Today, 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.
“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.
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.
While 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:
Despite 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.
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