October 27, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Transfusion: Vampires versus Robots

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Mention3 (with Tony Moy)
Published by IDW

As if things weren't bad enough for the few humans left, with killer robots hunting them down to use as oil, there's vampires on their trail, too! Modern horror master Steve Niles pits blood suckers against, well, blood suckers with people caught in the middle in this series that's not going to be for everyone.

I'll be honest--if this hadn't been written by Steve Niles, I probably wouldn't have bothered with it. I'm kinda bored with vampires, zombies, and other creatures of the night who've just been used and abused for everything. It's hard to find a good way to use them in a way that makes me stand up and say, "Hey, that's pretty good."

Well, here comes Niles and here comes the "Hey, that's pretty good."

First off, while I think they're an existing IDW property and not from Niles' imagination, it's a lot of fun to see robots as vampires, no matter how ridiculous the idea is. Niles is careful not to overdo this either, keeping the mechanical monsters to the background so that when we see them, it's a powerful moment. Most of this story focuses on what happens when you're a regular vampire, trying to survive when your primary food source is just about exhausted.

Monsters work great as metaphors for human problems and fears, and in this case, the idea of food scarcity and existing in a world where the next meal isn't there no matter how much power you have is the theme. Niles does a great job with it. The leader of the Vampire band feels the weight of his burden heavily, teetering on the line of melodrama, while one of his own makes a sacrifice for the greater good. It's incredibly powerful, and sets up the climax well.

Echoing the plight of the vampires is a small surviving band of humans. They're pretty much screwed, as their own food is scarce as well and what remains are being used as traps by the robots. Niles makes them a bit on the plucky side, but that's not unusual for a horror story. When they run into the vampires, the two sides see they have a common enemy with a weakness of its own. The only hope for these opposing forces is to team up against the robots, with no guarantee that it will work--or that the alliance will hold. That drives the drama through the end of the series, leading to a conclusion that, while a bit on the optimistic side for my taste, shows that such plans can only ever be temporary.

Abstract and Generic isn't a great combo
It's the work of a man who understands how to create a solid horror story with a few new twists thrown in for good measure to keep readers engaged. The only trick on this one is the art. Mention3, who does the vast majority of the work on Transfusion, is not going to be to everyone's taste. His art looks great as a cover--it reminds me a bit of some of the things Neil Clarke has selected for Clarkesworld--but it's not the best at telling an overarching story.

While some of the images are pretty amazing as pictures, they aren't always so good at telling the actual story. I'm not a big fan of creators who draw to show off their chops instead of working with the plot they're given. That seems to happen a lot here, with panels that are cool and creepy, but could have anything written around them.

Mention3 also sticks to a very drab palette, which means nothing stands out. Since the dialogue balloons/captions are in the same shades, there were moments when I couldn't actually read Niles' words without having to try several times, bouncing me out of the story in the middle of the trade.

Again, it's not that I didn't like the art--I thought the images were perfect, if they'd been prints or covers. The trouble is that they're not. They're internal pages, and that means they failed at the job far too often. The story moved despite them, instead of because of them.

Transfusion is a troubled work because of the disconnect between the art and story. If that's a huge problem for you, then you're going to want to avoid this one. However, if you prioritize plot  and script in your comics and are a fan of Niles, see if you can find this one. It's an odd duck, but worth reading because of the unusual premise and strong use of horror concepts.

Just--bring a magnifying glass with you when reading it. I wish I'd had mine.