By: Joshua Hale Fialkov (writer), Andrea Sorrentino (artist), Marcelo Maiolo (colorist)

The Story: You’re one to talk, Batman—most people think you’re a vampire, too.

The Review: Throwing in any guest star of the Dark Knight’s caliber can be a risky business.  As a major character with an established, popular fan-base, people have certain expectations of him.  It’s something like wearing a sombrero at work; you can’t really go walking around, doing your normal thing, and not explain to people what’s the deal with the sombrero.  So it goes with Batman.  If you want to have him in there, you better have a good reason for it.

I suppose the fact that vampires have taken nest in Gotham is reason enough to get Batman involved.  More than that, Fialkov puts the caped crusader to good use, balancing both his hyper-competence with the fact that he’s mostly out of place with these particular foes.  Despite Andrew’s unnatural abilities, Batman’s able to hold his own, actually getting the vampire riled up.  At the same time, you know Batman only has an academic idea of what he’s up against, a frustration he expresses by being gruffer than ever: “You’re still a monster…  Fine.  We work together.  For now.”

Despite the presence of such a major icon in their midst, the regular characters keep their composure and make it clear this is their title.  While John does little more in the issue than try to keep a fight from breaking out among his companions, Tig actually attempts to incite one (“He’s a vampire!  He’s in love with the one who did all of this.  Kill him.  Better yet, let me.”).  If you hoped she’d be a force of cuteness, albeit a deadly one, in this series, you learn very quickly that she’s not taken in by Andrew’s charm, and she has a lot of resentment left to work through.

One running thread that Fialkov’s kept pretty quiet about, yet which will inevitably be a point of contention for all someday, is Andrew’s “thrall.”  Back in #3, I had my suspicions that John’s utter devotion to the vampire may have less to do with trust and more with his magnetic aura, and Batman has no qualms about voicing his theories to the same: “I know you [John] were a good man once, before he turned you into his…Hecubus.”  The fact that Andrew uses that same charm liberally to get past human obstacles doesn’t ease your concerns, either.

While the character work and plotting in this series has been fine, probably its best feature is the growing sense of impending doom you get reading it.  Many writers have tried to make their particular forces of evil foreboding and formidable (think the Daemonites in Voodoo and Grifter), but Fialkov is one of the very few who’s succeeded.  Often, he only lets you see the grim results of the vampires’ work, and here, we see merely the bloody traces.  Even when they attack openly, it’s sudden and brief, like their turning of a Gotham cop.  You’re left with an impression of an enemy that can be invasive and invisible at the same time, and genuinely scary.

Sorrentino still projects a distinctly Vertigo vibe in his work.  Maybe it’s because he produces incredible detail with such thin, unassuming lines.  Maybe it’s his heavy use of shading to give depth and character to his figures.  Maybe it’s because he avoids glamour or showiness in drawing everything.  One thing’s for sure: he can draw costumes and capes just as convincingly as vampires and hunters, which is quite an achievement.  Credit is also due to Maiolo’s dim, earthy colors, which never once takes on a bold hue that would break the dramatic tension of the story.

Conclusion: Vampires have become kind of commonplace creatures, convenient monster fodder for the horror genre, but this title is slowly giving them back the dark reputation they once possessed.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I got a little thrown off by the cover to this issue.  For a second, I thought one of Larfleeze’s constructs had taken over the series.