Saturday, April 14, 2012

Retro Reading: I, Vampire (1980-83)

In the summer of 1980, DC Comics expanded the page count of their monthly series, in addition to raising the cover price to a mere 50 cents, which by today's standards is chump change. Six books from that era would be the equivalent of one of today's, you see, since the average cover price now has swollen to $3.

Last fall, DC revisited a popular serial from the early 80's, rebooting I, Vampire for the "Twilight" generation. After four issues, I decided I just couldn't deal with it anymore, and stopped reading it. Around that same time, I became aware that DC was finally getting around to collecting the original serial that debuted in House of Mystery (1st series) #290, ending 3 years later in issue 319. House of Mystery ended its run 2 months afterward, but had it not been cancelled, would they have been able to extend the serial, since it felt as though it'd been rushed to its conclusion? We may never know.

I, Vampire was the creation of writer J. Marc DeMatteis, and told the story of Andrew Bennett, a titled nobleman who'd fallen prey to a vampire, but was unwilling to give in to the dark side. His girlfriend, Mary Seward, asked him to turn her into a vampire, but, oh, did Andrew ever regret that decision. Mary became the vile Mary, Queen of Blood, corrupted by her newfound undead status. And so began a chase that had gone on unresolved for 400 years until both Bennett and his estranged lover-turned-enemy were now in then-present day America. Along the way, Mary had nurtured a following, a sect known as the Blood Red Moon. Bennett's only allies were Dimitri Mishkin, a Russian whose mother, we'd learn, had become one of Mary's allies, and Deborah Dancer. Like Mishkin, Deborah was rescued from the Moon's clutches by Bennett when she was a child, and she grew up to become not only a trusted ally of Bennett, but also his new girlfriend.

DeMatteis left the series early in the run, leaving fellow writers Bruce Jones, Dan Mishkin, & Gary Cohn to finish the story. Veteran artist Tom Sutton drew most of the series, with Ernie Colon filling in for a couple of issues, and others lending a hand when deadlines became an issue. Had DeMatteis not departed for reasons unknown, who knows if his vision was really different from what the final product presented?

After appearing every other month for the first year, I, Vampire became the lead feature in House of Mystery until the end of the serial. Mishkin & Cohn did seem to bring things forward a bit sooner than you'd think, first by having Dimitri succumb to his love for his mother, and ultimately become a vampire himself. Bennett obtained an untested serum that he thought might cure his vampirism from a Russian vampire who was only interested in seizing control of his native land. Turns out the serum was meant for mortals who hadn't been turned yet, and Bennett discovered the hard way that the serum was in effect fatal to him. Mary sank her fangs into Deborah, but that turned out to be a fatal mistake as well, as Deborah, so smitten with Bennett as she was, had asked him to turn her, but this was after she'd taken the serum herself.

Now that she, too, was a vampire, Deborah had all of the vampire's powers, but none of its weaknesses as a result of the serum. One final battle with Mary led to the Queen's final demise, just before Bennett breathed his last. With her two closest friends now gone, Deborah was all alone. Just as Bennett had been.

I cannot say for sure if a follow-up serial starring Deborah Dancer was in the offing, had House of Mystery not been cancelled, but it would've been great reading.

In 2011, Bennett & Mary were reincarnated, if you will, by writer Joshua Hale Falkiov, but the current series was clearly designed to lure the "Twilight" audience. Whereas Bennett met Batman in the pages of Brave & The Bold (and that story is included in the I, Vampire trade paperback) during the original story, in the present, he has met the members of Justice League Dark, including Shade, the Changing Man and Zatanna the Magician. I don't think the crossover was really needed this early in the run, but that was DC's call. Batman has also made the inevitable appearance, in a nod to the previous serial.

The Brave & The Bold story was included in the trade, but printed out of sequence because the editors didn't know where it fit in correlation to the original serial. That, really, is the only qubble I have. As for the current book, there is no sign of Dimitri Mishkin or Deborah Dancer---yet, and I am not sure if Falkiov has plans for either one. After all, as the original story wore on, it was a reversal of the "Twilight" central plot, although there were no werewolves involved. Deborah was Bella Swan before there was a Bella Swan.

In 1980, I, Vampire attempted to fill the gap between the seminal gothic soap, Dark Shadows, and Marvel's award-winning Tomb of Dracula, which was into volume 2 by the time Andrew Bennett made his debut. In effect, Bennett was the anti-Dracula, a precursor, if you will, to Angel because of his moral conflicts. Could it be that Joss Whedon and Stephanie Meyer had both read I, Vampire? Whedon, I'd almost imagine, since he is another Hollywood creator moonlighting as a comics writer. Meyer, I'm not so sure, but I'd say they both owe J. Marc DeMatteis a great deal of thanks for the inspiration.

Rating: A.

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