"Four hundred years ago my vampiric kiss transformed the woman I loved into a soulless thing called Mary, Queen of Blood! Today an unholy order follows her evil designs, and the blood they spill is on my hands!..." But enough about me. What about Andrew Bennett? What about "I...Vampire!"
Anyway, this... I…VAMPIRE! Art by Tom Sutton, Ernie Colon, Adrian Gonzales, Paris Cullins, Dan Day and Jim Aparo Written by J M De Matteis, Bruce jones, Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn and Mike W Barr Lettered by John Constanza, Gaspar, A Kawecki, Andrews, Ben Oda, Todd Klein, Jun Roy Talactac Coloured by Adrienne Roy I...Vampire! created by Tom Sutton & J M De Matteis (Contents Originally appeared in House of Mystery #290, 291, 292, 293, 295, 297, 299, 302, 304-319 & The Brave And The Bold #195 (1981-1983)) DC Comics, $29.99 (2011)
The younger, far more agreeable, me used to buy House of Mystery off the spinner rack in the UK so I didn’t always get to see every issue. The issues I did see I usually bought because they had such damn fine covers. It’s a truism that the covers of DC’s “mystery” line of anthologies were usually the best bit, mostly because it’s true. Oh, they had nice art inside but the stories were mostly pointless things that stopped rather than ended and banked on the fact that some supernatural trappings would distract you from all the other failings. They looked like Twist-In-The-Tale tales but the Twist was usually that there was barely a Tale. I still bought ‘em because they looked good and had werewolves and skeletons in. Look, here’s the big thing about kids and entertainment; they aren’t that picky. Anyway, things picked up content wise for HoM when, in 1981, it started running "I…Vampire!” This was a, rare for these books, continuing series which lasted until 1983. Of course the downside to continuing episodic serial fiction for filthy foreigners such as my self was, as I said, that the younger, far more agreeable, me used to buy House of Mystery off the spinner rack in the UK so I didn’t always get to see every issue. But that’s okay because here, in this volume, there is every one of the 24 original chapters of "I…Vampire!” And also, an issue of Brave And The Bold in which "I…Vampire!" teams up with Smilin' Batman! Remember when Batman smiled? Good times.
Upholding the “mystery” line tradition the covers are the best bit here, but in a welcome break from tradition the actual comics are pretty neat too. It’s just that the covers are by Joe Kubert and Michael William Kaluta. I mean, come on now. Mind the carpet; I believe your cup just did runneth over! Both artists provide fantastically atmospheric and alluring covers despite their conspicuously different styles. Kubert’s usual superficially wild lashings of ink retain their timeless impulsive energy and his signature imprecision creates a sense of instability, of flux; one wholly apt for the gaudy transformative horror of the strip. Kaluta, naturally, is far more precise with a far lighter line producing a far more ethereal and desiccated effect which, unlike Kubert, serves to underscore the melodramatic pathos at the heart of the lead character. Because "I…Vampire!" one Andrew Bennett by name, is a right whining mimsy and no mistake.
Mind you, he’s every reason to be moody what with his wedding preparations being interrupted by his sudden initiation into vampirism via a passing manky monk. Even in 1591 I imagine weddings were fraught enough affairs, as the mobile disco had yet to be invented, without being turned into an undead leech on humanity. A vampire I’m talking about there, not a lobbyist. Somewhat rashly Bennett shares his curse with his betrothed, Mary, only to find that she takes to it with somewhat more alacrity. Rebranding herself as Mary, Queen of Blood she organises her fellow nosferatu into The Blood Red Moon and embarks on a crusade to enslave humanity. When we first join him in 1981 Bennett is busy trying to kill the woman he loves and foil her evil schemes. Hobbies are important to men, after all. Luckily he isn’t alone. There’s Dmitri Mishkin who throughout the series will provide creepy oedipal fun aplenty as he tries to kill his vampiric mother. Sadly Dmitri probably isn’t related to Dan Mishkin one of the series’ later writers as that would be really weird and suggest a serious reappraisal of all our realities. Now as alluring as matricidal elderly Russian men are DeMatteis chooses to provide Bennett with a more traditional love interest in the form of Deborah Dancer. Yes, her name was Deborah. Deborah. But whether she had woodchip on the wall or, indeed, her house was very small remains unrecorded. That’s the basic set up then for the series with a bit of an alcoholism subtext as Andrew struggles to survive without taking a human life. This setup takes a whole ten pages, and stands De Matteis in good stead freeing him up to dash off in a number of unfeasible but entertaining directions. After five issues he runs out of puff and passes the baton to Bruce Jones.
