I was rather stunned when, at the end of I, Vampire #6, Joshua Hale Fialkov killed off his central character Andrew Bennett with a quick and brutal turn from his reluctant teenaged ally. Now, this being a book centered around magic, with an impending crossover with the supernaturally-themed Justice League Dark as the next chapter, I should have suspected that this sudden death wasn't meant to stick, but I simply didn't think that the New 52 would establish the 'death doesn't really mean death' paradigm of comics so quickly, given how much tallk was centered on realism and such. Thus, the Rise of the Vampires story started in Peter Milligan's Justice League Dark #7 and weaving into Fialkov's I, Vampire #7, both released today, loses some luster once we learn that John Constantine and Boston Brand are heading into the netherworld to retrieve Bennett from what passes for his afterlife. I thought this was a bold New 52 move I actually liked, as opposed to the bold moves I disliked, such as turning the Amazons into Sex Pirate Spartans.
It seems that Bennett's very existence was the seal that kept this primordial vampire evil named Cain exiled from the mortal plane, and the fact that the misguided Tig chopped Bennett's head off, thinking that would magically turn all vampires back to normal, has unleashed the big bad (not to be confused with the werewolf story The Big Bad). Worse news yet is that Cain is some kind of magic parasite, sucking up all the mystical energy and channelling it to the vampire hordes created by Mary Queen of Blood, who's none too pleased about having her leading role usurped in her own uprising – which speaks to the notion that her own vanity is the root of her motivation rather than her professed need to liberate vamp-kind from the shackles of life in the shadows. Although calling herself "Mary Queen of Blood" was probably a pretty good sign of that, too. It's a little disappointing to see that development, since it makes her a less interesting villain if it's all just ego instead of deep conviction.
So, while Mary seems to be an unlikely – and particuarly snotty – ally in Part 2 in I, Vampire, Part 1 in JLD is where a lot of desperation seems to come in, as the magic heroes who dislike each other find their powers being drained and pushed to extremes rather quickly once they find their way to Gotham City and mix it up with the likes of Batgirl. Constantine believes the entire enterprise is doomed to fail, but he gets browbeaten into pitching in. Zatanna's powers aren't working right. Shade The Changing Man's M-Vest is whacked out thanks to his stubborn subconscious. And Madame Xanadu has hightailed it to the astral plane to try to get some help from a Buddha-looking blue fellow, and she's preparing to pay a terrible price for that help.
Milligan's chapter does a good job of setting up the tension here with his team that's only a team because Xanadu keeps insisting that it has to be. Admira Wijaya's expressive art on the first eight pages rates a skosh higher than Daniel Sampere's art on the back 11, but they're close enough to blend almost seamlessly into each other – perhaps helped by Wijaya handling the coloring as well. Constantine is entertainingly snarky, but having him in a non-Vertigo book always feels like he's being neutered by default, and that's coming from a guy who's barely read any Hellblazer. Fialkov's second chapter sports Andrea Sorrentino's "I Am Totally Not Perfectly Aping Jae Lee At All What Are You Talking About" style that works really well for this book, even if the tone is a bit less grave than the art might make it seem. In fact, the dialog is kind of fun as Fialkov gives us Bennett in a blank netherworld learning more about his existence than he knew, while giving us a pissy Mary reluctantly joining forces with the JLD and Bennett's ragtag group, which sports an even more reluctant Batman – entertainingly hating every second he's in this mess. I like what this means for Batman – a lot of undead malarkey blurring the line between life and death, thus blurring his stark moral boundary about killing, thus making him want to cover his eyes and run away to fight clowns and broken lawyers instead and have no one speak to him of this ever.
It's great that both of these issues came out on the same day, although it means a longer wait to get to the next chapter in the story, but at least we'll get two then, too. The crossover here is gruesome fun, although the I, Vampire story backing off its daring swerve, turning its central antagonist into a standard-issue supervillain who petulantly flouts her own philosophies just because she might have to play second fiddle, takes something away from what had been building there. But there's still more to come, and these guys have been doing interesting enough work that my reservations could be erased as the story continues to unfold.