I, Vampire – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Joshua Fialkov (Part 1)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Joshua Hale Fialkov
Joshua Hale Fialkov is a writer who I wouldn’t refer to as a “big name” and I mean that in the kindest way possible. He’s a writer who has dabbled a bit with multiple publishers but has found his greatest amount of success working for Oni Press. The horror genre is an area Fialkov has been known to excel in, hence why he was a natural choice for DC Comics when they decided to have a title for I, Vampire with their New 52 relaunch back in 2011.
I, Vampire Volume 1 – Tainted Love
Andrew Bennett is a six hundred year old vampire trying his hardest to prevent an oncoming war between vampires and humans, as the vampires threaten to take away any human life from the world in one fell swoop. The task of stopping this war before it starts appears to be easier said than done as his former lover, Mary, is the leader of this new vampire regime hellbent on taking over the world. Mary, the Queen of Blood, is the only vampire powerful enough to rival Andrew’s own power and leaves him in an uncomfortable position when it comes to deciding how to stop her. The only way for Andrew to stop Mary is to kill her “maker” which, to make matters complicated, just so happens to be himself. Dying for Andrew proves to be far more difficult than one would anticipate as a vampire of Andrew’s age can’t necessarily be killed easily. Instead he must willingly decide to die if he wishes to perish and stop Mary dead in her tracks. Along the way, Andrew gathers longtime friends and unlikely allies like Professor Troughton, Tig, John Constantine, and even Batman, in his battle against Mary and her evil horde.
Joshua Hale Fialkov begins a supernatural epic of vampires versus humans with this first volume of I, Vampire. This first volume feels like the opening salvo of a three act play, setting all the major pieces into place before dramatically sweeping everything in a brand new direction by the end of the volume. Fialkov takes troublesome characters who want to do good and throws them together into a cauldron of rising tension, with an impending vampire takeover set as the backdrop. With the threat of an imminent war on the cusp of spilling over, Andrew Bennett and his unlikely alliances find themselves moving slowly towards a final showdown in Gotham City, which is as apt a place as any for a final battle against an army of mythological creatures who are most well-known for transforming into bats, especially because it provides the opportunity for THE most famous man associated with the symbol of a bat to step into the action.
I, Vampire is an interesting book set within the DC Universe, feeling as though it shouldn’t exist in a superhero universe but it still does. In most instances, some of your best stories are non-superhero stories that occur in a superhero universe, with books like Sandman coming to mind as a fine example of such. Fialkov doesn’t seem content with telling a simple horror story with I, Vampire though, nor does he truly mix that many genres together, instead settling into a fairly straightforward supernatural action series that follows Andrew’s battle against vicious hordes of vampires set to take over the world instead of trying to strike fear into you because of the subject matter at hand. It’s a bold decision for Fialkov to cast the story in this light but it’s a direction that is reinforced by the inclusion of characters like the Vertigo/DC supernatural powerhouse John Constantine or even the brute force of a character like Batman. The story comes off as being hyper focused on getting from point A to point B in as direct a manner as possible, with any bits of the story that branch out serving to exclusively build up the cast of characters around Andrew so that he has allies in his final battle against Mary, the Queen of Blood. Fialkov does a fine job of building his characters up around the plot of his story, with nearly each issue taking a character centric focus that also pushes the plot further. In the first issue you learn about Andrew and the premise of the series. By issue two, you get a full story about Mary and why she is the antagonist opposite Andrew. From there the trend largely continues with Constantine guest staring in issue three as well as the reader being introduced to Professor Troughton, the character of Tig getting set up better in issue four, and Batman jumping on to the scene in issue five before everything culminates with almost all these characters going to war in the opening moments of issue six.
The way Fialkov chooses to tell the story greatly attributes to you enjoying at least a few of the character interpretations presented for you. There are plenty of aspects to characters that feel unnecessary or poorly fleshed out but, for the most part, you can take plenty of enjoyment from the story of Andrew and Mary. Fialkov elects to flesh out Andrew’s past but only to a certain point, with that point being where his past intersects with Mary’s future. We learn about the close personal tie he has to Mary and how, as a result, he feels as though it is his fault that Mary is as powerful as she is. Fialkov cleanly illustrates that Andrew is the cause and the solution to his own Mary problem, which in and of itself helps to further hammer home that point that Andrew is technically still a monster, even though he has a heightened sense of humanity. The same can largely be said for Mary wherein Fialkov demonstrates that the position she is in is essentially Andrew’s fault and that without the previous influence of Andrew, Mary would never have been capable of reaching a position of power in the first place. You can understand why she is acting that way she is but still understand that, at a base level, everything she is seeking to achieve is incredibly evil. It’s disappointing to see how much Fialkov actually peels back from this relationship dynamic around the midway part of the story but it’s also an understandable direction as to keep returning to the same well for storytelling possibilities would just result in diminishing returns.
Your secondary characters of the story are perhaps the weakest element that Fialkov sets forward, with none of them feeling fleshed out or believable. It’s one thing to make strong leads in favour of lesser secondary characters, but it’s a whole other problem when these secondary characters hardly register as blips on the radar yet they are still placed in positions to make important decisions that will alter the narrative going forward. The biggest example of this is the character of Tig, who pops up about halfway through the story and is forced upon the reader because of a contingent role she plays towards the end of the volume. Fialkov hits you with a “twist” involving the character that could not hit you more flatly than it does, with you as the reader expected to relish in a moment of a sudden payoff (and coincidentally setup) that just does nothing for you whatsoever. She’s an unnatural character that the reader struggles to connect with and then is made to feel as though they have to because of something that changes her life forever. This is all meant to leave the reader with some semblance of a reward within the fleeting pages of the volume when she makes a major decision, but instead she just comes off like a crazy female for much of her time in the story and really stays that way even through the game changing event that unfolds. Moments removed from reading the story as I write this, your secondary characters like Troughton and Tig just feel forgettable and woefully unnecessary in a story that already had plenty of heart and fangs shared between the two leads who had a tragic as well as mildly intricate relationship that propelled the entire premise of this series forward.
Collects: I, Vampire #1-6
Best Character: Andrew Bennett
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Today is a big day. And we start each day right. With a very…very…healthy breakfast.” – Mary
Best Scene/Moment: Andrew discovers things aren’t what they seem – Issue 1
Best Issue: Issue 1. Issue 1 is a cool cyclical story that comes all back around by its final page. You’re introduced to your protagonist and antagonist, given a clear idea of what’s to come as well as what both sides are working towards, and the book looks absolutely gorgeous thanks to Andrea Sorrentino. The book does a great job of deceiving the reader, convincing you that you know the story is going one way when it really veers in another direction. It’s a fairly complete tale that kicks off the story in the right direction and builds on it with a thoroughly entertaining and action packed second issue.
Why You Should Read It: I, Vampire is perfect for readers who enjoy stories set in a superhero universe that aren’t superhero stories. You see characters from that world pop up but their inclusion never makes the story feel like it’s a superhero tale, with Fialkov keeping everything planted firmly in the world of supernatural action. Andrew Bennett and Mary make for a strong hero and villain for this comic respectively and how Fialkov writes those two characters alone makes this story worth your time. If that’s not enough, Andrea Sorrentino is a simply wonderful artist on the book and someone who deserves all the attention in the world.