Impaler, Volume 1

Between series like "Buffy," "Twilight," and "First Blood," there have been many re-imaginings of the vampire myth in recent pop culture. "Impaler" sees horror writer William Harms bring his version to the arena of comics.

In order to differentiate his take on vampires from all the others, Harms concentrates not on the romance and nobility of the immortal creatures (as many re-imaginings do) but on the predatory brutality of the vampire creatures, and their devastating effect on society. While Harms' vampires are markedly different from the traditional ones in terms of both weaknesses and appearance, the fundamental terrors of the vampire threat remains, and it's that which allows them the luxury of the name.

In an unusual casting choice, Harms chooses an immortal Vlad the Impaler as the only person readily equipped to deal with the infestation. It's a unique choice, since Vlad, the historical figure generally accepted as the original inspiration Count Dracula, is usually cast as a vampire rather than the vampire slayer - although, it seems as though the casting choice relies on that prior knowledge for readers to really appreciate the nuance of it.

The book's artwork is a bit of a mixed bag. The opening issues are drawn by Nick Postic, who specialized in slightly abstract urban panoramas. The vampiric creatures look best here, and his panels often depict beautiful, almost frozen scenes. Unfortunately, as a comic, this approach doesn't necessarily work, and it loses a lot of storytelling scope as a result. Panels feel disconnected, and it makes it a tough read more like a storyboard than an actual comic.

When Francis Tsai takes over for the latter issues, the artwork shifts in the opposite direction -- the panels and actions are much more fluid, but the artwork becomes far less interesting at the same time. Tsai's backgrounds are especially bland, and entire pages become a blur of expressive figures inhabiting barely formed locations. The vampires themselves lose a lot of their ethereal visage under Tsai's depiction. Overall, the art represents the unwelcome choice of a trade-off between style and substance, each artist offering one without the other.

It should be noted, too, that despite being a "6-issue" collection, half the book is new material. This is fairly annoying for anyone who bought the original issues and, as a practice, should be discouraged, but the low price of the book just about saves it. $15 is effectively $5 per "new" issue, but the vast array of genuinely interesting extras (almost an issue's worth again) makes the trade worth it even if you own the first three.

It won't be for everyone, but "Impaler" just about managed to convince me that Harms has a story worth reading, and hopefully the relaunch of the series from Top Cow (which promises not to alienate new readers) will give his world the opportunity to impress from the get-go as it does by the end of this collection.

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