Bloody Hell: It happens in almost every vampire movie. A main character or a hapless secondary stooge is talking to someone (a small child, a priest, a gangbanger, etc.). Everything seems fine when all of a sudden the other person reveals themselves to be a vamp and chows down on the character’s entrails.
That’s the best analogy I can come up with to describe Killadelphia, the entertaining “vampire The Wire meets Ray Donovan” series from Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander. If the first 3 issues are the conversation (some of which was dynamic, even as other parts were found lacking), #4 is the instance your throat is ripped out.
All Hell Breaks Loose: Leading into #4, the Sangsters (James Sr. and Jr.) were working with coroner Jose Padilla to prevent a vampire outbreak/world domination plot hatched by John Adams, the undead second president who has been scheming for 300-plus years. But after some subtle world-building, Adams’ plan leaps into high gear as the vamps descend upon Philadelphia and start shedding biblical levels of blood. Team Good Guy, meanwhile, hunkers down to figure out a new plan of attack once the sun rises and newbie vamp James Sr. is back at 100%.
The whole shock and awe approach works really well here, and from panel one, we’re taken out of our comfort zones and dropped screaming into the bloody streets of Philly. I’d wondered about the book’s pacing in the past, and if there were going to be issues in getting to this point while maintaining the cohesive plot points. It’s a wonderfully jarring experience, but Barnes maintains the proper momentum, and the end result feels like a big achievement. It’s almost like a “twist” that the campaign kicked off so quickly, but that’s what makes it feel all the more unsettling and compelling.
The Drama Interlude: Yet all the vamp killing in the world doesn’t have nearly as much impact as a couple important emotional threads that are built up throughout #4. I’ve said since my review of #1 that that the Sangster family drama would be pivotal to this story’s success, even more so than the Adams plot. While there’s been some issues with how their dynamic is built (#2, in particular, felt like an damaging misstep, and even #3 didn’t do nearly as much), #4 truly delivers. James Jr. and Jose have a great convo about the father-son’s issues, and how it’s all born out of shared grief of their mother/wife’s passing that was never fully addressed. We see the love they have for one another, especially given how the only animosity they share is this inability to grieve together as a family and allow each other to work out some deep-seated issues in a meaningful way. There’s a hope to their relationship, and that makes the “journey” all the more entertaining.
It’s also compelling because this connects back to a larger motif/theme. Adams himself explains that, to an extent, his mission is born out of wanting respect he never earned as a true American hero. Even if you’re unsure how that translates into “vampire army,” that’s the point: Adams and the Sangsters are proof of what happens when we (men especially) let things fester, and the curative power that comes with processing and being as vulnerable and open as possible. So much darkness happens because we can’t let ourselves be wrong, avoiding the “light” out of shame or embarrassment. Only when James Jr. engages these emotions does he have a breakthrough, and he and Jose have a touching moment based on this act of shared guilt and monumental loss.
Two Monsters Gather: As James Jr. is having his own “catharsis,” James Sr. is thrust into a similarly revelatory moment. While trying to find a way to feed and center himself for the forthcoming battle, he meets a young man who was turned into a vamp earlier in the series. What starts as a lesson in gnawing on rats becomes a powerful moment in the story’s larger emotional development. Like his son, James Sr. learns to face some of the past, albeit his work as a cop and his connection with “the enemy” as represented by the young black male. But he also comes to see this kid not as a former foe, or another soul lost to the vampires, but someone with an understanding of how he can use this “gift” for something actually worthwhile: freedom (in almost every conceivable sense of the word). The kid’s feeding him, but not just blood for his continued undead existence — knowledge and insights that he needs to hear at a truly perilous time. It’s a great moment that speaks about racial inequality, police violence, empowering under-served communities, black-on-black dynamics, and a host of other societal ails. It felt like a huge turning point not only for the plot but for James Sr. and the book’s larger interplay between these myriad issues. The way it unfolds, you’ll want to revel in these pages and feel the light start to break through.
The Beauty Of Bloodshed: You can’t talk about the success of this issue without talking about Alexander’s art. He gets ample opportunities to shine, and some of the “battle” scenes with the vamps are especially gruesome and animalistic, which adds a nice counter to a lot of the emotional and political undertones of this issue. At the same time, there’s heaps of intimate conversations happening, and the way Alexander depicts these moments (especially in people’s faces) does a lot to foster the issue’s sense of emotionality and drama. In a book about vampires overthrowing a major U.S. city, the difference between the monsters and the humans is razor-thin, and that’s the sweet spot where a spotlight is shone on the larger human experience. Alexander is so important to that portrayal, and his art continues to facilitate so much in a way to fully draw out a lot of our redemptive qualities but also our inner darkness. Also, shout-out to colorist Luis NCT, who builds on Alexander’s efforts with some of the more terrifying lighting and shading in all 4 issues.
4 CCs Of Awesomeness: I’m feeling both giddy and a little shellshocked after #4. But then, that’s totally a good thing, and it’s clear this issue has done a ton of heavy lifting regarding driving forward the plot, building up the emotional tension, and laying the groundwork for the real bloodbath to come. Let’s just say this issue left me so wonderfully drained that I now need a sugar cookie and a nap.