I, Vampire 0

Alternating Currents: I, Vampire 0, Drew and JennieToday, Drew and (guest writer) Jennie Seidewand are discussing I, Vampire 0, originally released September 26th, 2012. I, Vampire 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Drew: Vampires, for some reason, are considered sexy. Is it the paleness? The eternal youth? The element of danger? I’ve never really been sure. Frankly, I think the bizarre relationship modern vampires have to the Victorian society that created them — specifically notions of patriarchy and fears of disease — make vampires among the least sexy things I can imagine. It doesn’t really matter; I’m not the target audience for modern vampire stories. Exactly who is is still a bit of a mystery to me — True Blood seems a little adult for the teenybopper audience that’s made Twilight such a phenomenon — but I can’t deny that vampires are incredibly popular at the moment. The success of Twilight and True Blood have inspired a lot of slapdash imitators, a description which woefully fits I, Vampire.

The issue begins as Lord Andrew Bennet races to his lover’s side, effectively disowning his birthright. His carriage overturns in the woods, where Bennet is confronted by Cain — as in the guy from the bible — who’s a vampire now. Surprise! Cain obliges Andrew with his story: Cain was a vampire king with a whole vampire family, but Etrigan came to take them all away, and issued a curse that dictated he could not feed on the blood of innocents. Let’s call that “Checkov’s curse.” Cain just kind of assumes Andrew isn’t innocent, and bites him, bringing that whole curse protocol into effect. That is, something happens, and Cain disappears. When Andrew comes to, he’s in full vampire mode, and is horrified when he bites some poor passerby (taking bites out of live rats, which he was doing only moments before, was not nearly as distressing). He realizes he’s a monster, and nobly tells Mary (the lover he was prepared to forsake his lordship for) he can never see her again in an embarrassingly terse letter (the text message break-up of the 16th century).

Joshua Hale Fialkov sets the issue in England in 1591, but the issue is littered with hilarious anachronisms. Ostensibly to generate verisimilitude, Fialkov employs some of the most protracted, fake Shakespearean English imaginable, replete with embarrassing overuse of contractions.

Who you callin' short?“Not t’all”? I think he’s saying “not at all,” but the apostrophe suggests the contraction is happening on the other side of the ‘t,’ which makes absolutely no sense. Also, try saying that shit out loud. The two ‘t’ sounds in a row create an unnatural stuttering sound. Contractions like that are supposed to reflect the way people actually sound (or to make lines fit with a meter), but it’s essentially impossible to speak in the ways Fialkov suggests.

But you’re probably more distracted by the “What fools you mortals be,” line, which is a pretty clear paraphrase of Puck’s line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Most historians believe that play premiered in the mid 1590s, a good few years after the events of this issue. Cain can’t be making a knowing reference, so this allusion serves no purpose other than the cheap glimmer of recognition. Fialkov isn’t interested in rewarding that recognition, however, offering no other thematic ties to the play at all.

A more embarrassing allusion comes at the end, as Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 appears in its entirety as a kind of non sequitur epigraph.

Just sending a girl a Shakespeare sonnet? That shit BARELY worked for Shakespeare/The implication is that this sonnet represents what either Andrew or Mary are feeling at that moment, but since the sonnet is credited to William Shakespeare as Sonnet 116, it suggests that they were already familiar with the sonnet. Only, Shakespeare’s sonnets weren’t released until 1609, a full 18 years after the events of this issue. Even if Andrew were somehow privy to the sonnet before it was published, I doubt he’d know it by the number, which is simply a reflection of where that poem falls in the ordering of that book. Also, look at what Mary is wearing. Do those look like the clothes of a “plain maid” to you?

As much as I love picking nits, what I’m interested in is why they’re included at all. The costuming, dialogue, and Shakespearean allusions seem designed to ground the proceedings in the realities of 1591 England, but in failing to do so convincingly, these attempts come across as either lazy or cynical. That is, I fear Fialkov didn’t work harder either because he doesn’t care, or he doesn’t think his audience will — neither of which is a good attitude for a writer to have.

