“Vitriol the Hunter,” a vampires-in-the-future tale co-written and pencilled by Billy Martin of pop-punk band Good Charlotte, has been a long time in the making. Comic Book Resources first announced the mini-series in July of 2009 with a targeted release date of February, 2010. The book finally hits the stands only three years late, but unfortunately, it could have used some more time on the drawing board.
“Vitriol the Hunter” is Nimirus Vitriol, a moody young man whose self-appointed task is to cleanse the near-future city of Basilika of its vampiric scourge. Opposing him is the vampire lord Barthus, who maintains a strict goth-club dress code in his boardroom as he upsets the power structures of society. Vitriol is aided by Danion, a pharmacist who stitches up his cuts after hours, and he shares the streets with a SWAT force called the Defense Initiative, who do what Vitriol does but with a lot more bumbling about and dying.
If all this sounds awfully familiar, it’s because “Vitriol the Hunter” retreads ground already covered by such hoary franchises as “Underworld” and “Blade.” (Werewolves are even called “Lycans,” a term pulled directly from “Underworld.”) But every new vampire story needs a twist, and Martin and co-writer Brent Allen’s high concept is that vampires kept to the shadows until fifteen years ago, when the government of Basilika City collected them into a supernatural army tasked with stealing natural resources from neighboring areas, in a classic what-could-possibly-go-wrong plan.
The idea of a city assaulted from within by a mutinying army of vampires is strong, and there are other intriguing plot threads woven in. Barthus briefly mentions vampires, at some point, “overthrew [the humans’] church system.” (Whether that includes Jews, Buddhists, Odinists, etc. is anyone’s guess.) Unfortunately, the question of what that means goes unexplored, and readers are left to wonder how the average folks of Basilika City live, or whether there are any civilians left besides Danion and the de rigueur old bum warming his hands at a burning trash can.
The fresh ideas in “Vitriol the Hunter” are buried under a weight of cliche. Lord Barthus insists on the standard vampiric hierarchy of age, with its “elders” and “children,” and complains that vampires “have been living in the shadows of the mortals for time immemorial.” (He doesn’t seem to have a beef with the fact that they were rounded up and sent to war, though.) Meanwhile, Vitriol broods, pops pills against medical advice, and insults the Defense Initiative while they get their throats torn out despite cool tech and plenty of disposable manpower. The writing also suffers from some wooden dialogue. The characters already feel cookie cutter, and the script does nothing to give them personality.
Martin’s art could also use a touch-up. He has a chunky, cartoony style that shows a strong influence from animation and artists like Humberto Ramos. It’s a strange match to the heavy tone of “Vitriol the Hunter,” but Jeremy Treece’s colors pull the whole thing together admirably. Martin’s major weakness as an artist is his posing, which is almost universally awkward. Characters look like they’re just standing around casually as their throats are ripped out, their eyeballs explode, they’re shot in the back or their intestines spill forth. Martin’s perspective goes off at times as well, especially in longer shots featuring multiple figures.
All told, despite how long it took to reach stands, “Vitriol the Hunter” would have benefited hugely from another pass by the editor. There are some cool ideas buried in here, but the story, dialogue and art all aren’t quite ready for primetime.