Guttergeek Review: iZOMBIE and AMERICAN VAMPIRE

Posted by on May 11th, 2010 at 8:43 PM

Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, iZombie #1 (DC/Vertigo, 2010). $1.00.

Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Stephen King, American Vampire #1-2 (DC/Vertigo, 2010). Ongoing, $3.99 per issue.

iZombie is a book I very much wanted to like, and American Vampire is a book I wanted to hate. Funny how things work out. iZombie has pretty much all the individual elements that make for a great pitch. The problem is that it’s a great pitch for an HBO dramedy, and it’s not executed nearly as well as most HBO shows are these days. The book revolves around Gwen Dylan—a walking, talking, socially functional gravedigger who eats the brains of the recently deceased and absorbs snippets of their lives. This doesn’t exactly sound fun, but it does sound enticing. Also intriguing in theory is the supporting cast: a sexy-mod ghost girl named Ellie, a “were-terrier” named Scott, and a group of vampire paintball fanatics.

If anyone could pull off a book like this, it’s Mike Allred, whose offbeat visual stylings have worked wonders with the experimental pop-art weirdness of books like Madman and X-Statix. But even Allred’s art can’t channel or balance Roberson’s script. The biggest weakness of iZombie is that it comes off as a series of forced gimmicks. It’s only one issue in, and I hope my initial reaction proves to be wrong. But the pacing is choppy and it reads like a series of emo mood swings following by knowing winks. I can’t shake the feeling that this is all hipster style (very well-honed and beautiful style) with very little substance.

American Vampire, on the other hand, offers up thick, gristly substance to go with its abrasive Western style. The vampire trend is getting pretty exhausted (or exhausting) in popular culture right now, and the last thing I wanted to see from Vertigo was another take on fanged creatures of the night. But American Vampire is honestly a vampire story that feels entirely new. Granted, bits of it do seem familiar. This book does seem to borrow from past successful Vertigo books, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you were to take the Western brutality of Loveless, the conspiratorial underpinnings of 100 Bullets, and the period elegance of Sandman Mystery Theatre, you’d have a strong skeleton for a long-lasting book. American Vampire stretches a layer of vampiristic savagery over this skeletal structure that makes the overall body fit together well and makes complete sense. This is a well-built book that I absolutely believe.

The scriptwork turned in by both Scott Snyder and Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) is strong so far. The authors are telling two different stories (in different historical periods) that interlace effectively. The fact that I can’t tell the difference in tone between the two threads is a testament to how well-coordinated this book is. The main characters (Pearl and Skinner) are well-developed after just two issues, and the dialogue is colorfully authentic. What holds all this together (and distinguishes American Vampire as an achievement unique to the comics form) is Rafael Albuquerque’s artwork. I have to admit that I’m somewhat surprised about this. Albuquerque’s pencils were a large part of the reason why I thoroughly enjoyed the most recent Blue Beetle series from DC, but I didn’t know how well his style would work in a non-superhero book that spans from 1880 to 1925. Thus far, he has displayed impressive versatility in both setting and anatomy (both of which are crucial in making readers believe a story that walks such a thin line between fantasy and realism). And his vampires are more gruesome than any I’ve seen in the last couple decades. Thankfully there is no diamond-y, twinkly skin to speak of here—just blood and gore, which is pulled back with disciplined restraint and released at moments of startling shock and force.

I don’t think I’ve ever had my reading expectations reversed in quite the way they have been over the last couple months, but this is pretty much what Vertigo is best at. The book I wanted to love leaves me cold, and the book I wanted to hate has me hooked. iZombie has to get more substantive pretty quickly if I’m going to keep reading it. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be following American Vampire until it bleeds out.

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “Guttergeek Review: iZOMBIE and AMERICAN VAMPIRE”

  1. […] Comic Book Noise review Comic Book Resources review Comic Related review Comics Alliance review The Comics Journal review Creative Loafing Charlotte review Fangoria review Largehearted Boy review Read About Comics review […]