The art fares a bit better. Andrea Sorrentino’s inky shadows give the proceedings an appropriate darkness, and Marcelo Maiolo’s understated colors offer fantastic support — mostly by staying out of the way. I was particularly fond of Cain’s flashback, which was rendered beautifully as a woodcut.

This sequence is pretty...PRETTY POORLY WRITTENWhile the art certainly bolstered this issue, it wasn’t enough to pull it out of the gutter for me. I couldn’t get over how silly everyone sounded, which effectively undermined any sense of fear they may have been going for. I appreciate the goal of setting up Andrew as a tragic figure, but without ever seeing the love he allegedly has for Mary, that closing sonnet feels utterly unearned. What did you think, Jennie: did this issue manage to make an emotional connection with you at all, or did you find the period trappings as distracting as I did?

Jennie: Well Drew, to start off, I’ll admit I am fascinated by vampires! I find vampires, like many macabre creatures, to be wonderfully exciting in that they’re essentially free of (or could be free of) societal obligations. You’ll never invite a werewolf or a vampire to your fancy dinner party, or bring them home to meet your parents. These characters don’t have to play by the rules.

And vampires break the societal rules of desire — they essentially are unrestrained lust for the body, flesh and, ultimately, blood. They’re living outside of society’s expectations for desire, and considering the Victorian era they’re often placed in, the fact that we’re asked as readers to be drawn to them as well only adds a neat duality to the vampire caricature — we shouldn’t lust for blood, but can we be drawn to a bloodsucker? By making them sexy, we are as readers asked to participate in a smaller version of this archetype’s transgressions. I like that challenge.

But enough on that. Back to the comic! Even as a vampire fan, I’d be hard pressed not to agree with you that I, Vampire seems little more than a chance to capitalize on the success of these more popular vampire stories. It’s Fialkov’s nonchalance about the details that leads me to believe there’s not a lot of dedication to the story or characters here. Details are important! If you want readers to wholly immerse themselves in the story, you’ve got to make sure they’re not fixated on trying to resolve a grammatical issue with your (unnecessary) dialect choice. Nor do you want your readers furiously searching for meaning behind the multiple Shakespeare references when there doesn’t appear to be any. That’s just sloppy story telling and poor editing!

So, to answer your question — no, I don’t feel any sort of emotional connection to this story, nor do I feel drawn to the characters because we’re never given a good entry-point to their personas. We only have vague details here and there, and terse, disappointingly unoriginal love letters, to show us what potential there might have been for both Andrew and the love of his life, Mary. And Andrew’s character needs more development if we’re to believe this instance with the passerby is what makes him determined to both deny the love of his life as well as become the relatively good-natured vampire that Andrew becomes. Which is funny — as I mentioned to start with, vampires are allowed to live outside of the rules. I, Vampire doesn’t capitalize on that possibility — but it could, with better character development, be a neat contradiction to the usual, sexy vampire story where societal obligations are thrown to the wind. Could… but isn’t. Andrew’s character is never developed here beyond surface level, and so it just seems a lack-luster attempt at being, well, mediocre. As a whole, I wish the distracting stylistic choices had been cut and replaced with solid character development.

On the curious side, there is a really neat parallel in Cain’s story to the I, Vampire story that interested me. To be entirely fair and honest, I was not familiar with I, Vampire until I read this, so I had to do some researching and back reading on Andrew and his cohorts. And what fascinates me is that Cain’s story below will actually (in part) become Andrew’s story:

History has a way of repeating itself when repeating itselfDespite Andrew ‘s solemn vow to never see Mary, Andrew will later turn the woman he loves into a vampire — just like Cain. And Mary will come to embody everything Andrew does not — she lives like a queen and fights like the monsters that Cain and his lover were. This parallel did strike me as a neat story-telling device, and it makes me wonder about the nature of Cain’s containment and how Cain’s and Andrew’s stories are (or could be) interwoven. Then again, with all the other erroneous and misplaced references in this piece, it makes me wonder if I’m just reaching for something more here that the author perhaps didn’t intend.

