Welcome back to Longbox Junk. . .the place to find all the comic reviews you never asked for!
It's the day before Halloween, but we're still having some spooky fun here at Longbox Junk by spotlighting some of the creepy comics hiding in the dark corners of my (and my daughter's) collection.
This month we've taken a look at American Vampires (great!), Vegetarian Duck Vampires (pretty good) and grumpy reformed Vampires (meh). So even though this Halloween Longbox Junk season HAS been a bit Vampire-Heavy, I'm of the opinion that in this time of year Vampires are like bite-size Snickers. . .you can never have enough in your bucket!
And so. . .more vampires. I pulled this one from my daughter's collection after spotting that SWEET Halloween-y cover while delving for some good Longbox Junk. I've never heard of this or read it until now, so you'll find out the same time I do:
Is this Snickers or Candy Corn?
Let's do it!
DARK HORSE (2014)
SCRIPT: Steve Niles
So the cover on this is what caught my eye. Let's linger on it for a moment.
Is this or is this not an almost perfect Halloween cover? I say it is! It's a bit late to put it up on the office wall (just spotted it this morning), but this one is DEFINITELY on the list for next year. That strangely beautiful, yet fierce, face standing out strongly as the focal point against the dark shades of black and grey really makes this cover great. It's a very simple cover that is outstanding in almost every way.
Such a great cover. Let's see what's underneath. . .
The story goes like this:
During the time of the Black Plague, there is so much death that vampires roam the earth freely as sort of an open secret. Our story begins as Moria and Tarquin, ancient vampires and lovers, leave a plague-ridden city and seek directions to the country estate of Lord Mattering. . .who has turned his home into a fortress against both plague and vampire.
Shortly afterward, the doctor who they speak to is seized by a priest and his men and burned at the stake for being seen talking to vampires. As the doctor burns, Moira hears the screams of a woman and convinces her lover to avenge the senseless death.
The vampire lovers follow the priest back to his cathedral and confront him, mocking his belief that the vampires are the spreaders of the plague when their great age (they're from the days of the Roman Empire) gives them the knowledge that it's actually rats and fleas.
The pair of vampires kills the priest by hanging him and leaving his body on public display, then continue their journey to Lord Mattering's fortress estate. . .
Upon arrival at Lord Mattering's Castle, Moira and Tarquin see that the rumors are true. The estate is heavily-fortified, with soldiers everywhere. Tarquin decides that since every effort to enter will be equally dangerous, a direct attack is as good a way as any to get inside. . .
As the pair of vampires fight their way through the castle guards, Tarquin reflects on how they met about 100 years after the fall of the Roman Empire and became former enemies turned lovers.
Once inside the fortress, Moira and Tarquin surprise Lord Mattering and his family as they hide in their inner sanctum. The vampires brutally kill Lord Mattering's two young children in front of the terrified nobleman and his wife. . .
Tarquin strikes a deal with Lord Mattering that if the nobleman will marry the two vampires, they will not harm him. Mattering agrees and so marries Tarquin and Moria. Unfortunately for Lord Mattering, Tarquin's deal said nothing about his now-vampiric children. The vampire children slaughter their parents as Tarquin and Moria take their leave of the fortress. . .
Outside of Lord Mattering's estate Moria and Tarquin are confronted by a large group of vampires led by one called Mangus. He tells Tarquin that the couple's activities. . .namely the public killing of the priest. . .are bringing too much attention to vampires.
The confrontation turns heated and Mangus threatens Moira, who attacks. Knowing they can't defeat so many other vampires, Tarquin and Moria flee the encounter. The rest of the vampires pursue them.
As Moira and Tarquin make their escape, a strange craft comes from the sky and Moira is drawn up into it by a brilliant beam of light, leaving Tarquin alone to escape the pursuing vampires. . .
On board the mysterious craft, Moira finds herself surrounded by strange beings. She attacks them.
The end of the tale comes some undetermined time later in the future, as Moira returns to Earth after having apparently conquered a planet, intent on finally reuniting with her lover, Tarquin, who has been fighting for survival alone since her disappearance. Her return starts some sort of war.
The End. To be continued?
Okay. Well then. THAT escalated quickly. Let's try to unpack what's happened here.
Basically, this story went from a pretty decent tale about two vampire lovers during the Middle Ages and turned into a ALIEN ABDUCTION story out of nowhere! Where the did ALIENS suddenly come from?
It's as if you were watching Lord of the Rings and suddenly Gandalf whips out a machine gun and starts blasting orcs to a heavy metal soundtrack. It's so incredibly sudden and out of left field that it just sort of leaves me wondering what the just happened. And then the story just ends! All I can think of is this:
Okay. Deep breath. Let's put the aliens aside for the moment and look at the rest of the comic.
Steve Niles creates a grim world of fanatic priests, wandering vampires, and terrified survivors set against the backdrop of a grimy, plague-ridden Europe. It's a fantastic setting for a dark tale such as this. The dialogue perfectly captures the weary feel of a world and its inhabitants at a time that feels like the end of everything.
Unfortunately, there's not much story here to go with Niles' grimy, desperate world. It feels more like some sort of disconnected prequel to a larger story that never got written. It's more of an introduction than an actual story. There are multiple references to things that we never see. . .such as the Nosferatu Wars of the title itself, Moira destroying a planet, and Tarquin's fight for survival during her absence.
Reading this is like reading the first and third issues of a four issue mini-series without reading the second or last issue. You can tell what's going on, but it definitely feels incomplete in many ways.
I can't find any good information on this comic except that it was originally a 4 part story in Dark Horse Presents (Issues 26 - 29 of the 2011 series that I'm surprised lasted 36 issues because each issue cost SEVEN DOLLARS), but it really feels like there was supposed to be quite a bit more coming that never got done. I think maybe the writer was planning on some sort of Vampire/Alien war from the looks of it.
The art also feels extremely inconsistent. There are definitely moments of greatness here. The artist has an almost monotone, dreamlike (or nightmarish?), very dark style that perfectly matches the grim and weary world the writer has created.
Unfortunately, mixed in with this very interesting and appealing style are panels that look like unfinished pencil sketches. The sketches aren't bad in most cases, but when put next to the other art style on the same page they aren't very complimentary and give the comic a bit of a schizophrenic feel. Maybe this was what the artist had in mind, but to my eye it doesn't quite work.
What we have here is a strange little piece of Longbox Junk that is contradictory in many ways.
The setting is amazing, the characters and dialogue are interesting, and there are hints of a larger story to come. BUT. . .Those hints never pay off, the story is more of a fragmented introduction than a complete story, and the ending is off the hook random craziness that makes you wonder what the just happened.
The art is dark, dreamlike, and perfectly matches the grim and weary setting. BUT. . .Mixed in with that fantastic art, often on the same page, are what look like unfinished pencil sketches that give the whole comic a disorganized look.
Overall, this whole comic is an exercise in contradiction. Good mixes freely with bad on almost every page. I don't think I can recommend this to anyone but the most devoted fan of vampire stories, and even then I warn that there is no follow up to what's here. This strange introduction is it.
As for anyone else, the cover is definitely worth a buck if you spot it in a bargain bin. There's also some curiosity value that comes from seeing aliens suddenly appear in a Middle Ages vampire story.
Up Next. . .
That's it for this year's Longbox Junk Halloween fun! So it's back to business as usual. I'm not sure exactly what will be next. . .so much junk to choose from.
Be there or be square!