Oh Father: Male writers have been using fiction to work out their extensive daddy issues since the days of Oedipus. But there’s something especially perfect about comic books in facilitating this extra popular trope. In highly inventive worlds where monsters and superheroes both exist en masse, grappling with feelings of inferiority, pride, and masculinity usually become truly larger-than-life ordeals.
The latest entrant to this lush canon is Killadelphia, the brainchild of Spawn artist Jason Shawn Alexander and Rodney Barnes (writer for Starz’s American Gods). Together, the pair have created a book that tackles these issues with real force while spinning in different genres and inspirations that prove initially entertaining. If the book doesn’t succumb to its own shortcomings, of course.
Daddy Dearest: Killadelphia follows James Sangster, Jr., a nobody beat cop out in Baltimore who comes back to his native Philadelphia to bury his father. James Sangster, Sr. was a true hero cop, the kind of gritty, deeply committed gumshoe they’d write whole pulp novels about. So, father and son weren’t exactly close, and James Jr. has nothing but deep resentment bordering on hatred for his father. Could there be deeper issues at play? Likely, especially with the mother long dead. But it may be enough that James Jr. is deeply jealous, and wants to prove himself worthy to dear old dad. That explains why James Jr. takes up his dad’s final case as a last “FU” to the old man. And that’s where things get interesting.
Blood Is Thicker…: I’ll just come right out and say it: the book features vampires. Yes, nasty, monster-ish sub-humans who drink blood. The first issue outlines this whole theory involving John Adams, our second president, his trips to the Caribbean in 1814, and yellow fever. What that all means has yet to be completely unfurled, but given the scourge of vampirism and a recently dead detective trying to solve said mystery, you may likely guess that real fate of James Sr. by the end of issue #1. And I think that’s probably the best case scenario. If James Jr. had to work out his daddy issues in brooding monologues, this book would get real boring real fast. But now, the Thing That Happens That I Won’t Directly Spoil is a chance for father and son to engage in more direct conversation and hash out their issues. And any supernatural phenomenon aside, the Sangsters make for a surly pair, and their brand of grit and venom is just similar enough that any resulting clashes should be epic. That’s the hallmark of a truly great title that tackles these daddy issues: we need not just drama and ample tea spillage, but emotional complexity to make this confrontation and eventual cleansing all the more resonant. Even so early in the story, I’m salivating over the Springer-esque clashes the Sangsters are moving toward.
Fang Service?: I love a good vampire story just like anyone else — I don’t even mind the Twilight series because sparkly vampires are still a great narrative device. But with Killadelphia, I worry that the choice to include vampires wasn’t really thought out. That’s not to say the whole Adams-yellow fever shtick isn’t insanely interesting and novel, but thus far, I can’t help but shake the worry that vampirism is only included as a means to unwittingly reconnect father and son (and maybe add cool points?) Let’s say vampirism isn’t featured, and there’s another way to get them at each other’s neck (see what I did there?) I think this story could work just as a well as, like some wonderful amalgamation of The Maltese Falcon, Fences, and Ray Donovan. It’s still early I know, but it feels like the vampirism angle, if not executed properly, could be far more of a hindrance than anything else. Which is also just a testament to the exciting dynamic between the two Sangster men, and how they only need a little space and some brief conversation to explode in a wondrous mess. Making something more “sci-fi” when it doesn’t have to be is a risky endeavor, and that could mute a lot of the series’ potential.
A World of Blood: You can’t talk about the potential between father and son in this book without mentioning Alexander’s art. He’s totally nailed the whole gritty noir vibe, and his use of shadows on faces and nebulous attention to details makes every character feel vivid and unsettling, which is what you need for this kind of book. There’s just enough of a visual connection between the Sangsters, and yet they’re also quite different aesthetically, that you begin to grapple with their relationship and its various levels and nuances. At the same time, Alexander also contributes to the half-cocked appeal of the whole vampiric element. I applaud him for pulling some of the monstrous elements of vampires out, and making them look more like diseased corpses. At the same time, they don’t really stand out visually in an otherwise grey and depressive world (which I love!), and that hurts their potential. It feels like if everything is a little dark and twisted, how bad could a few blood-sucking parasites really be. The only demons we need are those among the Sangster men.
Digging It: Despite my initial issues, Killadelphia goes onto ye olde pull list (for now). Do I have my own daddy issues, and that’s why I’m so invested in this book and its cathartic value? Sure. But also because this seems like a title with a clear goal, one that wants to bash its characters into one another and wait for the emotional and narrative cast-off to drench readers (sorry for that). I think to speaks to something about the father-son dynamic in fiction: through violence and rage we can land at some kind of understanding, and whether that understanding helps, it always has to be earned. No telling if Killadelphia will ultimately be worth it, but hopefully it doesn’t suck (not sorry for that one).