And, ultimately, that curious parallel and Sorrentino’s art just aren’t enough to hang an entire issue on.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

19 comments on “I, Vampire 0

  1. I read the first couple issues of I, Vampire, and it was actually pretty interesting. Andrew ends up a “good vampire” fighting off the vampire hordes lead by Mary. But this fake historical anachronisms are just distracting. I didn’t mind the sonnet so much, because I interpreted it as a sort of set dressing instead of contained in the letter. Instead of looking at that as a panel, I looked at it as an image, and that way I actually kind of liked it.

  2. “Kilt” already means something – and it’s not the past tense of “kill.” Drew, I feel like you and I rag on written-out accents and inflections more than we probably should, but it was distracting to the point of forcing me to re-read to make sense of it. Not a fan of language that resists being understood for no reason.

  3. Jennie, I’m totally with you about the potential of vampires. It’s certainly not be leveraged here (like, at all) and I’m not sure it’s being leveraged all that well in the rest of popular media right now. I watched a fair amount of True Blood, and that thing clearly plays to the campy sexy/horror crowd, but not in ANY meaningful way. What vampire fiction have you encountered in the last decade or so that scratches your vampire itch?

  4. I have never read an issue of this, but I thought I’d chime in on what audience True Blood is intended for – it’s basically middle-brow Anne Rice. It’s Anne Rice for the smut-novels-are-my-guilty-pleasure crowd and it (the show version at least) is executed with a deliciously subtle ammount of kitsch. Alan Ball just became the best gay friend ever to women who like trashy TV as a guilty please. We eat this stuff up in my household – this and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo

  5. See, this is where your fancy liberal arts educations get you into trouble–your critical thinking skills keep you from fully enjoying the guilty pleasures of pulpy fiction. And as you note, what is more pulpy than a vampire story these days?

    I, Vampire is actually I title that I regularly consider dropping, but then say “I’ll just check out the next issue,” and then end up liking it just enough to keep at this month after month…. But then, I am a Vertigo kind of guy, and as much as I enjoy men in tights punching each other, I really dig weird kids with antlers, hot goth death chicks, and cowboys with fangs.

    Failkov’s writing is actually pretty fun when he is being playful–I actually think the best issue of Stormwatch I have read was I, Vampire 12 (though that’s maybe not saying much). I agree though that it drags a bit when he gets more serious. But in the end it is the art that I think keeps me coming back. Sorrentino’s work is so perfect for this title–with a different artist I don’t think I would read this. I would love to see Sorrentino on American Vampire, though.

    • Hey man, I’ve played all the Resident Evil games – ain’t nothin’ get in the way of my enjoyment of fun pulpy shit.

      But, it is true that some fiction is more fun to simply experience than to analyze, and I, Vampire is definitely one of those fictions. Whether or not the desire to look closer has ruined our collective abilities to just sit back and have fun is a conversation for another lifetime.

      • Good-natured ribbing aside, I really don’t buy into the notion that someone’s taste could be too sophisticated. Like, nobody’s decrying the development of our frontal lobes for preventing us from properly enjoying Teletubbies. There’s certainly room in this world for dumb fun, but I stand by my assertion that this issue is more dumb than fun. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that this issue was pretty damn joyless. I can appreciate that this issue is well removed from the series proper, but this zero didn’t quite pass muster.

