I have to admit, I picked up the first issue of Bad Blood, the new five-issue vampire miniseries from Dark Horse Comics, with pretty high hopes. In fact, it was the first new horror comic of 2014 that I knew I was going to read right away, and not wait until a few issues were out so I could read them as a chunk. Why all the eager anticipation, you ask? After all, a comic about vampires isn’t exactly big news these days. The reason is the writer, Jonathan Maberry.
Current horror fiction readers should know his name. His outstanding Pine Deep Trilogy, which introduced me to his work, was an extremely impressive debut into genre writing, and he went on to gain even greater, award-winning recognition (and commercial success) with Patient Zero, the first novel of the Joe Ledger series. He has made his mark (and won more awards) in Young Adult horror with the Rot & Ruin novels – every bit as enjoyable for hardcore adult readers as for adolescents.
As far as comics go, Maberry has previously written miniseries for Marvel (who approached him after an editor was impressed by Patient Zero). I was particularly excited to learn that, with Bad Blood, he could bring his passion and talent for telling horror stories to the four-color world, supported by the respect for creative freedom for which Dark Horse is known.
I was not disappointed. One issue in, and I’m hooked.
Bad Blood tells the story of Trick, a college student who, when we meet him, is beginning to accept that he is losing his battle with terminal cancer. Despite the earnest pep-talking efforts of his best friend, Kyle, he seems to have lost his will – to fight, to live – until, paradoxically, the evil actions of a creature of death renew his motivation for both. Sitting alone on the bleachers of his school’s football field one evening, Trick is attacked by a vampire, who begins drinking his blood with the grandiose intention of inaugurating a new “Age of Shadows” in which its kind will emerge from hiding, and presumably, rule the world, feeding fearlessly on the living. Well, this (thus-far-unnamed) vampire has made a very unlucky choice, as Trick’s cancer-and-chemotherapy-tainted blood turns out to be burning poison to the undead flesh. Unfortunately, the vampire realizes his error before consuming enough “bad blood” to destroy him, and stalks off. And that’s where the story really kicks into high gear.
Seeking revenge for the outrage, the vampire begins a campaign of carnage, targeting Trick’s closest friends. Trick tries seeking help from both clergy and police, but, true to the fashion of most modern horror stories with young protagonists, these figures of the adult-authority world prove completely useless in helping him, or even believing him. Realizing he is on his own, Trick embarks on his own investigation of the undead, blood-addicted world, to avenge his friends and rid the world of this evil.
More than most of his contemporary horror scribes, Maberry is a learned (and published) scholar of the worldwide, millennia-old folklore of vampires and other supernatural creatures. Reading Trick’s thought panel, “How do I separate the truth from pop culture hype?” I was reminded of an interview with Maberry I heard a few years back, in which he discussed the distinction between authentic folkloric traditions and the latter-day conventions established by the past century or so of genre fiction and film. Readers of Maberry’s work are the happy beneficiaries of his depth of knowledge, as we can be sure that any vampires he creates will not be quite like the ones we’ve become accustomed to seeing over and over again in modern media.
Having said a lot about Maberry, however, I must emphasize, strongly, that he is not alone responsible for what a great and promising first issue this is. The greatest comics are a true marriage of artwork and writing, using both to tell a story in a way that neither could accomplish alone, and this comic is an excellent example of that synthesis. Tyler Crook’s one-man-show of drawing, coloring and lettering perfectly complements the writing and sets the tone for the story, creating both an empathetic softness for the good guys and a monstrous otherworldliness for the Big Bad. The panels are not cluttered by excessive, extraneous detail, and the watercolory palette supports the tone of the given page, whether warm or menacing. This is an artist with the confidence to invest his talents fully into telling the story, rather than worry about showing the world how awesome he is – and the awesomeness comes through better that way.
One more note about the graphic storytelling: For at least the first half of the issue, I found myself wondering, what does this style remind me of? Then, somewhere in the second half, it hit me: Will Eisner. Crook has clearly been deeply inspired and influenced by the master of sequential art – and that can only, ever, be a good thing. Maybe the fact that this style is not one commonly associated with illustrating horror stories adds to its effectiveness here. (Fittingly, as I learned after reading the issue, Crook is an Eisner Award winner for his earlier work, which includes B.P.R.D., The Sixth Gun and Petrograd.)
When I got to the end of this first installment, to the words, “Next Issue – On Sale February 5th!” I thought, “Damn, that’s so far away!”
That can only be a good thing.
Love a good original horror story? Love a strong human drama, powerfully told with words and pictures? If you answered “yes” to one or both of those questions, then run, don’t walk, to your local comic shop and grab the first issue, before it’s sold out.
Just make sure you’re home before dark.