In 1981, perennially underrated comics scribe J.M. DeMatteis began writing I…Vampire, a back-up feature in DC’s monthly horror anthology House of Mystery. It’s main character was a vampire (obviously), who, in order to maintain his humanity, drank only animal or bottled human blood. It’s been over 25 years, but the concept of the “vegetarian vampire” has permanently embedded itself in pop culture, not only because of the sullen Cullen clan at the heart of the Twilight series, but because of the synthetic human blood that’s allowed vampires to come out of the casket in HBO’s True Blood and the Sookie Stackhouse mystery novels that inspired them. Not that Stephenie Meyers or Charlene Harris were DeMatteis fangirls in the eighties (if they were, they might both be better at depicting the human element that is so often absent in their work), but it’s understandable why DC Comics, in relaunching their entire universe, would choose to publish a book like I, Vampire, no matter how obscure the original property was. Like a dog, the company is returning to territory it’s previously marked. Yes, DC Comics are fighting well out of their weight in the vampire market–comic books that aren’t about Batman or the X-Men stand virtually no chance outside the ever-shrinking comic book market–but there’s still some cash left to be milked from the vampiric cow and, by rights, I suppose some of that cash should go to the company that unwittingly gave much to the new vampire.
Unfortunately, I, Vampire can’t quite break free from the new vampire’s current deathgrip on culture, meaning that any money it does manage to wring out of a seemingly coffinbound genre will be grubbed up by being exactly like everything else. Essentially a romance with the promise of world-ending destruction, Andrew Bennett’s a vampire-killing vampire, the sort of dude whose been around the block several thousand times, the kind of cat who puts others out of their misery so he can hang on to whatever scrap of humanity is left after a few centuries of nightjobs and vampire slayings. Unfortunately, Andrew turned his lover, Mary, into a vampire as well and–surprise!–she likes the experience, tires of drinking animal blood and, unsurprisingly, calls for a vampire uprising. The book will eventually get to the uprising, but first there’s a lot of hand-wringing, a ton of baby-come-ons that are pretty much like every discussion a vampire’s ever had on the subject of their humanity.
Maybe there’s something to the theme of vampires finding or losing their humanity, but I, Vampire does not do a good job of bringing something new to an incredibly crowded party. Matter of fact, it rushes into some decidedly Twilight-esque platitudes, particularly where the male/female dynamic is concerned. Granted, it’s hard to write a piece of vampire fiction with a vampire villain that isn’t couched in cliche, but after Twilight, it’s hard to read something where the male protagonist harshly chastises his lady-love over a disagreement. Andrew even goes so far as to warn Mary that starting a war against the human race might be dangerous, especially considering that said race calls Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, and half the Green Lantern Corps its protectors. Were another guy sitting with Andrew by the lake, casually chatting about his plans to kill everything and have the vampires take over, the conversation would end with a stake in that vampire’s heart. Here, Andrew is hesitant because it’s his lover, sure, but when are we going to move beyond the point where the male is The Protector in a male/female relationship? Moreover, when will women in popular entertainment realize that their men are unsupportive jerks and leave them in the dust without a pleasantly written note pledging her undying love despite their differences?
As if the dynamic between Andrew and Mary wasn’t enough, I, Vampire‘s another book where the fate of the world seems at stake. Andrew wakes up one night and sees the streets of Boston littered with corpses, casualties of Mary’s newly-declared holy war. I understand the need to quickly ramp up excitement, but I would be more interested in the eventual Andrew vs. Mary showdown had not other #1s in the DC relaunch done the “we’re all gonna die” thing much better. I, Vampire very clearly isn’t interested in exploring the relationship between the two, is clearly convinced that the way to a reader’s heart is through the sort of vampire-cum-video-game violence that derailed the half-brilliant Daybreakers, the emotional investment of a beach read. I should have known all of this going in. The difference between this and the 80s iteration is as clear as the difference between a comma and an ellipsis, I…Vampire and I, Vampire. One is hesitant, full of trepidation. The other doesn’t give a damn. Full speed ahead. Blow everything up and pick through the rubble later. I don’t know–I guess I figure that, in 2011, we deserve a better class of vampire lit.