      • So here is the conundrum–I regularly visit this site as it is one of the few places I know of to find intelligent discussion of comic books (no, that isn’t the conundrum I was speaking of), yet I often find myself thinking, “hey, these are comic books we are talking about. The fact that they quote Shakespeare at all is actually kinda cool, even if they get it wrong.” Neil Gaiman excepted, cuz that is just an unfair comparison–but then, that is the conundrum–Should Neil Gaiman set the standard because when he does Shakespeare, he even takes the Bard to new places, or should Lobdell and Liefeld, because who doesn’t love over-muscled dudes hitting each other and blowing shit up?

        Not that I want to get us into another lifetime or anything….

        • Actually, rereading my comment above–I will take Neil Gaiman every time. I love me some dumb fun, but I would like it more if comic writers put in the effort Neil Gaiman does to get it right.

        • Gaiman over Lobdell or Liefeld is a no-brainer for me since I only like the one writer of those three. Gaiman versus more solid hero-genre writers like Johns or Snyder is a much tougher call for me. I believe Gaiman may be the more talented writer of prose and yet my preference of genre still takes precedence. For me, the pinnacle of comics writing is Alan Moore’s DCU work – his two Superman stories, his couple of Batman stories, a few random other items… a base of work so small that it can fit into one volume (as long as you do not include his Swamp Thing, which I also love but consider entirely different.) In this brief period of time we have a writer who is arguably the pinnacle of the artform doing the genre I love and doing it without the deconstruction and commentary.

        • I am with you on Snyder and Moore, and I would add a few others that are consistently good like Mark Waid, Jason Aaron, Brian Azzarello and Brian K. Vaughan–but then I trend to the weird…. Johns is more hit or miss for me from issue to issue, though I agree he is great from the long view.

        • While smart comics can pretend to be dumb, dumb comics pretending to be smart just doesn’t work. I’m totally unimpressed with the inclusion of the sonnet here because it’s completely undigested — its presence doesn’t cast a new light on the comic that preceded it, and the comic sure as hell doesn’t affect how we read that poem. A better writer certainly would have done one of those — possibly both (good examples of that are the titles/closing quotes of each chapter of Watchmen). Throwing it in even though it serves no real purpose is lazy, and the thought that I should be impressed just because it says “Shakespeare” at the end is kind of insulting.

        • I think all that I ever want from my comics (and books and movies and tv shows) is for their creators to aspire to achieve something in their storytelling. And if that achievement is addictive storytelling, or fun characters or breathtaking action – that’s just as noble (and enjoyable) as a deep character study or meditations on literature and the arts or exploring a difficult theme. No matter what, this means that the writing needs to be purposeful. A lot of times we criticize something, we say that it’s “lazy” and to me, that’s the most disappointing thing to encounter in a work of fiction – if I cared enough to read it, the least I should expect is that the writer cared about it too.

        • I agree–you both make good points. I suppose I like cut authors some slack as it has got to be hard to come up with this stuff month after month without taking some shortcuts. Pretentious is another somewhat damning attribute–and yeah, this issue goes there. But I still liked it in the context of the larger story and I may as well own my occasional poor taste.

      • I am just now playing RE5 and just love the changes to gameplay – the re-playable levels thing just makes it so arcade-ish to me in a really glorious way. I will definitely be getting RE6 shortly after completion. Also: Piranha 3D (not the recent sequel dubbed 3DD) is a glorious test of whether you may be taking life too seriously. It’s just bad enough to be good but not so bad that it actually *is* bad. Also, I can’t believe they’re letting Aja make the 300 million dollar 2013 summer tentpole Cobra: The Space Pirate based on his work with Piranha. I want to drive to Hollywood and shake the hand of whichever producer made that call.

        • Aw man, so here’s the thing, I *am* playing on PS3, but we are saving for a house and staying with my in-laws for the time being… so my internet connection for the next year or so is a throttled mobible hotspot. Though, I do get 2.5GB per month before it becomes throttled, so I think I can sneak in a session or two at the beginning of payment months. I really don’t need the 2.5GB for anything else so I wonder how much play that would get me

  6. Pingback: Action Comics 23.2: Zod | Retcon Punch

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