Jones barges right on in and starts marking his territory in no uncertain times. Initially he resets the series to the TV Hulk template. Now Bennett will be meandering down the lonely road to intersect episodically with different people with terrible consequences. Mostly for them. There’s an absolute cracker of an episode where Bennett takes up with the wife and child of a man whose death he has caused. Now, obviously lessons will be learned, closure achieved and there’ll be a sad departure leaving everyone wiser and richer. I don’t want to spoil anything but let’s just say that Bruce Jones sets about your expectations with a ball peen hammer and doesn’t let up until they are unrecognisable. Bruce Jones’ is really good at undercutting expectations is what I’m saying there. This is aided and abetted by this disdain for logic, but I’m guessing entertainment is a greater consideration for Bruce Jones than sense. I say that with some confidence because quicker than Threshold got cancelled he remembers he likes time travel and things get entertainingly insane fast as the series becomes a chronally unstable race between Bennett and Mary to save/kill the ancestors of the inventor of the cancer cure which is, in the 1980s, killing all the vampires. You hardly need the gift of Second Sight to know that Jack The Ripper turns up, Gaw Blimey! He’s near sawed ‘er head clean orf!
In comparison to Jones' satisfyingly eventful irrationality Mishkin and Cohn serve up altogether more sedate fare which favours the adventure elements largely to the detriment of the horror and occasionally steps straight into the puddle of preachiness. Don't mistake me, they aren't terrible, but it just takes them time to fling off their inhibitions and skinny dip in the straight faced silliness the strip requires. Also, in "By The Time We Got To Woodstock..." a vampiric threat is destroyed by a combination of Jimi Hendrix playing live and the combined Love emanating from a field full of self obsessed drug addled Hippies. Which is terrible on an almost cellular level. But it is still amazing; I’ll give them that much. By the time the strip climaxes they have, fair’s fair, rallied their talents enough to provide Andrew Bennett with a finale as fittingly inventive, daft, moving, horrific and optimistic as he deserves. And then there's Tom Sutton. Tom Sutton who provides the bulk of the art on these pages and proves himself a showstopper and no mistake.
TOM SUTTON (d.2002)! If this book is worth a place on anyone's shelf (and it is. Mine!) it is because of Tom Sutton. Tom Sutton makes this series work. It’s difficult to believe that Sutton's art ever found a more suitable vehicle than "I...Vampire!" Maybe it did, let me know. I assure you, I'm all ears. Look, Tom Sutton is a maniac on these pages. Forever throwing in one nifty bit of business after another; if it's not innovatively having the contents of a panel bleed across the gutters into another, it's a series of panels showing motion or physical transformation in a manner reminiscent of psychedelic wig out movies. Tom Sutton is clearly enjoying himself here and his enthusiasm is as infectious as the vampirism he’s called upon to illustrate.
Sutton's stuff isn't pretty, elegant or, in panel to panel continuity terms, particularly consistent but it doesn't need to be. In fact I'd say it spits on such stuff. Because while energy isn't unusual (although it could do with being more usual) in comic art, Sutton's energy has a definite edge of anger to it. Fitting the strip to a tee there's a sense of dissolution permeating every one of Sutton's panels. An unsettlingly organic feel, as of fruit past its best and sliding into sweet rot. Sutton's work lifts the series out of melodrama into debauched melodrama, spectacularly flamboyantly debauched melodrama at that. Sutton's art looks like it actually has an odour. And it looks like you should thank your luck stars you can't smell it, as it would be a rank and vinegary one I'm guessing. It’s not all bug eyed hell for leather ostentation though. Sutton’s smart enough to vary the intensity of his art so that although the whole thing looks like you're viewing it through eyes hot and misted with fever, at times it goes beyond even that; Sutton’s images become deliriously inflamed and pass seamlessly into the realm of the rawly hallucinatory.
I single Tom Sutton out because while everyone else here does good work they all did better work elsewhere, but I'm not Sure Tom Sutton did. His garish, visually mushy sensibility lines up with "I...Vampire!" so well he effectively makes it what it is. And thanks, primarily, to Tom Sutton "I...Vampire!" is like Liberace wrote Interview With A Vampire but in COMICS!!!!
Now, how can that not be GOOD!