Writer Tim Seeley already has a history with subverting the horror genre. With previous titles like Hack/Slash and Revival under his belt -- the former about flipping the “final girl” trope on its head, and the latter mixing zombies into the murder mystery mix -- it should come as no surprise that he’s at it again with Dark Red, a new crime series that looks to use vampires to explore the political and cultural divide currently ripping America in half.
Most modern vampire fiction involves, to some degree, a depiction of the opulent extravagance of the undead lifestyle. Interview with the Vampire is the most obvious, but even series like Blade and Twilight offer a glamorous version of a vampire that almost makes turning into an unholy bloodsucker seem appealing. Dark Red, however, looks to examine the other side of things, showing us that those fancy, city-living vampires aren’t the only ones out there.
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Charles “Chip” Ipswich is the stereotypical “forgotten man” populating the American heartland. Living in the middle of the country without a stable job, prospects or any kind of meaningful life, it’s almost incidental that Chip is a vampire. In this first issue, we see that he’s keeping down a minimum wage job at a convenience store (one which he has to race home from before sunrise), and has a strange relationship with a local girl in which she keeps him supplied with blood and he helps her stave off the blood cancer that’s slowly killing her. Pretty soon, however, the outside world comes knocking at his door -- literally -- and he’s thrown into an adventure that is only teased by this issue’s end.
The bigger story is what’s going on in the peripheries of Chip’s life. We meet a few unsavory characters -- not even counting the vampires -- that hint at the true story being told here. Take Camden Rickenbaugh, a local at the convenience store that moans about the Democrats shutting down the refineries and the Mexicans stealing jobs. There will always be people like Cam, but Chip’s reaction, when confronted about him later on, is that he’s an “alright guy” just coping with the “moral rot” that’s threatening “real America.” As we start to uncover more about Chip, we notice that he’s resentful of those people (and vampires) who live in the city, and that his ideologies aren’t perhaps as progressive as those living on the coasts.
This makes a lot of sense for the analogy that Seeley is playing with, and it also makes sense in the fiction. When someone lives forever, either they will have to learn to change with the times, or pretty soon their beliefs will become woefully outdated. It happens to us mortals constantly, so for a vampire who can live for hundreds of years -- especially one left on the outside of society like Chip -- how they think and what they believe will become obsolete if they don’t remain open-minded to a changing world. There’s a moment where it seems like Chip is trying, as he wrestles with new terminology like “this party is lit” and “this is so Gucci,” but knowing the lingo is useless if your politics are as skewed as Chip’s seem to be.
Corin Powell’s art manages to capture the mundane and the extraordinary effortlessly. The first five pages paint a picture of a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere, but then we see a vampire catching fire in the early morning rays of the sun, and suddenly this is a completely different book. Powell’s expressive characters tell us a lot about the cast not captured in the script. Local girl Evie, for example, talks about getting out of this town and making it in the big city, and Powell’s depiction of her when she’s talking shows us innocence and even a naivety about her as she excitedly talks about wanting to become a vampire. Later, as we’re introduced to more vampires, one, in particular, has a horrifying, Joker-esque grin that will haunt your dreams.
Dark Red plays with the vampire genre in promising new ways. There’s a deeper mystery slowly unraveling, but more than that, it’s clear that Seeley is exploring a deeper commentary on our society and the effects of such extreme global politics on the everyman’s beliefs. Chip is a flawed protagonist with understandable -- if not quite relatable -- ideas, and it’s in him that Dark Red will stand apart from its peers. It’s a unique viewpoint to examine, especially within this genre, and Seeley has shown already in this first issue that this is a conversation worth having.
If nothing else, Dark Red introduces the idea of holy water frozen into stakes (a “blessed icicle”) as a new way to kill vampires. That alone should be enough to make you pick up this first issue.