A spoiler-free farewell to my beloved favourite, and a note of regret from an ex-fan of the New 52.
I almost didn’t pick issue one off the shelf. In a year saturated with vampires, the cover suggested that this would be one more silly dark romance yarn but with added naked and fanged women: not always what I look for in a comic. Still, in the spirit of being one of the rare new New 52 readers – previously I had only bought the trade collections – I had a quick peek within and immediately added it to my haul. Settling down at home with my spread of Batmen, ex-Vertigo characters, Morrison-penned heroes, and random picks, I came to I, Vampire last. And was immediately delighted. This was it, this was the comic I’d been waiting on. I foisted it upon my friends, “read this,” I instructed, and begged them to ignore the cover.
DC’s New 52 was, I believed at the time, an experiment in tempting new readers into the comic shop, to rejuvenate a stale stable of titles for a wider audience. I, Vampire was unique, creative and a future classic. It was the jackpot. Despite increasingly low monthly sales, the first trade collection made the top 5 of the New York Times bestseller list for paperback graphic novels, following in the footsteps of many an acclaimed Vertigo series and soothing the fears of fans worried by the number of DC titles being cancelled. After 15 issues though, cancellation was announced.
Until then, I hadn’t quite realised how much leeway I was allowing my erstwhile favourite publisher. Creative teams were seemingly trapped in revolving doorways, as short term performance was increasingly given priority over any thought towards greater legacies. Of course some cancellations were to be expected with such a large number of titles launched at once, but at least I could always point to I, Vampire as an example of a great book that DC was standing behind. When that pillar was smashed, it became impossible to ignore the rubble I’d been standing in, and DC fell off my monthly reading list.
The first issue of I, Vampire had me hooked and immediately moved to the top of my comics pile. In the year and a half since, only Saga has topped it, and it has remained a consistently refreshing and fantastic read. While on first glance I was blown away by Andrea Sorrentino’s stark and dramatic style, and his incredible use of panels to reinforce key moments, Joshua Hale Fialkov’s skill with jumping from character to character in order to add greater depth to the ongoing story was apparent after three issues: each directly narrated by someone with a very different perspective on events, yet maintaining the overall dynamic with ease. Two issues can fly past with characters desperately trying to grasp the complexities of the situation, and our lead confirms or subverts our suspicions when the dust settles.
Buffy it ain’t, and the story keeps turning on itself magnificently, flipping the roles of everyone involved, and managing to distance itself from the DCU while still being forced to acknowledge the existence of superheroes and costumed vigilantes: strange bedfellows in the world of DC mysticism. Our key outsider character is of course Constantine, and his earlier appearances in JLD at the hands of Milligan are tellingly classic. I would go so far as to say in fact, that the Constantine that appears in I, Vampire is very much the John of old, rather than the “new and improved” non-Vertigo version.
I had hoped that DC, in its enthusiasm to find new readers and tap into the hundreds of thousands of consumers that had already bought into the superhero and comic movies, was on the brink of something truly new. Comics that would appeal to all readers; diverse output for a diverse audience. That the superwomen were going to be put character first, dress code second. That any kid, no matter their background or dreams would find a hero to believe in. That maybe comics would no longer be missing from the high street, that people could pick up a comic alongside their magazines, groceries, hell even their clothes or cosmetics. That a Batman comic would be as common as a Batman lego set, or a Wonder Woman comic as popular as Wonder Woman converse or mugs.
It was never going to be the kind of title that DC would actively push. There was no franchise to be spun out, no demand for action figures (at least of the kind the publisher would deem tasteful), and no opportunity for huge events that would thrust vampires outside of their own book and into the world of the superheroes. Sure Batman shows up at one point, but he looks painfully out of place amidst the magic and mysticism tearing Gotham apart, while the only way of stopping the vampires – killing them – leaves him stuck in a moral quagmire. I, Vampire fits neither the grim and gritty Nolan approach, nor the played for laughs and explosions Marvel movie juggernaut. Even an animated take would be hard pressed to capture the stark ink-work of Sorrentino that gives the book its soul.
In short, I, Vampire could only exist as a comic. It was doomed. While it’s pointless to argue that a corporation should put quality above profits, it’s not without longing that I look back on the Vertigo classics of the past that would surely never be signed off on today: Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Sandman, Hellblazer… would even The Unwritten or Astro City be appearing on our shelves if created today? Before Constantine jumped ship, I wondered whether I, Vampire would have fared better on the Vertigo label, but the low sales of titles there (excluding of course the trade collections) seem to only be pointing in one direction.
As for the ending, Fialkov does a great job of wrapping up things satisfactorily, although it’s clear that this was more the end of an arc rather than the end of the saga. Some miscreants live to fight another day, while many questions do go unanswered – the greater history of Cain and Lilith in particular is sacrificed in the need for speed, while the larger role of the House of Mysteries and a tantalising glimpse of a very non-retired Lucifer are naught but mist. The return of Sorrentino to end the story as it began – and beginnings are indeed the key to these ends – is very pleasing, and I’d like to think perhaps some measure from DC towards acknowledging the fans of this book, whether they be comic shop buyers or book store patrons. (Sorrentino provides art on the flashbacks, Blanco on the present day.)
Instead I can only say that it is a book that is both innovative and extraordinary, and would passionately encourage any comic or book reader to give it a try. Volumes one (Tainted Love: #1-6) and two (Rise of the Vampires: #7-12 + Justice League Dark #7-8) are both available, and volume three (Wave of Mutilation: #0, 13-18) is published in October.
Issue #19 preview:
I, Vampire #1-19
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Pencillers: Andrea Sorrentino, Fernando Blanco, Dennis Calero, Scott Clark
Inkers: Andrea Sorrentino, Dennis Calero
Colourist: Marcelo Maiolo
Cover Artists: Andrea Sorrentino, Clayton Crain, Jenny Frison
Letters: Pat Brosseau, Dezi Sienty, Taylor Esposito
Editors: Matt Idelson, Wil Moss, Chris D. Conroy
[Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter]