The Trinity Once More: I’ve mentioned sometime in the past about the sheer importance of the third issue in any comic book series. It’s at this point where the early jitters dissolve and enough of the narrative has taken root to decide what kind of story this will be (and its real value). In the case of Killadelphia, issue #3 is a mostly promising enough turn. Am I still convinced there’s some actual problems with Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander’s “vampire The Wire meets Ray Donovan“? You betcha. But as I felt after finishing the debut issue, the series is staking its claim for something potentially transcendent.
King Adams: This issue focuses primarily on the story of John Adams, the undead former U.S. president who is now assembling a vampire army in Philadelphia. We see how Adams was turned, his thoughts on life as a bloodsucker, and the scope of his machinations for global domination. For the most part, it’s an enjoyable enough turn for the book: there’s something slightly kooky about Vampire Adams, and it’s an interesting enough story to tell.
But more than that, Adams’ journey mirrors a lot of the same themes of this series. As a “father” of our country, he clearly struggles with his ambitions to help his people (i.e., vampires) and retain some semblance of himself. In the regards, he’s reflecting the journey of James Sangster (a new vamp himself) and James Sangster, Jr., who are locked in a similar battle regarding the true scope of fatherhood and how much of a monster one must be for the sake of their children (if at all). Adams’ tale is a bit more of a thought experiment compared to the Sangsters, but it’s a great way to tie all these components together.
Daddy’s Issues: At the same time, I just can’t escape the fact that the Adams story isn’t nearly as interesting as the back-and-forth between James and J.J. That Adams’ mere presence as anything other than a jokey, purposefully cheesy antagonist feels like it devours any space for the Sangsters to hash out their deep-seated feelings of mistrust and animosity. It’s clear that this is the quivering heart of the story, and when it’s given chance to shine, the Sangster drama is gripping. The end of issue #3, especially, gives us a lot of insight into how the two see one another, and there’s a part where James, Sr. is trying to find some pre-sunrise solace that could very well like split your heart in two with its emotional and narrative undertones.
It’s not enough that I want more Sangster vs. Sangster action; it’s that Adams doesn’t necessarily fit in this story without overpowering something so essential and pure. You could split these into 2 books by now, and they’d still work perfectly on their own. If the Sangster saga doesn’t get ample room to breathe, there’s nothing to cling to, and even the Adams-powered musings on life and fatherhood need that lush family drama to gorge itself upon.
The Real Blood and Guts: It’s not only the story making moves to expand its scope and thematic objectives. Alexander’s art really gets a few moments to shine here thanks to some great “battle” scenes, include the Sangsters and coroner Jose Padilla (their de facto partner) dispatching some vamps in the morgue. On the one hand, his art is just bathed in sooo much blood, which is viscerally engaging. But Alexander also finds that balance between the human and the monstrous, the minimal and the overly detailed. Adams, especially, comes across as both deeply vulnerable and also somehow otherworldly. James, Sr. is similarly rich, and the ending 2-3 pages drive home (visually speaking) the narrative of how lost and desperate he feels in his “condition.”
So often the art has to reflect the story, but in this case, Alexander also has a chance to shine behind some of the story’s own shortcomings. He’s managed to present all the elements (the trials of fatherhood, the dichotomous nature of man, etc.) in a way that everything feels harmonious, and the visuals flow from concept to concept, event to event in a way to provide everything space and still tell a unified, cohesive story. There’s a great transition from a bit about Adams’ wife, Abigail, and how she’s aiding their plans that segues nicely into a “monologue” from James — it’s utterly separate but the ideas and emotions are connected enough to create something powerful.
Biting Off More Than It Can Chew?: I keep thinking about where this book is going to go. Can it find a way to better marry the two “stories” of Adams and the Sangsters? Obviously as the plot thickens, they’ll all have to come into contact (and hopefully conflict). But even that might not be enough, and we may be left with a narrative struggling to find peace with its many ideas and interests. To an extent, though, even that chaos might still be entertaining, and I get the sense that perhaps this lack of unity is a plot device to better foster drama and uncertainty before the narrative focuses itself on the big “reveal.” Even if that’s not the case, it’s still enjoyable enough to work through Barnes’ story, as he clearly is doing some interesting things with the genre (even if the execution isn’t always perfect).
What will “save” this book (that is, make it the sort of affair I feel it can become) is if and when everyone here reaches an ending — an ending of their hopes, their misconceptions, their selfish desires — and are forced to confront these feelings that they’ve held onto for decades (and even centuries). Were that to happen, Killadelphia could be a breathtaking and vital contribution to not only the vampire canon, but a powerful story for fathers and sons about the messy and complicated layers of blood and history that exist between.
Final Thoughts: If issue #3 were a vampire movie, it’d be John Carpenter’s Vampires (messy monsters battling with their humanity) mixed with Queen of the Damned (sleek and sexy, though the narrative is sometimes more newbie than ancient vamp). And maybe a dash of True Blood, why not?