version of Lord Andrew is written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, a guy whose work I am totally unfamiliar with. He is joined by Andrea Sorrentino, an Italian atist who I am also completely unfamiliar wit. So I decided to roll the dice. 2 unknown factors combined with an all but forgotten DC character and premise. If I was going to commit to anything in the DCnU, I would be better suited to the more obscure than risk punching a wall as DC fucks up Wonder Woman unnecessarily for the second time in 2 years.
The good news is, everything I loved about the original character was there. It is still Lord Andrew Bennett, he is still trying to stop his genocidial ex-lover Mary, Queen of Blood from making Vampires the dominant species on Earth. It is still a tale of two lovers with two different views of the world. It is still a tale of violence, love and betrayal. It is still dark. It is still violent and thanks to Andrea Sorrentino and Joshua Hale Fialkov, it is the BEST, new comic series I’ve read this year if not the past 5 years. The first issue alone drops one in the middle of carnage. It opens In Media Res, letting flashbacks tell the tale of how Lord Andrew Bennett and his lover, the former Mary Seward, got to the point they are at now. That point is a very volatile one, as Mary, the self titled “Queen of Blood” is now the leader of a vampiric cult who are determined to conquer the world and use its human population as a giant herd for breeding and food. This is not some new idea in vampire related fiction. But unlike other attempts to use this story hook, I, Vampire is setting this firmly in the new DC Universe. In fact, Lord Andrew points out that Mary’s plan has practically no chance of success simply because there are people like Superman, Wonder Woman and “a dozen Green Lanterns” on the planet to oppose them. Lord Andrew’s point falls on deaf ears though. Mary will conquer, Mary will rule and Mary will let no one stand in her way, especially not her lover.
The difference between Lord Andrew and Mary isn’t a matter of simply conquerer and opposer. It is how they view their vampiric nature. Lord Andrew sees it as a curse, something he has been fighting against since his initial affliction some 400 years before the start of the first issue. He was the one who brought Mary over to the world of the undead. Mary doesn’t share his view though. For her, from the moment he turned her, she was free. She embraced her immortality and her supernatural powers (shapeshifting, enhanced strength) and revelled in them from that moment forward. As vampirism is a curse to Lord Andrew, it was calling to Mary’s true-self. Her arguments for world conquest and herding are simple, with all the wars, crusades and holocausts that humanity has inflicted upon itself, it proves, as a species, humans can not rule themselves effectively so it is high time something higher on the food chain rules them instead. Lord Andrew’s argument against this is simple, by making the world aware of vampires, humanity will seek to rise up against them because it is mankind’s nature to resist change and even more so, resist oppression. To Lord Andrew, the only outcome of Mary’s uprising against humanity is death for all vampires.
The first 2 issues of I, Vampire are violent as Lord Andrew fights off a trap laid out for him by Mary in issue 1. Using both flashbacks of more intimate times between Lord Andrew and Mary and flash-forwards to Lord Andrew fighting off her trap of a horde of vampires coming to kill him, the reader gets to see exactly what the protagonist is capable of in combat. What Lord Andrew is a machine built for slaughtering his own kind. He has had more than 400 years to master his vampiric powers and one sees how effortlessly he changes form, from wolf, to man, to wolfman and into mist. This also goes hand in hand with Lord Andrew just slaughtering even more vampires in issue 2 as he gears up for his showdown with Mary. Issue one was told from Lord Andrew’s point of view (with some snippets from Mary), however issue 2 is entirely Mary’s view .
Mary is such a well written character, as she expounds on what her goal is in the long run while still keeping focus on Lord Andrew as he hacks and slashes his way through scores of vampires. In fact, her admiration and love for Lord Andrew shine through in her inner
monologue. It seems that watching Lord Andrew kill almost gets her off sexually, something that only makes sense for a vampire, a creature whose only true release as an Apex Predator is killing. Watching Lord Andrew kill is Mary’s foreplay. It is never said specifically but it is definitely implied.
The climax of the second issue is so well laid out, panel by panel, as Lord Andrew and Mary have it out in face to face combat. Just like Lord Andrew, Mary also has had 400 years to perfect her vampiric talents. This is not a case of a master and some neophyte dueling. These are masters of their powers going at it. Everything is move and counter move. Mary’s inner monologue reveals that this is what she wants, her well laid trap from issue one was dual layered. Lord Andrew has to fight her but her followers are there to allow for her escape. She knows that despite the sheer number of vampires there, that they have no chance against Lord Andrew given the mastery he has over his powers. This was her plan from the start. Lure Lord Andrew into battle and then have him kill a large force of vampires. How is that a plan exactly? Simple, that way she can spread the word about the rogue vampire that kills his own kind and make the most hated and sought after vampire amongst his species. Lord Andrew has become a marked man and that is what Mary, Queen of Blood wants.
Well damn, there I’ve laid out the first 2 issues of I, Vampire for you. You’ve got the story dammit, now go buy the book. Yes, I know you want DC to go to hell for treating its fanbase like it is disposable just to get new readers but if you boycott DC then you are missing just one of the best told stories out there. Hell it is one of the best drawn books out there too, with Andrea Sorrentino just killing it on every panel of this gorgeous goddamn comic. Great story and beautiful art make for GREAT comics people. So maybe the DCnU isn’t completely hopeless. Sure the new Catwoman is one of the worst comics to ever see print, essentially missing the point of the character. That doesn’t mean I, Vampire isn’t totally worth your money because it totally is!
The only question I have about this is: Couldn’t this story have been told without destroying the DC Universe?
*OK, I read ALL the #1 issues and still follow the Batman books. But I’m not paying for them. Read into that what you will.
**If anyone has topped Morrisson’s All-Star Superman or his run on Batman then I must’ve missed it.
***You know, before The Brave & The Bold animated series became the most fun I’ve had watching Batman since Adam West did the Bat-usi!