At the start of this five-issue miniseries, Jonathan Mayberry and Tyler Crook blend two well-worn plot elements — cancer and vampires — into something surprisingly fresh. This story of college student Trick and his unexpected war with the Undead isn’t afraid to illustrate how death can wear down and win over, but it never feels plodding or pathetic. By looking at what happens when a bro’s bravado comes up against the limits of his own mortality, Mayberry and Crook turn a standard supernatural romp into a very engaging undertaking.
When Trick is first introduced, he’s a former athlete at a truly terrible stage in his chemo, and the prognosis isn’t good. Things only get worse when a vampire attacks: the monster is burned by Trick’s toxic blood, and in its rage it begins a war of terror against Trick and everyone he loves.
Crook’s art didn’t initially strike me as well-suited for a horror comic. With material softness and lighter lines, it’s almost like a sketchbook at points. However, this watercolor-with-pencils look forces a focus on color and texture, and Crook uses that to convey illness with surprising starkness. While his classmates have rosy noses and tan cheeks, Trick is drawn with a flat, white face and a pink nose that looks like he’s permanently cold. This color difference pervades every scene, so the reader feels how cancer is ever-present in Trick’s life.
Most interestingly, both Trick and the vampire priest are drawn in similar sickly greys, drawing an explicit comparison between the ways that the exhaustion of chemo can make a patient feel “undead” and actually being undead. Though the body language can feel cartoony at points, Crook nails the more poignant, wordless scenes — and also delivers on the horror. His vampire is a massive flat-faced creature with an awful snout and a mouth full of pointy teeth, and when he feasts the carnage is bubbly and mutilated. Blood appears in thick, dribbling gobs, and it’s all the more foul against the otherwise muted color palette.
Maberry, for his part, gives Trick a very appealing voice. Trick is full of typical tough-guy shenanigans — morbid jokes, bravado, etc. — but Maberry wisely tempers these teenage-boy-isms so that they can work. As soon as they start to feel gimmicky, he brings in a reminder of Trick’s physical helplessness. For instance, when Trick vows to hurt the vampire as badly as it’s hurt him, the brave, come-at-me speech is cut short by a crippling coughing fit. Mayberry smartly lets the art do the showing while the captions do the talking, bringing Trick’s mental toughness right up against his physical weakness — and, more importantly, showing how that weakness can diminish his toughness. It’s a contrast that celebrates human resilience because of its limitations, and it had me rooting for Trick because of who he is and not simply because of what’s happened to him.
Though its premise sounded like simple campy fun, “Bad Blood” is actually really compelling. With a disturbing villain, a well-imagined aesthetic, and strong character work, it’s off to a great start.